Gross Anatomy Hackey Sack

So today out first year Medical and Dental students took their first big exam in gross anatomy. For longtime readers, you’ll remember that each year I give out these little stress dolls to the students to keep them loose:

He doesn’t look like ME at all. But isn’t he cute? Scrubs, big teeth for the dental students and he’s seriously helpful.

So why do I do this? Well, I know my role as the chaplain of the gross anatomy lab is basically to keep people calm and loose. All of these students have been the smartest student in their class since they were like…well…five years old! And let’s face facts, each time I walk in there I know that this is the closest I’ll ever be to the admissions office of a Medical or Dental School.

But we all have gifts and I know that I have something to offer everyone I serve–even these super smart medical and dental students.

I disarm them with the stress guy–he’s goofy and fun. I chuck them to them as they pass by and it gets them to calm down and simply relax. Once in awhile someone takes things way too seriously and says “no thanks” or “I’m good” and they dive back into their notes. And that’s cool too. For me, the experience is a serious study in human behavior. Some folks have their iPod in ears and they don’t want anyone to get in their zone. Others are mixing it up and telling jokes. Others are drilling each other with names of muscles and arteries. It’s amazing to watch.

Today, I really felt like the chaplain when the second wave of Medical Students showed up for their test. They have to wait for the first section to finish and they get really antsy. So stress guy is a big help to a good deal of them. Last year one student set up a little game where they tried to knock one stress guy doll down with another one. But this year’s group took the cake with stress relieving creativity:

We had Jugglers
We Played Hackey Sack with Stress Guy
He even became a fashion statement in Scrubswear

All in all, it was so much fun. But at the same time, I knew my role and served the needs of the students creatively. And it gets them to open up a bit more to me as well. It even opens them up to one another. One dental student decapitated his stress guy when we were running low on them so that his colleague could use the head while he used the body. He looked at me and said:

“See! I shared! We’re really a team here!” I laughed heartily with them and it brought everyone’s stress level down even further.

A female student who I won’t name to protect her anonymity, started to worry as the time got close to the test. I stood with her for a few minutes and simply comforted her fears. I reminded her that she’s really smart and always has been and just because everyone else here is smart it doesn’t mean that she won’t be successful. The first test is very comprehensive, but it’s not incredibly difficult, according to the other students I’ve been with. I reminded her of that and made her take a deep breath and made her squeeze the heck out of the stress guy who she just loved.

At one point I entered the exam area and she was sitting at a rest stop. She gave me a knowing glance and then a small smile. At the test’s conclusion, she was one of the first people I saw and she thanked me for helping her stay calm. She had thought that she had done pretty well. And I’m proud to just play a small role in that.

Kevin, who works in the lab, was watching the Hackey Sack game break out. An athlete himself, who knows how important exercise is to relieve stress, looked at me and said: “Y’know, anything you can do to help them de-stress is awesome. That little thing was a great idea.”

The lab’s director, Dr. Dannenhoffer is a big fan of “those little cupie dolls” as he calls them and has praised me for the idea before. But today, he said to me, “OH good! You’re here, calming them down today!” That really made me feel like a necessary part of the team. Dr. DiLugos another member of the staff said, “Hope you don’t have to pick anyone up off the floor today–but I’m glad you’re here just in case you do!” Then we laughed a bit.

There’s an old spiritual maxim that I try to live by and it is simply this:

“Ministry is about doing small things with great joy and thoughtfulness. And then praying that God provides the rest.”

And today friends, God did just that.

For them… and for me.

Buzz Aldrin Received the Eucharist on the Moon?

Editor’s note: Buzz Aldrin was Presbyterian…a snip from an old post in Guideposts from 1989:

Before the lift-off, Aldrin was looking for a way to honor God’s presence in the Apollo 11 space mission. He talked with his minister, Dean Woodruff of Webster Presbyterian Church in Houston. When in their discussions the Christian sacrament of communion was mentioned, a plan emerged.

Two Sundays before the moon shot, Aldrin participated in a small, private communion service at his congregation, after which his minister broke off a corner of the communion bread and gave it to Aldrin along with a tiny chalice with some wine. Aldrin sealed these in plastic packets and safely stowed them in his personal preference kit (each astronaut was allowed to take a few personal items with him).

The rest follows:

From the Atlantic, an interesting article on the experience of religion in space. How does a Jewish astronaut celebrate the sabbath? NASA was sued for the Apollo 11 Astronauts reading from Genesis. And Buzz Aldrin apparently in his memoirs reported that he brought a small vial of wine and a communion wafer. It was interesting when he chose to do this:

This is in part the sentiment Buzz Aldrin relays in his 2009 memoir as he recounts how he took communion in the minutes between when he and Neil Armstrong became the first humans on the moon’s surface, and when Armstrong set his foot down on the dust. Aldrin says he had planned the ceremony as “an expression of gratitude and hope.” The ceremony was kept quiet (un-aired) because NASA was proceeding cautiously following a lawsuit over the Apollo 8 Genesis reading, but it proceeded with a tiny vial of wine and a wafer Aldrin had transported to the moon in anticipation of the moment (personal items were strictly restricted by weight, so everything had to be small). He writes:

During those first hours on the moon, before the planned eating and rest periods, I reached into my personal preference kit and pulled out the communion elements along with a three-by-five card on which I had written the words of Jesus: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.” I poured a thimblefull of wine from a sealed plastic container into a small chalice, and waited for the wine to settle down as it swirled in the one-sixth Earth gravity of the moon. My comments to the world were inclusive: “I would like to request a few moments of silence … and to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way.” I silently read the Bible passages as I partook of the wafer and the wine, and offered a private prayer for the task at hand and the opportunity I had been given.

