“And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
The Spring 2022 cover image by Blake Johnson is meant to explore the relationship between knowledge, personal and learned, with knowledge that has been given and is preemptively made available to us. Where does faith come from, and how is it nurtured? What is the full potential of our understanding, and when is it better to rest in the mysteries of God? These are questions that come to mind and find their home in the pursuit of the person of Christ — a person we learn about in the pages of a book and through the testimonies of our neighbors.
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“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.1
“The world is charged with the grandeur of God,”2 and its every dimension attests to God’s goodness. Creation, our engagement with it, and our engagement with one another brim with potential to orient our hearts and minds to the infinite splendor of God. Yet all too often we worship created things instead of our Creator,3 thereby missing him whom creation was always meant to reveal. This propensity is uniquely evident in the academic context, where we can often operate as though a pursuit of knowledge and a pursuit of Christ are at odds with one another.
But if “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,”4 then proper pursuit of knowledge must stem from proper relationship with the Christ for whom all things were made.5 We should pursue knowledge not out of selfish ambition or greed, but out of love — more specifically, love for Christ, the living Truth.6 In our Lord, we find the purpose and foundation of all knowledge, for “anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.”7 When centered in Christ, our knowledge is not solely informational, but deeply relational, enabling us to more fully love our Creator and to live in the goodness of his love.
Hope College, then, is not merely a place for minds to be stuffed with information or calibrated for “critical thinking.” It ought instead to be a center of Christian discipleship, where shepherds and sheep participate together in deep formation in Christ. The works of our hands and minds should neither be pretentious displays of self-aggrandizement nor thoughtless regurgitations of undigested content, but testaments to “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”8 Study in any discipline is an opportunity to see our Lord actively engaged in the world and the people he loves and sustains.
Our hope for this journal is that it will be a witness to God’s goodness and majesty in our present reality. There is, as Abraham Kuyper famously said, “not a square inch in the whole domain of our human life of which Christ, who is Sovereign of all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”9 Thus, when we explore any square inch, we explore that which belongs to Christ, and (one hopes) we open ourselves to see him anew from a vantage point previously unknown to us. In this spirit of spiritual exploration, our pursuit of knowledge is transformed from a “chasing after wind”10 to an intimate communion with our Creator, and our knowing is transformed from an act of pride to an act of love.
What the following pages contain is a collection of testimonies to the goodness of God, lovingly offered from many square inches of human life. It bears note that The Bell Tower is intentionally ecumenical, meaning that the specific details of perspectives offered do not necessarily speak on behalf of the journal as a whole. While we hold unswervingly to the central tenets of Christianity as expressed in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, we also recognize that deeply faithful Christians hold a diversity of perspectives on various secondary elements of doctrine. Regarding such elements, our standard is theological maturity and spiritual integrity rather than perfect internal unanimity. We seek to hold our differences with humility and grace as we await together the day when we all will see our Lord face-to-face and know as we are known.11
We pray that our offering will draw you to a deeper love of God and a deeper gratitude for his goodness. May God’s grace be with you.
Lydia Harrison ’23 is the Editor in Chief of The Bell Tower.
2 Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur,” in Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, ed. Robert Bridges (London: Humphrey Milford, 1918), 26.
3 Rom. 1:25
4 Prov. 1:7
5 Col. 1:16
6 John 14:6
7 1 Cor. 8:2–3
8 Ps. 27:13
9 Abraham Kuyper, “Sphere Sovereignty,” trans. George Kamps (speech, Amsterdam, October 1880), The Gospel Coalition, https://media.thegospelcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/24130543/SphereSovereignty_English.pdf
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:1-5
When considering the philosophers of antiquity, perhaps no group has come closer to attaining the truth of the Christian faith than the Platonists. While this philosophical tradition predates the Incarnation of Jesus Christ by centuries and is firmly rooted in ancient paganism, Platonism is saturated with many of the same metaphysical assumptions as Christianity, revealing a deep concord between these two seemingly incompatible schools of thought. In fact, a distinct tradition of Christian Platonism emerged in the early Church as a way better to understand Christ’s teachings with the aid of Platonist philosophy. Platonism has been especially influential in the development of Christian theology regarding the natures of the human person and the divine, and many aspects of this dogmatic tradition actually strengthen Church doctrine. In this paper, I will advocate for Christian Platonism as an orthodox, coherent tradition that is the fruit of the mutual enrichment between Platonism and scriptural exegesis.
In The City of God, Saint Augustine praises the Platonists over all other secular philosophers because the Platonists have come closest to an understanding of the one true God through their doctrine of the Forms. According to Augustine, the Platonists, “coming to a knowledge of God, have found the cause of the organized universe, the light by which truth is perceived, and the spring which offers the drink of felicity.”1 For the Platonists, this cause of the organized universe is the form of the Good, which gives all of creation its existence and intelligibility, and therefore is our ultimate source of being. The Platonic Forms are intelligible and eternal, and provide us with a light through which we can interpret the world. This relationship between human perception and the light of truth is best illustrated by Plato’s “Analogy of the Cave.”
