The exploratory seeking that Quakers call "continuing revelation," the process of constantly "testing" in a social context, against what others know, what one knows oneself, against new experience and new information . . . are activities that, ideally, can be practiced in both the religious and the intellectual realms (from Science and Spirit; see also Religion as Testing: Another Sort of Story Revising).

I write as one of those "people involved with religion" who "see what they're doing as being pretty much the same thing as what" scientists like Paul are doing: "trying to make the best sense" I can of "a world not fully understood." It's so clear to me that religion and science are comparable and compatible projects that I've pretty much lost interest in the increasingly insistent attempts to oppose them (as seen, most recently, in the 8/23/05 front page story in The New York Times, "Scientists Speak Up on Mix of God and Science": "'Can you be a good scientist and believe in God?'....'No!' Belief in...God is not only incompatible with good science, 'this kind of belief is damaging to the well-being of the human race.'"

The more interesting question that Paul's essay raises for me is WHY--given what I see and experience as a clear congruity between religious and scientific seeking and storytelling--so many of us keep on drawing "lines in the sand" between them. What's our psychological motivation for doing so? Are we being so assertive--belligerent, even--because we're so uncertain about what we know? Or--what seems to me the more intriguing possibility--is the activity of line-drawing an inevitable by-product of storytelling itself?

When one tells a story, one draws a line of some sort (of connection between events: of cause and effect, of give and take...). What's not "on the line" is "disconnected," left out. If one says, "I'm going to take this person as my partner, in order to begin telling a story of our shared life"; or "I'm going to take this job, to begin to write the story of a shared project"; or even "I'm going to end this affiliation, to conclude a story of an association whose usefulness has expired"... one is drawing a line in the sand: saying "yes" to new possibilities, while saying "no" to other intimate relationships, other work commitments....

Three possible origin stories of the phrase illustrate this nicely. It could have first been used @ the Alamo; in a very similar Egyptian/ Macedonian stand-off; or even (this is a very different tale, and to me, the most intriguing possibility) in the Biblical book of John. According to William Safire , the most recent possible origin for the phrase was "during the siege of the Alamo in 1836, when William Barret Travis drew a line in the sand with his sword and urged those willing to stay and defend the fort to step across it." A second possible origin story is that of a Roman senator, who confronted a king leading a Macedonian army in an invasion of Egypt: he "drew a circle in the sand around the king and demanded that the king agree to withdraw his army before he stepped out of the circle." (Note that this version actually involves a circle, rather than a line, and so evokes, in a back-handed sort of way, the old proverb that goes, "I drew a circle that shut him out, and he in love had the wit to win; he drew a circle that took me in."

But most intriguing--and perhaps most generative, because most mysterious, because the writing is so undecisive--is a third possible story of origin, a parable taken from John 8:

1 Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.
2 And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.
3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one...

One web commentator observes, the phrase is "inadvertently appropriate," as "no one takes the slightest notice of all these lines in the sand public figures are forever drawing." I'd say, rather, that we take this notice of our insistent line-drawing: a recognition that the telling of a story is itself quite appropriately (and wonderfully appropriate as) the drawing of a line in the sand. It is a temporary account, one that will be revised whether we will it or not. To tell either a scientific or a religious story is to record a trace, and to take a stand there, in the knowledge that both the trace and the place at which one stands will soon be erased, by weather, by the waves, by time and change.

And by other stories told by others, using the same materials, drawing different figures in the sand nearby.