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Rachel Marie Stone

Star-Mapping, Almsgiving, Back-Flips

Doing what we’re created to do.

The science teacher from Philadelphia's Franklin Institute was young and pixie-like, her enthusiasm contagious as she used flashlights, mirrors, and prisms to convey the wondrous properties of light to the children gathered in the public library. Mine were among them, while I sat in the back, mostly reading, until she happened to call upon my younger son, Graeme, among others, as a volunteer. She handed each child a small round light, instructing them to hold them just so; together, they resembled the constellation Orion. My son beamed appropriately. She then directed one child to step forward a certain number of feet, the other to step back a little way, and so on, until the children were scattered from the front of the room to the back, as she explained that the stars in Orion were incredibly far away from one another and, in fact, that they had no relationship to each other at all. "The only meaning a constellation has is the meaning we assign to it," she announced with almost missionary zeal. Graeme's face fell a little; I saw a flicker of sadness pass over his eyes.

As chance or providence would have it, the book I was reading that afternoon was Rob Moll's What Your Body Knows About God, and I may not have taken notice of the science teacher's remarks at all had I not just been reading about how children are born ready to "attribute purpose and intention to things that they see in the world." The science teacher probably felt that she was doing her part to imbue the children with correct scientific thinking—Orion is a design superimposed by human imagination upon stars that have no particular relationship with one another. But the subtext of her pronouncement—the stories human beings tell themselves and one another about the universe are far less meaningful than "scientific" measurements of what's actually "out there"—was hard to miss. Graeme, who was six then, didn't miss it: ...

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