The Eternal Possesses Time

As in the poem ‘All the Time in the World
the nature of an eternal ‘Other’
that pervades space and time,
cannot be defined in spacetime words,
though they are all we have.

Something other than time and dimension,
pervading space and time
but independent of them,
needs words outside our range.

So how can we talk or think about it?

We do not use language as much as we think.
Multilingual people are sometimes asked,
‘What language do you think in?’

Their answer is often delayed;
rolling language thoughts around,
they usually give an answer
set in the terms of the question.

But many thoughts do not use language
though we may not notice it:
sunlight through leaves, the flight of birds,
fatigue, frustration, longing,
the body language of a friend,
and expressions on a face,
do not need words.

When we communicate with others
our words have personal qualities,
‘qualia’, arising from our past life.
A mountain, a falling leaf, a knife,
each have qualities which differ
from one person to another.
No two people have the same past,
the same experience of any thing.
Your words, my words, have different qualia,
different emotional tones.
You hear my words,
spoken out of my past
and interpret them out of yours.

I heard of an itinerent priest
who preached in town and village churches
when local vicars were away.
It could be several churches on one day.
He joked about breaking the speed limit.
Those listening –  drivers, non-drivers,
who had known or not known past accidents –
would have different thoughts about speeding cars,
different qualia,
different reactions.

But we can understand in some degree
the qualia of those different groups
by extension of our own.
Our own qualia can be enlarged
by poetry, story, music,
by the emotions of others,
or our ideas of what they might be.

Physics, mathematics or words of spacetime
cannot define or describe the Other,
but emotions give a feel for it.
Physics, mathematics and words
do this when they stir emotions.
Some find beauty in a formula that others find in music.

That feeling of beauty,
rather than formula,
rather than musical notes,
is close,
perhaps as close as we can come,
to the language of the eternal.

The word eternal, ae-ternus,
simply means lasting an age,
an infinite extension of time,
but emotions tell us it is more than this,
something more than the word,
more than mere length of time.

The Eternal possesses time.

 

Why is there Something rather than Nothing?

This is for those who like trying to imagine travelling to infinity and beyond! It is a sort of sequel to ‘Eddies in the Stream‘.

Why is there something rather than nothing?
Something is something we can understand –
things are all round us, but why are they there?
Why is there sunshine and birds in the air?
nothing is no-thing, and this seems absurd,
nothing is something for which there’s no word.
Nothing is absence, and that is something;
no song for no singer that no-one can sing.
What are those things that just cannot be?
Just between you and just between me,
nothing is something, and that cannot be.

Why is there something rather than nothing?
Is there a Maker that calls us to be?
an infinite-finite source of all being?
or multiverses to infinity?
Religion nor Science have answered the question,
‘Why is there something where nothing could be?’

Nothing is no-thing, and that is a problem,
it describes both a void and things that are not.
I search for a word that speaks not of things,
that does not suggest an absence of what?
for a void is a something, and an absence is too,
and nothing is something that just will not do.
I search for a word and zilch is no answer;
I search for a word and get diddly-squat.

Why is there something rather than nothing?
Why is there something where nothing could be?

There is no word for nothing
that does not mention things,
or speak about the void
the absence of them brings,
then nothing must be something
and so we talk in rings.

So surely it is possible,
and some may well say probable,
that something so intangible
can simply not exist.
Then nothing is a no-thing,
an impossible-to-go thing,
so surely there is something
rising from this mist.

Space and time and energy
are something we can feel:
eddies whirled in spacetime,
an expanding, whirling reel;
a dark, flowing energy
with eddies of its own,
spinning, ever spinning,
in this turning cosmic wheel

And those we see and know
as fundamental particles,
atoms, light and molecules,
flying to and fro,
may be eddies within eddies,
that draw the flow around them;
eddies in those eddies.
that make this cosmos grow.

Eddies bend the space-time flow around them.
Spacetime tells the eddies how to move.
Something more than nothing is no problem;
but something we can wonder at and love.

I have a sort of feeling that your mind like mine is reeling.

