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For some reason I have always been intrigued by imagining what it would have been like to be present at a moment when something happens that triggers massive change in the course of history. As we look back from their future we know, and want to say to them, look look!, listen listen!. This is a great and important moment for the future!

There are countless such moments we could choose but because I was reminded of one just the other day, let me share that and a couple of others. 

It’s the year 1225, and we are standing in the faculty office of the University of Paris. Someone comes in, puts a large bundle of manuscripts  on a nearby desk and leaves. When the faculty member whose desk it is returns, he opens the pile. As he reads his jaw drops. He is holding nothing less than a bundle of manuscripts of Aristotelian philosophy that have been lost during the dark ages. Preserved and translated into Arabic by eastern scholars they have now returned to the west. The 25 year old faculty member, Thomas Aquinas, realizes what he has been given  and is fascinated. He and others are going to link this recovered western philosophy with their own Catholic theology and together will form the expanding thought of the Middle Ages.!  A great moment in history. 

So now it’s the year 1687. We are in the University of Cambridge. A faculty member, Isaac Newton, receives the first copies of his new book “Principles of Mathematics”. It will become one of rich channels of thinking that will trigger what comes to be called the Enlightenment.

As it begins to circulate, a young student picks up a copy in London and gets turned on by Newton’s new ideas in astronomy. A gifted poet, he writes a hymn, the popular music of his time. Its Newtonian physics in the form of a hymn. 

What though in solemn silence all move round the dark terrestrial ball.

What though no real voice nor sound among their radiant orbs be found.

In reason’s ear they all rejoice, and utter forth a glorious voice, 

Forever singing as they shine “The hand that made us is Divine.” 

Those lines assured countless people of that time that it was possible to embrace Newton’s new vision of the universe and at the same time hold Christian faith. 

The third wonderful moment. It is the evening of May 28,1738. Moravian Christians are gathered in a London hall. Among them is a depressed 35 year old Anglican missionary who feels he is a failure. He begins to listen to a sermon being preached. Slowly he is held by what is being said. Suddenly it breaks through his depression and reignites faith in him, so much so that he is transformed as he leaves. He will later write in his diary “My heart was strangely warmed within me”. He goes on to reinvigorate the life of the Church of England, triggering a great religious survival. He and his brother Charles begin writing songs for his followers who are spreading all over Great Britain. Eventually they will create an evangelical tide that will spread world wide, affect continents with new thinking that will bring about great changes in social conditions. The movement they create will be called Methodism. The name of the founder of it all - John Wesley. 

All of which begs a question. What’s happening out there now that someone in the future will say “Why didn’t they realize what was happening?” Or - wild thought - why doesn’t someone write a hymn about Cold Fusion, or AI, or Black Holes, all realities of today. 


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Credit: Derek J. Walker