Academic Commons

Articles

Response to “The Humble Heart”

O’Donoghue, Aileen A.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive God to be, and whatever your labors and aspirrations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.
—Max Ehrmann, Desiderata

In my introductory astronomy course for non-science majors, I always have students who take the course because it’s the least abhorrent science class they can find. These students have been convinced by their previous education that they "can’t do" science and math. Though they are bright, articulate and accomplished and have earned their place in a selective liberal arts college, they’re convinced that they lack some special neural connections or chemical transmitters to understand information and arguments that happen to fall under the broad umbrella of science. My course is designed for these students and all but a very few succeed. On the last day, after we have spent the semester working through calculations of the luminosities, temperatures and sizes of stars and the distances to galaxies, I give them Desiderata. I focus on the fact that they are children of the universe and they belong here. Humans are not something artificial plunked down on Earth. We are part of it. We are Earth’s mind and voice. I review how they have come to exist, from the earliest moments of the Big Bang creating the protons and neutrons in every atom in their bodies, through a couple generations of stars fusing primordial hydrogen and helium into the carbon, calcium, nitrogen and oxygen in their skin, bones and breath; the explosive deaths of giant stars creating the iron carrying oxygen to their brains, the iodine regulating their metabolisms and the gold and silver shining in their jewelry; half a billion years of biological evolution giving them arms, legs and brains and ten thousand years of cultural evolution giving them a university.

Files

Also Published In

Title
Union Seminary Quarterly Review

More About This Work

Academic Units
Union Theological Seminary
Published Here
September 10, 2015
Academic Commons provides global access to research and scholarship produced at Columbia University, Barnard College, Teachers College, Union Theological Seminary and Jewish Theological Seminary. Academic Commons is managed by the Columbia University Libraries.