Of Cosmic Mysteries and Mysticism (2)

This is the conclusion of the blog Of Cosmic Mysteries and Mysticism (1)

The discovery of the Black Hole in space means mystery is reborn in science and something beyond the empirical universe is admitted even by those who deride those who believe in a Creator.  And this mystery beyond our empirical universe is acknowledged as perhaps being not only the source of the empirical universe – the Big Bang – but also of somehow influencing (controlling?) our universe.

Brian Greene, “The Hidden Reality,” in June 2011 DISCOVER MAGAZINE continues by indicating work that has continued in theoretical physics:

“The work culminated in the last decade, and it suggests, remarkably, that all we experience is nothing but a holographic projection of the processes taking place on some distant surface that surrounds us.  You can pinch yourself, and what you feel will be real, but it mirrors a parallel process taking place in a different, distant reality. …  reality—not its mere shadow—may take place on a distant boundary surface, while everything we witness in the three common spatial dimensions is a projection of that faraway unfolding.  Reality, that is, may be akin to a hologram.”

Maybe the ancient pre-scientific Byzantine Christians understood reality a whole lot more that we credit them for.  They didn’t use words like hologram or holographic images or metaverse or event horizons, but they spoke about heavens, shadows, bodiless powers.  And they certainly understood our universe as somehow reflecting a greater reality – our world being real, but when compared to this heavenly Liturgy, this reality is still a shadow because it doesn’t contain, limit or reveal the entirety of the universe.

As Nikolai Velimirovich expresses it in THE UNIVERSE AS SYMBOLS AND SIGNS:

“That is to say, the earth or the universe generally, is nothing but a symbolic picture of heaven.  …  Thus we Christians understand the earth, the sun and the stars as the symbols of spiritual reality and in no way as the reality itself.”

And the mirror (the Black Hole’s reverse), which was known from ancient times, continues on its surface to reflect what information comes its way.  And scientists now think the information inescapably sucked into the Black Hole is stored on its surface, the event horizon.  These scientific and mathematical theorists now imagine that perhaps:

“Our familiar three-dimensional reality… would then be likened to a holographic projection of those distant two-dimensional physical processes.    … then there are physical processes taking place on some distant surface that… are fully linked to the processes taking place in my fingers, arms and brain… Our experiences here and that distant reality there would form the most interlocked of parallel worlds.”

How very similar is such thinking to the Byzantine notion of the Liturgy.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

As Qoheleth marveled three centuries before the time of Christ  (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10):

What has been is what will be,

and what has been done is what will be done;

there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there a thing of which it is said,

‘See, this is new’?

It has already been,

in the ages before us.”

Of Cosmic Mysteries and Mysticism (1)

The more things change the more the stay the same.

I do remember studying the Byzantine ideas about how the Liturgy on earth was a mere reflection of the real Liturgy that was ongoing in Heaven.  We on earth imitate what is happening in heaven.  As we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “on earth as it is in heaven.”  That is what the Byzantines thought liturgy was supposed to do: make present on earth what is in heaven.

Our earthly Liturgy not only makes present on earth what is in heaven, it simultaneously elevates us to that real heavenly Liturgy – we mystically imitate the Cherubim in our earthly liturgical actions but in so doing lay aside earthly cares so that we may receive He who comes to us escorted by the angelic hosts.  It was an ancient idea embedded in their worldview – in fact the entire world, the entire Byzantine empire was in some way imagined as a reflection of what was happening in heaven.

On some level I can accept that idea about the liturgy, but I must admit my modern mindset does not continue that thinking into world politics or what is transpiring on earth today.  The pre-scientific ancients may have believed such ideas but it hardly conforms to our Post-Enlightenment rationalism.

But then along comes modern mathematics, quantum physics and information theory looking into the Black Holes of the universe, and suddenly the ancient worldview isn’t so antiquated any more.

We are in this blog going to explore a few seemingly unrelated threads and then in the next blog tie them all together.

