Loss of Life

Yesterday’s tragic coach crash in Switzerland will have touched the hearts of many. Trying to make sense of the loss of so many young lives is doomed to failure. How can we reconcile what we believe about God, that he is all-loving, all-knowing, all-caring, with death and destruction? For myself, I think the only truthful answer is, we can’t. However much we try, we cannot know the mind of God. We do not know why he allows such tragedies, and I think we belittle the loss and the suffering if we claim that there is some ‘higher purpose’ involved. How can we be so sure? Why should he die? Why should she get cancer? Why should they lose their home and family? Why, why, why?

Perhaps ‘why’ is not the most important question to ask. Could it be that, when such tragedies occur, God is looking for a different response in us? Are we, who are not directly involved, called upon to affirm the goodness of God and our own trust in him? The Book of Job challenges our confident assertions about the nature of God even as it stretches our understanding. Today, as we pray for those who were killed, their families and friends, let us add a prayer for ourselves, that we may learn whatever it is that we need to learn — and let us not be too quick to assume that we know what that is.

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The Googlification of Research

We often receive requests for help with research projects. Whenever we can, we try to respond positively although doing so can take a sizeable chunk out of the day (some might say, a disproportionate amount of time, given the size of the community, but helping others is an aspect of hospitality so we do our best). I am beginning to be concerned, however, by the number of requests which suggest that the very nature of research is changing. Asking for leads, a few specific questions after the background reading has been done, discussion of a point that has arisen when looking again at the source material: all these are fine by me. I am less happy with the kind of research which consists in endless questions that a very little work by the researcher could have answered.

Let me give some examples. Frequently, we’ll receive long lists of questions about nuns/monastic life, whether we blog or engage with social media, etc, etc. Usually, these are already answered on our community web site or are pretty self-evident. (If you made contact with us via these pages, presumably you would realise that one of us blogs, wouldn’t you?) Then there are the lists of questions about other communities or organizations, e.g. Anglican sisters, about which we are not qualified to speak; there are also what I call the speculative lists, which ask questions along the lines of ‘do you think that the Church (who She?) is doing (a) a good job, (b) a bad job or (c) an indifferent job of . . .?’ Who cares what we think, and anyway, how are we to assess what two billion Catholics are doing? (People often forget that the Church is universal when conducting their surveys.) TV companies, novelists, journalists looking for a feature article, people doing dissertations, all send their little lists and hope for an answer by return.

I think Google is to blame. We have become accustomed to tapping in a few search terms and coming up with pages of resources; so why should people be any different? Send a list of questions and back will come the answers. Turn them into a few nice- looking charts (so easy with the software available today), add a few sentences of interpretation containing all the most fashionable buzz words (do another Google search to find them) and, hey presto, we have the dissertation nailed, the report ready. I exaggerate, of course, but underneath the exaggeration is a belief that the quantification of thought is no substitute for thought itself, that research is precisely that: a systematic investigation to establish facts and reach new conclusions. There are no short-cuts to research, just as there are no short-cuts in the most exciting search of all, the search for God.

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