I keep about 12 gallons of pond water in my basement over the winter. It has a few handfuls of elodea, some duckweed, and whatever critters were caught two weeks ago when I filled it up.
Tonight there are mayflies dancing over the water's perpetual fluorescent light. A tiny spider rests nearby, patient as a stone. The spider will be rewarded.
I can stare at it for minutes at a time, looking for daphnia or skeeter larvae or whatever else wanders below my nose. I have a microscope, but knowing that countless invisible critters romp in the bucket is enough for tonight.
It's my tabernacle.
Humans are funny that way--we pay more attention to the church tabernacle, a purely human construct now, than we do the bread and the wine it protects, mostly constructs of yeast.
We glorify the box, and sanctify the Eucharist, but ignore the yeast, creators of the wine and leavened bread. We rarely view yeast as holy, if we think about it at all.
And so it is with science education.
Trade your child's textbook for a bean, her iPod for a magnifying glass. Science starts, and ends, with the natural world.
A child who learns how to manipulate data without learning how to see can never be more than a technician, and Lord knows we have enough of them around.
If we were serious about creating more scientists, we'd be serious about how our children spend their days, and their nights.
The word tabernacle has a marvelous history--a cousin of tavern, both words comes from taberna.
During the Exodus, the Tabernacle was a tent, pitched at various areas as the Israelites wandered for decades in the wilderness. Imagine the shadows it cast as the sun set on it, and the chill of night descended on the settlement, imagine the canopy of stars above, the wandering of Jupiter and Saturn and Venus over the years, known by those protected by their tabernacle.
When I grew up, in a Catholic parish, the tabernacle of the Egyptian desert had been reduced to an ornate box that held the Eucharist, a box that never felt desert winds or sun, nor the drops of a mid-summer storm. The Tabernacle sat in the gloom of the sanctuary, the holiest of holy places, a human relic long removed from the awe of the aching desert.
I fear we have done the same to science. The natural world beckons to a curious child as she stares out into the long December shadows, before she is interrupted by her teacher.
Be a good girl, and pay attention...
Chastised, she recites her lesson--"mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell," and thus learns to bend to the sacred, another devout student who will, slowly over time, confuse the tabernacle for the miracles around us.
The sad thing is, the church is the only connection to natural cycles many children have these days....