Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (Ephesians 1:3-10) transports me to a patent office in Bern, Switzerland, land of the clocks, in September of 1905, where a patent examiner was evaluating patent applications for electromagnetic devices. This work around the transmission of electric signals led the young Albert Einstein to the discovery that forever changed the world of science and put clock time in a totally different context. He formulated the the famously elegant theory there in his patent office: e=mc2. Fourteen years later his calculations that space could be distorted and light curved by gravity were confirmed by expeditions to Brazil and the West African coast to observe the total eclipse of the sun. Einstein’s insatiable curiosity was evident in his early childhood, when his father gave him a compass. The needle behaved in a way that didn’t conform to his understanding of the world – it moved without something touching it. He would later write in his autobiography: This experience made a deep and lasting impression on me. There must be something deeply hidden behind everything. His fascination with this mystery of life was contagious; succeeding generations of physicists built on his work, leading to the discovery of such phenomena as event horizons, aka black holes, where the gravitational pull is so strong it draws everything into its sphere, including light. Scientist Freeman Dyson says that this is the most exciting and most beautiful consequence of Einstein’s theory, having a gravitational field with no bottom, where space and time are so mixed up that they behave in a totally different way. You fall into a black hole and your space is converted into time and your time is converted into space.
The apostle Paul lived well before the insights of Einstein and his followers, but the passage today leads me to think he would have resonated strongly with the theory of relativity and its implications for time and space and gravitational fields. In fact, you could read his letter to the Ephesians, and its focus on unity, as a treatise on the unifying gravitational force of God’s love, a force so strong that it will eventually create its own spiritual event horizon, its own black hole effect, if you will. While Einstein was busy trying to discover the mind of God, Paul spells it out in his introduction to this letter: He has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. Paul’s understanding of time was quite in line with Einstein’s theory of relativity – there are two ways of experiencing time, the chronos way, the way of Swiss clocks, where time has a constant, linear movement, and the kairos way, the kind of time that shifts and bends and can be said to have moments and seasons of fulness. Here in Ephesians he is speaking of kairos time, the time that bends to God’s will, that has a space to it, so that it can be filled. And in the fulness of this time, Paul says, God’s love will have the gravitational pull of an event horizon, pulling and gathering everything into Godself, including all light, all space, all time, everything in the heavens and on the earth. Everything. It is that gravitational field with no bottom, as Freeman Dyson described.
While Einstein never gave credence to the formal faith traditions of organized religion, he was drawn to the mysteries of the mind of God, and he also said in a 1929 interview, I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene. In a NY Times article he wrote on science and faith, he said, The individual feels the vanity of human desires and aims and the nobility and marvelous order which are revealed in nature and in the world of thought. Individual existence strikes him as a sort of prison, and he wants to experience the universe as a single, significant whole. The religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this kind of religious feeling. In my view, it is the most important function of art and science to awaken this feeling and keep it alive in those who are receptive to it. Paul was one of these religious geniuses, and his letter certainly did its part to awaken a vision of the unifying force of love which will one day allow us to experience the universe as a single, significant whole. It is truly a beautiful and wondrous experience to have that vision confirmed as we see the power of love slowly but surely drawing the world into the bottomless heart of God in ways large and small today.
How about you? Where does this Pastoral Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc.