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To view this newsletter on the Web, go to http://www.ccel.org/newsletter/3/4
In This Issue:
From the Director
As I was growing up, my church experience seemed somewhat heady to meâ€”concerned more about correct belief than about actually loving God. Whether or not that was a correct perception, I wanted more. I wanted not just to know about God, I wanted to know God, though I may not have put it in those terms at that time.
Christian mysticism addresses that longing of the heart. Early in The Imitation of Christ, Thomas writes, "Let the learned be still, let all creatures be silent before You; You alone speak to me." I don’t want to hear about you from others, I want to know you myself.
The word ‘mysticism’ has scary connotations for some. Part of the problem is that the word is used for everything from Babylonian astrology to New Age speculation. Webster defines mysticism as "the doctrine that it is possible to achieve communion with God through contemplation and love without the medium of human reason." That definition captures what I have in mind by the term. If you believe in the possibility of a relationship with God that is more than knowledge about God, you are a mystic. In this sense, mysticism is at the heart of true Christianity; even the devils know about God.
I bring all of this up because there is an interesting on-line book-study group starting at the CCEL, led by Robert Loutzenhiser. This group is initially studying Practical Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill. This is an interesting introduction to the ideas of mysticism intended primarily for the non-religious reader who wants to know how this "mysticism" business might work out in everyday life. The language is not very Christocentric, even Neoplatonic, but it gives a good, accessible, and compelling introduction. The study group intends next to cover her more thorough overview, Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness. I haven’t heard from the group on whether any additional books are on the agenda, but other classics of mysticism such as The Imitation of Christ and The Cloud of Unknowing would be interesting and appropriate.
By the way, the CCEL now has a total of six online study groups with over 4400 members, including two Bible studies, three book studies, and a prayer group. You can learn more about and join groups here. If you might be interested in leading a group, please contact the moderator.
Reading the CCEL as an Orthodox Christian
The Christian Classics Ethereal Library has been a great help to me—both as an academic and as a Christian. I first came across the CCEL during my academic studies. I have a bachelor’s degree in archaeology and religious studies, but it wasn’t until I started work on my master’s degree that I discovered what the CCEL has to offer. I was working on a paper for a Byzantine archaeology class, and, through the course of my research I found a need for an extensive resource of the Greek Fathers. The CCEL, of course, has a wonderful library where one can browse the Church Fathers and obtain their great wisdom. For me, the CCEL was a marvelous resource and it provided the sources I needed to contribute to my paper in many positive ways.
Though I had originally intended to only use the CCEL as an academic resource, I found myself a member of one of the Bible studies hosted on the site. As an Orthodox Christian, I was at first hesitant to join in the discussions. In the tradition of the Orthodox Church, scripture is typically studied only in relation to the tradition of the Church. However, I found that joining in an ecumenical study, such as the CCEL’s, created enthusiasm in me to study the Bible on a daily basis. Because the study encourages members from all denominations to share, I found myself learning more about my tradition as I researched to share with others. Of course, it can also be inspiring to see how other traditions embrace particular sections of scripture. These discussions often shed new light on understandings of scripture I may never have considered had I not engaged in such a study.
In all, the CCEL has been a positive experience that has greatly aided me in my struggle for salvation.
How have you used the CCEL to deepen your research, discover new voices, and enliven your faith? Submit a usage testimonial.
We recently add a bibliography browser to the CCEL. From this page you can see the books that we’d like to have, books we have that need proofreading, and so on. If you would like to scan, proofread, or mark up a book for us, this is a good place to check for ideas.
For example, if you want to find the highest priority books for adding to the CCEL that are available elsewhere on the Web, you can look here. If any theologically-aware book lover would like to help us develop this bibliography (add important books, prioritize or correct the status of other books, find wanted books on the Web) please let us know! We can give users permissions to edit the bibliography remotely, over the Web.
Treatise on the Lord’s Prayer by Cyprian (200â€“258)
Praying With the Classics
Read this classic at the CCEL.
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It’s a payoff from a landmark achievement completed five years ago — the identification of all the building blocks in the human DNA. Follow-up research and leaps in DNA-scanning technology have opened the door to a flood of new reports about genetic links to disease.
On a single day in February, for example, three separate research groups reported finding several genetic variants tied to the risk of getting prostate cancer.
And over the past year or so, scientists have reported similar results for conditions ranging from heart attack to multiple sclerosis to gallstones. The list even includes restless legs syndrome, a twitching condition best known as "jimmy legs" in an episode of "Seinfeld."
Interviews with scientists at the center of this revolution and a review of published studies over the past six months make clear the rapid adoption of the new technology and the high expectations for it.
Since 2005, studies with the gene-scanning technique have linked nearly 100 DNA variants to as many as 40 common diseases and traits, scientists noted this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
"There have been few, if any, similar bursts of discovery in the history of medical research," two Harvard researchers declared last summer in the New England Journal of Medicine.
What does all this excitement mean for ordinary people? Not so much just yet. Simply finding the genes that can raise the risk of an illness doesn’t mean you can prevent the disease.
But there have been some payoffs already.
One involves a leading cause of blindness in older people, age-related macular degeneration. A series of genome-wide scans, the most recent in 2005, "led to huge breakthroughs in understanding" that disease, said Stephen Daiger, a Houston scientist.
When scientists implicated a particular gene that’s involved in a system of disease-fighting proteins in the blood, it gave scientists a "slap-on-the-forehead kind of insight…into the biology of what’s going on," said Daiger, a vision genetics expert at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center.
That galvanized research into the disease. And at least one new drug is being tested in patients now.
