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“A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate…” – Einstein

I read something the other day by John Polkinghorne. I wont get into the obvious debate re: physicists-turned-priests or things like the Templeton prize, and I’m not suggesting, by mentioning Polkinghorne, that he and Einstein held similar philosophies.

But I do want to share this program by Krista Tippett, DISCOVERING EINSTEIN’S GOD. In it, Tippett discusses a complimentary way of looking at the world and the order deeply hidden behind everything.

I’ve written about it before…

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“There is, after all, something eternal that lies beyond reach of the hand of fate and of all human delusions.” – Einstein

There’s not a whole lot one can do with ancient Aramaic or Koine Greek except be Indiana Jones or get a diploma in theology and religion. I wanted the former. I got the latter. I forget why.

My godfather was an Independent Baptist preacher. As a child I spent time in Methodist, Pentecostal and Holiness churches. I went to a Southern Baptist college. During graduate school I attended mass at a Roman Catholic Church because I was so moved by the building itself and the community priest – a Hasidic Jew, raised Scottish Presbyterian, who became Roman Catholic. All of my friends were Jewish or Muslim. They went to Temple and Mosque. I went to Church. I was the only Christian in the lot.

“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” – Einstein

My sister and I, both women of faith, are prone to discussions about native peoples and how often history sees them slaughtered in the name of holy. I think “The Great Divorce” is one of the most thought-provoking pieces of literature ever written. I believe Mark Twain makes a much more convincing atheist than Professor Dawkins. I follow Christ. But the most Christ-Like person I know is a Buddhist. My mother is shocked at this suggestion. The fact remains.

Then, there’s Einstein.

The man who loved Mozart but couldn’t abide socks. Who wore motorcycle jackets and smoked cigars. Who painted fantastically beautiful images of Eternity and the Mystery that surrounds it.


“It is still the best to concern oneself with eternals, for from them alone flows that spirit that can restore peace and serenity to the world of humans.” – Einstein

A few years ago Krista Tippett put together the program: “Einstein and the Mind of God”. I’ll just refer you to the piece itself because, like both its namesakes, it’s too complex for someone like me to explain.

Einstein was an extraordinary writer who penned some of the most moving essays and correspondence you’ll ever read. Put aside his theories on space and time and relativity and you see a man who recognized the divine nature of the universe we live in and all the unknown beyond it.

I can believe in an ever expanding universe and the laws that govern it while still being faithful to the Mystery behind it. The more I learn about Eintstein’s God, the clearer I see my own.

In one way or another, the protagonists of Wise Blood, Lolita, On the Road, Franny and Zooey, and The Crying of Lot 49 all have their sanity called into question, and various abnormal mental states (religious enthusiasm, drug hallucinations, and so forth) potentially compromise their rational faculties. Discuss the theme of madness in one of these novels. How are madness and sanity defined and represented? Is madness a wholly undesirable state? Madness is often connected to a protagonist or seems to be a source of authority. What does it mean to have an authorial voice claim madness?

Essay questions from Yale OpenCourse: The American Novel Since 1945, make for wonderful writing exercises. I’ve got a lot of miles out of this one. Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with the above mentioned novels. Apply the question to something similar that you may have read. Or, use it as a tool to examine a piece of your own writing.

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“My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.”

- Wilfred Owen


Wilfred Owen – Poetry of The Great War

Wilfred Owen (whom I adore…exceedingly) was a British poet and soldier who signed up for the Artists’ Rifles in 1915. He was known for his shocking, realistic war poetry on the horrors of trenches and gas warfare – images which sat in stark contrast to both the public perception of war at the time, and to the confidently patriotic verse written by earlier war poets.

Owen was killed in action on November 4 1918, just a week before the war ended. He was 25 years old.


Wilfred Owen – Dulce et Decorum Est

Launched 90 years after the end of the First World War, the University of Oxford’s The First World War Digital Archive now comprises over 7,000 digital images relating to the poets of the Great War.

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In 1952 Nabokov was invited to Harvard by Professor Harry T. Levin and others as a visiting professor. He taught an undergraduate lecture course in the novel and did research on Pushkin in Widener Library. It was during this period that his son Dmitri was an undergraduate at Harvard, and that the Poetry Room recorded both public and studio readings by Nabokov.

In 1959, after the great success of Lolita, the Nabokovs moved to Switzerland, from which Vladimir would return to America only twice before his death in 1977. On one of these occasions, in 1964, he read his work before a capacity audience in Harvard’s Sanders Theater, where he had lectured in 1952. Portions of this reading are included here.

This information is drawn from the pamphlet that accompanies Vladimir Nabokov at Harvard, a set of two cassette tapes issued by the Poetry Room at Harvard University in 1988. Penn State has been granted permission by the Nabokov Estate to use these sound files.

