Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Science Faith and Beauty at the Virginia Living Museum


Beaver swimming at the Virginia Living Museum
I took a little time off earlier this week so I could take my daughter to visit my mother, who lives about 3 hours south of us in the Tidewater region of Virginia. While we were there my husband and I took our daughter to the Virginia Living Museum (http://www.thevlm.org ). This is a much-loved museum I remember from field trips during my own elementary school days, although it was called The Nature Science Center back then. The name changed to the Virginia Living Museum in the late 1980’s, before I started working as a volunteer in the planetarium while I was in high school. The entire museum was expanded and redesigned in the mid 2000’s and now it is an incredible facility featuring not only the planetarium and solar observatory but indoor aquariums, exhibits on different regions in Virginia, touch tanks, classroom space, green living displays, a children’s garden and a ¾ mile boardwalk around outdoor native Virginia animal exhibits. It is an awesome place for a couple of science and nature geeks (the geeks being my husband and myself) to take an almost 3 year old. We had a great time looking at red wolves, beavers and otters. My daughter is able to run around the entire boardwalk (not without pause, of course) and fortunately the space is large enough and un-crowded enough that she can do so without bothering anyone.

The museum also brings in different exhibits on a visiting basis, as most museums do. The rotating exhibit this summer is called Bodies Revealed and features beautifully dissected and preserved human bodies  (from people who donated their bodies to science after their deaths) in a very artistic display that teaches a great deal about how our amazing selves work. That may sound distressing but I promise, it is respectful and beautiful and wonderful. If this exhibit is ever shown near you, please go. Our bodies are truly miraculous and gorgeous. As a doctor myself, this exhibit was a very cool thing to share with my husband and daughter. I had a good time narrating the exhibit for them, and particularly for my daughter. (My husband, of course, can read all the signs for himself!) I showed her different bones and organs and pointed to where they went in her body and tried to explain what they did as simply as I could. I felt very proud when later, in the context of talking about thinking, she pointed to her head and told me that’s where her brains are.

Red Wolf at the Virginia Living Museum

I’m delighted to share with my daughter a place that means so much to me, a place that’s grown and developed throughout my life and I hope will do so through hers as well. I’m delighted to encourage her in a love of nature and science and beauty. It thrills me when she points to the sky and says “look at those beautiful clouds!” I cheer when she begins to grasp different processes, like a catepillar’s transformation into a butterfly. In the end, observing and reveling in the beauty of our world, whether in an animal’s graceful motion or in the artistry of our bodies or a sunlit bank of clouds is a form of worship, of adoration for the Lord who created all of this intricate, extravagant beauty and then invited us to share it. Learning how the world works, how clouds form and how beavers build lodges and how our hearts pump blood is another form of worship; it is a chance to delight in the elegance and originality and cleverness of the structures underlying what we see. In my life, in my heart, science and religion have never been in conflict. Science has always shown me more and more reasons to love my Lord. This has been a precious gift in my life, and now I am honored to pass it in turn to my daughter.