Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Peter J. Gomes, 1942-2011

with one comment

Peter J. Gomes, the minister of Memorial Church at Harvard University and a professor at the School of Divinity, died yesterday at the age of 68. Much to my regret, I never met the Rev. Gomes, but I often went to see him preach, less out of any particular religious conviction than out of admiration for a difficult job brilliantly done. It wasn’t easy to persuade the students of a generally nonreligious campus that religion, and particularly Christianity, deserved to play a central role in their undergraduate lives, but Gomes managed to pull it off, at least for me, with an inimitable combination of wit, common sense, fierce intelligence, and oratorical splendor.

Gomes was, by necessity, an intellectual preacher, and his message on most Sundays was aimed at the head, rather than the heart. Yet there’s no way to measure how deeply he influenced the spiritual life of the university. In the days and weeks after September 11, when attendance swelled at Memorial Church, he reassured the nonhabitual churchgoers in the congregation that we were exactly where we needed to be—which was how it really felt. These days, his tolerance, good sense, engagement with ideas, and sense of humor seem more urgently needed than ever. In his absence, his books still remain, as well as a generation’s memories of him in the pulpit, but I don’t think anyone can ever truly take his place.

Written by nevalalee

March 1, 2011 at 8:48 am

Posted in Books

Tagged with ,

One Response

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  1. “admiration for a difficult job brilliantly done”

    Yes, I am in awe of him for even tackling the issues. The Bible, homophobia, etc.

    I was reading one of my versions of I Ching this a.m. and it struck me (no lightning, no) but an idea…

    “In learning from the I Ching, the frame the student comes in with constantly enlarged by suspending these old frames, in order to go beyond them, to see a broader view. We can understand the way that language limits perception by considering the language used by Aristotle to explain Nature’s ways held the world’s scientific thinking in a vise until the experiments of Newton shattered the way of explaining things. Newton’s verbal explanations in turn held science in yet another vise of thinking until Einstein began to speak in relative terms. In each case, the science of the time, although limited, proved applicable in many instances, but when taken as the final doctrine, prevented or inhibited further discoveries….when people take text literally, it loses all usefulness and relevance and becomes a prison for the mind”

    Peter Gomes as teacher…


    March 1, 2011 at 2:17 pm

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