– – –

Scientists often say the language of the universe is mathematics, so is number an essential thing? an irreducible something, the reason for ‘something rather than nothing’? Perhaps, perhaps not.

We cannot explain numbers to children without words; sometimes lots of words. As children learn numbers in words, so students learn mathematics – plus, minus, times, divide, integrals, calculus, matrices, in many, many words. The most complex mathematical concepts, cosmic infinities, sub-atomic minutiae, could probably not be said in the words of a mathematician’s lifetime. A neighbour in Sue’s Birthday Bunnies called numbers the collapsed waveforms of words, a shorthand for the infinite words that might define this universe.

They take out all the hassle.

But in the beginning was the word.

There is another word for which we have no word. See you in two weeks.

Marius’ Mules

‘Lent’ comes from an Anglo-Saxon word,
lencten meaning springtime,
lengthening days.

As winter stores run short,
the last tightening of the belt
before the earth sprouts again
and birds return,
we look to seed-time.

Buried seed rises, life resumes,
seed-time leads to regrowth,
as regrowth leads to harvest,
and God who gives the seasons,
turns seed-time celebrations
to the greater one of Easter.

We mark this time of self-denial,
the desert of temptation
and the journey to the cross,
with Jesus’ words:
If any would be my follower,
let him deny himself,
take up his cross and follow me.

Then they heard Him differently,
not as we do now, but then.
Now we sometimes change the words
to include men and women,
but His listeners thought of men.

They saw lines of Roman soldiers
with crosses on on their backs,
their nickname, ‘Marius’ Mules’
from the general who led them
and made them wear cross-shaped packs
weighing over sixty pounds.

The pack was called a sarcina,
a military marching backpack,
but in their slang it was furca,
the word for two pronged forks,
for crucifixion crosses and punishment yokes;
furcifer was slang for jailbird,
gallows material.
All a man needed was tied, or hanged,
on his furca,
his cross.

There is more.

Soldiers can’t be individuals,
self-seekers or go-getters,
but a troop with a leader;
holding together as one.
Legionaire, centurion,
cook, quartemaster,
introvert, extrovert
or barrack-room lawyer;
soldiers are part of a company,
one esprit-de-corps,
watching each other’s backs,
carrying their full packs,
denying personal wants
for the sake of the legion,
following the one in charge.

We know our King was crucified,
His hearers, then, just heard the call:

If any would be my follower,
let them deny themselves,
take up their cross and follow me.

What was Jesus saying to that first century crowd? Many were waiting for a Messiah, a warrior in Joshua’s mould, who would drive out the Romans and restore Israel and David’s throne. Here was a stirring speaker with Joshua’s Aramaic name, speaking in soldierly language, calling for followers. Was He speaking to them?

We read His words knowing He was crucified, and interpret them differently, but so would his first-century listeners just two or three years later. It is as though He was not talking to that crowd, not then, not there, but to that crowd as it would be when His work was done.

John (ch.6:15) described how, having heard Him speak, with their high expectations they tried to force Him to be their king. Instead they gained the Servant King who so loved the world that He came as His own Son so they might have eternal life.

We often only understand God’s words and actions after they are fulfilled.

Sue’s Birthday Bunnies

Dedicated to my friends Dick & Sue.

For her birthday little Sue
was given by her Daddy two
little bunnies in a hutch.
She said, ‘I love them! Oh so much!’
She loved them, and they loved Sue,
And they loved each other too.

Bunnies did what bunnies do,
so what a great surprise had Sue
when she peeped inside their door:
her two bunnies now were four.

‘Daddy come! Oh Daddy quick!
(Daddy by the way was Dick)
One and one have just made four!’
Daddy came and Daddy saw
that the present he’d supplied
had gone forth and multiplied.

‘Oh no!’ he said, ‘I gave you two.
Pretty soon we’ll have a zoo!
There first were two, and now two more,
It’s two and two that becomes four.’

Later talking to his neighbour
Dick said, ‘How I had to labour!
‘Sue may be bright and pretty quick,
but no good at arithmetic!’

