Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Coffee mug conversation

This afternoon, I made some hot tea in a mug that I had brought from home. The outside of the mug says, "Before you act ... Talk to God first!" My colleague "Ada" noticed it and commented.

Ada: [reading aloud] "Before you act, talk to God first."
Phil: "That's what it says."
Ada: [chuckling] "What if you don't believe in God?"
Phil: "Well then, I guess you'd need a different coffee mug."

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Contributions, both material and spiritual

Dengue fever, an excruciating illness common to tropical regions, has flared again in Peru. One of my projects involves trying to predict when such outbreaks will occur. As I gather data and brainstorm which calculations would be best, perhaps I can pray for those who are stricken with this illness.

If our results are able to accurately predict an outbreak, measures may be able to be taken to reduce the disease's spread and resources may be better positioned to aid those who are stricken. My work might materially lead to help for them.

But by offering my work on this project as a prayer for their intentions, perhaps my work can also spiritually lead to help for them.

On this project alone, I can think of others for whom I might prayerfully offer my work: for the public health officials who have collected the data that we're using, for the computer scientists who have developed the programs that we're using, for other researchers whose earlier findings we might use, for the organizations that are financially sponsoring this work ...

May my good work receive meaning anew by undertaking it with a prayerful spirit.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A plus for the Cross

At the end of an email message, it is common for my colleagues to use different abbreviations (e.g., "B." or "af") or symbols (e.g., "-Shane"). In turn, I have begun to use my own symbol at the end of some message. Sometimes, I may use a plus sign. That is, I might sign my messages as "+ Phil."

It would be interesting to know whether my colleagues have noticed this symbol and what they think about it.

Perhaps they perceive it is as a normal variation on the common practice of using a symbol. "Hmmm, this is interesting. Most people use a dash or a squiggly in that spot. But he is using a plus."

Or perhaps they chalk it up as another idiosyncracy. "Hunh, he posts riddles on his hallway board and keeps a cylinder of oatmeal at his desk. He is a quirky guy. Using a plus must be another quirk."

Or maybe they consider it a little more deeply and perceive it as an assertion of optimism. "Well, he always seems to be trying to be chipper and he has a nerdy sense of humor. Perhaps using a plus sign is his way of encouraging 'positive' attitudes."

But how many people see the plus sign as a form of the Christian cross? "I know that he tries to be a faithful Christian. I have seen those little spiritual pictures on his wall. Maybe the plus sign is like a cross for him. Wow, I wonder if it could be."

In much of my personal correspondence outside of work, I close messages with "Christ's peace be with you" or "God bless you with a great day." Can this plus sign in my emails in the office be a subtle way of bringing the glory of the Cross to it?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

What good are my calculations if I cannot ... ?

"Feliz ... ano ... nuevo!" I mentioned to one of our building's cleaning workers the other day when she came to empty our trash cans. I was proud to have identified how to say "Happy new year" in her native language.

"Gracia," she smiled, and added something else which I didn't understand. But I think that she was pleased that I had made the effort to carry on the conversation in the language with which she was more comfortable.

Then yesterday, another of the cleaning workers pulled me aside on my way to my office in the morning. He is one with whom I talk almost everyday. "Amigo," he said, "Can you do me a favor?" It wasn't a large favor at all, but I was pleased that he trusted me to help him with it.

There are at least a half-dozen cleaning workers that I know on a first-name basis, and I think that they are happy to see me and I am happy to see them (even if it is a challenge sometimes to think of what to say).

Establishing a friendly rapport with such colleagues who might be overlooked and others treated lukewarmly, I think, is one of my greatest accomplishments.

On days when none of my technical work seems to reap any progress, I hope that I am always able to say, "Today, I shared Christ's love with the janitors." If I cannot be charitable with them, what good are my calculations and brilliant ideas?

Monday, January 3, 2011

A pause to pray

For centuries, the Angelus has been prayed at noon and 6 PM (and midnight if you are a college student).:

(1) "The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary."
(2) "And she conceived by the Holy Spirit."
(1 + 2) "Hail Mary, full of grace ..."

(1) "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord."
(2) "Be it done unto me according to Thy word."
(1 + 2) "Hail Mary, full of grace ..."

(1) "The Word was made flesh."
(2) "And dwelt among us."
(1 + 2) "Hail Mary, full of grace ..."

(1 + 2) "Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into hearts, that we to whom the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by His passion and cross be brought to the glory of His resurrection through the same Christ our Lord. Amen."
In this famous Millet painting, the workers of the field are pausing to pray the Angelus. Though it sometimes takes some effort to break from what I am doing, I receive great encouragement to join them and the many others who have added and are adding prayer to their workday in the same simple way.

I try to pray the Angelus every workday at noon. If I am still in my office at 6 PM, I try to pray it then too. (But hopefully I've already left for home!)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A chance to be heard

Almost 5000 people work at the lab where I work. More than half of them have an "account" on our "internal social network." Through this network, each person has a "dashboard," from which they can "follow" colleagues, join a variety of "groups," and even maintain their own "blog."

Whenever any member submits a blog post, it is visible on the "mainpage," able to be seen by anyone (whether or not they are a "follower"). Most people use their blogs to pose technical questions like "What software tool would be best?" or post links to news stories such as "This company will soon begin making a new type of sensor."

But "Greg" has a blog that is a little bit different. On his blog, he posts reflections on a "Scripture of the day" or shares "words of encourages" or narrates recent "conversion stories." Courageously, he shares his Christian faith in a place where it isn't necessarily expected (or intended).

In a sense, Greg is like me: missionary. Moreover, he and I share the same "mission field": a secular research lab which doesn't have an appointed chaplain or other formal means by which the Gospel can be shared. Seeing his blog has made me wonder. Should I start a blog similar to Greg's?

Whereas Greg posts general Christian encouragement, I could focus on specific truths and celebrations of the Catholic Church. Granted, not every colleague likely checks this social network regularly. (I'd guess it's probably closer to ten percent.) But every blog post is immediately given high visibility for those who do check. Is this my chance to be heard?