Sitting in the health centre waiting room a couple of days ago awaiting some routine blood tests, I watched the inevitable health information video, in the absence of anything else. It was very interesting and I learnt a great deal about sepsis. Apparently since being recognised as a distinct condition, as opposed to an extenuated feature of something else, it has received much attention by the medical professionals under the insistent, and wholly justifiable, pressure of those whose loved ones have died because it hasn’t been seen to be what it is. I learnt another thing: that deaths from sepsis are more in number than those of breast and colon cancer combined. With such sobering thoughts, I drifted in the general direction of the screen’s command attached to my name, and settled myself for ‘a little jag’.
Startling facts are frequently the stuff of casual reading, and graphics bring home to us the hidden realities that lie within the simplest of things - such as the amounts of salt or sugar in processed food, given, not so much as graphs but, literally, as piles of white crystals beside a bag of the tasty whatever. Taking things apart in this way is a deliberate attempt to shock us into noticing, and manufacturers into reducing harmful additives.
Biblical scholars have a track record of dissection too, pulling apart and comparing, totalling up and astounding us with statistical information. I was amazed to learn, from a book I was reading last week, that the Bible has more than nine hundred and sixty references to ‘the heart’, with many shades of meaning, and this not a physical one either, but an exposure of ‘the inner being’, as we might say. Today’s morning psalm is a case in point. It is one of the best-loved psalms of the whole Psalter, Psalm 139, because it flows with beautifully expressed thoughts of the closeness of God to where we are most vulnerable and anxious. It ends with one of the nine hundred and sixty ‘heart’ references:
“Search me out, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my restless thoughts. Look well whether there be any wickedness in me and lead me in the way everlasting.”
So, we have exposure that is leading to comfort; knowing that becomes confident reassurance.
But, and this is the question that has left me pondering through all of this ramble, “Do we overdo the dissection?” It is revealing of so much that it is good to know, as is the power of the internet to trawl up fact after compulsively sought fact, but is there a point beyond which this can erode peace of mind and be a distraction from the wider vision of God’s world and our relationship to it?
The book in which I discovered the number of references to “the heart” in the Bible, The Eye of the Eagle, by David Adam, offers this thought too:
“One of our difficulties is that we are always wanting to take things apart, to analyse. To dissect living things is fatal! The Celtic Christians tended to seek to discover the underlying unity in things rather than their separation, to align things rather than divide them.” (p.8)
The fascination of looking deeper and seeing constituent elements in all matters of interest, is an inclination shared by many of us and has led to the most profound discoveries, but I take the point that David Adam makes, that to lose sight of the overall pattern of the world around us is as destructive of our understanding of the God of Creation, as is the loss of spiritually inspired amazement at the complexity of the tiniest organism of the living world.
The Church’s Creation Season is now where we are in the Christian Year. The 1st September to 4th October has become established as the time of the year when we think especially of the living world of which we are a part. I hope and pray that our meditations on God’s world during this season may be broad and encompassing, and take us with the keen sight of an eagle to immerse ourselves in wonder, as we also contemplate the environmental damage that humanity continues to inflict upon its divinely-gifted home.