Our Eucharistic Planet

Our Eucharistic Planet

I am a big fan of Jesus. And not just because it is part of my job description, but because I believe that in Jesus, God—the Creator of all that is, seen and unseen, became human. Someone we could see, touch, smell, hear. Someone we can relate to, recognize, and sort of understand. Yet Christians often seem to me to have one of two issues around Jesus—we are either so enamored with his humanity that we downplay his divinity, or, we are so awed by his divinity that we overlook his humanity.  Some of this is crystallized in the very name we call him: Jesus Christ. Contrary to a lot of peoples’ understanding, Christ is not Jesus last name, that would have been Bar-Joseph. Christ is his title—God’s anointed one, the Messiah—the very name we call him knitting his humanity and divinity into one.

The Biblical poetic imagination has long pondered exactly how and who Jesus the Christ IS. John puts him squarely at and in the beginning—In the beginning was the Word—the principle of divine reason and creative order, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John starts with a wide camera angle to encompass the entire story of the Cosmos  then focuses in on the person of Jesus, containing all that was, and is, and is to be.  How exactly does all of that work? How do we think and talk about it without ending up sounding like quintessential 60’s flower children?

I think science has some insights into how we hold all of this together—here are a few. Quantum physics holds that a subatomic particle that decays into two particles becomes a set of “twins”—a single system with 2 parts, spinning in opposite directions, which according to the laws of physics must always balance each other. Fascinatingly, once two particles have interacted with each other, they are related regardless of their distance from each other—staying in contact through space and time—behaving not as two separate particles, but as one.  Researchers think this has something to do with field theory—fields being invisible, non-material structures that just may turn out to be the basic substance of the universe. Imagine a gossamer fabric that knits the whole cosmos together, so that a shiver in the Milky Way gives us a shiver right here, faster than the speed of light. When I read this theory, I can’t help thinking about the Mom who sits bolt upright in the middle of the night, knowing something has happened to her child. I think about twins who, though separated from birth, make remarkably similar choices in their lives. Perhaps it is because they are not really two, but one. Each knows what the other is doing not because they have ESP, but because they belong to the unbroken wholeness of the universe—to the Christ who, through himself, knits all things, human, divine, cosmic, into one. As Paul writes “Christ is before all things and in him all things hold together” and the more we live in him the more Christ we become and the more Christ becomes manifest in time and space. In quantum physics this is known as nonlocality. In Church it is known as mystic communion.

To go a little deeper into science, and into mystic communion, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle asserts that it is not possible to know both where a particle is and where it is going. The closer you get to figuring out its location, the further you are from determining its momentum, and vice-versa. In between measurements, it exists as a probability wave—a combination of all the possible ways it could go, which all remain possible until you fix your gaze on it. When you take your measurement the wave collapses and assumes an actual value, but only because you asked it to.

In other words, a thing cannot even be said to be one thing or another until someone interrupts it to find out what it is. Plus, the interruption itself has to be taken into account. You cannot observe a phenomenon without entering into relationship with it, and that relationship changes the equation. In other words, the subatomic particle that is an electron is not just an electron, but part of a complex network of relationships. At this point, aside from wondering if this is a sermon or a science lecture, you might be thinking it is all rather dizzying. It is. The physical world seems to obey two different sets of rules. The macro level of trees and rocks, which have a definite position in time and space, and a micro-level where something can be both particle and wave, where you don’t know where something is going and if you do you don’t know where it is and you cannot know any of these things without interacting with them which means you will never know how they behave when you aren’t looking.

What is needed with this new scientific understanding is a radical change in how we conceive the world. It is no longer possible to see it as a collection of autonomous, fixed, parts—rather it is a world of undivided wholeness, in which observer cannot be separated from observed.

The poet Rumi wrote that you cannot simply understand that one and one is two, you also have to understand the and. John Polkinghorne, Anglican priest and physicist, wrote that our experience of light as both particle and wave may give us a way to express our experience of Jesus as divine and human. Ask a human-like question and you get a human-like answer. Ask a divine-like question and you get a divine-like answer. Both languages are necessary. The deep truth is not either but both. He goes on to write that just as boiling liquid and the steam it produces behave in different ways, they remain the same substance. He sees Jesus’ death and resurrection the same way—a phase change. Jesus was the first puff of steam in a new regime, which we call the Kingdom of God—which in Jesus’ case include the boiling up of death into eternal life.

David Bohm caught a glimpse of reality in which the universe neither occupies space and time nor contains many different things. Rather it behaves more like one interwoven thing that takes time and space seriously but not too seriously—perhaps by treating them as idioms that the universe finds necessary in order to communicate itself to observers.

Which got me wondering if the universe has a “memory” that predates the big bang. A sort of egg of the universe in which all things were in one place and time—in which all things were one thing. Mind, matter, and time were not yet different. They were all floating in the same yolk. Then the universe was born and the one became many. Particles became planets and galaxies, blue-green algae, toads, swans, and sycamores. Space became here OR there and time became then OR now. But deep down in the being of these many things remains the memory of being one—and this is what makes them behave in ways that torture scientists. Space and time are not separable. Light is both particle and wave. A particle way over there responds instantly to a particle over here, as if they were not two, but one. What if we do all sorts of mental gymnastics because we insist on conceiving of reality as many when it is truly and deeply one?.

There is one body and one Spirit. One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God of all, who is above all and through all and in all. All. blue-green algae, toads, swans, sycamores, us. It seems that within our fibers we live in covenant with every single thing.  An infinite web of relationship, flung across the vastness of space like a shining net. Made of energy, not thread, with light moving through it like blood pulsing through veins. The living hum I hear might just be from neurons in my body but could just as easily be from the furnace of the stars. When I look up at them there is a small commotion in my bones, as the ashes of dead stars that are my bone marrow rise up like metal filings toward the magnet of their kin. In this picture I am not here, but all over the place. Up there, down here, inside my skin, and out. I am large compared to a virus but small compared to the sun, with a life that is permeable to both of them. I am never alone but am part of a web that is pure relationship, with energy available to me that has been around since the universe was born. And God? Well, in this picture, God is all over the place. God is up there, down here, inside my skin and out. God is the web, the energy, the space, the light—not captured in them but revealed in that singular vast net of relationship that animates everything that is. God is unity itself—the very energy, intelligence, elegance, and passion that makes it all go. God is not somewhere, but everywhere—the God who may be prayed to in every direction at once. The God beyond all directions who will still be here (wherever here is) when the universe dissipates into dust or swallows itself up again. The God who was born to Mary in a stable and the God who is the ground of all being. The God known for a moment in time as Jesus and throughout all time as I AM WHO I AM.  As Joseph Campbell once asked, what if the universe is not merely the product of God but also the manifestation of God—a “eucharistic planet” on which we have been invited to live.

In Genesis, when Moses asked God what God’s name is, the response was and is I AM WHO I AM—the ultimate utterance of the only One who ever was, is, or shall be, in whom everything else abides. For the moment we see through a glass, darkly—living in the illusion that we are all separate I ams. When the fog finally clears, we shall know there is only One—the One who is the Word who was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.

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The Rev. Claire Nevin-Field is the rector of St. Peter’s Church.

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