This starts out as a continuation of my last post (“Night and Day”), so it might not be a bad idea to start with a quick recap. The general idea was that, although we (especially as kids) sometimes see the night as a scary time when goblins and ghosts come out to play, the night also has a magical quality to it (of the benevolent kind), a quality that can make us feel more connected to the entire universe than we might feel during the day. In the dark, we can see stars that are inconceivably far away, reminding us of our smallness, but also suggesting our potential to be more than what we are now. We are reminded that our bodies, and all things in the world around us, are made up of atoms created in the heart of a distant star a very long time ago, and this simple fact establishes a connection with the rest of the universe. But, there might be even more to that connection…
“In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”
“Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.”
C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
I haven’t looked for any sources that might corroborate this theory, but I think that The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the third book in Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, is, at least in part, an allegorical description of a mystical journey to God. We can find a number of mystics, throughout history and across various faith traditions, who strove to connect with the internal divine spark, with the universal consciousness, with God. Through meditation and contemplation, through solitude and asceticism, the approaches may differ a bit, but some common threads can be seen in the descriptions of their spiritual journeys. For example, in some writings, we can see a simultaneous movement outward, toward the boundaries of the physical universe, and inward, toward a greater realization of one’s own strengths and weaknesses, one’s place in the universe, one’s relationship with the divine, and one’s own heart. “Further up and further in,” as Lewis writes in the final book in the Narnia series, The Last Battle.
Here are two examples from the classical Christian tradition. First, let’s take a look at Dante. By the time we get to Paradise, the third part of his Divine Comedy, Dante and Virgil have already traveled down through the nine circles of Hell, popped out at the base of the mountain of Purgatory, climbed the mountain, and come to the garden at the top of the mountain. At this point, Dante leaves Virgil (representing human reason) behind and ascends into the heavens. Guided now by Beatrice, Dante moves through various “levels” of heaven, represented by the planets, the moon, the sun, and the stars. As he moves further and further up, he also becomes more and more aware of himself and his place in the cosmos, before finally experiencing a vision of the divine.
Second, we have Saint Bonaventure, who described several stages of contemplation in his work The Soul’s Journey into God. Much like Dante’s vision, these stages move through aspects of the natural world and the human soul, and they eventually lead to a joining with God. In both cases, movement seems to go in two directions at the same time, up to the heavens, and in to the soul.
Certainly, several centuries ago, when these works were created, these two directions represented something of a movement into the unknown. Today, we know much more about what happens in the cosmos and inside our own bodies. However, many mysteries still remain, and the persistence of this felt connection between our inner souls and the outermost reaches of the universe is not so easy to explain. A star continues to be something more to us than simply “a huge ball of flaming gas.”
In quantum physics, there is a phenomenon known as “non-locality”. Albert Einstein called it “spooky action at a distance” and found it very hard to accept, because it seemed to violate one of his basic conclusions: that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.
Now, I’m not extremely well-versed in quantum physics, but I’ve read a little bit about it, so I’ll do my best to give you an explanation, which I think is fairly accurate. Here’s a link to a website that might do a better job:
More or less, the idea of non-locality is that, when two particles interact, they become permanently linked, and that, no matter how far away they move from one another, a change in one of the particles will result in an instantaneous, corresponding change in the other particle. For example, electrons have a property called spin. If two electrons are created together, they have to have opposite spins. Later, after they have moved apart, say that the spin of one changes. The spin of the other also changes at the same time, even though they’re not together anymore. The question, of course, is “How does the second electron ‘know’ the spin of the first electron?”
The answer seems to be that distant points in the universe can be intimately connected, in ways that we don’t fully understand. Now, I’m moving completely into the realm of conjecture and speculation here, but could the connections we feel be related to this idea of non-locality? Is it possible that, right now, we are literally linked to different points on Earth and in the universe, within an infinite web with unseen strands? Does it mean that changes in one’s own life, maybe even changes present only in one’s mind, can affect those distant points? What would this mean?
In my opinion, it speaks to the complex interconnectedness, and the profound interdependence, of our lives. We can say, with Douglas Sturm, that “we cannot be what we are, we cannot do what we do, we cannot accomplish what we accomplish apart from one another.” We can say, with Elie Wiesel, that “as long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our life will be filled with anguish and shame…Our lives no longer belong to us alone.” It speaks to a great responsibility that defines our relationships with one another, that informs our connections to the natural world, and that shows us the value of all life. It shows us the unity of all life, while maintaining the diversity that allows this life to flourish in all its various aspects.
About a week ago, I was riding in a taxi in the late afternoon, and the sun was approaching the western horizon. The clouds and the sky on that day made the sun appear as a soft, red globe, and I could look straight at it without hurting my eyes. It looked so calm and so peaceful, gently sending out the energy that fuels life on this planet. Then, I thought about what is happening inside of that star, the chaos of atoms flying around at crazy speeds, passing one another, bouncing off each other, and, sometimes, fusing together to create something new and different, giving off huge amounts of energy in the process. I saw it as a kind of model for our own connected lives. We are, all of us, works in progress, trying to do the best that we can, but often falling short in our efforts. We don’t always live up to the responsibility we have to one another. We don’t always show the compassion and acceptance that should characterize our connectedness. Sometimes, we seem to take steps in the wrong direction. We see the diversity that characterizes a healthy community, and we mistake it as a source of division, conflict, and chaos. We see the differences of others as threats, rather than as opportunities for growth, understanding, and love.
But, through it all, we maintain our faith – our faith in one another, our faith in humanity, and our faith in the forces that pull us towards greater levels of connectedness and community. We maintain our hope that, one day, chaos will turn to cooperation, hatred will turn to humility, loathing will turn to love – that our discordant interactions will eventually coalesce to create something new, life-affirming, complex, and beautiful.
Sunlight contains all the colors of the rainbow.
Harmony cannot exist without diversity.