In Plato’s cave, the shackled prisoners are unaware that the objects in front of them aren’t objects at all; rather, they are shadows of artifacts cast upon the wall by a fire. For the prisoners to see these shadows and artifacts for what they truly are, they must be released from their chains and dragged out of the cave into the light of day, where the sun can illuminate these objects and allow for right sight. The sun in Plato’s analogy represents the form of the Good, as this is “the last thing to be seen, and it is reached only with difficulty.”2 Much like the Christian God, Plato’s form of the Good is a divine source of being for all of the world. It is only by the light of the sun that the prisoners can see the world around them, and therefore it is only by the light of the Good that we can attain true knowledge. This rule of perception applies to both material and immaterial things, as the form of the Good is “the cause of all that is correct and beautiful in anything.”3 Just as the Christian God is truth and goodness himself, the Platonic Forms are the ultimate source of “truth and understanding” for all things, making the corruptible and divine realms intelligible for those who are able to escape the cave.4
These similarities between the nature of God and the Good allow Christianity and Platonism to share a very similar understanding of the human person. According to Platonist anthropology, humans are inherently spiritual creatures possessing both a material body and an immaterial soul. While the body makes us fallible and riddled by animal and vegetable desires, the soul is responsible for channeling man’s intellect toward his higher capacities, such as the pursuit of wisdom and virtue. It is for this reason that Platonists believe the soul to be superior to the body, because man would be unable to perceive the divine by the body alone. Furthermore, because the divine is intelligible only to intelligent souls, the Platonists assert that the human soul must share some of the same characteristics of the divine, namely immortality, intelligibility, and simplicity. This is the affinity argument set forth by Socrates in the Phaedo, as he makes the distinction between that which is visible and that which is unseen — or the distinction between the mortal body and the immortal soul.5 From these distinctions, the Platonists conclude that the soul cannot be destroyed in death and will live on even after the dissolution of the body.6
Christianity also understands men to be endowed with immortal souls because we have been made in God’s own image.7 Although our connection to the divine has been wounded by sin, Christ’s promises of redemption and resurrection alert us to the reality that our souls will live on even after the earth has passed away, which sets us apart from the rest of the material cosmos. From the Christian perspective, the very existence of our soul and intellect signifies our need for God, as we have been brought into existence for the purpose of communion with Him. This is why individuals, including the Platonists, are so motivated to pursue wisdom: We are trying to find true peace that can be found only in God. As Augustine observes in his Confessions, this longing for communion with the divine is a universal human struggle, and “our heart is restless until it comes to rest in [God].”8
Both Platonism and Christianity understand the human soul as naturally calibrated for pursuing questions of the divine. Platonism is especially adept at explaining man’s inclination toward divine things through its discussion of the immaterial nature of the Good — an idea that has not always been reflected in Christian descriptions of God. Especially in the Old Testament, God is often portrayed in anthropomorphic terms as a changeable deity who walks and talks alongside man. Many of the Old Testament’s descriptions of God also seem to limit God’s wisdom, describing him as a deity who needs to be reminded of his covenants or who can be swayed by human negotiations. The Platonic doctrine of the Forms helps develop an understanding of God as a transcendent and omniscient being because it reinforces the idea that everything which exists must receive its being and intelligence through the divine. The works of the Platonists were integral to Augustine’s own conversion to Christianity, as these writers helped him better understand God’s immaterial nature through which “souls are renewed so that they become wise.”9 By reading the Platonists, Augustine also realizes that any attempt by men to conceptualize God will inevitably limit his power and goodness, because God cannot be contained within the bounds of space, time, or (therefore) human imagination. Platonism thus helps anchor the Christian understanding of God as a necessarily all-powerful and allknowing deity, too great for the human intellect to compass. Without a firm grasp of these truths, Christian theology would be vulnerable to incoherence and arbitrariness because we wouldn’t actually be able to know anything enduring about the immaterial God.
However, one area where Christianity and Platonism diverge is in their account of human morality. While Christian teachings provide an account of original sin and humanity’s fall, the Platonists do not provide a clear etiology for why men live in a state of separation from the Good. Christianity understands that human beings are imperfect because of the first sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. This deficiency has been passed down to every subsequent generation, which is why man’s ability to commune with God is fundamentally inhibited and why the unification of one’s desires to God takes a lifetime of perseverance in the faith. Platonist philosophy, on the other hand, does not provide an account of original sin and contains no explanation as to why human souls are not naturally attuned to the wisdom of the Good. Even though the Good is the source of the soul’s immortality, the Platonists still maintain that a proper orientation of oneself to the Good takes a lifetime of conscious habituation.
Contrasted against the framework of sin and holiness that the Christian God uses to judge humanity, Platonists rely on virtue and vice to determine man’s goodness. The cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude are of the utmost importance to Platonist philosophers, and the harmony of these virtues reflects the divine ordering and unity of the Forms themselves. Cultivating these virtues requires wisdom, but in the Platonist tradition this is a rare achievement that only a select few will achieve in their lifetimes. Socrates provides an account of judgment in the Platonic afterlife in the Phaedo, where “there is no escape from evil nor any salvation [for souls] except by becoming as good and wise as possible [in life], for the soul goes to the underworld possessing nothing but its education and upbringing, which are said to bring the greatest benefit or harm to the dead.”10 The cultivation of virtue is an important task in the Christian tradition as well, but Christianity recognizes that virtue alone cannot save us (or that we are unable to achieve the virtue necessary for salvation). Original sin has compromised humanity in such a way that our only hope of redemption is through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, because no amount of good works or righteous living can reconcile us with God.
While Platonist conceptions of redemption and the afterlife are unattainable for most/all when based only on the cardinal virtues, Christianity can enrich Platonist philosophy through its understanding of the relationship between man and God. For Platonists, the divine is something to order one’s soul toward. Although the ancient Platonists did not identify this divine entity as a triune God, they understood that the divine was the source of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, and that pursuing these Forms was the only way to attain true happiness. Christianity also requires that one order their soul toward God; although the Christian God is far more personal than the Good proposed by the Platonists. Additionally, this ascent to truth cannot be done on our own by being mysteriously “cured of [our] ignorance,” as is the case for those in the cave.11 Indeed, Socrates is never clear as to how we know we have made it out of the cave and are truly seeing the form of the Good. Christianity offers a much more tangible form, literally and figuratively, of deliverance for humanity. For Christians, ordering one’s life to God can only be done through his grace and through a relationship with Jesus Christ as our human-divine mediator. Herein lies another strength of Christian Platonism — the integration of the Christ figure into a philosophy that is already highly dogmatic.
Platonism is a dogmatic philosophy in the sense that it affirms that there are universal truths about life and the world that are intelligible to human beings. However, without Christ orienting these truths the dogmatism of Platonism makes for an elitist, solitary philosophy wherein only a select few persons can actually attain wisdom. Whereas the body of Christ is for everyone and offers redemption to all no matter one’s level of intellectual prowess, ancient Platonism was accessible only to the educated minority of individuals who had the leisure and ability to fully devote their lives to studying the Forms. Platonism could never achieve the same universality and diversity that the Christian Church can because for the Christian it is Wisdom himself who seeks man first; Christians start with more than the inherent craving for wisdom12 that Platonist philosophers and sages identify.
On this chasm between Christianity and secular philosophies like Platonism, John Henry Newman speaks in his 1830 Easter sermon, “The Influence of Natural and Revealed Religion Respectively.” Newman addresses the insufficiencies of natural religion as philosophies derived from human reason alone rather than divine revelation. It should be noted that Newman uses the term “natural religion” throughout his sermon to refer to all secular moral philosophies, including Platonism, that are used as a substitute for formalized revealed religion. Natural religion is, as Newman calls it, “the actual state of religious belief of pious men in the heathen world.”13
According to Newman’s perspective, natural religions like Platonism are helpful for promulgating a moral code among their followers and creating standards for good citizenship, but are ultimately insufficient in allowing for real, transformative encounters between man and God. It is through natural religion that men are able to cultivate an “expertness in the science of Morals,” but Newman is careful not to equate this science of morals with actual virtue.14 Ultimately, humanity needs a teacher that can properly instruct us according to the will of God. For Newman, that teacher can only be Jesus Christ. It is Christ, and the story of his life found in the Scriptures, which are “the great instruments (under God’s blessing) of fixing and instructing our minds.”15 Natural religion will always fall short when compared to revealed religion, no matter how close to Christianity its teachings may be, because it cannot provide an infallible, effective teacher who is both fully man and fully God.