A Black Hole, as far as I can understand it, is the polar opposite or reverse of a mirror.  A mirror simply reflects everything before it.  According to Stave Nadis, “Beyond the Event Horizon,”  in June 2011 DISCOVER MAGAZINE:

“Black Holes are massive objects that have collapsed in on themselves, creating a gravitational suction so intense that their insides become cut off from the rest of the universe.  A black hole’s outer boundary, known as the event horizon, is a point of no return.  Once trapped inside, nothing—not even light—can escape.  At the center is a core, known as a singularity, that infinitely small and dense, an affront to all known laws of physics.  Since no energy, and hence no information, can ever leave that dark place, it seems quixotic to try peering inside. … Black holes are vaults harboring some of the most fundamental truths of the cosmos.” (p 30)

A Black Hole irreversibly absorbs and contains information.  A mirror on the other hand, contains no information, it simple reflects it.  The mirror’s ‘surface’ upon which we see the reflection has no depth, yet it reflects so much.  The mirror holds no information because it reflects it constantly.  A mirror, known in antiquity, shares a relationship with Black Holes, known first in the 20th Century.  The relationship may be an obverse one, but it is there.

Because of computers, binary thinking, digitalization, and quantum mechanics, the sciences of physics, mathematics and information theory have come to understand the entire universe as information or capable of being quantified as such.   Thus the Black Hole which allows no information to escape is the new Mystery of the universe and even a possible doorway to what lies beyond.

Beyond the universe?  Aren’t we talking about God?  Brian Greene, “The Hidden Reality,” in June 2011 DISCOVER MAGAZINE, explains:

“There was a time when the word universe meant ‘all there is.’ Everything. The whole shebang.  …  The word’s meaning now depends on context.  Sometimes universe still connotes absolutely everything.  Sometimes it refers only to those parts of everything that someone such as you or I could, in principle, have access to.   …  universe has given way to other terms that capture the wider canvas on which the totality of reality might be painted … the metaverse, megaverse or multiverse…”

Science has the empirical universe which it can study, and at one time as a direct confrontation with Theistic believers  (‘faithists” is the pejorative term), science denied there is anything worth knowing beyond the empirical universe – not heaven, not God.  Suddenly however those Black Holes in the space-time continuum are convincing scientists there is mystery: there is more to the universe than meets the eye, more that we can know or explain.  And our universe may be but a tiny part of this greater whole that remains a mystery to us and yet may be influencing everything we do and say.

Next, tying it all together:  Of Cosmic Mysteries and Mysticism (2)

Jesus Christ the God-Man

Jesus said, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man’s eyes with the clay, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.  (John 9:5-7)

St. Athanasius of Alexandria  (d. 373 AD)  wrote:

“The very saliva of Christ was divine, healing, and life-giving because the Incarnate Word ‘adopted’ all the properties of the flesh and made them His own. It was He Who both grieved for Lazarus and then resurrected him. God was born in the flesh from the Virgin, and Mary is the Bearer of God. The flesh, which was born from Mary, did not become consubstantial with the Word, and the Word was not joined to it. Mary was chosen so that the Lord could receive ‘from her’ a body that would be ‘similar to ours’ and not consubstantial with the Godhead. ‘From Mary the Word received flesh, and a man was endangered whose nature and substance were the Word of God and whose flesh was from the seed of David, a man from the flesh of Mary.'” (St.Athanasius of Alexandria in The Eastern Fathers of the Fourth Century: Volume VII, pg. 49)

Seeing the Other’s Sin as a Way to See Oneself

The Sunday of the Blindman

As the Lord passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his  parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.   (John 9:1-3)

Many parents when seeing some tragic accident happen or while watching a news story about the tragedy have their children ask them, “what happened?”  The parents may offer a synopsis of what they know about the accident, but often are also evaluating – stupid kid, probably was drunk.  We try to make sense out of tragedy; it gives us some comfort to realize that there are perfectly reasonable explanations for why bad things happen.  But as the Book of Job demonstrates, sometimes the way we try to comfort ourselves in giving reason to personal tragedy are simply wrong.

