All that is made seems planless to the darkened mind, because there are more plans than it looked for. In these seas there are islands where the hairs of the turf are so fine and so closely woven together that unless a man looked long at them he would see neither hairs not weaving at all, but only the same and the flat. So with the Great Dance. Set your eyes on one movement and it will lead you through all patterns and it will seem to you the master movement. But the seeming will be true. Let no mouth open to gainsay it. There seems no plan because it is all plan: there seems no centre because it is all centre.
– C.S. Lewis, Perelandra
In the novel Perelandra, the second of the Space Trilogy, C.S. Lewis tells the story of Dr. Elwin Ransom, a philologist who embarks on a voyage to the idyllic, Eden-like planet of Perelandra (Venus) in order to preserve its innocence. After an epic struggle, Dr. Ransom succeeds in saving paradise and the story ends in a vision of the “Great Dance” of creation (described above). The Great Dance encircles and envelops God and invites the reader to find his/her own place within that vast cosmic swirl.
Lewis’s imagery inadvertently pays homage to a riveting scientific theory in physics. In its most basic implications, quantum theory (“the nature and behavior of matter and energy on the atomic and subatomic level”) asserts that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In his book Quantum Theology, Diarmuid O’Murchu explains how quantum theory offers a fresh lens through which to view reality:
“In essence, it states that everything we perceive and experience is a great deal more than the initial, external impression we may obtain, that we experience life not in isolated segments, but in wholes (quanta), that these bundles of energy which impinge upon us are not inert, lifeless pieces of matter, but living energies.”
O’Murchu goes on to illustrate quantum physics at work by using the example of a desk, which, at face value, appears to be a lifeless, inanimate object. But if you were to take any fragment of that desk and place it under a high-powered microscope, you would find a sea of miniscule, moving particles. This illustration invites us to view that desk as something that is indeed alive. “The ‘life’ is crystallized in the timber, tightly packed and condensed, but comprising the same particles that make up my body and everything else in the universe,” says O’Murchu, calling to mind the human condition as described in Genesis 3:19: “For we are dust and to dust we shall return.”
If indeed life is pulsing through everything, seen and unseen, that has profound implications for our everyday faith and reformation work. Quantum theory offers a fresh way to view our divinely-oriented place in this universe and echoes a holistic theme throughout Scripture, as seen in 1 Corinthians 12: “There is one body, but it has many parts. But all its many parts make up one body. It is the same with Christ (12:27).” The relationship between quantum theory and spiritual formation inextricably links us with one another, with all of creation, and with God.
Oneness with each other
“At a deep level, each living being is implicated in every other. Each suffering, each extinction, affects us and impoverishes us. Similarly we partake of the joy and creativity of each individual organism.”
– Diarmuid O’Murchu
One of the most compelling and galvanizing implications of quantum theory is what it means for our relationships with one another. When we transcend our isolationist, individualistic propensities, we realize that we are inextricably linked to all living beings. Again, it echoes Paul’s vision for the global Church in 1 Corinthians 12, that “there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it (12:25).” Quantum physics validates this essential tenet of our faith: as the body of Christ, when one of us suffers, we all suffer; when one of us experiences joy, we all experience joy. This inherent mutuality should inform our relationships and justice work at the deepest level.
Oneness with creation
“[Quantum theory] evokes a profound conversion experience, inviting us to abandon our traditional adversarial stance whereby we treat creation as an object to be controlled and mastered. Instead we must learn to befriend our universe as a subject with whom we relate, a living organism within which we live, and move, and have our being…”
– Diarmuid O’Murchu
Quantum theory illustrates an inherent “aliveness” that permeates Planet Earth; even that which seems static and dead is enlivened by bundles of energy called quanta. When we gaze at our world through this lens, we grasp that all of creation is endowed with a divine imprint, and every act of pollution and exploitation is a mark on that which God calls good and holy.
O’Murchu advocates for “a profound respect for the earth and for the created order…unequivocally the work and wonder of God, despite its pain, suffering, and incongruities.” The second chapter of Genesis mandates our care for creation, that we are to “work it and care for it (2:15).” All the earth is a reflection of the beauty and splendor of its creator, and as such, it is a divine image-bearer worthy of our affection and care.
Oneness with God
“The doctrine of the Trinity is an attempted expression of the fact that the essential nature of God is about relatedness and the capacity to relate, that the propensity and power to relate is, in fact, the very essence of God… In the plain but profound language of the Christian Bible: God is love!”
– Diarmuid O’Murchu
God is entirely relational, and we can look to the Trinity as a blueprint for relatedness. In the Trinity, the three persons/essences of God exist in co-equal communion: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. The power comes from within the relationship, for one cannot exist independently of any other.
Franciscan friar Richard Rohr says, “The Trinity is the very shape of the universe. Reality—like God’s own self—is a flow of mutual giving and receiving. God as Relationship, or Trinity, can actually allow our scientific and spiritual cosmologies to finally operate as one, because we are inside of a flow instead of a prison.”
Quantum theory affirms this relational foundation of our world, seen in the mysterious, Trinitarian-like wholeness of all things.
At the junction of physics and spirituality, what O’Murchu calls “Quantum Theology,” is a powerful framework through which to view our place in this God-breathed world. Not only does quantum theology have significant implications for our potential for connectedness, but it reignites our capacity for “surprise, expectancy, wonder, creativity, beauty, and elegance (O’Murchu).”
Quantum theology also speaks to our work as reformers. If the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, as quantum theory describes, then fixing broken pieces may not necessarily heal a whole system. But when we start with the whole, we begin addressing root causes of an issue instead of treating its symptoms. When we view broken, oppressive systems and the people within them through a wider lens, we can pursue a holistic model of reform that has a greater chance of lasting.
Now that we’re emboldened with a new cosmic understanding, this is my prayer for you: that you may relate to humankind and creation in new and profound ways, that you make space for awe and wonder, and that you open your eyes to the beauty of the seen and unseen. And may the mind-bending world of physics not intimidate you, but rather draw you closer to the God who enlivens all things.