This year’s Wellcome Image Awards are truly awe-inspiring, and a reminder for me to look for moments of wonder and worship in my everyday routine. The online winners’ gallery includes a stunning map-like image of a mouse’s retina, a close-up of a human lens implant, and a teardrop-shaped bundle of DNA being pulled into a brand new cell. A non-scientist might not understand exactly what is being shown in these pictures, but with their bold colors, shapes, and textures, anyone can appreciate their beauty.
My field of biology has always been a very visual subject, and today that visual element can be expressed in stunning high-resolution color photographs. Wafer-thin sections of tissue can be stained with specialist dyes, showing where cell division might be going out of control in the first stages of cancer. Living cells are labeled with fluorescent tags, highlighting where a certain type of molecule is needed. Even in whole organisms, these natural fluorescent dyes can be used to track the development of a specific organ.
For some scientists, these experiences of awe and wonder point to something beyond science. The cell biologist Ursula Goodenough has written, “the remarkable beauty of the cell, of everything that is … continues to draw me to spiritual issues.”
Jeff Hardin, chair of the zoology department at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, is a distinguished scholar who is humble enough to let the experience of beauty in the tiny worms he studies direct his attention to the God who is ultimately responsible for them. Hardin sees this beauty as “a pointer to God himself, the author of things that are beautiful and true.” He is fond of quoting C. S. Lewis, calling these moments “patches of Godlight.” While not all Christians have a microscope, we all have these “patches of Godlight.”
I recently stumbled across these words for myself in Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. Setting aside intellectual wrestling and doubts, Lewis describes how he allows himself to be inspired by his surroundings: a rippling brook, cushions of moss, or patches of sunlight in a wood. “They were not the hope of glory,” he writes, but “they were an exposition of the glory itself. … As it impinges on our will or our understanding, we give it different names—goodness or truth or the like. But its flash upon our sense and mood is pleasure.”
Lewis goes on to explain that each of these pleasures is a “channel of adoration,” expressing something very intuitively to God. Gratitude is definitely part of the package, but it is wrapped up so closely with praise that the two feelings are impossible to separate.
For Lewis, that full, God-centered experience of relatively small pleasures, such as rippling streams or warm slippers on a cold day, was practice for a much greater encounter with God. How could we expect ourselves to worship God in more overt ways in much grander settings if we do not practice connecting with him in our more everyday settings?
In this sense, our place of work can be a crucible where a Christian’s worship of God is refined. For Hardin that is the laboratory, and he has not lost his delight at the wonders he sees. Hardin has been involved in campus ministry since he was an undergraduate and even went as far as studying divinity before deciding that his place is actually in the lab. Now he tries to help the students in his classes to appreciate the wonder of the things they are studying.