The Platonists realized the importance of teachers and relied on the wisdom of teachers to encourage the next generation of philosophers in their pursuit of wisdom. This is demonstrated by the following of devout students Socrates attracted in his lifetime, including Plato. We also learn more about Socrates’ reverence for his own teacher, Diotima, in the Symposium. However, these teachers are not immune to error and correction. Thus in the Phaedo Socrates critiques one of his teachers, Anaxagoras, for the latter’s false understanding of the intellect, desire, and action.16 While there are a number of good teachers in the Platonist tradition, these individuals will always be fallible because they are mere human beings. Humans require human teachers, but mere humans are naturally imperfect.
Newman is correct in evaluating natural religion as inherently deficient, because Platonism simply cannot provide the same depth of connection as the personal God that is offered by Christianity, nor can it provide an infallible teacher for its students who is both fully man and fully God. Newman summarizes this issue well when he states that “the God of philosophy [is] infinitely great, but an abstraction; the God of paganism [is] intelligible, but degraded by human conceptions.”17 Christian Platonism replaces this abstraction with the one true God who seeks an intimate relationship with mankind and even sent his Son to become one of us so that we may learn how to find true wisdom and happiness in him.
With this in mind, it may seem that Platonism is just a pre-Incarnation form of Christianity. If that were the case, ‘Christian Platonism’ could easily be misinterpreted as an almost redundant term because the only thing separating these two respective traditions would be a “historical ignorance of Christ.”18 However, to label Christian Platonism as effectively redundant would be to trivialize the role of Jesus Christ in Christian theology, and the major philosophical shifts that occur when Christian revelation elevates Platonist philosophy. It is the role of Christian Platonism to “[interpret] Platonic philosophy through the lens of Christian doctrine.”19 Thus, the significance of Christ within Christian Platonism cannot be dismissed, as he is, in the order of being and knowing, the true source and summit of the entire tradition.
Furthermore, it is important to understand Christian Platonism as a lens for examining philosophy because some of the greatest challenges facing this tradition are the charges of heresy levied against its members for associating too closely with a pagan philosophy, such as in the case of Origen. We must remember that Christian Platonists are Christians first, and Christian Platonist philosophy is always done in light of the Scriptures and Church teachings. We need not look far into the historical record to find numerous theologians who have virtuously integrated Platonism into their religious and philosophical pursuits as Christians. Saint Augustine, as has been demonstrated throughout this essay, is only one example of a pious theologian who believed Platonism still had a great deal to offer the Church, but recognized that it had insufficient conceptions of God and man that needed to be corrected by Christ.
Augustine was able to reconcile his respect for Platonist principles with the Christian faith by using Christian Platonism as a lens for his works. In The Teacher, for example, Augustine explains explicitly Platonic principles of learning and recollection through a Christian understanding of truth and wisdom. From his perspective, it is through our ability to perceive Christ that we are able to perceive any truth at all, because Christ is Truth himself. It is for this reason that Augustine claims when one person speaks truths to another, the hearer of truth is “taught not by [the speaker’s] words but by the things themselves made manifest within when God discloses them.”20 This is a more comprehensive understanding of how man comes to know truth, and it bolsters the Platonist theory of recollection. Our souls come to knowledge not because of a process of reincarnation or because our souls have already experienced this truth in time,21 but because God has allowed us to perceive it in his light. Because of this, the pursuit of true wisdom is inextricably linked to the pursuit of God.
This understanding of truth helps further protect Christian Platonism from charges of unorthodoxy even if a number of Christians, both Platonist and otherwise, hold that any form of truth is revealed truth, whether supernaturally or not, and must ultimately come from God. This idea is not foreign to the faith, and because Christ as Logos transcends time one may believe that “there is no other true Reason than Christ” and therefore that “everyone who ever heeded reason heeded Christ.”22 In this sense, Platonism should not be fully rejected by Christianity regardless of its shortcomings because it does contain some transcendental truths about the human person and the nature of the soul. This is not to give credit to paganism qua pagan, because the knowledge contained within Platonism still comes from Christ. Christian Platonism is simply a further perfection of this.
Christian Platonism arose out of a need to reconcile important Platonist concepts with revealed Christian doctrine and that synthesis bore a tradition that is still relevant in the modern era, as seen, for example, in the writings of Iris Murdoch and Josef Pieper. The philosophical truths within Platonism have remained salient over time because they contain glimpses of God’s revealed truth to man, and this is brought to fruition by the assimilation of Platonism into the Christian tradition. Christian Platonism is therefore an orthodox tradition that should be preserved because it allows for the further study of virtue and the relationship between God and the cosmos, both of which are inevitably theological endeavors regardless of whether or not they are pursued with a Christian lens.
Faith Brown ‘21 majored in Political Science and Philosophy and minored in Religion. She lives in Washington, DC. We thank Dr. Kevin M. Kambo (Philosophy) for his involvement with Faith’s piece.
1 Augustine, Concerning The City of God Against the Pagans, trans. Henry Bettenson (New York: Penguin Books, 1984), 313.
2 Plato, “Analogy of the Cave.” Republic (Book VII). Trans. G.M.A. Grube. Revised by C.D.C. (Reeve. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1992), 186–190.
3 Plato, “Analogy of the Cave,” 3.
4 Plato, “Analogy of the Cave,” 3.
5 Plato, Phaedo, trans. Eva Brann, Peter Kalkavage, and Eric Salem (Newburyport: Focus Publishing, 1998), 79b.
6 Plato, Phaedo, 80b.
7 Gen. 1:26–27
8 Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, trans. Thomas Williams (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2019). 1.1.1.
9 Augustine, Confessions, 7.9.14.
10 Plato, Phaedo, 107d.
11 Plato, “Analogy of the Cave,” 2.
12 Plato, Symposium, trans. Even Brann, Peter Kalkavage, and Eric Salem. (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2017). 204a.
13 John Henry Newman. “The Influence of Natural and Revealed Religion Respectively.” Fifteen Sermons Preached Before the University of Oxford Between A.D. 1826 and 1843. (University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana, 1997). 16–36. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvpj74tg.7.
14 Newman, “The Influence of Natural and Revealed Religion Respectively,” 20.
15 Newman, “The Influence of Natural and Revealed Religion Respectively,” 34.
16 Plato, Phaedo, 98c.
17 Newman, “The Influence of Natural and Revealed Religion Respectively,” 24.
18 Paul Tyson, “How Christian Is Christian Platonism?” Returning to Reality: Christian Platonism for Our Times (The Lutterworth Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2014), 90–124. 19 Tyson, “How Christian Is Christian Platonism?,” 99.
20 Augustine, Against the Academicians and The Teacher, trans. Peter King. (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1995). 95–146. 12.40.
21 Plato, Phaedo, 73c.
22 Tyson, “How Christian Is Christian Platonism?,” 113.
“And [Jesus] said to them,‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”1
Conversations with students at Hope College about Sabbath often share a couple themes. First, students wonder about what Sabbath means for Christians in a theological sense. Second, they ponder how to practice Sabbath in terms of the timeframe and activities. After reflecting on Sabbath, students tend to positively embrace the idea of Sabbath but find implementing Sabbath into college life difficult. Keeping Sabbath as a portion of a Sunday and including others in Sabbath activities have been helpful practices for my friends and me. Rather than expand on the beautiful theological meaning of Sabbath or recommendations for practice, I aim to explore how Sabbath is related to health in empirical psychological literature.
