Bixby Primary School held a Read-a-thon to raise money for Multiple Sclerosis.
So at 6 years old, I signed up all my friends:
10c, 20c, or even – from the rich – 50c per book.
I went to the library, got lots of books, and discovered that I loved to read.
I read and I read, and at the end of the month, I won the prize for the most books.
My sponsors expected me to read a dozen or 2.
I read 116!
They got a shock when they had to pay!
And I won this soft toy detective hound dog.
He’s called the Mystery Sleuth – MS for Multiple Sclerosis.
Ever since, the Mystery Sleuth has sat on the end of my bookcase.
And ever since, books and reading have dominated my life.
Looking back, I can see three main phases of my mystery sleuthing in books.
As a kid, I was into detective stories.
The Hardy Boys, The Secret Seven, The Famous Five.
And one of my favourites, The Three Investigators.
Three mystery-solving boys with the sign of ???.
Getting older, I discovered Agatha Christie, and
the Mystery Sleuth himself, Sherlock Holmes, just like this dog here.
If you’d asked me then what I wanted to be when I grew up,
I’d probably have said I wanted to be a detective, solving the mysteries of crime.
My father is a Physics professor at the University here.
I still remember my first visit with him to the University library.
I was overawed by the long aisles of books, stretching on for ever, towering above me.
And at university I followed in Dad’s footsteps.
I studied science, researching the riddles of the natural world.
Now I mostly read Maths, Chemistry, Biology textbooks.
But I also explored the book of nature in the laboratories.
Zoology: dissecting the worm, the foetal pig, the sheep’s lung.
Physiology: sticking electrodes in frog’s legs,
Or taping them onto classmates as they sweated on an exercycle.
Chemistry: playing with expensive glassware – and trying not to break it,
making exotic-smelling chemicals, burning acid-holes in my jeans.
I went on to a Masters in Chemistry.
Probing the mysteries of chemical reactions on the surface of a tiny, square centimetre, crystal.
4 years ago I finished my thesis, my first book!
It was grippingly entitled:
“Temperature Programmed Desorption and Scanning Kinetic Spectroscopy of Acetic Acid, Acrylic Acid & Maleic Anhydride on the TiO2(001) Single Crystal”!
Unfortunately, it didn’t quite make the New York Times bestseller list…
Since then, I computer programme in the Chemistry department.
My reading has shifted from Natural Science, to what the Middle Ages called the “Queen of Sciences”: theology.
Sleuthing into the mysteries of my Christian faith.
I’ve found that Theology is such a broad subject.
It’s all about getting to know God and people.
It involves languages, history, philosophy, world religions.
The social sciences: anthropology, sociology, psychology.
For my exam last week I got into some Freud – sleuthing the dark mysteries of the unconscious.
So for me now the three ??? are a fantastic symbol of the central enigma of the Christian faith, the Trinity.
To a lot of people, theology and science sound like opposites.
But they have a lot in common.
Different and complementary ways of finding truth
– trying to make sense of the world.
Both are a journey of discovery,
as our natural simplistic expectations are challenged by the often astonishing mysteries of reality.
So, as you may have gathered, books are pretty important to me.
My reading has expanded from Forensic Science in my childhood, to Natural Science, now to Theological Science.
Science means knowledge, and in a way, all three are about seeking truth.
The three Questions they ask might be:
“Who – dunnit?” – crime,
“How?” – science, and
“Why?” – theology.
The more I study the more I’m overwhelmed with how much there is to learn and read and know,
and how little I really understand.
The secrets of God, life, the universe and everything are so much bigger and more mysterious than our minds can grasp.
Truth is vastly stranger and more paradoxical than fiction.
As Hamlet said,
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Or the book of Job in the Old Testament:
“The things we see or understand are but a rumour of God’s works.
How faint is the whisper we hear of Him.”