The apostles in the Gospel lesson try to make sense of the blindness of this man, but there may be no reasonable explanation for it.  Trying to make sense of the man born blind’s disease, the apostles follow Job’s friends who were more trying to comfort themselves (“I won’t be next, I’ve done nothing wrong”) than to comfort Job (for they were convinced he had sinned badly).

In the Scriptures we read that St. Paul identifies himself as the foremost of sinners.  We also see the Wise Thief on the cross confessing his own sins before asking Christ’s mercy. Here is a quote from THE PARADISE OF THE FATHERS Vol. 2 regarding looking at the sins of others, and considering one’s own sins.

“If you see, moreover, a man who is a murderer, and a thief, and an adulterer, and one who sheds blood, you should think of your own final judgment.  For if this murderer at the end of his life confesses Christ, he will proceed me into the kingdom of heaven.  If you remember this is true of everyone, you will be less likely to judge them, and more likely to remember your sins.”

The tragedies of others, especially if caused by their sinfulness should give us reason to remember:  “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

Christ the Wisdom and Word of God

In my blog for Mid-Pentecost, Christ the Rock Which is the Fountain of Life, I wrote about the connection the ancient Jewish interpreters of their Scriptures drew between the image of the deep well and the Torah.  Digging a well became a metaphorical understanding of searching the Torah for its deepest meaning.  This ancient interpretive tradition is preserved in Orthodox Tradition as well.   Take a look at one of the hymns from Matins of the 5th Week of Pascha (from the Pentecostarion):








Where Jacob dug his well is a metaphorical way of referring to the Jews seeking Wisdom from the Torah.   The Samaritan Woman comes to that well.   This is another metaphor of the non-Jew, the convert, coming to the Torah.  But the Torah, the deep well, leads her to Christ, to the New Covenant which replaces the Torah.  The old well, the Torah, could only give her water for this life – how to live in this world.  The new well, Christ the Wisdom of God, gives living water that bestows eternal life.

Truth is Not an Emotion

“When we are faced with the temptation of reducing our inner life to the level of intellect and emotions, as if the true spiritual life which is union with God were no more than deception, we need to hear the word: ‘And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God’ (Jn 17:3). This knowledge, or enlightenment, is the purpose of life. Light and truth constitute an inseparable pair, for we cannot find the way without light. Christ is the ‘Light’ and the ‘Way’, but in his freedom, man chooses between light, which requires a sustained effort, and darkness. St.Symeon the New Theologian expressed the heart of the problem in these terms: ‘He who is blind to the One is completely blind to all things. But he who sees the One is able to contemplate the whole.’ “ (Michel Quenot, The Resurrection and the Icon, pg 222)

An Evolutionary Alternative?

Though the controversy between evolution and creation science is not always on my front burner, I do see articles on the topic from time to time that interest me.  Such was the case of the interview with “self-described ‘evolutionist’” Lynn Margulis in the April 2011 issue of DISCOVER.  Though an accomplished scientist who has contributed to an understanding of evolution, she doesn’t believe neo-Darwinism has the ability to explain evolution fully.

Margulis says, “Natural selection eliminates and maybe maintains, but it doesn’t create.”  She says if you look at the studies of Gregor Mendel and his rule of heredity, you see stasis not change.  “There is no gradualism in the fossil record.”  Field studies show variations within a species and then suddenly a new species.  Margulis thinks the critics of evolutionary theory offer valid criticisms of the theory, but she finds no scientific support for ideas of intelligent design.

Her alternative is the theory of “symbiogenesis” in which genetic changes enter into a species through their biological relationships with other species or even bacteria.  She says most evolutionary biologists ignore the relationships between species, between “bacteria, protoctists, fungi, animals and plants.”  She thinks neo-Darwinism is just too narrowly focused – even as it studies a genome it fails to take into account how species interrelate with each other and also with all other environmental factors.

Margulis shows that a scientist can hold unconventional and even unpopular views and yet still respect the scientific enterprise and be respected by it.  She acknowledge in the interview that some scientists are not governed by a search for truth, but by what research will win them more grant money.  She doesn’t resolve the divide between evolution and creationism, but she thinks critically about the problems both present and offers a scientific alternative.