Neil watched respectfully, but made no comment to me at the time.

He continued, reflecting:

Perhaps, if I had it to do over again, I would not choose to celebrate communion. Although it was a deeply meaningful experience for me, it was a Christian sacrament, and we had come to the moon in the name of all mankind — be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, animists, agnostics, or atheists. But at the time I could think of no better way to acknowledge the enormity of the Apollo 11 experience than by giving thanks to God. It was my hope that people would keep the whole event in their minds and see, beyond minor details and technical achievements, a deeper meaning — a challenge, and the human need to explore whatever is above us, below us, or out there.

Read the whole thing. Quite interesting. A h/t to my buddy Shannon Shark over at the Mets police for finding this.

Higgs Boson Does Not Disprove God

There’s a few items on my mind with regards to the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, an amazing event in the world of physics, which has been referred to as the “God particle.”

First of all, scientists hate the term “God particle” and it’s called that not for any anti-theological reason, but rather because the higher ups at CERN (the center that has made today’s historic discovery) wouldn’t let the scientists working on the experiment call it “the Goddamned particle” because it was so difficult to find.

Ok, that’s kind of funny. Who knew scientists could have such a sense of humor. I need to watch more of the Big Bang Theory.

What is the Higgs-Boson particle anyway?

From National Geographic:

The Higgs boson is one of the final puzzle pieces required for a complete understanding of the standard model of physics—the so-far successful theory that explains how fundamental particles interact with the elementary forces of nature.

The so-called God particle was proposed in the 1960s by Peter Higgs to explain why some particles, such as quarks—building blocks of protons, among other things—and electrons have mass, while others, such as the light-carrying photon particle, do not.

Higgs’s idea was that the universe is bathed in an invisible field similar to a magnetic field. Every particle feels this field—now known as the Higgs field—but to varying degrees.

If a particle can move through this field with little or no interaction, there will be no drag, and that particle will have little or no mass. Alternatively, if a particle interacts significantly with the Higgs field, it will have a higher mass.

The idea of the Higgs field requires the acceptance of a related particle: the Higgs boson.

According to the standard model, if the Higgs field didn’t exist, the universe would be a very different place, said SLAC’s Peskin, who isn’t involved in the LHC experiments.

“It would be very difficult to form atoms,” Peskin said. “So our orderly world, where matter is made of atoms, and electrons form chemical bonds—we wouldn’t have that if we did not have the Higgs field.”

In other words: no galaxies, no stars, no planets, no life on Earth.

So some are saying that the Higgs-Boson disproves that a God has any role in the making or maintaining of the universe. That we are simply a random bunch of particles bouncing off each other with little or no meaning. This assumes something about religion that simple isn’t true.

Religion does not try to say anything about the origins of the world. Religion and science have two completely different purposes, but can work complimentarily to give meaning to human existence and have done so for years. It should be noted that a priest proposed the big bang theory, using science as opposed to the Book of Genesis to explain the order of the universe.

Check out this video that I did some time ago on science and religion with the head of the Vatican Observatory, Fr George Coyne, S.J.. It’s focused on evolution, but Fr. Coyne takes us into defining the difference between religion and science in general.

Science and scripture are not compatible, or I should say that the purpose of the Bible is NOT, precisely not, aimed at scientific discovery. These are revelation stories designed to teach us about “meaning” not “scientific origins.”

Now some are going to say that there are nutburgers who’ll say different. And they would be right to say so. These are fundamentalists, people who believe in a LITERAL interpretation of the bible. Catholics are not fundamentalists. We believe that the bible is divinely inspired, meaning that the biblical writers are not God, but rather people who wrote something down to try to tell us a bit about what God is like; mainly that God is loving and allows us to participate in God’s own creation through our humanity.

There are also fundamentalist scientists in my opinion. People who believe that their empirical discoveries are all that there is. That there cannot be anything beyond these discoveries. I find that haughty and arrogant.

Catholics believe in transcendence, that there are things that go beyond our very selves and our experience of the world. This is where we experience God.

And God is ALWAYS mystery, the inexhaustible one that we never truly can grasp with our limited human intellects. God is beyond us, so far beyond that full knowledge of God is impossible. In fact, that would make us God if we had that.

But God is also with us and within us. And we do have some experience of what God is like for us. Scripture tries to give us a glimpse of this, and the experience of Jesus and the Holy Spirit links the ineffable with us. We are connected to God, who always is trying to unite with his creation. We need to pay attention to that in order to discover meaning in our lives that is beyond science, but also that doesn’t disprove and still honors scientific discovery.

Much like our political landscape these days, the interaction of scientific communities and religious ones are fraught with division. And it’s unnecessary. Let’s call out the extremes on both sides today and show that Catholics are not part of some radical anti-scientific mentality and also honor science, that continues to discover the wonders of God’s world for all of us.