“What is your only comfort in life and death?” – Heidelberg catechism, Question 1
Molly Macauley, by various turns economist, Resources for the Future executive, space technology policy maven, good neighbor, caring mentor, friend and encourager to all who knew her, was slain by an unknown assailant Friday night as she was walking her cherished dogs in her beloved Baltimore. She was 59.
To know Molly was to fall in love a little bit. That’s because she loved others so universally and in so many directions herself. She loved her peers at Resources for the Future, where she was Vice President for Research. She loved her colleagues across the spectrum of space technology, economics, and policy – and across government, the industry, and academia. She loved her family and her neighbors and her city and all dogs of every description, saving them whenever and however she could. She loved the Orioles. She extended her love to the Earth sciences community, consulting on the value of environmental information, helping the American Meteorological Society think through its upcoming centennial, and much, much more. She loved teaching, and taught and mentored every chance she got. An example, just one of many: she volunteered repeatedly to meet with the AMS Summer Policy Colloquium participants year after year on a range of subjects.
To know Molly was to seek her wisdom. William & Mary, the space enterprise, the National Academies of Science – not once but repeatedly – would turn to her for advice and perspective on virtually every issue and matter. Not just institutions but individuals would go out of their way to solicit her input, on matters both professional and personal.
To know Molly was also to shape up and fly right. She had a strong ethical compass and unflinching sense of right and wrong. Scientists and scholars can at times be contentious (it’s as if we misheard Descartes to say, “Arguo; ergo ego sum.”). When Molly was in the room, she’d allow such discussions to run their course a bit. But sooner or later the belligerents would pause for breath and she’d then quietly and gently introduce a synthesis of what had been said. At one and the same time her counsel would draw the disagreement to a positive and brilliant close and leave the disputants a bit shamefaced. She could do this in any setting with a consistency and moral effect that was a marvel to watch.
Unsurprisingly, her death and its horrific circumstances have triggered a burst of grief and heartbreak across all in her orbit. The news accompanied by expressions of dismay lit up her corner of the internet over the weekend. The current national backdrop of violence and contention have added to the anguish and despair. Words have proven inadequate.
We’re in desperate need of comfort.
This brings us to a German scholar of the sixteenth century, Zacharias Ursinus (1534-1583), who while still in his 20’s was commissioned around 1559 to write what became the Heidelberg catechism. Both the catechism and its history are extraordinary and merit your further exploration when you have the time. But for present purposes it suffices that Ursinus thought the correct starting point for this summary of Christian principles would be some reflection on the source of comfort in a world that so often offers trial, uncertainty, dysfunction – and true evil. Here’s his full, inspired answer (the links provide the ten Biblical citations he appealed to as justification):
Q1. What is your only comfort
in life and death?
A1. That I am not my own,
but belong with body and soul,
both in life and in death,
to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins
with his precious blood,
and has set me free
from all the power of the devil.
He also preserves me in such a way
that without the will of my heavenly Father
not a hair can fall from my head;
indeed, all things must work together
for my salvation.
Therefore, by his Holy Spirit
he also assures me
of eternal life
and makes me heartily willing and ready
from now on to live for him.
This can be truly hard to read given the circumstances of Molly’s death. Really, God? Without your will not a hair can fall from my head? You would let Molly die in this way? How can you possibly be both all-powerful and all good? How can you even exist?
Scholars have provided eloquent, compelling arguments on all sides of this ultimate human question. Remember? “Arguo, ergo ego sum.”
But our hope might be, on this week above all weeks, from her new heavenly perspective, Molly if she could, would once again provide a brilliant synthesis, and put this argument, like all the others, to rest. We might hope that sooner or later, when at the end of our respective lives we join her, we discover God had some questions about space economics he wanted answered, or that a surfeit of dogs arriving in heaven needed someone to walk them, or that he wanted to show Molly environs that improved upon Baltimore – that it was time for Molly to enjoy a better, perfect world.
Molly might go on to add her own desire: that if we really truly miss her, and value and respect what she gave each of us, that going forward we’ll all be a bit more loving, develop and freely share a deeper wisdom, and shape up and fly right.
Time to get to it.
 a summary of the principles of Christian religion in the form of questions and answers, used for the instruction of Christians.