Sunday, September 29, 2013

From Cosmos to Atoms: Religion and Science Meet

Fourth Sunday, Seasons of Creation Year C (Universe)
The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade, PhD

Proverbs 8:22-31; Psalm 148; Colossians 1:15-20; John 6:41-51

In 7th Grade science class our teacher wanted us to learn about the solar system.  
So he gave us each a bag of Styrofoam balls, some wire, and a diagram of the planets orbiting the sun.  In a few weeks each of us had created homemade Milky Way solar systems.  
I marveled at the simple, yet elegant design of what I saw in those diagrams: all the planets knowing their place, following the path, circling around and around endlessly.

Then our next assignment was to learn about atoms.  Remember the parts of the atom?  Protons and neutrons made up the nucleus, and the electrons sped around the nucleus in endless zipping orbits.  
It suddenly clicked for me – the parallel between the two models.  And what really blew my mind is that one was so huge – the universe - it overwhelmed me; and one was so small – an atom -  it could fit inside my body a billion times over.

And then I read the words we recited today in Psalm 148:  Praise the Lord!  Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise God in the heights!  Praise God, sun and moon, praise God, all you shining stars!  
The psalmist did not have an electron microscope, but if he did, he might very well have added:  praise God you atoms!  Praise God, protons and electrons, quarks and dark matter.  The patterns of the universe reflect each other, magnify and concentrate each other all at the same time.

Some Christians will tell you that science and religion are incompatible.  Some scientists will tell say that science and religion contradict each other.  But our passages in Scripture for this Sunday show us that, in fact, science and religion are not so far apart after all.  The highest levels of science and the most intense levels of mystical religion share much in common.  Particle physics, astrophysics, cosmology are fused with an almost religious-like mysticism that causes many scientists to simply stand in awe of what they observe. Eric Jantsch was an astrophysicist wrote in his book The Self-organizing Universe (Pergamon; 1st edition, 1980) that that God is the mind of the universe – the self-organizing principal of cohesion and organization that evolves as the universe evolves. It is the mind in all things, in the fire, in the ecosystem, in the amoeba, in the galaxies, and in us.

The passages in the scripture readings echo this concept of the wisdom/mind of the universe.  Proverbs personifies Wisdom as a woman who works alongside God before time even began, helping to organize the universe in all its splendor. The Creation story in Colossians is a cosmic story that shows Christ present with God at the beginning, and that Christ’s presence dwells in every aspect of the universe.  How can that be?  How can Christ be present in all things?  Remember the Big Bang theory taught in science class? 
That supernova had a life, death and resurrection, in that it birthed the elements of the universe as it exploded. Its death brought new life – helium, hydrogen, the beginning of galaxies. This means that Nature itself contains this imprint of the crucified and resurrected Christ – a death that brought new life. Thus Christ is in every place, in every creature.

And what does this Wisdom have to do with us?  Wisdom intimately forms every aspect of the elements, matter and energy itself.  Dianne Bergant observes:  "From the pathways of human society, she transports her hearers to the primordial arena of creation.” [1]  Wisdom beckons people to follow her, to learn from her, to feast at her table.  Wisdom formed earth, water, plants and animals. Wisdom formed you, and invites you to learn all you can about the wonders of God’s creation.  You want to be a scientist and be a Christian?  There is no conflict.  Watch, observe, learn, offer hypotheses, create theories.  Carl Sagan once said that human beings are the way the cosmos becomes aware of itself.  You are one expression of the universe becoming conscious of itself.
It’s no surprise, then, that the Cosmic Christ becomes Jesus of Nazareth, God Incarnate, God of the Flesh, God the Human Being.  The Gospel text from John illustrates the sensuous particularity of Wisdom-Christ’s teachings.  Jesus said:  “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” Bread is so tangible, so earthy, so incarnational.  Smell a loaf of freshly baked bread and think of the memories that are evoked for you.  
Grandma’s kitchen, a favorite corner bakery, an aunt’s house at the holidays, all remind us that love is often expressed by the labor of our hands meant for the hunger of our mouths and bodies.  The same material that makes up the stars in the heavens is the same as the atoms that make up the bread that nourishes your body.  It is all imprinted with the mark of the Cosmic Christ.

Nowhere is this more real than at the Eucharist, at Communion where the cosmic and the particular come together. Think of the doxology we sing or speak at the time of Holy Communion:  “Holy, holy, holy Lord, Lord God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory.” Doxa means glory, radiance, beauty – it is a cosmic word; it is the radiance that permeates all things. Hildegard of Bingham says that there is no creature that does not have a radiance. A tiny single-celled sea creature, an elephant, a redwood, a baby.  Even the atoms of the universe contain photons – radiance, light rays! The glory of God, the radiance of the Cosmic Christ is, literally, in all things!
Every person is a unique expression of that radiance – there is no one else in the history of the universe who was you, or is you, or ever will be you. When that bread is put into your hand, you hear the words:  “The body of Christ given for you.” 

You – a being of light, an expression of God’s consciousness, a student at Wisdom’s table.  You, too, are the Alpha and the Omega. You are the first and last you. And you are precious, cherished by the Wisdom, the Beauty, the Mind of God who beholds you and loves you – right down to your smallest atoms.  Amen.

[1] Dianne Bergant, Israel's Wisdom Literature : A Liberation-Critical Reading (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1997), 83.

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