At Hope College, I have enjoyed the opportunity to conduct psychology research at the intersection of health and religion. Broadly, religiousness is associated with better health.2 This association is partly explained by social, behavioral, and psychological mediators. For example, religious people often experience social support from their religious communities. Religion supports salubrious health behaviors through two directions. First, religions often encourage positive health behaviors like good nutrition and exercise. Second, many religions provide prohibitions against harmful health behaviors, such as alcohol use and smoking. Psychological mediators of religion and health include having a coherent worldview, hopefulness, and utilizing effective coping mechanisms for anxiety through prayer, meditation, or other spiritual practices.
Much research explores broad links between health and religious affiliation or religious service attendance, but there is not much work on the specific ritual of Sabbath-keeping. I attempt to outline the current knowledge of how Sabbath is related to health and well-being. I chose to explore how Sabbath-keeping related to health because it is connected to social, behavioral, and psychological practices that could effectively cause better health. People who keep Sabbath might spend their day attending religious services and enjoying quality time with family and friends. Additionally, they may take time for rest and restoration by getting sleep and mentally disengaging from their daily stressors. Finally, they may spend time praying and reflecting on their ultimate values. Altogether, I expected Sabbath practice to be robustly linked to physical and mental health.
Throughout this review, I will explore many groups of Sabbath-keepers, including Jews in various countries, Christians of various Sabbath-keeping and non-Sabbathkeeping denominations, and even those who identify as nonreligious/secular. I will describe three theoretical models of Sabbath and psychological well-being, the association between Sabbath and mortality, the practice and experience of Sabbath-keeping, the mediators of Sabbath and health, the role of technology use, the expansion of health to include spiritual health, and the clinical implications of this research.
Models of Sabbath and Psychological Well-Being
One psychological theory of how Sabbath-keeping may be related to better psychological well-being was created by Margaret Diddams and colleagues.3 Their theory divided Sabbath keeping into three progressive stages: the Life Segmentation model, Prescribed Meaning model, and Integrated Sabbath model. Within the Life Segmentation model, boundaries are intentionally and regularly created to separate Sabbath from work so that people can be involved in leisure and family time. Many people who apply this broad Sabbath model to their lives do not call it “Sabbath” or engage in religious practice. Instead, it might be described as work-life balance for the purpose of avoiding burnout. Psychological literature suggests that Life Segmentation is an effective coping strategy for stress management and can promote greater resiliency.4
Next, the Prescribed Meaning model adds a positive meaning to the time that has been effectively segmented in the first model. Religious people often add worship, celebration, prayer, and study to their Sabbath time. This model moves beyond using Sabbath as a tool to become more productive on the other six days because people understand the meaning of Sabbath-keeping to be more than avoiding burnout.5
Finally, the model of Integrated Sabbath is built on a preexisting psychological framework called Self-Determination Theory. Self-Determination Theory describes three themes that drive people’s internal motivation: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. When behaviors are internally motivated, people will experience greater wellbeing and better performance of those behaviors. Within the context of Sabbath-keeping, the three themes are identified as rest, reflection, and relationships.6 Rest is an autonomous choice that, like psychological research on autonomy demonstrates, leads to well-being. Likewise, competence in maintaining a time of Sabbath reflection will improve self-efficacy and hope. Even if people cannot improve their situation through their own actions of self-efficacy, their Sabbath reflections of divine efficacy yield “transcendent hope.”7 Finally, relatedness and relationships fulfill the need to belong. Sabbath-keeping becomes internalized when rest, reflection, and relationships shape a person’s whole life. According to Self-Determination Theory, an integrated Sabbath leads to personal growth and well-being.
Altogether, this theory suggests that all three Sabbath models support positive psychological well-being. Further, the Integrated Sabbath model includes a mindset that will extend into all of life, so it may be the most salient.8
Sabbath and Mortality
The earliest study of Sabbath and health that I identified took an epidemiological approach by investigating the ultimate health outcome — mortality — within the country of Israel. Jon Anson and Ofra Anson studied how Sabbath days were associated with lower mortality levels for Jews in Israel.9 Researchers utilized a correlational study based on 261,813 recorded deaths in Israel from 1983 to 1992; the deaths of Jewish adults demonstrated a significant pattern of decreasing on the Sabbath day compared to the other days of the week.10 This decline in mortality was not found for Jewish children or non-Jewish people living in Israel. Additionally, the decline in mortality was found for both external and internal causes of death.11 External causes of death included occupational and traffic accidents, while internal causes of death included cerebrovascular, cardiovascular, and malignant diseases.12 The decline in mortality from external causes may be explained by Sabbath rules, such as not driving, but the decline of internal causes of death on Sabbath reveals the influence of Sabbath as a social and religious phenomenon.
In an expansion of their previous work, Anson and Anson controlled for long-term and seasonal trends in mortality, but interestingly, they did not find a similar decrease in deaths during other holy days.13 Researchers suggest that there may be a specific Sabbath effect, rather than a general holy day effect. The health-promoting effects of Sabbath may have to do with the frequency and consistency of observing the Sabbath.
The Sabbath Experience
The next set of studies I reviewed are qualitative interviews taken from different religious populations.
Simon Dein and Kate Miriam Loewenthal conducted semi-structured interviews of thirteen orthodox Jews in the UK and US.14 The purpose of this study was to investigate how orthodox Jews in the UK and US perceived the benefits of observing the Sabbath. After the interviews, researchers conducted a thematic analysis and found that the Sabbath was perceived as different from other days. More specifically, Sabbath provided a time to reflect on ultimate values and strengthen relationships.15 Additionally, participants reported that they had a better mood and dealt with less stress on the Sabbath. Even so, some Sabbath observers identified that they felt increased worry on the Sabbath due to the lack of distraction and inability to take action. Overall, the majority reported that Sabbath improved their well-being.16
Barbara Baker Speedling conducted semi-structured interviews of ten women who were not part of Sabbath-keeping communities, with the goal of observing how Sabbath-keeping might benefit people who do not have strong community support for Sabbath observance.17 The ten women were not part of Sabbath-keeping communities but had practiced Sabbath for at least six months. Speedling identified six overarching themes: “Sabbath-keeping enhanced self-awareness, improved self-care, enriched relationships, developed spirituality, positively affected the rest of a Sabbath-keeper’s week, and Sabbath-keeping practices and philosophies also evolved over time.”18 Based on these findings, the researcher recommended that healthcare professionals promote Sabbath-keeping, and for people who do not wish to keep Sabbath in a religious way, Speedling suggested that a secular Sabbath include slow living, simplicity, taking a technology break, and avoiding economic behavior.19 Although this study was subjective, it provided support for how Sabbath may improve self-awareness, selfcare, relationships, and spirituality.