What’s made this and other hopeful findings possible is the "genome-wide association study," which lets scientists scan the entire complement of DNA from thousands of people in unprecedented detail. While the basic technique is not new, its popularity has exploded recently because of cost-cutting advances in technology and discoveries about the genome.
"It lets you go searching for that needle in the haystack," says Michael Watson, executive director of the American College of Medical Genetics.
It’s a big haystack. DNA is made up of long sequences of building blocks, sort of like sentences composed from a four-letter alphabet: A, C, G and T. The human genome contains about 3 billion letters, about as many as the total number of letters and digits in more than 100 Manhattan phone books.
Scientists have identified the order of the letters in the human genome, a feat the government declared accomplished in 2003. But of course, different people have slightly different DNA sequences. People commonly differ in what letter they have at about 10 million positions along the full genome. Some folks may have a T where most people have a C, for example.
And those single-letter variations are key to the genome-wide scans. Basically, scientists compare DNA from a large number of people, some sick with a particular disease, and others healthy. They can look at a half-million or more positions to see what letter appears. If sick people tend to show a different result than healthy ones — say, if they tend to have a T in some spot more often than healthy people do — it’s a red flag.
It suggests that some genetic influence on the risk of that disease comes from that spot or nearby. So it gives scientists a specific place to look more closely for a disease-promoting gene.
In practice, genome scans can be big undertakings.
Scientists in Iowa and Denmark are searching blood samples from 7,000 babies and new mothers in the United States and Denmark for genetic variations that raise the risk for premature birth.
DNA will be extracted, and early this summer, more than half a million spots on the microscopic strands from each mother and baby will be assessed for clues to where the genetic variations may lie.
The DNA will be analyzed at the Center for Inherited Disease Research at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Robots will put a tiny drop of DNA-bearing solution from each person onto a clear glass slide roughly the size of a business card, with four drops per slide.
The lab’s DNA scanners, blue boxes each about twice as big as a desktop printer, will reveal what DNA "letter" appears in more than 580,000 spots in the genetic material, said lab director Kimberly Doheny.
This scan takes about half an hour per sample. Once the results are available, the scientists will use statistical tests to find the telltale signs of a possible gene affecting risk of premature birth. They’ll double-check to make sure any such signal shows up in more than one population.
Even five years ago, such a detailed examination of DNA from so many people would have been inconceivable.
Genome scans offer some major advantages over previous gene-hunting techniques. Scientists don’t have to start by guessing what genes might be involved in a disease, or confine themselves to families where a tendency to an illness is inherited.
And the genome-scan approach reveals genes with only subtle influence on the risk of getting sick, too slight to be found by earlier methods. That’s just the kind of gene that plays a role in common illnesses like heart disease.
Even if its impact on risk is small, a newly found gene can be a bonanza to scientists if it reveals something new about the biology of a disease. That in turn can give hints for finding new treatments.
For non-scientists, the most direct payoff of finding new disease genes may be in devising tests to identify people at elevated risk for a particular disorder.
Most genetic variants found in the genome scans boost a person’s risk by around 50 percent. If the disease risk is fairly low, that’s "not something you’d lose much sleep over," Watson said.
More useful, he said, is the notion of finding variants in maybe a half-dozen genes that affect the risk for a disease, then testing a person for all of them at once to come up with a more powerful indicator.
The accidental discovery of the glass "microtektites" in the high mountains of Antarctica extends what’s called the Australasian tektite strewn field south by nearly 2,000 miles (3,000 kilometers).
The microtektites were found while a team of researchers were searching the exposed rocks atop the Transantarctic Frontier Mountain for more pieces of an unrelated meteorite that disintegrated in the skies there long ago.
"The gradiometer kept on beeping at every fracture of the granitic bedrock surface," recalled Italian researcher Luigi Folco of the Museo Nazionale dell’Antartide, Università di Siena and the Italian Programma Nazionale delle Ricerche in Antartide.
A magnetic gradiometer detects minute changes in magnetic fields caused by rocks containing magnetic minerals. The most likely cause for the beeping was magnetic minerals in volcanic ash from one of the relatively recent volcanoes in the region.
"When we get back to the lab, to our great surprise, we found thousands of micrometeorite and cosmic spherules thus explaining the magnetic signal," Folco told Discovery News.
But they also found glass spheres 0.5 millimeter in diameter with a pale-yellow color, which is unusual for glassy cosmic spherules, which are the debris of meteors melting in Earth’s atmosphere.
The chemical composition of the yellow spheres revealed them to be Earth rocks. That meant there was only one likely way they could have been created — in the heat of an impact, which flung melted rock into space and then rained back down, cooling and solidifying into spheres while in free fall.
The discovery was written up and reported in the April issue of the journal Geology.
The analysis of the microtektites revealed they are similar enough in appearance, composition and age to represent the edges of the Australasian strewnfield, said Folco. That strewnfield already had been found to extend from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific.
"It’s a pretty big strewn field," said tektite pioneer and professor emeritus Bill Glass of the University of Delaware.
Larger tektites from the impact have been found all over Australia and smaller microtektites have been extracted from the bottom of the Indian Ocean, he told Discovery News. But this is the first good evidence that the debris might have been flung even further, he explained.
"You’d think that something that big would be easy to find," said Glass. "It’s a real puzzle."
The most likely location of the hidden crater is somewhere in Indochina, said Glass. One possibility is that the meteor struck down on what is the sea floor today. But 800,000 years ago, an ice age would have lowered the sea level and exposed the seafloor. Since then it could have been buried by marine sediments.