I've always felt sad at the passing of Christmas Day: at how quickly the world moves on to Boxing-Day sales, extinguished fairy lights, discarded fir trees and raucous New-Year revelries. Perhaps it's partly nostalgia, but I yearn for those past times when the twelve days of Christmas were celebrated in full. For me, Christmas is worth lingering on, because it's a sign of the world to come.
One of my favourite pieces of Christmas music is ‘For unto us a Child is born’ from Georg Friderich Händel’s Messiah. I have loved it since I was a child, touched by its bouncing joy and the intricacy of its polyphonic choral writing, with lines appearing and disappearing like needles through the musical fabric, aligning with each other for a few ‘stitches in time’ before one vanishes to reappear a moment later in a different hue. As a music historian, I am enchanted by the majesty of Händel’s choral setting, but its glorious lyrics are what I love most.
[Portraits of (L-R) Euler, Gauss, Cantor, Ramanujan, Noether, Hilbert and Gödel from the public domain]
In teaching elementary probability and statistics to undergraduates, I've been reading about some of the great mathematicians who are commemorated in the names of functions and constants. This has led me to ponder the role of religious worldviews in mathematical genius, and it's on that topic that I'd like to share a few thoughts today. I hope that some readers here may have further knowledge and ideas to share.
One of the figures in the Bible who I'm most fond of is the prophet Daniel: mainly because, like me, he was a literature student.
Image: 'Jesus Washing Peter's Feet' by Ford Madox Brown (1821–1893). Image freely available at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jesus_washing_Peter%27s_feet.jpg. Image slightly cropped.
‘Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”’ (Mark 9:35)
Coming up in two weeks' time is the next in the series of Forming A Christian Mind conferences in Cambridge. Entitled "Christ, the Academy and the (Post-)Modern World: Approaching Your Subject in the Light of the Gospel", this event is slated as the first of three conferences for this academic year. The keynote speaker is David McIlroy, Visiting Professor in Law at SOAS (University of London), who will speak on ‘The Narratives of Modernity and the Christian Story’ and ‘Christianity and the Modern Conception of Rights’. At the end of the day there's a plenary talk by Daniel Hill,
A major challenge for younger academics is the increasing prevalence of both fixed-term contracts and institutional mobility. A year ago I wrote about moving from a university to a business environment, and now I'm back in a university again, with another shift in my research area. So I thought it might be helpful to share the story of these transitions and what I've learned through them.
Today I want to share a prayer that has become a regular part of my working life. At the Scriptorium here in Oxford, this is one of the prayers we say together at the beginning of every working day. It's usually attributed to the medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas; perhaps it will be helpful for you to use as you seek God's help in your work today.
In the next few weeks, I am hoping to submit my thesis. I'm not at the summit of my academic career (at least, I hope I'm not!) but I am approaching a significant waypoint that I've been working towards for three years. I don't really know what I expected to feel as I approached the final incline: victory, perhaps? I certainly don't feel that. I do feel wondrous awe and gratitude, though: at this natural pausing place in my academic (and life) journey, God has pulled me aside, turned me around, and shown me where I am and where I've come. It's a beautiful view.
Looking outside as I write this, I see that the nights are drawing in and there’s the beginnings of a chill in the air, which can mean only one thing: autumn term is nearly upon us. Inevitably, then, the minds of many academics will fast be turning away from ongoing research projects or thoughts of a holiday (or a kind of tug-of-war between both these things, as Georgina described so well in July), and towards the returning students and the task of teaching.