Another qualitative study conducted by Erik C. Carter used a phenomenological approach to open-ended, semistructured interviews of Seventh-day Adventist pastors to gather descriptions of Sabbath-keeping.20 Sabbath-keeping was strictly limited to the seventh day per the beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists, which can be the busiest day of the week for pastors. Carter selected five participants from the Kentucky-Tennessee Conference of Seventh-day Adventists based on the participants’ different life stages, education levels, and church district organizations. Results indicated that the pastors found the Sabbath to be both restful and stressful.21 The pastors only reported stress in the morning when they were busy managing church service details and anxious about preaching.22 Paradoxically, these same experiences of greeting people and preaching were viewed as joyful and energizing.23 All the pastors spent about thirty minutes in prayer before leading a church service, and the afternoon was spent in spiritual rest, enjoying nature, and, especially for pastors with children, connecting with family.24 Carter concluded that there was a range of practices and experiences in Sabbath-keeping among Seventh-day Adventist clergy, but there was a shared difficulty in creating boundaries to prevent overcommitment.25 Although this study’s sample is narrow, it provided a helpful understanding of the lived experience of stress and joy that can be present in Sabbath practice.
Mediators of Sabbath and Health
In addition to the qualitative interview studies, some researchers have taken a quantitative approach utilizing surveys. These studies often look at various social, behavioral, and psychological mediators that connect Sabbath practice to health.
Recently, Rae Jean Preschoeld-Bell and colleagues conducted a study involving a Sabbath-promoting workshop intervention for United Methodist clergy in order to compare mental and spiritual health at baseline, three months after the workshop, and nine months after the workshop.26 This longitudinal study design was unique compared to the other cross-sectional Sabbath studies because it could associate changes in Sabbath-keeping with changes in mental health over time. The final sample consisted of 129 United Methodist clergy in North Carolina who completed all three surveys. The workshop was led by the non-governmental organization Blessed Earth, varied in length from three to fifteen hours, and involved Bible passages, prayer, anecdotes, reasons, and a vision for Sabbath-keeping.27 Additionally, discussion time, question time, and post-workshop resources were included. Overall, participants increased in their Sabbath-keeping behavior throughout time, but there was no control group for comparison. Increasing Sabbath observance was associated with greater feelings of personal accomplishment at work.28 Also, participants who began observing Sabbath after nonobservance at baseline decreased their emotional exhaustion. Decreasing Sabbath observance was associated with worsened spiritual and mental health. Researchers concluded that there was a small, beneficial relationship between Sabbath-keeping and mental health. They also allowed participants to self-define Sabbath practice and suggested that future research utilize a stricter definition of Sabbath.29
Devon J. Superville and colleagues quantitatively tested religious support and religious coping as potential mediators of Sabbath and health.30 The purpose of this study was to investigate how Sabbath-keeping was related to health and whether this relationship was mediated by religious coping, religious support, diet, or exercise. This study used a correlational method based on data from the Biopsychosocial Religion and Health Study. Of the 5,411 participants, 97% were Seventh-Day Adventists. Altogether, researchers found that there was a significant correlation between Sabbath-keeping and improved mental health. Researchers did not find a significant association between Sabbath-keeping and physical health.31 The association between Sabbath-keeping and improved mental health was partially mediated by religious coping, religious support, diet, and exercise. Further, the effects of religious coping and religious support were more salient compared to diet and exercise.32 Researchers could not rule out the possibility of reverse causality that increased mental health led to increased Sabbath-keeping.
Drawing on the Sabbath and psychological well-being theory developed by Diddams and colleagues,33 Karl G. D. Bailey and Arian C. D. Timoti investigated how people who had higher levels of Sabbath-keeping internalization displayed greater subjective well-being.34 This study was based in Self-Determination Theory, which posits that human needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness drive the process of internalizing motivation. Using a survey, researchers gathered data on 362 students from a Sabbath-keeping university community. A vast majority of the sample identified as Seventh-day Adventist Christians. Participants with higher levels of Sabbath-keeping internalization displayed greater subjective well-being.35 This study provided support for the theory that the Integrated Sabbath model would yield the greatest well-being as described by Diddams and colleagues.36
Sabbath and Technology Use
One unique study focused on electronic media use within the relationship between Sabbath practice and psychological well-being. Eliyakim Herkshop and colleagues explored whether Sabbath-keeping Jews’ experience of electronic media abstinence depended on whether it took place on a weekday or the Sabbath.37 Researchers were interested in technology addiction as a poor mental health outcome that includes distress, irritability, and anxiety. Previous research found that Jewish smokers experienced less cravings and fewer withdrawal symptoms when abstaining on the Sabbath compared to a non-Sabbath day. Thus, researchers hypothesized that Jews would experience a better mood and less adverse psychological reactions when abstaining from electronic media on a Sabbath day compared to a non-Sabbath day.38
Ten Jewish participants in their twenties agreed to participate in the study. Retrospective reporting was utilized at two separate time points following the Sabbath because writing was prohibited on the Sabbath. Researchers compared the reported adverse psychological reactions between weekday abstention and Sabbath abstention for the two different time points and found that participants experienced less adverse psychological reactions on the Sabbath, including less anxiety, thoughts and plans of using devices, restlessness, and overall difficulty to abstain.39 Researchers suggested that their small sample size and a selection bias of recruiting people confident in their ability to abstain on weekdays may have influenced the results.40 One potential explanation for these results is that Jewish society does not expect Jews to be accessible via electronic media on the Sabbath, which may ameliorate psychological pressure. Future research is still needed to provide empirical support for Speedling’s suggestion of incorporating a technology break into a secular Sabbath for people who do not belong to a Sabbath-keeping community.41
Inclusion of Spiritual Health
Holly Hough and colleagues investigated how Sabbath-keeping was associated with mental, physical, and spiritual well-being among United Methodist clergy. Broadening this area of research to a biopsychosociospiritual model of health may provide valuable insights.42 This correlational study surveyed 1,316 United Methodist clergy. Sabbath-keeping was associated with better mental health, but this relationship was not significant after adjusting for sociodemographic, rest, and social support variables. Sabbath-keeping was not associated with better physical health. Nevertheless, Sabbath-keeping was significantly associated with better spiritual well-being, better quality of life, and increased satisfaction with relationships.43 This finding is in-line with the Sabbath improvement in spirituality noted by Speedling44 and Proeschold-Bell and colleagues.45
The Student Experience of Sabbath
Jama L. White and colleagues described how Sabbath might be beneficial for graduate students in mental health fields and with Judeo-Christian backgrounds.46 The purpose of this study was to investigate how Sabbath might be beneficial for mental health professionals using quantitative and qualitative methods. Participants were 296 graduate students in mental health fields who had a Judeo-Christian background. From quantitative analyses, researchers found that Sabbath-keepers had greater satisfaction with the amount of rest compared to non-Sabbath keepers. From qualitative analyses, researchers identified that barriers to rest were lack of sleep, obligations to school or family, and inner turmoil of anxiety, guilt, and stress.47
Overall, Sabbath-keeping was beneficially related to mortality, well-being, mental health, spiritual health, technology addiction, and relationship satisfaction. Researchers interested in the links between religiousness and health should continue exploring this nascent area of research because of its promising implications for health promotion. Specifically, researchers should develop well operationalized and controlled experimental studies, preferably longitudinal, to explore the causal relationship between Sabbath practice and health in a broad population. Additionally, researchers should work to identify the strongest mediators so that the most effective Sabbath practices can be encouraged.
