Friday, April 3, 2009

A Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey

I chose to read the book "Reason for Hope", authored by Jane Goodall with Philip Berman. Ever since Gary Larsen came out with his famous Jane Goodall cartoon in the Far Side, I've been interested in her work. However, the source of all my Goodall knowledge came from a National Geographic special. Therefore I found it fascinating to read her autobiography.
Goodall chronicles the stages of her life, from her beginnings in middle-class England to her present-day status as a world-famous scientist. She talks of her time as a secretary with Louis Leakey, her family life, and her interactions with the chimps. I found some facts of her life quite surprising. For example, Goodall was not trained as a scientist when she first began to study the chimpanzees. I was also surprised to find that her mother assisted her in the first expedition to Gombe, Tanzania.
Interlaced with the story of her life is a focus on the spiritual aspect. I appreciated this mode of story-telling. The focus on the spiritual gave her story a thread that ran throughout the book without dominating it. Goodall lays out her spiritual evolution in simple, direct terms and allows us to see the events that shaped her spirituality. I particularly related to her story of visiting the Cathedral of Notre Dame. She refers to this experience as “a suddenly captured moment of eternity”. I, too, have felt like at moments I’ve been outside of time communing with God. She also spoke of how God and other moments like the time in Notre Dame had helped her to overcome the death of her second husband. This struck a particular chord in me. As I’ve dealt with the death of loved ones, I’ve realized that you can either turn away from God or turn towards God. It’s difficult to trust Him after death, but as Goodall discovered, a reliance on God is the best way to overcome death.
Another aspect of the book that I enjoyed was the poetry that she included. As I’ve taken this class and studied the book, “The Two Cultures”, I’ve thought of the divide between science and the humanities. I feel like I’m often too focused on my studies to study the works of writers and artists. And it seems that Humanities majors will extol the beauties of the English language without recognizing the beauty inherent in evolution. Goodalll shows a balanced nature in her book. She has both an analytical and creative side to her and provides an example for all scientists.
The biggest weakness in the book was that it focused too much on Goodall herself. This is one common weakness in an autobiographical work, and Goodall is not able to avoid it. Other than Goodall, there are few characters in her story that capture the imagination. I wanted to know more about her mother Vanne or her son Grub. They must have influenced her life greatly, yet they remain two dimensional characters. Goodall speaks of how relationships are an important part of our lives and our spirituality, and yet she only allows us a cursory glance into her own relationships. Her first marriage and its failure is documented but not detailed, and even her second husband, Derek, remains somewhat flat, even though his story occupies much of the latter half of the book. Goodall denies us the full richness of her life by not allowing us to understand her feelings towards other people.
I found the title of Goodall’s book “A Reason to Hope” somewhat of a paradox at first. She describes the desperate plight of the chimpanzees and their struggle against extinction. She also elaborates on the dangerous future our world faces. She has a whole chapter dedicated to the discovery of war and other acts of aggression among the chimpanzees, and she believes that violence is somewhat instinctual. Honestly, when I finished the book, I wasn’t sure what was the reason to hope. But Goodall’s tone is continuously optimistic throughout the book. I believe it is her faith in God that allows her to hope. “A Reason to Hope” reinforced my belief that we cannot take God out of environmentalism. It made me realize that if we believe in God, we can have hope that humanity will survive and so will the rich diversity of species that He has created. By understanding the love of God and the interconnectedness between all organisms, we will not wantonly destroy our natural environs. One of the definitions of hope is to wait for. We are waiting for a better world, and if we have faith in God, we can act, motivated by our belief, to make that better world come to be.
I read this book the whole way through.

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