25 May 2011 Hailstorm

Just a couple of photos of the hail which rained down upon us – sounded like bowling balls hitting the roof of the house.

This one was a little over 3 inches 0r 7 1/2 centimeters.

Lots of branches and leaves came down as well, but as night fell I saw no major damage to my home.  We’ll see what is revealed tomorrow.  Lots of people lost power and suffered damage to  homes, cars and landscape.

Is This Your Brain on God?

The interrelationship between science and religion always fascinates me.  Of course some think religion and science are opposed ways of understanding the world and have nothing in common with each other.  They feel science is secular and atheistic.   Others hold to a notion that truth is truth, and in as much as science and religion both are concerned about truth/reality, they actually are on the same side of the issue – ever seeking and searching for truth.  Thus there is not scientific truth which is in opposition to religious truth, but rather there is simply truth and we all are looking for the same thing.

In as much as science limits its interest to what can be observed and tested, it is fascinating when science approaches issues related to spirituality and religion.  I found NPR’s interactive IS THIS YOUR BRAIN ON GOD? to be an interesting way to approach spirituality from a scientific point of view.  The interactive webpage allows you to go deeper into the story and read more about the topic if you are interested.  Still for the most part it embraces of the point of view of a scientist more than that of a believer.

However, believing in a religion – Orthodox Christianity – which teaches that God became man – became incarnate – it is totally within the realm of science to study how spirituality is experienced by humans since at some point for the human to experience the event, it has also to become something observable and detectable.  At some point the brain becomes involved in the experience, and science can observe the brain’s activity.  This is as true about prayer and meditation as it would be about receiving a message from God.  In the first what begins as a completely human activity (prayer and meditation), we believe eventually becomes something spiritual which God receives from us.  There is a point of interfacing between God and humans.  The same is true if God conveys a message to a human, at some point that message to be received interfaces with the human brain (not just the mind or soul).   Thus, the spiritual world and the physical world are not oppositional realities, but interrelated – they do interface at some point.  It is why Christians can claim there is a sacramental reality, or that icons are windows into heaven, or that relics can convey spiritual power or healing.

Christianity is a materialistic religion.  It is not trying to escape the material world, but rather is trying to redeem, transfigure and transform empirical reality – to show that the world always was meant to be the means through which we experience God the Creator.

We come to know God through the senses of touch, hearing, smell, sight and taste.  God created our bodies with the capability of experiencing the spiritual through them.

God created the world and loves that world and saves that world.  Jesus Christ is God in the flesh – His incarnation, death and resurrection are all about saving the physical world, not just giving immortality to the soul.

Sacramental Theology: Experiencing God’s Creation

“…The whole liturgy is sacramental, that is, one transforming act and one ascending movement. And the very goal of this movement of ascension is to take us out of ‘this world’ and to make us partakers of the world to come. In this world – the one that condemned Christ and by doing so has condemned itself – no bread, no wine can become the body and blood of Christ. Nothing which is part of it can be “sacralized.’ But the liturgy of the Church is always an anaphora, a lifting up, an ascension. The Church fulfills itself in heaven in that new eon which Christ has inaugurated in His death, resurrection and ascension, and which was given to the Church on the day of Pentecost as its life, as the ‘end’ toward which it moves. In this world Christ is crucified, His body broken, and His blood shed. And we must go out of this world, we must ascend to heaven in Christ in order to become partakers of the world to come.

But this is not an ‘other’ world, different from the one God has created and given to us. It is our same world, already perfected in Christ, but not yet in us. It is our same world, redeemed and restored, in which Christ ‘ fills all things with Himself.’ And since God has created the world as food for us and has given us food as means of communion with Him, of life in Him, the new food of the new life which we receive from God in His Kingdom is Christ Himself. He is our bread – because from the very beginning all our hunger was a hunger for Him and all our bread was but a symbol of Him, a symbol that had to become reality.”  (Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, pgs. 42-43)