While the study of Sabbath and health is yielding exciting insights in its incipient stage, the underdevelopment of shared research methods creates limitations. For example, the small sample sizes of narrowly-defined populations results in a consistent problem of low generalizability. Additionally, the lack of experimental studies that include a control group prevent us from drawing causal inferences between Sabbath practice and health. Reverse causality that decreased health caused decreased Sabbath-keeping is a viable possibility. Also, a third cause, such as life stress, could lead to decreased Sabbath-keeping and worsened mental health. Finally, researchers failed to use a consistent definition of Sabbath. When research develops in the future, multiple definitions of Sabbath may need to be developed to account for different practices of different religious traditions. Regardless, stricter and more well-defined Sabbath definitions are much needed.
Although the limitations of previous research make it currently tenuous to prescribe Sabbath-keeping as an evidence-based health intervention, pastors and psychologists should be encouraged that a variety of benefits have been found for a variety of populations. People who adhere to Sabbath-keeping generally find benefits. The beneficial possibilities of Sabbath outweigh the difficulties of creating Sabbath boundaries. As future research substantiates the link between Sabbath-keeping and health, healthcare professionals may advise a Sabbath for both religious and secular people to enjoy rest, reflection, and relationships. Altogether, it is valuable to consider how the practice of Sabbath might improve physical, mental, and spiritual health.
Amy Osterbaan ’22 is majoring in Psychology and Exercise Science and minoring in Religion. She is from Ada, MI. We thank Dr. Alyssa Cheadle (Psychology) for her involvement with Amy’s piece.
2 Harold G. Koenig, Dana E. King, and Verna Benner Carson, Handbook of Religion and Health, 2nd ed., (Oxford University Press, 2012).
3 Margaret Diddams, Lisa Klein Surdyk, and Denise Daniels,“Rediscovering Models of Sabbath Keeping: Implications for Psychological Well-Being,” Journal of Psychology and Theology 32, no.1 (2004): 3–11. https://doi. org/10.1177/009164710403200101
4 Diddams, Surdyk, and Daniels, “Rediscovering Models,” 4–5.
5 Diddams, Surdyk, and Daniels, “Rediscovering Models,” 5–6.
6 Diddams, Surdyk, and Daniels, “Rediscovering Models,” 6–7.
7 Diddams, Surdyk, and Daniels, “Rediscovering Models,” 7.
8 Diddams, Surdyk, and Daniels, “Rediscovering Models,” 7–9.
9 Jon Anson and Ofra Anson, “Thank God it’s Friday: The Weekly Cycle of Mortality in Israel,” Population Research and Policy Review 19, no. 2 (2000): 143–154. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1006483623664
10 Anson and Anson, “Thank God it’s Friday,” 147–149.
11 Anson and Anson, “Thank God it’s Friday,” 146–153.
12 Anson and Anson, “Thank God it’s Friday,” 147–149.
13 Anson and Anson, “Thank God it’s Friday.”
14 Simeon Dein and Kate Miriam Loewenthal, “The Mental Health Benefits and Costs of Sabbath Observance Among Orthodox Jews,” Journal of Religion and Health 52, no. 4 (2013): 1382–1390. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10943- 013-9757-3
15 Dein and Loewenthal, “Mental Health Benefits,” 1386.
16 Dein and Loewenthal, “Mental Health Benefits,” 1382–1390.
17 Barbara Baker Speedling, “Celebrating Sabbath as a Holistic Health Practice: The Transformative Power of a Sanctuary in Time,” Journal of Religion and Health 58, no. 4 (2019): 1382–1400. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10943-019- 00799-6.
26 Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell et al., “Changes in Sabbath-Keeping and Mental Health Over time: Evaluation Findings From the Sabbath Living Study,” Journal of Psychology and Theology, (2021). https://doi. org/10.1177/00916471211046227.
27 Proeschold-Bell et al., “Changes in Sabbath-Keeping.”
30 Devon J. Superville, Kenneth I. Pargament, and Jerry W. Lee, “Sabbath Keeping and Its Relationships to Health and Well-Being: A Mediational Analysis,” The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 24, no. 3 (2014): 241–256. https://doi.org/10.1080/10508619.2013.837655.
31 Superville, Pargament, and Lee, “Sabbath Keeping,” 241–256.
33 Diddams, Surdyk, and Daniels, “Rediscovering Models.”
34 Karl G.D. Bailey and Arian C.B. Timoti,“Delight or Distraction: An Exploratory Analysis of Sabbath-Keeping Internalization,” Journal of Psychology and Theology 43, no.3 (2015): 192–203. https://doi. org/10.1177/009164711504300304
35 Bailey and Timoti, “Delight or Distraction,” 195.
36 Diddams, Surdyk, and Daniels, “Rediscovering Models.”
37 Eliyakim Hershkop et al., “Electronic Media Abstinence in Sabbath Observant Jews: A Comparison Between the Weekday and Sabbath,” The Israel Medical Association Journal 22, no. 9 (2020): 587–593.
38 Hershkop et al, “Electronic Media Abstinence,” 587–593.
39 Hershkop et al, “Electronic Media Abstinence,” 587–593.
41 Speedling, “Celebrating Sabbath.”
42 Holly Hough et al., “Relationships Between Sabbath Observance and Mental, Physical, and Spiritual Health in Clergy,” Pastoral Psychology 68, no. 2 (2019): 171–193. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11089-018-0838- 9.
44 Speedling, “Celebrating Sabbath.”
45 Proeschold-Bell et al., “Changes in Sabbath-Keeping.”
46 Jama L. White, Amanda M. Blackburn, and Mary K. Plisco, “Rest as a Virtue: Theological Foundations and Application to Personal and Professional Life,” Journal of Psychology and Theology 43, no. 2 (2015): 98–120. https:// doi.org/10.1177/009164711504300203
47 White, Blackburn, and Plisco, “Rest as a Virtue,” 98–120.
For in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.1
Leader: Holy God, we gather here in your presence.
People: Creator of our cells and selves, we stand in awe at your works.
