The questions appeared like the forgotten name of a third grade classmate, or a subatomic particle leaping across time and space from that first table to our table: Did they know? Did Jesus’ disciples know it was the last supper? Did Jesus know it was the Last Supper?
Jesus’ conversations, as reported in the “Gospels According To…” certainly indicate he knew – words remembered, looking back, measuring their meaning; remembered by those who then knew it had indeed been the last supper. A handshake is just a handshake until we remember it as the last handshake. What was just a handshake before remembering is now a lingering embrace of hands with a somehow knowing squeeze just before releasing, precisely applied pressure of thumb and fingers that says, “Last Handshake.” What was, before remembering, just another meal is now the Last Supper.
Surely it wasn’t like those Seders at Jake and Mamie’s house when my wife and I, a couple of goyim, were invited to the dining room table of our Jewish friends to celebrate an ancient mysterious ritual? I remember we drank a lot of wine. Aunt Doris was always in the kitchen preparing food only to appear in the doorway via quantum leap just in time and just long enough to lift a glass to join in “Drink the wine!” Were there Aunt Doris’s in the kitchen that night, baking bread, drinking wine? Was there laughter and joy, before Jesus changed the tone with “…in remembrance of me?”
Some people think Jesus didn’t even say this, that Paul added these words as part of what he “…received from the LORD…” and “…also handed on…” to the Corinthian believers. Then they received and handed on to others, and those recipients still to others. The handing and receiving continued, on and on and on until I hold bread and cup in my hands.
Wu Li Masters
Several years ago I stumbled upon a new way of thinking about and experiencing the world. Actually it wasn’t new at all new since it had been around for over a hundred years. But like a good friend once said about me, “You’re not stupid, just slow.”
Sometimes it takes folks a while to catch up. Sometimes what is handed on to others is not so readily received. Just ask Copernicus or Galileo or Newton. What they “handed on” was at first rejected, then finally received, eventually embraced, and in the end assumed by the masses as the way things are. But some who received these words heard them in a new way, their experiences produced different perspectives. Thomas Young , Max Planck, Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, and Erwin Schrodinger are but a few, the list goes on, of inquisitive, imaginative minds who have received and handed on a relatively (pun intended) new understanding of the nature of reality.
My imagination was awakened primarily by two sources – a lecture series and a book. Both gave words, images, and historical grounding to random thoughts and feelings I had been wrestling with for some time.
The lectures on science and religion were given by Barbara Brown Taylor at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, and were eventually published with the title “The Luminous Web, Essays on Science and Religion.” I summarize the effect of those lectures on me with Taylor’s own words. “We human beings tend to base our world views on the prevailing physics of the day. While I have heard the argument made the other way around, it seems true to me that our governments, our schools, our economies, and our churches all reflect our understanding of how the world works, and when that understanding changes – as it is changing right now – all of those institutions are up for revision.”[i]
Taylor briefly mentioned a book in her lectures, so briefly in fact, that I didn’t even remember it until my wife, reading it for a college course, handed it to me. “The Dancing Wu Li Masters” by Gary Zukav[ii] was, and continues to be, an inspiration to me.
I do not pretend to understand the magnificent complexities of the numerous new sciences spawned by quantum mechanics, theories and relativities. I leave that to brilliant minds filled with scientific and mathematic curiosity. Imagination better suites my treatment of quantum thinking. So, I now my personal theological hermeneutic is Quantum Imagination.
By quantum imagination, I refer in grossly over simplified and reduced terms to what can best be stated as: living out of possibility and potential as opposed to living from certainty. From a scientific perspective, it is loosening the grip on a Newtonian worldview based on laws of nature which, when understood and manipulated, give us control. In other words, a world where there are absolute answers to our questions and all we need is enough information or facts to get them.
Quantum imagination invites us into the world of Planck, Einstein, Bohr, and others, a world where probabilities, possibilities, and tendencies replace certainty, a world where there can never be enough information, a world where facts are tinged with relativity because our mere participation in the process is a constant altering of the information and facts. Therefore, the answers to our questions are in so many ways only creating new questions, as well as other possible answers.
