Monday, 23 January 2017

Unseen forces and beautiful vegetables

Our youngest daughter is doing a project on magnetism at school. This weekend she's been creeping round the house with a large magnet stabbing it at random metal items to see if they'll stick. Radiator, yes. Teaspoon, yes. Grandma's glasses, no. Thankfully.

This thing happened, and the angels were watching with a smile on their face.

My husband, PhD in physics, always delighted when the girls show an interest in something scientific (he's given up on me) got out a very sensitive set of kitchen scales. He placed a key on the scales and then slowly lowered the magnet over the key from above.

The key weighed 17g. As the magnet got closer, closer, the key weighed less and less.

14g...11g... 9.25g... 5.67g...

At 4.3g, the key jumped up to meet the magnet. Whoof. Just like that.

He kept the magnet and key hovering over the scales and the weight registering on the scales started showing minus numbers.  I didn't even know it could show minus numbers.  The metal plate on top of the scales was being pulled upwards by the magnet.

There was a force acting on the key and the scales that we couldn't see. Completely invisible, but it was there nonetheless and its effects were obvious. Electromagnetism, it's called. 'A bit like magic,' I remarked, and was met with a hard stare.

We don't know what electromagnetism is, but we know that it IS. We know what it does, but not really how or why. Apparently people think that it has something to do with spinning electrons but we're not sure. Personally, if I've ever known what an electron was, I've forgotten. All I know is that a magnet pulls things towards it. I can see it doing its thing.

It made me think of God. I see him even when he don't come and sit on the end of my bed and chat with me in an actually, physically there kind of way.

Irresistible, subtle, powerful, insistent, inexplicable. I can see him in the uniqueness of snowflakes and in the wonderful intimacy of a father and daughter both transfixed by a scientific wonder to the extent that they're oblivious to Mummy's inane comments.  I see him in dew on a spider's web and in orange evening sun on a bare tree. I see him all around, even when I can't see him at all.

I'm supposed to see him in all these things. He put himself in them because they're his creation, and because he wanted to draw people to himself. God is pulling like a magnet. You can sense the power of him, pulling.

We had this vegetable as part of Sunday lunch. It's called Romanesco Broccoli. Sort of like a bright green cross between a cauliflower and broccoli, and as vegetables go, it was the most beautiful vegetable I've ever seen; it was the hardest thing to cut it up.

It's a natural approximation of a fractal.

A fractal is a geometric shape that has symmetry of scale, which means that it's a shape that keeps doing the same thing over and over again. If you were to zoom in on a part of it, it would still look the same. I'm told this is called, 'self-similarity', but I fear I might get sucked into something equation-like and quite complicated if I go much deeper. I am a bear of very little brain when it comes to this stuff.

It gave Mr Scientist Husband another opportunity to hold forth with a captive audience at the table.

But check out this breathtaking vegetable and tell me, who wouldn't be impressed? I had a portion of it on my fork.

The romanesco broccoli swirls round in an intricate pattern repeated over and over again, smaller and smaller.  Quite beautiful; and rather tasty.

It made me wonder at a God who decides to make a vegetable fascinatingly intricate, geometrically beautiful. Why? Because he could.

For the same reason that it pleased him to make a metal key jump three inches towards a lowered magnet. For the same reason that he decided that every snowflake should be different. I don't think he can help yourself.

As I glance down from the screen to see my own fingers tap-tap-tapping at the keyboard I get a glimpse of the wonder of the Creator. This is what I'm doing right now: an observation turns to a thought and forms an idea (what on earth is an idea?!) which translates to words which make their way via synapses and ganglia to bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, fingernails, skin until they are constructed using learned knowledge of a keyboard layout to transfer to a sentence on a virtual page.

Blows my mind. Even without trying to fathom the mystery that is a computer.

A drop of water.

As if there were not enough magic in a drop of water - essential, life-giving, beautiful, refracting light, beading on a leaf after rain, cleansing and refreshing - when you drop a single drop of water onto more water a crown appears. A crown! A crown made by a King.

All these miracles and magical tricks were just waiting for us to find them. Hidden away until such a time that we invented or discovered the means to see.

We didn't know that a water droplet makes a crown splash until we invented high speed photography. We didn't know about magnetism until someone discovered it.

As Louis Giglio points out in his 'Indescribable' * talk it wasn't until we had telescopes powerful enough to see that we found out that in the outer reaches of space is the Whirlpool Galaxy; in the very centre of that is the shape of a cross. Just waiting for us to find it and stop still in awe.

