Tag Archives: Death

Stephen Hawking: A Question of Faith

This article was published in The Witness on Friday, 20 May 2011.  I offered them the poem, but they chose the prose.

STEPHEN Hawking has declared that “there is no heaven or afterlife … that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” (The Witness, May 17.)

In his earlier book, A Brief History of Time, he accepted that a divine being was not incompatible with a scientific understanding of the universe — a sound agnostic stance. Now, however, he believes that developments in physics allow no place for a deity in theories of the origins of the universe.

Sadly, the church has too often in its history encouraged just such a fear of the dark in order to frighten men and women into its ranks. But such theology reflects a poverty of faith, rather than a search for the truth.

Hawking has lived most of his life in the shadow of death. He has endured motor neuron disease for 49 years — about 40 years longer than most who encounter the disease. He has probably given more thought to death and what comes next than most of us and I respect him for that. But Hawking goes beyond science in this new declaration.

I am intrigued by the discoveries of physics and the theories of the origins of the universe and human kind, but I’m a babe in arms. I can claim no knowledge of the arguments — I can hardly understand most of them. Some parts of A Brief History of Time were beyond me. More recent offerings are a foreign language.

Hawking, and others with his incredible grasp of such a wide range of subjects, can prove a great deal about our origins, some beyond reasonable doubt. He can describe how it all came together, but he can’t tell us why. Of course, if there is no divine being behind it all, there is no “why?” We just have a series of causes and effects. (That, mind you, might be a bit embarrassing if it took us back to the theory of first cause — just as the big-bang theory comes embarrassingly close to a creation moment.)

I, on the other hand, am not even an authority in matters of faith. I am only a witness. I can’t package my faith into proofs for the existence of God, as Thomas Aquinas did, but I’m not sure it would make any difference if I could. I can only speak of what has happened to me — much as Hawking is doing in his latest declaration. I can tell you a story of failure and forgiveness, of brokenness and healing. I can only make sense of that story in the context of a divine being whose creativity did not end on day six.

I have no proof, just an absolute (call it naive if you like) conviction. It’s a conviction based on my experience and the experience of countless others who are just as flawed and broken as I, that the inexplicable “why?” behind the universe is love.

Hawking may have begun to pierce the veil covering the origins of the universe, but (notwithstanding the experience of those who have returned from its outer chambers) the veil of death remains as tightly sealed as ever. That veil can only be pierced by faith or by death itself. Hawking’s own assertion about the nothingness beyond is itself a statement of faith, not an objective scientific discovery.

It is not fear of the dark that feeds my faith, but an awareness of the light. I have no more certainty than Hawking of what lies beyond the grave, but as long as light remains (here or beyond), I shall continue to revel in it and tell my story.


Filed under Articles, Science & Religion

I saw a tree die

Written during a Life Revision Workshop with Jim & Heather Johnson at Beth Shalam, Pietermaritzburg, August 2010.  Allen Goddard invited us to consider how our landscape intercepts with our ‘soulscape’.

I saw a tree die.

Winter Tree DSCN0070

It was a gift, planted in love; a delight in the garden.
We treasured and nurtured it, loved and enjoyed it.
Its leaves danced on the branches, stirred into life by the breeze.
It was a miniature, fully grown when planted,
Providing shade to its small patch of garden;
Delighting the birds and insects that played in its space.

Winter Tree DSCN0075Then the rain stopped;
The breezes turned cold;
The leaves began to shiver in the cruel wind.
Green turned to red, then to brown, and the leaves died in the winter chill.
They fell to the ground, their summer dance forgotten.
And the tree died. 

My love had failed to keep it alive;
I had watched it die, helpless, and I mourned its death.
It stood there, gaunt and lifeless; a naked skeleton;
A caricature of its former glory.
I dreaded the day I would have to dig it up; a final acknowledgement of defeat.
“When Spring comes the earth will be soft. We’ll dig it up then.” 

Ian & Tree IMG_5356But Spring brought the rain.
And the rain brought a miracle of life.
Life thrust through the hard soil and into the roots;
Pushed its way into the trunk and through the dead branches.
And life burst forth in a glorious display of green.

“Death is not final,” it declared. “Merely a stepping stone
While resurrection is hidden from sight.”
Death calls for faith through the winter
And patience while waiting in the cold.
For God’s gift of life is not an event, it’s a process, a circle, everlasting. 

I saw a tree die?
No. I saw a tree rise to glorious life.



Filed under Meditation & Prayer