I find myself preoccupied with a particular struggle that takes place along the axis between the spiritual and temporal dimensions of experience. My struggle concerns how do I apprehend the spiritual in my experience? The answer is I am never sure. At times, I seriously question if, as a thoroughly brainwashed child of the post-Enlightenment, I even can. This disturbs me and hence my rotation along the axis that divides spiritual and temporal domains of experience.
My friend Jane langmuir sent me Friday’s blog from Richard Rohr. Rohr, speaking of St Paul puts it like this:
It seems to me that Christianity in the West suffers from two very foundational problems, which were not problems for Paul. First, we do not seem to believe in the active, dynamic reality of the spiritual world. For most of us, the “real world” is this physical, material world. So when I use a word like consciousness or the collective unconscious, many Christians are afraid I must be some kind of New Ager.
Christians should be the first ones to understand that the first and final state of reality is spiritual, or the unmanifest, as some have called it. But we have been so caught up in the world of forms, or the manifest, that it becomes all we take seriously. If religion is to be reborn at any dynamic level that is really going to change society or change the world, we must understand that spiritual reality, consciousness, or Spirit, if you will, is the true reality; all the rest, including the material world, emerges from it. That’s a switch even for people who think of themselves as religious. True spiritual cognition does not come naturally to us.
A prisoner of disenchanted immanence
My experience, even as a so-called religious person is as Rohr describes – true spiritual cognition or more aptly recognition does not come naturally to me – or at least in any form my psycho-cultural filters allow me to easily recognize. Thus, as a result of a combination of psychological predispositions and my cultural and educational formation in the age of disenchantment of a world shaped by the Newtonian scientific paradigm, the transcendent is filtered out.
Finding the transcendent within the immanent
The Newtonian paradigm of time, space, and matter, operatings according to seemingly immutable laws of cause and effect, past, present, and future has no way to allow the possibility of Christ’s resurrection. The most resurrection can be thought of is – as an interior psychological experience of the disciples. They believed Christ was raised from the dead because they experienced him returning to them as reported in Luke’s 24th chapter and the other Gospel narratives of post-resurrection appearances, particularly John’s.
On Easter Day, I explored an exciting idea: what if our Newtonian paradigm is not simply a reflection of observation, but a construction of our expectations? Instead of the laws of physics being an articulation of our observation of the way the material universe works, what if they are also the result of the way we expect the material universe to behave? Thus my excitement over recent infant observations in a research program at Johns Hopkins which has evidenced infant amazement at balls rolling through walls and toy cars floating through the air. You can read more in my post Seeing is believing – or is it? click
Beneath Newtonian reality there lies a domain physicists call the Quantum paradigm. Here, we glimpse the energetic underpinning of the material universe we experience. The only point I want to stress here is that in the Quantum paradigm energy and matter behave differently from our Newtonian conditioned expectations. In the Quantum realm we can observe nothing as it happens, we can only speculate as to what has happened after the fact, as it were. We see the traces – the vapor trails, and we hear the echoes of energetic processes and structures only after something has happened, not as it is happening.
Even in out attempts to directly observe the processes and structures of the Quantum realm, one key difference from the Newtonian realm is that our position as the observer generates what we see, e.g. particle or wave, but never both. This all seems very unscientifically contradictory. Its downright mysteriousness reminds me that our observations and perceptions of the Quantum and spiritual domains share a common difficulty. We speculate as to their existence through our experience of their effects. Our speculations are hampered and constricted in both accounts by the limitation of language to fully articulate a non-dualistic world. I mean that language is shaped by our experience of a world in which things are always this or that, but never both! Yet, that is what we grasp after in any articulation of the Quantum and spiritual realms. All we have are metaphors, similes and analogies. In his book Quirks of the Quantum (22-23), my friend Sam Coale speaks of language being designed to describe a world where although perspectives of what is seen may differ from person to person, there is no dispute that we are all interacting with an object that exists independently of our interaction with or observation of it.
The language of Quantum theory and spirituality are both languages of speculation and imprecision as we chase after that which can’t be directly apprehended and described. In the quantum and spiritual realms there is not direct encounter, only speculation about encounter through our experience of its after effect.
The Transcendent’s inbreaking
Luke’s chapter 24 is an account of the disciples very long traumatic and exhausting Easter Day. At the break of day the women discover the empty tomb and encounter the angels asking why are they looking for the living among the dead? When they report their experience to the male disciples, they are dismissed as rambling and hallucinatory women. So Simon Peter goes to see it for himself while another couple of the male disciples set out for Emmaus, a village about five miles outside Jerusalem.
On the road to Emmaus, they are joined by a stranger. It’s Jesus but despite their hearts burning unaccountably within their chests they don’t recognize him until he breaks bread with them. Their minds can only recognize what is familiar to them. In his action of breaking bread, Jesus triggers a memory of him at which point they recognize the man in front of them as their familiar Lord.
They rush back to town and on arriving find the rest of the band in the upper room. As they are telling the others of their experience Jesus comes and stands in the room with them and says: Peace be with you. To describe them as being startled and terrified must be a considerable understatement. People of the 1st Century no more expected the dead to come back to life than we do, and so their only explanation was that they were experiencing an intrusion from the spirit world into their experience of the here and now.
Through the trauma of this day and the events that have led up to it, the disciples come to recognize, not just the Lord they thought had died. They come to recognize the Lord who died and is now alive again as familiar and yet radically different at the same time. At the risk of torturing a Quantum analogy, it’s as if having only ever having seen him in particle matter form – they can now see him as energetic wave.
Recognition of effect
In life, in the face of defeat and confusion, pain and suffering, we come to self-recognition and redemption as new understandings of the world around us emerge. This leads to actions that reveal a completely new picture of ourselves. As Paul Tillich put it, suffering introduces you to yourself and reminds you that you are not the person you thought you were.
Proof of Tillich’s point lies in the contrast between Peter in Acts 3 and the man portrayed in Luke 24. Peter has become the man he never imagined he could be. Peter’s journey from Luke 24 to Acts 3 is a journey of self-recognition and the transformative power of redemption. Through confusion and disillusionment, and the necessity of letting go cherished hopes and expectations, Peter is conformed by the new life of the resurrected Christ. It’s not that he necessarily understands what has happened, only that he knows the truth of it because he experiences the effects of it.
In the Newtonian paradigm, the dead do not come back to life. There seems no mechanism to enable this to happen. In the Quantum paradigm matter and energy seem interchangeable. No one knows how the Quantum realm really interfaces with Newtonian reality, whether how or even if one domain or dimension affects the other. What matters for me is that Jesus’ resurrection, which remember is God’s action and not his, can no longer be ruled out purely on the basis of our Newtonian expectations of how the universe should behave.
At the end of the day, there is more to the universe than meets our eyes. Our expectations are after all, only the products of what we already expect to see. None of the disciples saw the resurrection. Yet, the good news is we are somehow called beyond expectations. The disciples simply became transformed through the experience of the effects of the resurrection of Jesus upon them. As they come to recognise the reality of the post-resurrection experience of Jesus, they become open to becoming the persons they never dreamed they were.
Who might it be that we have yet to recognize ourselves becoming? Let’s begin to pay more attention to that possibility in this Easter Season.