EVERYDAY MIRACLES is a title that is guaranteed to
excite the interest of readers of the Church Times. Its
subtitle, The genius of sofas, stockings and scanners
(BBC4, Tuesday of last week), may have acted as more of a turn-off;
but turning off would have been a mistake.
Professor Mark Miodownik was eager to show us how everyday
objects exist only because of the component materials, and that
they - even less regarded than the objects of which they are
essential constituents - are very remarkable indeed.
This might not be so very distant from sound theology. I often
preach that Christianity, which proclaims that God is manifest to
us in bread, wine, water, and fishes, is the most material of all
religions, and there is something properly incarnational in taking
seriously the stuff of creation.
Professor Miodownik demonstrated how technological innovations
in recent centuries have had remarkable results. Around the end of
the 19th century, our gene pool was enriched because bicycles
enabled poorer people to travel away from their home village or
town, meet new people, fall in love, and have children.
And cheap, efficient bicycles were possible only because of the
development of seamless steel tubing, vulcanised rubber pneumatic
tyres, and the roller chain. At today's cutting edge, 3-D printing
is now developing accurate temporary scaffolds for stem cells, so
that damaged or missing body parts can be replaced. This would,
indeed, be miraculous; but, of course, that does not make it a
miracle - or does it?
Knowing more about the underlying scaffolding was half the theme
of The Beauty of Anatomy (BBC4, Wednesday of last week).
Dr Adam Rutherford was sharing with us his interest in the
relationship between anatomical dissection and the canon of Western
art, and this episode reached, perhaps, the high watermark of the
process: the Dutch Golden Age - and, above all, Rembrandt.
His two paintings on The Anatomy Lesson are
not depictions of what actually went on in the dissecting theatre -
they are group portraits, commissioned to immortalise the status of
the senior doctors - but, within this formal constraint, Rembrandt
creates works of unsettling genius. In the first, the corpse of the
executed criminal is cleaned up, and placed full-length,
centre-stage. It is almost Christlike: an entombment.
The second is far less well-known. Here, the corpse confronts
us, face to face - except that the top of the skull has been
removed, and the dissector is about to cut into the exposed brain.
It may have been a reference to a book by Descartes, which
suggested that here was the very location of the soul. It might
look like science, and we may appreciate it as art - but all along
it is theology.
The latest BBC4 Saturday-night Nordic noir crime-drama is
Crimes of Passion. In fact, it is not all that noir, as it
is set in a breathtakingly beautiful country, and has less
existential angst to cheer us up.
The first of these dramas was, to my mind, sub-Agatha Christie,
but I predict a cult following for the amateur sleuth Puck