Leader: God, author of our inmost being, you set each DNA nucleotide in its place while we were yet unborn.
People: Our lives are written in the language of your love.
Leader: God, keeper of our chromosomes, you guard the replicating strands of our DNA against error.
People: You meet our needs before we know them.
Leader: God, shaper of our proteins, you tend their folding and mark the intricacies of their motion.
People: You keep us from all seen and unseen harm.
Leader: God, sustainer of our metabolism, you maintain the reactions in millions of mitochondria.
People: You preserve us in ways more wonderful than we yet understand.
Leader: Lord, though we rejoice in all you have made, we lament its brokenness.
People: This world is not as it should be.
Leader: We acknowledge the reality of cancers, diseases, mutations, and every other distortion of the biochemical order.
People: Lord, we long for you to make things right.
Leader: Still, in our bewilderment and grief, in our sickness and sadness and pain, we declare together:
People: You are good.
Leader: We believe in the resurrection of the body, the promise that our matter matters and nothing you have made will go to waste.
People: Lord, let it be so.
Leader: With expectant hearts, we look forward to the day when every molecule of your good creation will be restored to a glory beyond anything our intellects and imaginations can yet grasp.
People: Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen.
Claire Buck ’22 is majoring in English and minoring in Political Science. She is from Rochester, NY
In a world of extremes where things are either black or white, good or bad, Democratic or Republican, society has primed us to perceive life in dichotomies. We have trouble looking past these definitive lines and into the middle. With this compartmentalizing mindset, the harmonious interaction of extremes is neglected. One such example includes the misconceived battle between faith and science. Many people believe that these practices are independent of one another and cannot coexist and that they are in constant competition.1 They presume that individuals who believe in a higher power object to scientific reasoning, and that those doing groundbreaking research have no interest in religious conviction. Unfortunately, this delusion prevents us from seeing the unity and rapport between faith and science. Thus, the purpose of this essay is twofold: 1) to refute popular culture’s perception of this divide, and 2) to propose how a more robust theology of the human person could foster not only the growth of the neuroscience department at Hope College, but also the growth of the neuroscience field in general.
To begin, I deem it important to explore the definition of “mind,” since this abstract term brings forth its own set of split opinions. To some, the mind is a physical entity congruent with the brain. To others, it is a spiritual element that operates independently of biological mechanisms. According to ancient philosopher Descartes and his mind-body dualism, the mind is a spiritual entity that receives signals and communicates with the brain to produce physical responses. In other words, “the mind is something distinct from the body”2 but “the mind and the body form a unity which is a human being.”3 Based on this ideology, the spiritual mind and physical body work in tandem.
Though this understanding establishes a more holistic view of the human person, what remains unanswered is my introductory question: What exactly is the mind? How can we define it, if at all? I believe that these questions have really stumped our discipline. The purpose of neuroscience is to learn about the brain and the mind and how their functionality, or lack thereof, impacts human beings on a physical and mental/ emotional level. To date, we have acquired much knowledge about the former. We progressed from recognizing the brain as a clump of gray and white matter to isolating neuronal cells and identifying different neurochemical circuits and signal pathways. However, in regards to the latter, little progress has been made. I would go as far as to argue that our discipline is slowly shying away from the mind because it is a concept much too abstract, a concept that cannot be explained using the empirical method. Perhaps this is true. It may be that modern science alone simply is not sufficient to answer this question.
Instead of dodging this question altogether, I suggest we consult additional resources, such as theology of the human person and Scripture, to better our understanding of the mind. In the Bible, there are ample references made to the mind of a human being in both the Old and New Testament. However, what is interesting is that Scripture does not explicitly present us with one definition of the mind. In fact, there is no one word in the Bible that can be directly translated to “mind” as we know it in English.4 Rather, a number of Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament) terms are used to collectively portray the essence of the mind in different contexts.
In the Old Testament, for example, this inward dimension of man is talked about in terms of the “heart” (leb), “spirit” (ruah) and “soul” (nepes).5 The heart, despite being an actual organ in the body, was often used in a figurative sense. In 1 Kings 3:12 the prophet Jeremiah writes, “I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.” Here, the heart gives man wisdom and rationality. A similar meaning can be drawn from Proverbs 18:15 where “[a]n intelligent mind acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” Since the heart provides man with such awareness, it also establishes free will. Man can choose between good and evil, and the consequences of his actions are reflected in Scripture via a corrupted and deceiving heart.6 The Spirit and the soul are also used throughout the Old Testament to depict man’s conscious thought and decision-making. These terms are often tied to man’s values and virtues. In Ezekiel 11:5, for instance, the Spirit comes down on man and speaks through him.
In the New Testament, the Greek nous alludes to man’s intellect and understanding. These cognitive capacities help man discern the world around him and subsequently shape his unique worldview. In this way, the mind also helps man stretch his thinking beyond this realm as seen in Luke 24:45: “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” The New Testament also uses the negatively connotated anoetos to speak of man’s foolish mind.
Evidently, the mind of a human being cannot be constrained to one word nor defined using a single statement. It is far too complex and mysterious, as the previous examples from Scripture have shown. That said, it comes as no surprise that those in the field of Neuroscience are hesitant to approach such a philosophical concept. Be that as it may, I cannot emphasize enough the immense value a greater understanding of the human mind would bring to our field.
Another reason why a more thorough understanding of the human mind should concern all neuroscientists is because the mind is what separates humankind from all other living species. Though some may argue that non-human animals do, in fact, possess a “mental state” and are therefore “capable of understanding or forming representations about mental states in a functionally adaptive manner,” there is not significant evidence to support this assertion.7 Like human beings, non-human animals sense pain and exhibit behavioral and emotional responses including fear and anxiety.8 Despite these findings, the thought process and cognitive capabilities of humans surpass those of their non-human animal counterparts. While the brain of non-human animals works to promote survival, satiation, and social interaction, the brain (and mind) of humans is involved in so much more.
At this point, I would like to draw on Scripture once more. In the book of Genesis, we learn about the creation of the world. For the purpose of this investigation, let us take a closer look at the sixth day of creation. On the sixth and final day of creation, land animals and human beings are formed. It is important to note that humankind did not receive its own day of creation, but came into existence alongside other beastly creatures. On the other hand, we cannot forget that man was created in the image of God and bestowed dominion over “the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”9 Quite literally, man was created between the beasts of the Earth and the Sabbath. This suggests that we have a kinship with the beasts, who are driven by intrinsic needs, but are also meant for the Sabbath, a day of rest, worship, and reverence. Since we are endowed with free will and possess a rational mind, we are also capable of interpreting behavior, growing in our faith, and developing a set of values and morals that shape our personality — all of which non-human animals lack.
The reason I chose to touch on Genesis is because it serves as an excellent segue into philosophy of the human being and theology of the human person. Moving away from the mind for just a moment, allow me to explain the unparalleled body of a human being. Much of my explanation is rooted in the philosophy of Leon Kass and his book The Hungry Soul: Eating and the Perfecting of Our Nature.