From a theological perspective, quantum imagination is the willingness to explore, push, and at times transcend the boundaries of whatever our religious orthodoxy may be. In so many ways, just as in scientific thought, orthodoxy is our way of explaining and controlling mystery. It is our way of providing answers to questions about life, death, consciousness, spirit, the meaning of life, God. Even though most religious people concede that enough information is not necessarily what we need to gain answers, we still insist on having answers. So, when inquiry, rationale, and systemization fall short, we substitute another answer: faith. Faith then becomes just another commodity of which we need enough of in order to satisfy the questions and mysteries of life. If we only have enough faith, we can… whatever?
The willingness to entertain quantum imagination is to acknowledge that faith, like fact, is altered by participation in it. Another way to say this is that life experiences shape faith. We have known for a long time that so much of what we believe and how we act results from experiencing the world around us. Faith, of whatever persuasion, does not appear or grow, nor is it practiced, in a vacuum. Faith is the stuff of our lives: pain, joy, heartache, celebration, defeat, triumph, rejection, and acceptance. Faith becomes a process rather than a commodity.
It is important to note here that quantum imagination does not completely abandon fact and faith that has come before it. Just as Paul says, “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you…,” Albert Einstein said, “…creating a new theory…is rather like climbing a mountain, gaining new and wider views, discovering unexpected connections between our starting point and its rich environment. But the point from which we started out still exists and can be seen, although it appears smaller and forms a tiny part of our broad view gained by the mastery of the obstacles on our adventurous way up.”[iii]
Like it or not, we are the sum total of all that has come before us. The past can neither be altered nor escaped. But this does not mean we are confined or doomed to what is given us. In a real sense, each person, every community is in the process of creating something new. Our mere participation in the dance alters the steps, even those already danced.
Steps of the past, present, and future are still what make up the dance. A ‘quanta’ is one of these steps. Quantum theory says that nature comes in bits and pieces and quantum mechanics is the study of this phenomenon. Said another way, our lives are made of bits and pieces of laughter and tears, of dreams and fears. These bits and pieces are the places life is lived, where questions are both born and resolved, where the mysterious, the sacred, the holy breaks through. String all of these bits and pieces together and our lives emerge. Put the steps in sequence with rhythm and a dance of faith is born.
One of my all time favorite comic strips was “Calvin and Hobbes” by Bill Watterson. Sadly it’s been out of production now for nearly fifteen years. However, I still cherish my original Atlanta Journal Constitution copy of the final strip that ran on Sunday, December 31, 1995.
In the opening frame as they walk through waist deep snow, Calvin says, “Wow, it really snowed last night! Isn’t it wonderful?”
The next inset frame has Hobbes replying, “Everything, familiar has disappeared! The World looks brand-new!” And Calvin says, “A new year… a fresh, clean, start!”
Frame three shows Hobbes musing, “It’s like having a big white sheet of paper to draw on!” As Calvin adds, “A day full of possibilities!”
The final frame covers the entire width of the strip and is nearly blank except for a small inset to the left where Calvin, sitting on the sled, says, “It’s a magical world, Hobbes, OL’ Buddy…” Then both are seen on the sled careening down the hillside as if to fly off the page. Hobbes’ red scarf is flying in the wind as Calvin shouts, “…Let’s go exploring!”
Like wave functions, the bits and pieces of our lives wait to be observed, measured, danced and given meaning. Quantum imagination liberates us from narrow definitions of human created religions in order to explore and experience the creative life giving energy of the universe in every sacred moment we live. To paraphrase Calvin, “It’s a magical world! Let’s go dancing!”
Taylor, Barbara Brown. The Luminous Web, Essays on Science and Religion, Cowley Publicaitons, Boston, 2000.
Zukav, Gary. The Dancing Wu Li Masters, An Overview of the New Physics, Bantam Books, New York, 1980.
[i] (Taylor, The Luminous Web, p. 49)
[ii] (Zukav, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, Bantam)
[iii] (Zulav, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, p.19)
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