In July, at my first meeting of the steering committee of the Metro-East Interfaith Partnership, a Baha’i member mentioned the Buckminster Fuller Center at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
On Aug. 31, I was in the Fuller Center for the first time, as I had been asked by the Newman Club at SIUE to hear confessions that evening.
Fifty years ago, the geodesic dome, which Fuller patented in 1954, came into great prominence. The U.S. pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal was one of the outstanding symbols of that World’s Fair. The SIUE dome was built under Fuller’s direction in 1971; at the time he was in the Department of Design at SIU Carbondale.
I had not known that the Religion Center at SIUE had been named for my childhood hero. Expo 67 had caught my imagination. Fuller (1895-1983) had many ideas for serving humanity through innovative designs for housing. I thought I wanted to be an architect and I hoped to put such innovations into practice.
In addition, the geodesic dome is, quite simply, a thing of beauty. It emerges from simple mathematical ideas about what are called “platonic solids,” and it seems to me that the structure itself unlocks something fundamental about how things are put together naturally.
Is it appropriate for a religion center to carry the name of Richard Buckminster Fuller? (The official name is the Buckminster Fuller Center for Spirituality and Sustainability.) Fuller came from a Unitarian background. He did not manifest any particular religious practice.
I have always been moved, however, by Fuller’s account of his despair and his consequent turning-around of his life.
In 1927 in Chicago, destitute and having suffered the death of his 3-year-old daughter, he contemplated suicide as he walked the shore of Lake Michigan; but then these words came to his mind: “You do not have the right to eliminate yourself. You do not belong to you.” I note the affinity of this thought with the proclamation of St. Paul, at 1 Corinthians 6: 19: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?”
The religious faith of every one of us emerges from our initially inarticulate observations about the sense of awe which we feel as we encounter the beauty and the pain of being alive. We Christians, of course, join our inexpressible sense of wonder with what has been revealed to us: that God chooses to love us by giving us Jesus, the Word Made Flesh, who has “made his dwelling among us.”
I think of the SIUE students of various religions, Christian and non-Christian, exploring faith in the Fuller Center, and I imagine people throughout the world who are trying to find words for all kinds of things which are next to impossible to express.
This is, in fact, the great challenge before humanity: to discover, in the spirit of Pentecost, that our God gives us words by which we begin to express the inexpressible; and, in whatever dwelling we find ourselves, to discover that God himself makes his home with us.