A crown, by the King.
A fractal in a vegetable! Just because you could.
A key jumping to meet a magnet, pulled by an invisible force.
The shape of a cross, in a dark, remote part of space, both foretelling and commemorating the work of redemption done on a hill near Jerusalem. An echo of God's plan to save us, from before our time began.

God created these things because he's the Creator and he added in all the hidden wonder that astonishes us just because it pleased him to do it.

He is beauty, and so the things he makes will be beautiful.
He is infinitely complex and creative and beyond understanding, and so his creation will be just like him.

We think we're getting there, don't we? We think that we are so clever with ever scientific breakthrough and discovery but the truth is that there is so much that we don't know. So much undiscovered wonder out there. We don't even know how much there is that we don't know.

I think that God must be watching us and waiting with a big smile, impatient for the day when we can see further, beyond the limits of our technology and our imaginations.

Microscopes that can see smaller.
Telescopes that can see further.
Human minds that need to be so much more open.

He's not remotely concerned that we will find him, guess all his secrets, threaten him with our growing knowledge and understanding - there is always more; we will never catch up. Always more treasure to find, delights to uncover. It goes on forever.

God told us that when we look for him, he will be found. As I pulled apart my newly magnetised knife and fork, and looked down at my Sunday dinner it occurred to me that we can find him in the strangest places.

Isn't that brilliant?

*Check this out: Louis Giglio 'Indescribable' 

Photographs mine except:
Water crown image 114345352538.jpg by stuartjessop, (though it wasn't for want of trying)
From Used with permission.

Helen Murray lives in Derbyshire with her husband, two daughters and her mum.

Having spent time as a researcher, church worker and Hand Therapist, Helen is now a full time mum and writer, currently supposed to be working on her first novel. Or at least working on something.

As well as writing and reading, she drinks coffee, takes photographs, swims, breeds Aloe Vera plants and collects ceramic penguins.

Helen has two blogs: Are We Nearly There Yet? where she writes about life and faith, and Badger on the Roof where readers are treated to a blow by blow account of her novel-writing progress, or lack thereof. It's been a while since there was anything to report, but she hasn't given up. Check back when the kids have left home. 

You can also find her here:

Pinterest: @HelenMMurray
Twitter: @helenmurray01


  1. It is brilliant, Helen - and so are you!

    1. You are too kind, lovely lady. Thank you. :-)

  2. Wow. I had no idea about a crown appearing in a drop of water. Amazing. And thanks for the reminder that He did all of this just because He could.

    1. Look at some of the slow motion stuff on YouTube! Wonderful. I spent a whole rainy Sunday afternoon once crouched by the birdbath trying in vain to get a decent photo. Awe-inspiring stuff. What amazes me is that God does these things on a vast scale - rainbows, galaxies, sunrises - and on the microscopic, too. :-)

  3. I never lived down putting a small magnet in Mum's pin tin. After that she could never take out a single pin without a string of them attaching themselves. Science and art overlap with beautiful patterns made with iron filings near magnets.
    You have over-stimulated my brain on a Monday morning, Helen! Please don't wait until the children have left home to complete your novel. (Although you could be working on it subconsciously in the meantime.)
    I didn't know about the crown either. Thanks for a wonderful post. Sue

    1. Oh, thank you, Sue. Really.
      I love the pin tin story. My cutlery drawer is in a similar state, as is my tub of paperclips. Grr.

  4. Wow, what a lovely, inspiring post to read on a chilly Monday morning.

    1. Thanks Ros! I'm glad you liked it. :-)
      Freezing up here, but gorgeous patterns in the ice on the car roof.

  5. Helen, Would you and your husband between you be interested in producing a poem (to be turned into song) on science and faith? We are gathering new songs here in East Anglia to trial with our 80 local primary C of E schools. If all goes well, we will then have them published in book/CD form ’Sing of God and Science' and are in conversation with a publisher whose Chief Editor has expressed himself very interested. Some of the songs will be performed by schools at a Science Festival in Ely Cathedral in May, Videoed and put up on a dedicated You Tube Channel.
    I’ll watch here for a reply. Specimen songs can be found at

    1. Well, that floored me, Trevor! Thank you very much; I shall have a think and contact you via FB if I have any ideas.

  6. Lovely, Helen. Isn't God clever? Fancy there being fractals in a vegetable!

    1. I know. A rather spectacular vegetable! And remember, if He cares so much about a vegetable, how much more.... :-)

  7. Fabulous blog post. I've just sent off a 'Plog' to James for the magazine and I think you and I have been thinking the same thoughts about the writing process and how it starts from nothing and then POOF! Words!

    1. Thanks Fran. :-) That's got me thinking. Do you think words leap up at you like paperclips to a magnet?