Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Diatoms and the Divine

I've been reading an incredible book by Thomas Dubay called The Evidential Power of Beauty: Science and Theology Meet. It's a book about wonder, and wonder is my favorite word. Wonder is the front porch to the House of God.

One of the many examples Dubay gives as a way of getting us to open up and say "AWE" is that of the diatom; these are mind-blowing microscopic one-celled plants. They are at the very heart of the ocean's food chain, and have been called "perfect architects." They may well be one of the most important plants on Earth. Ever hear of them? Me neither.

They come in about 25,000 different species and manufacture through photosynthesis possibly half of the oxygen you and I are breathing right now. They shape for themselves little cathedrals in the forms of pin-wheels, stars, and spirals, and like snowflakes, no shell is the same. Thomas Dubay writes of a man named Richard Hoover who had the opportunity to view a slide of over 4,000 diatoms mounted by the German microscopist J. D. Miller: "Four thousand shells in a space the size of a postage stamp! I sat transfixed at the microscope all afternoon."

And this little factoid kiled me: "Diatoms that live in topsoil can be dried up for decades in a desiccated sleep and then leap to life again when exposed to water. Hoover tells of studying a diatom collection in Antwerp, Belgium: 'I added water to diatoms that had been dried on paper in 1834. I was astounded when they began to swim—revived after nearly 150 years of slumber.'"

Wow.... if that can happen to a one-celled organism, what can the water of grace do to a soul away from the sacraments for years? What can a little prayer poured over our hearts by someone awaken in us? Wonders will never cease!

Image of living diatom courtesy Virtual Foliage at the University of Wisconsin. Electron micrograph of Odontella taken by Karen Wetmore at UCMP.
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