Dark Matter Andrew Bebb
I remember an occasion when I was giving a lecture in Bradford to a large audience of teachers and others interested in the communication of the Christian faith in a secular and often sceptical world..At the time I had been made responsible for Religious Education in the Diocese. Someone among the listeners subsequently reported me to my Bishop for teaching heresy. I must confess that I was a little anxious when I was summoned to the Bisop’s House to explain.
I had suggested that anyone who understood the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven as some form of early space exploration was being a little naïve and incredulous. It was the time of the early excursions to the Moon by space rocket. In any case, I suggested, given the size of the cosmos and its almost infinite dimension, the Lord would be still on his way. After all, his post resurection body was corporeal able to be touched and to eat and drink. Recall the incident at the lakeside as he prepared breakfast for his friends., and earlier his apearances in the upper room.
Any way the Bishop simply smiled and said ‘of course, you’re right, don’t worry about it.’
However I was still a bit bemused by the problem. What was the relationship between this corporeal world which we could feel , touch, taste and fall in love with for its beauty, and the world which Jesus pointed us towards. The world which eye had not yet seen, which would fulfil our wildest dreams. The world which God had prepared for those who love him.
After all, my earliest induction into Higher Education had involved the study of Structural Design and Engineering which included the study of Pure and Applied Mathematics. Areas which had tended towards a pragmatic and materialist frame of mind.. Theology and its related disciplines came much later as I discovered within myself a new direction in life.
The problem still troubled me. How was it possible to understand how the corporeal body of Jesus and of course of Mary, who had been assumed body and soul into Heaven break through into this world of materiality and to be seen and touched and spoken to?
A variety of new possibilities began to open up as I struggled with the problem..
The majority of us have five bodily senses through which we are able to explore the limited environment in which we live. Hence all of our knowledge of the world is interpretive. It is conditioned by the limits of our sense experience. Someone born blind or deaf has a different conception of the world surrounding him. Could it be that were it possible for us to be able to get beyond these limited sense instruments which we possess and to encounter the world as it really is, might we be astonished at what we might find.? Perhaps this is the task of the poet, the artist, the musician. To open up the wonder of this world beyond our limited sense experience. Is this perhaps the very nature of the Christian Sacraments where the real presence of the Divine is mediated .
As St.. Thomas Aquinas wrote in his beautiful hymn: Adoro te devote, “Seeing, touching. tasting are in thee deceived…. What God’s son hath told me, take for truth I do: Truth himself speaks truly, or there’s nothing true.
Recently, at least to my mind, astro-physicists have begun to uncover dimensions to this cosmos, which surrounds us, with new mysteries. It seems that the universe which we are able to explore with our limited instruments consists of a very small portion of what there is out there. Les than five or six per cent in fact.The universe is not simply collections of stars and galaxies seperated by empty space. The vast majority of the matter in the universe is beyond our exploration. We only know of it by inference, by the effects it has on the objects that we can identify. They call it ‘dark matter’. They continue to speculate on precisely what it is and what its function might be. For them, it is an humiliating realisation. It appears that everything around us and within us, is permeated by this mysterious element. Perhaps for believers it would be no more or less than the loving creative presence of the incomprehensible God who holds all things in existence.
The other day I read an article in the Guardian on the recent deliberations of a group of astro- physicists meeting in conference at Durham University.
“James Wells, a tall, softly-spoken 44-year-old from Tampa Bay, Florida, begins with an uncomfortable home truth. Particle physicists have a problem, he says. They are an anthropocentric bunch, too preoccupied with the particles and forces that impinge on humanity. They have spent so much time unravelling mysteries such as the structure of atoms and why the sun shines that they have neglected other avenues of inquiry. They need to broaden their horizons, Wells says. To think beyond the world we see and touch.
If that was the stick, next came the carrot. Our knowledge of the cosmos tells us that the stuff around us, from plants and people to stars and planets, is made from just a handful of elementary particles. On top of these, there is a small number of forces that make nature run smoothly, doing things like keeping planets in their orbits and ensuring everyday objects don't suddenly collapse into a pile of atoms. But how do we know, asks Wells, that there isn't much more going on than this? Our knowledge of nature and how it works is based on observations. What if we can't see everything? What might we be missing out on? There could be a "hidden world" out there, Wells says, where particles and forces are busily at work, all around us, but beyond the realm of our senses.
The phrase "hidden world" sounds like a science-fiction cliche, but it simply means that there may be more particles and forces at work in the world – and the cosmos at large – than those we see when we look around. They are so aloof, so hidden from our daily experience, that they go completely unnoticed.
"It would be strange if we were so special that we could feel and observe everything that is going on out there," says Wells, who is one of a growing number of physicists working on the hidden worlds idea. "We are lumps of clay swirling on a little blue marble in an overwhelming vastness of universe. We have to envision that there is more going on. There really should be additional particles and forces," he says.”
And so maybe it is not so difficult to envisage the border between the world of material sensuality and that other world of Divine Love as thinner than we might have anticipated
And so that bursting in of the Divine Reality which we celebrate as we recall the stable at Bethlehem is indeed the message of eternal life.
As Gerard Manley Hopwind wrote with such sublime sensitivity::
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oilCrushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;And wears man's smudge & shares man's smell: the soilIs bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.And for all this, nature is never spent;There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;And though the last lights off the black West wentOh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs --Because the Holy Ghost over the bentWorld broods with warm breast & with ah! bright wings.