March 14 was Pi Day. I didn’t know that until I read about it in the NY Times. It is a day given in honor of the mathematical ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Not only that, this past March 14, 2015 was 3.14.15, the only day this century the first five digits of Pi will play out on the calendar. Stick with me in this.
Manil Suri invites us to celebrate Pi Day by eating pies or by writing “pikus”, haiku poems with 3 syllables in the first line, 1 in the second, 4 in the third, and so on. Suri urges us to grasp how very irrational Pi is but then notes what it is and does.
Pi is irrational, meaning there is no way we can write it down exactly. Its decimals continue endlessly without ever settling into a repeating pattern. This bugged the likes of Pythagoras, who repudiated the existence of numbers like Pi, declaring such slippery decimals as incompatible with an intelligently designed universe.
Then again, uses of Pi are manifest every time we plot a getaway on a map or design a building. Pi simply works, say, to find the meandering length of a sloping river between its source and mouth. Despite being irresolvable, Pi reminds us the universe is what it is, and not subject to our ideas of mathematical convenience.
In other words, Pi is a truth requiring suspension of belief. But it is also a truth—despite its unknowns—accurate enough to address every practical application.
Why print these truths in our Flash during Holy Week? Mathematics commands a lot more intellectual respect than religion. But everything we have said about Pi could also enable us to embrace the resurrection with less cognitive dissonance.
Resurrection, with Jesus as its pioneer, is the only way to make sense of and keep meaningful the world around us. It has useful practical applications in hope keeping us from taking a whole airplane down with us during our very bad weeks.
But like Pi, resurrection “also opens windows into a more uncharted universe.” The idea of resurrection “is one of the few transcendentals we ever encounter.” Both of the above are Manil Suril’s quotes about Pi in his NY Times article, “Don’t Expect Math to Make Sense.” I want to make similar claims about faith/theology.
We forget not all understanding is problem solving. Some forms of understanding ask us to stand under the majesty of a mystery. Some forms of understanding allow room for truth that has proven itself for generations to hold sway, serve and transform us, improving our lives in the world, with its infinitely many applications.
Even if you cannot grasp the entirety of truth unseen, give resurrection a chance.
I read that article in the Times and meant to save it/forward it. It inspired the same trajectory of thought/wonder. Many thanks. dr
I like how you think, Doug!