The best part of an idea is the conversation it creates. The last several days have created a conversation in my head and my Moleskine among folks who have yet to know they are talking to each other.
I woke up this morning to a message from my friend, fellow Pilgrim, and self-described physics lover, Alice, who said,
Your sermon mentioned knowing where we are and where we are going. Because my brain works differently, I immediately thought of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which basically says you can’t know both (about quanta anyway). “The Heisenberg uncertainty principle is a concept in quantum mechanics that states that of all the things you can measure about an object, there are some things that cannot be known at the same time. An object’s location for example, no matter how small or large, can never be known exactly if you know even a little bit about how fast the particle is moving or what direction it’s moving in. This also works the other way around: the more one knows about how fast the particle is going and the direction it is going, the less one knows about where it is right now.”
So the more we know about where we are, the less we know about where we are going? I have no answers, and we aren’t quantum particles, but I thought you might have an interesting take on it.
I am fascinated by what little I actually understand of physics, most of that knowledge being limited to what I learned from reading Madeleine L’Engle. I used one of her quotes in my book:
Quanta, the tiny subatomic particles being studied in quantum mechanics, cannot exist alone; there cannot be a quantum, for quanta exist only in relationship to each other. And they can never be studied objectively, because even to observe them is to change them. And, like the stars, they appear to be able to communicate with each other without sound or speech . . . Surely what is true of quanta is true of the creation; it is true of quarks, it is true of human beings. We do not exist in isolation. We are part of a vast web of relationships and interrelationships which sing themselves in the ancient harmonies. Nor can we be studied objectively, because to look at us is to change us. And for us to look at anything is to change not only what we are looking at, but ourselves, too. (And It Was Good 20,21)
The next scrap of science I have been carrying around in my head the past few days also made its way to the surface of my thought. Somewhere this week I read about Zeno’s paradox of dichotomy, which states that in order to reach a place you must first go half the distance, so you never get where you’re going because there’s always a halfway point.
Perhaps the reason I am attracted to physics is because I am forced to so quickly engage how much I don’t know and listen to the world on a different plane, one that calls me to trust what resonates, to trust what others can help me to understand; you see, I’m not going to get all of this on my own. Neither are the physicists or the theologians or the philosophers. The picture is both to large and too detailed. None of us has the benefit of adequate perspective.
Two more things. The first is a short film I learned about from David LaMotte, which looks at how our view of ourselves has been altered by the astronauts’ ability to see earth in the context of the universe rather than as one walking on the planet. The video is beautiful and compelling, calling us to an understanding of what they call “The Overview Effect.” One of the astronauts, Edgar Mitchell, said he came back to earth and could find nothing in the literature of science and religion to describe what he had experienced, so he went to the universities and “asked them to help me with what I saw.” Those he consulted came back with words from the ancients, which he quoted in Latin (which I don’t speak or write or read) and then translated: “see things as you see them with your eyes” — resonantly, viscerally, without explanation. David Loy, a philosopher, spoke in similar terms as he said the astronauts’ experience opened us up to feel awe: to transcend the separation between ourselves and creation and see it as a unity.
Here’s the final piece of today’s mosaic: something from a sermon preached by Carla, our Minister of Christian Education, a couple of Sundays ago. As she spoke of Jesus’ call to follow, she used his metaphor of being a part of the Kingdom of God (one with which I have previously struggled.) Then, in good Southern fashion, she dropped the “g” and offered a new picture: the Kindom of God, “where all persons flourish in right relationship with God and one another in love and justice.” Yes. Her important slight change resonates with the “cognitive shift” one of the astronauts described. To see the earth from space requires a new way of thinking — the same way of thinking found in seeing ourselves as part of God’s Kindom.
Jesus used the metaphor in different ways:
- “It is among you,” he said.
- “It is within you.”
- “It is at hand.”
- “It is to come.”
All of them are true at the same time, leaving us with the theological equivalent of the kind of quandaries offered by Heisenberg and Zeno: we are created and called to live in both the now and the not yet, to carry both the past and the promise of our life and faith together, to live in the creative tension that notices both the dust on our shoes and the stars in the heavens. Though we are all over the map, we are connected in ways we do not even begin to comprehend.
Today, I will carry these things from our conversation:
- we are Here, in every sense of that word;
- we are Together, in every sense of that word;
- we are Loved, we are Loved , we are really, really Loved.