“You have to talk to Sarah Minucci.”
That’s what a mutual friend said to me when I shared my plans to write about God’s image-bearers bringing cosmos to chaos through their work.
When this friend told me you spend your days working towards a PhD in applied math, I felt two things:
1. Intrigued. Yes! Most people aren’t mathematicians, so Sarah will offer a unique perspective.
2. Terrified. No! Mathematicians are scary smart, and my right-brained, former English major self won’t be able to parse a thing she says.
Turns out I was totally right about number 1 and half right about number 2. Your perspective on your work is something to behold. And you are scary smart, but I was able to parse everything you said about your work—and I’ll never forget much of it.
As I think back on our conversation that bounced from comparing note-taking habits to your very enthusiastic (and patient) explanation of Euclid’s Axioms, this quote from Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art keeps coming to the front of my brain:
“The important thing is to recognize that our gift…is indeed something given us, for which we can take no credit, but which we may humbly serve, and, in serving, learn more wholeness, be offered wondrous newness. Picasso says that an artist paints not to ask a question but because he has found something and he wants to share—he cannot help it—what he has found.”
Sarah, you’re the painter Picasso is talking about. Humility mixed with wonder and discovery…that’s the posture you had when you described your work to me. You are so utterly built for the work you’re doing—so much so that it’s as if you can’t not do it. God has given you gifts that are opening your heart, pressing into you, and pushing you along to do good work in which you image Him. What a delight to get a glimpse of that.
Your work is profound to me in its specificity, its potential impact, and the degree to which it shows you so clearly participating in God’s invitation to co-create order with Him. You’re working on a mathematical model of how an immune system reacts to being on a mechanical ventilator.
For Pete’s sake, Sarah!
You spend your days applying math, a system of order you describe as “part of how God designed the world”, to human suffering with the aim of understanding it and predicting its trajectory—and the hope that your research will one day contribute to treatment and healing. Think of it like this: you are bringing a taste of God’s cosmos to the chaos brought on by the Fall.
It reminds me of another quote from L’Engle’s book:
“Wounds. By [Jesus’s] wounds we are healed. But they are our wounds, too, and until we have been healed we do not know what wholeness is. The discipline of creation, be it to paint, compose, write, is an effort toward wholeness.”
I pray that in your work—which is most definitely part of this effort toward wholeness—God maintains in you this holy curiosity that He’s given to you in spades. In you He’s paired a love for systems and order with an equal love for discovery and the unknown. While you love knowing the answer, you also love that sometimes you just don’t and never will—on this side of heaven, anyway.
Now allow me to quote you back to yourself because just as I will always remember these words you said to me, I want you to remember them, too.
“As a mathematician, I’m very much a collector of knowledge and a logical thinker, but at the end of the day, my logic only gets me so far. And because my logic only gets me so far, I’m so drawn to the mystery of Jesus. I’m not drawn to Jesus because everything about him makes sense or because I understand everything about him. It’s the other way around. I’m drawn to him because there’s a mystery, and I get to be a part of that. And it’s really comforting because then it takes the pressure off me, and I don’t have to figure everything out or know everything. Because I’m in the hands of the One who does.”
You are, Sarah. We all are. Thank you for reminding us of that.
Grace and peace,