First and foremost, human beings stand upright and are bipedal. This erect posture is fundamental because it “pre-establishes a definite attitude towards the world,” meaning that it allows us to have a unique perception of our surrounding environment compared to other creatures.10 We take our unique upright posture for granted, yet it dramatically influences our perception of the world. One of the reasons behind this unique viewpoint is that uprightness reorders our senses, placing vision above olfaction and auditory perception.11 In addition, the human form grants us greater freedom of movement. Unlike other animals, our hands are free to point, embrace, and gesticulate thereby serving as modes of communication and social interaction — two more phenomena that are commonly studied in our field.
From here, we can transition to a theology of the human person which teaches us that the body is a “vehicle of revelation” that aids in our discovery of original solitude.12 Though some may oppose this motive, claiming that it is less secular, I still think it is equally important. I make this argument because I truly believe that the lessons deduced from a theology of the human person are not limited to religious implications; I believe that these lessons can enlighten all people, religious and non-religious alike. For example, one of the leading motifs of this theology is the body-soul unity that is man. This inextricable connection looks beyond the tangible body of a human being and introduces us to the intangible quality of personhood. By way of explanation, we are not just human beings governed by our needs and intuition, but also persons capable of being present, of giving and receiving love, and of creating meaningful relationships. This is a lesson that should be learned by everyone, but understood in earnest by those in the field of neuroscience. Since many of us study neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s or neuromuscular disorders like multiple sclerosis, we frequently focus on a disability and how it impairs the human body on a biological level. All too often we get lost in the science and forget about the people to whom our work pertains. Thus, theology of the human person serves as a gentle reminder that individuals with disabilities are no less a person than you and I.
What I have come to learn is that no amount of scientific knowledge can clearly define personhood. As I circle back to the idea of faith and science being separate and incompatible practices, I think people must simply learn to open their eyes and to challenge the faulty norms of our society. We neuroscientists, for instance, often boast about how interdisciplinary our field is with its incorporation of biology, chemistry, and psychology. Yet as a whole, neuroscience has failed to consider certain aspects of the mind that cannot be adequately explained through empiricism. What would happen if these two presumably distinct worlds, that of theology and neuroscience, were to collide?
Paulina Kozan ’22 is majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in Biology and Spanish. She is from Norridge, IL. We thank Dr. Jared Ortiz (Religion) for his involvement with Paulina’s piece.
1 Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (London: Black Swan, 2016).
2 Daisie Radner, “Descartes’ Notion of the Union of Mind and Body,” Journal of the History of Philosophy 9, no. 2 (1971): 159.
3 Radner, “Descartes’ Notion,” 168.
4 Radner, “Descartes’ Notion.”
5 Nicholas F. Gier and Johnson Petta, “Hebrew and Buddhist Selves: A Constructive Postmodern Study,” Asian Philosophy 17, no. 1 (2007).
6 See Dan. 5:20; Isa. 44:20; Jer. 17:9; Prov. 10:20; 17:20 for additional examples.
7 Derek C Penn and Daniel J Povinelli, “On the Lack of Evidence That Non-Human Animals Possess Anything Remotely Resembling a ‘Theory of Mind,’” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 362, no. 1480 (2007): 731.
8 Charles E Short, “Fundamentals of Pain Perception in Animals,” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 59 no. 1–3 (1998): 125–133.
9 Gen. 1:28
10 Leon R. Kass, The Hungry Soul: Eating and the Perfecting of Our Nature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 64.
11 Kass, The Hungry Soul, 73.
12 Carl A. Anderson and Granados José, Called to Love: Approaching John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (New York: Doubleday, 2009), 37.
How does one even begin to define the notion of prayer? Or even the notion of poetry itself? In examining such forms of expression, it can be noticed and argued that they possess incredibly similar foundations. Both prayer and poetry involve a simplified outer expression of amplified inner thoughts — even our reasoning for engaging in either practice shares some similarities. We can pray to revere, and we can write to release. We can write to preserve our most shining moments, and we can pray to relinquish control over the most disguised doubts we decide to give away. Prayer and poetry can serve as two distinct dialects of the “Reflection” language family.
With “Prayer of an Irish Hare,” this act of connecting both prayer and poetry was mainly inspired by the Biblical passage which states, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”1 While the context behind this statement was that this was Jesus’ response to what the Pharisees assumed was a form of misguided worship by the people of Jerusalem, on a purely whimsical level, another thought came about. If it is possible for stones to shout out and praise the Lord, then what else amongst God’s creation has the potential to express themselves similarly? More specifically, which of God’s creatures seemed the most relatable to the human race?
Elephants and whales might share our capacities for compassion and mourning, yet they remain in our collective sight as pillars of strength. Horses and dogs might share our capacities for friendship and trust, yet they might often seem better suited as role models for what the human spirit could become. Upon further reflection, none other than the plucky Hare seemed to embody the human spirit best. Similar to how hares always seem to be on their guard and frantically searching for the next thing, we as humans appear to mirror this behavior as we spend much of our lives learning about some form of tenacity in order to chase whatever we might desire.
The later choice to make the Hare “Irish” came from a variety of sources. Whether it was being inspired by the scrappy nature of the Puca of Celtic folklore, who were crafty, morally-ambiguous, shapeshifting creatures that often took the forms of horses and hares, or hearing the melodic-sounding prayers of Catholic friends and acquaintances, to even being inspired by the otherworldly joy of Irish films such as Song of the Sea and The Secret of Roan Inish, which both explore how regular people acclimate to discovering that they share connections with the mythical Selkies (seal-like shapeshifters also in Celtic folklore), as well as the poetry of acclaimed author, Seamus Heaney, who takes great pride in writing about connecting to Northern Ireland’s natural landscape and subtly unpacking the social effects.
The choice to evoke an Irish identity mainly came from respecting how in the process of engaging all of these inspirations, each one possessed an ethereal and sing-songy quality I hoped to reflect in the Hare’s prayer. It seemed wise that if the Hare were to go to the Lord in prayer, then his prayer could reflect the same sentiments that we humans express during our times of prayer. The Hare’s prayer needed to affirm God’s identity, give thanks for things in his personal life before asking for things such as forgiveness, protection, and guidance, before ultimately reaffirming his understanding in all that God has the power to accomplish.
In joining both prayer and poetry with the voice of this Irish Hare, the hope was to show how an understanding of faith and deeper expression can even come from the unlikely voice of a creature that we might not pay much attention towards. If the Bible hints at the possibility of stones shouting out in worship, then who’s to say whether such a profound level of worship can come from the voice of a hare … a plucky, pensive, down-to-earth, Irish hare.
Samuel Vega ‘22 is majoring in Creative Writing and minoring in Spanish. He is from Holland, MI. We thank Dr. Pablo Peschiera (English) for his involvement with Samuel’s piece.