1. “The Ballad of Longwood Glen” (1964)
2. “Exile” (1952)
3. “A Literary Dinner” (1952)
4. “The Refrigerator Awakes” (1952)
5. “A Discovery” (1952)
6. Prose excerpt from Pale Fire (1964)
7. “Silentium” (by Fedor Tiutchev, 1946)
8. “Exegi Monumentum” (by Alexandr Pushkin, 1946)

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Matthew Parker was a figure of the English Reformation and a benefactor to the University of Cambridge. An avid book collector who salvaged medieval manuscripts dispersed at the dissolution of the monasteries, his greatest tangible legacy is his library of manuscripts and early printed books (which span more than a thousand years) entrusted to Corpus Christi College and continuously housed there since 1574.

The Parker Library’s holdings of Old English texts accounts for nearly a quarter of all extant manuscripts in Anglo-Saxon, including the earliest copy of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (c. 890) thought to have been commissioned by Alfred the Great as he pushed for greater use of the language. The Library also includes everything from monastic books from the early Dark Ages to illuminated manuscripts (The Bury Bible c. 1135) and autograph letters from Anne Boleyn and Martin Luther.

Parker Library on the Web is an undertaking of Corpus Christi College, the Stanford University Libraries and Cambridge University Library, to produce a digital copy of every imageable page of most manuscripts in the Parker Library.

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Once, in an intimate moment, my sister looked at me and said:

“Don’t judge me.”

She followed this with:

“I think Donald Trump is Sexy.”

I didn’t, of course. Judge. How could I? Growing up, Walter Matthau was my Backstreet Boy. I also think Stephen Wolfram is all kinds of hot.

If you don’t already know, Wolfram is the creator of Mathematica and its spawn: Wolfram|Alpha. Wolfram, the man, is quick to point out that Alpha’s not a search engine. Unlike Google, Wolfram|Alpha doesn’t just look up sites. Rather, Wolfram|Alpha is sort of like SkyNet. (It even sounds all SkyNet-y, huh?) It implements methods and models and algorithms that science and other areas have built up over the centuries to compute answers to questions in real time.

Search engines search what other people may have written down. Wolfram|Alpha uses built in knowledge, curating a zillion different sources of raw facts and data, to compute answers to specific questions. Eight million lines of Mathematica code, built by experts in many different fields (though it still maintains a strong science/math slant), to answer questions that use ordinary human language.

Fancy feat, eh?

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If I were born calm and, you know, smart, I would have wanted to be a physicist. It would have made for nice balance. But I wasn’t. I came into the world hyper and full of stress. So I write. It’s where I find my peace.

When I was a kid I loved Einstein, because he was funny and had cool hair; and the merry-go-round, because it made me feel like I was on Quantum Leap and I totally dug Scott Bakula. Like a mini collider, it’d spin you so fast the world would warp and then you’d be spat out against the ground like some odd little particle…with everything else still moving because time and space are relative to the position and velocity of different observers and you, having been slung ahead of yourself by a playground accelerator, are observing both from two places at once and neither your brain nor your body know quite how to cope. It’s a fabulous rush, but being pushed off your axis also makes for nauseous. That’s how I feel about physics. Like a kid just flung from a merry-go-round. Much as I’d love to, I can’t play with it too much or there’s a good probability my head will explode.


Brain Snack: Brian Cox

I sometimes get consumed with thinking of the collapsing and curvature of time and space – it’s my Walter Mitty life. Things like string theory and super symmetry excite me beyond belief, but they take a lot out of me as well. I’m not speaking metaphorically. I get breathless and all short-circuity just thinking about it. Not least because dark matter and fourth dimensions always seem to give rise to certain philosophical questions and as much as I’m a monotheist I’m a pantheist as well, two things which aren’t at all mutually exclusive, but which make for complicated brain work all the same. Not zen, my friend. Especially when you’re trying to live below the neck.

I’m not an elegant mathematician. I can get there, eventually, but not before I’m foaming at the mouth. And since it’s probably helpful to stay sane when you’re dealing with the theory of everything, I don’t think I could ever be a physicist. Not made the way I am. A ninja, maybe. But never a physicist.


Brain Snack: Garrett Lisi

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Before he became “The Darcy to End All Darcys” the ridiculously talented and RADA-trained Matthew Macfadyen contributed to the DVD ‘Essential Poems (To Fall In Love By)’.

A naughty little someone has posted his readings to YouTube.

I am very glad of it.

W.B. Yeats.
When You Are Old.
Read by Matthew Macfadyen.

William Carlos Williams.
This is Just to Say.
Read by Matthew Macfadyen.

William Shakespeare.
Sonnet 29.
Read by Matthew Macfadyen.

I close my eyes and sigh. What a voice.

Fiction