April 18, 2014

Science Friday on Good Friday

Almighty and everlasting God, you made the Universe with all its order, atoms, worlds, galaxies and the intricate complexities of living creatures: Grant that, as we probe the mysteries of your creation, we may come to know you more truly, and more surely fulfil our role in your eternal purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.-- from the Society of Ordained Scientists

"Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?" -- John 11:40

Beginning Ash Wednesday and carrying through even to today, and then for a few more days beyond today, I have been reading and reflecting with Bishop Knisely of Rhode Island in his book of Lenten meditations, Lent Is Not Rocket Science. I have also been reading Fr. Richard Rohr's Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent. The two have been like sides of the same coin throughout the past weeks -- the same value, the same purpose, the same origin, yet stamped with different images, either of which helps get to the point.

In his book, Bishop Knisely (a seriously integrative bishop-theologian/astronomer/physicist) takes us from the immeasurably small to the immeasurably large -- from the smallest thing you can imagine to the largest -- all while saying to us, Isn't this kind of amazing? in a "Cosmos" sort of way, and Isn't it interesting what God might be doing here?, and How are lessons gleaned from science like our lives as spiritual creatures? He knows that sooner or later all metaphors break down, and he never overplays his hand.

But there's another level at which Knisely works. A lot of things in the observable universe aren't necessarily metaphors. Some of them are actual signposts for the handiwork of God. And clearly what we don't know (AND what we don't even yet know that we don't yet know) outweighs what we do know by many, many factors. That's a call for humility on a Good Friday.

That proves good yeast for Lent. Enough good yeast, in fact, that today's Good Friday sermon from our congregation's deacon, Rev. Pat Johnson (who read the book, too), was a serious reflection on the totality of the redemption of all the whole created order -- both seen and unseen -- by the cosmic Christ. I listened to the sermon, and then I heard the words of that ancient hymn of praise --
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth,
    Visible and invisible,
  Whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities
    All things were created through him and for him.
And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
And he is the head of the body, the church.
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
  And through him to reconcile to himself all things,
    Whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Can you find this same cosmic Christ through the lens of a microscope or a telescope? I'm not sure. I'm not sure that's the point. But by the same token, I'm a human being, and I'm wired to look for meaning no matter where, or how far, I cast my gaze. (I think Sally McFague would argue that any observation of any thing will show you God, and that's pause enough for an otherwise stuffed Good Friday.)

And so, having been told repeatedly throughout Lent 2014 that science and religion were not in competition (and then having heard Chris Hardwick riff a week ago on how you should always pick science over religion because science never had to go back and change its story ["You don't have to believe everything you think"]), and realizing it's not something I've ever had to struggle with because science is obviously real and so is its creator -- so having heard all that, I realize this is no big deal for me. The earth can be however old it is and we don't have to do mental gyrations to make it younger. The dinosaurs can be 65 million years because that's obviously how old they are. We can freely admit the limits of our knowledge, and in fact are demanded to do as much, whether the subject is science or theology. And yes, these disciplines can marry up, too, and they can make their own sort of sense together. We have really short memories sometimes, but we forget that theology has been a legitimate branch of inquiry, debate, and reasonable appreciation ever since we possessed the capacity to look up, look out, and wonder at how any of this could have happened in the first place.

Then I found this bit from Bede Griffiths.
The great illusion is to think that the world of the senses is the real world, whereas it is obvious that it can never be more than an abstraction from the total reality. That portion of reality which is reflected through our senses is only a fraction of the whole. No matter how far the range of the sense is extended through the telescope or the microscope, it can never touch more than one aspect of reality. But it is no less an illusion to think that the world of illusion is the real world.
I'm not sure how I feel about that last bit, but I see where he's going. ("Real" meaning "total"?) Anyway,
All the constructions of mathematical reason on the basis of the senses, all the grandiose systems of philosophy based on sense and reason, are the only reflection in the human mind of a Reality which always transcends it. Only when we come to the intuitions of the great prophets and seers which are the basis of religion --
-- and here we might remember, not just the prophets of religion but all who have heralded a new way of beholding things, including Einstein and Heisenberg and Bohr and Planck -- your basic Solvay Conference type crowd --
-- Only when we come to the intuitions of the great prophets ... do we begin to touch Reality itself, and even this one Reality is still reflected through a human medium. The Rig-Veda, together with the Upanishads and the Gita, the Buddhist Sutras, the Zend-Avesta, the Koran, the Old and the New Testaments, all alike reflect this one Truth in different human terms. All alike are conditioned by history and circumstance, but all derive from the one Source and all alike point to the one Reality. 

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