The neighbour said,
‘Now don’t you fuss,
although I only drive a bus
I study speed and things like that
when in my driver’s seat I’m sat.
A speed of just two miles an hour
If doubled needs a bit more power.
But, and this is hard to scan,
I’ll try and do it if I can,
two miles an hour plus two again,
Is not four m.p.h.’

‘Explain!’

‘The actual sum, as I have found,
Is two miles per hour, plus two miles more
less two divided by the speed of light in miles per hour.
This argument you can’t resist.
I am a Quantum Physicist
not a poet.’

‘I thought you drove a bus!’

Dick’s other neighbour, on his way,
Stopped to pass the time of day.
‘Math and physics show us we
really need philosophy.
One and two and three and four
mean nothing if not joined to more.
They are shorthand, abstract terms,
to count the stars and sticks, and worms.’

‘And bunnies!’ spoke up little Sue.
We really must give her her due.
She knows that numbers are a tool
not bound to any other rule
than Einstein’s relativity
and Heisenberg’s uncertainty.
Schrodinger’s unhappy cat
would surely say, ‘Amen.’ to that.

The Language of Religion

            The Language of Religion: Thought – Belief – Trust – Knowledge – Faith – Hope

I Hope …, I think…, I believe…, I trust…, I know…, have a definite order but the position of faith is less obvious. Faith is harder to place and often confused with the others.

Thought can be used as a noun from the past form of the verb think, meaning a conscious adjustment or association in the brain, or as a verb referring to something, as in I thought it was the best thing to do or I think it will rain today. In this way it is used as holding something to be possible rather than certain. There is a tendency to mistake it for ‘belief’ but I think God exists is weaker than I believe God exists.

Belief (be-lief = hold-dear) is often said to mean faith but one person may believe a thing and have faith in it, while another believes the same thing but has no faith in it. You can believe a man is a plumber but have no faith in him or trust him to do your plumbing.

Knowledge (gnosis, allied to constant – con – ken – can – canny) is often said to be the enemy of faith, as though having evidence for something leaves no room for faith. And yet it is possible to say, ‘I can prove that I am married but my faith in my marriage, or marriage in general, does not depend on that.’ One can even say, ‘I know (from whatever evidence one accepts) that there is a God but I have no faith in Him.’

Trust (allied to truth – troth) is the basis of most of our dealings in life: family, business, or pleasure. We may feel we need to be protected by rules, and take care to watch our backs, but we really live our lives on a basis of trust. We cannot do otherwise, yet in association with religion, trust is often replaced disparagingly by blind faith, but faith is then being used wrongly. There is no need to use trust for secular life and blind faith for religion. It would cause less misunderstanding if trust was used for both.

Trust is not the same as faith although they are allied. Trust is something we can both have and do. Faith is something we can have but not something we do. Trust is sometimes used instead of hope, ‘I trust the weather will be good enough for a picnic’ but there is an unspoken because – it implies hope with an underlying motive.

Hope has always been there (almost unchanged from Anglo-Saxon times hopa) – ask Pandora. Sadly the confusion with trust above can be misleading.

Faith (fideo | fidelity) Alone of these words faith cannot be made a verb. We can say I think, I believe, I know, I trust and I hope, but we can only have faith. It is a possession, something to be gained. It is often used to mean belief but you can believe something but have no faith in it. When you do or follow something faithfully, you do so to the letter. Faith is an absolute. Its absence is a real absence.

I may hope God exists, think God exists, believe, even know God exists, and still have no faith in him. I may have faith in God but not trust Him (because I cannot tame Him!) but if I have faith in God then the others become redundant. Faith has no place in the order of these words. It is absolute, over-riding them all.

See also The Language of religion (2)

The Self Creating Prayer

There is a moment
when egg and sperm become a fertilised cell.
Another before fission,
before one cell becomes two.

Another before the embryo becomes a foetus,
Before the first heartbeat,
the first formation of the brainstem,
the first input from developing eyes and nerves.

Until it ceases to be a foetus,
becomes an unborn child,
still entirely I
before the awareness that is we?

Flesh is translucent to light, carries sound.
The womb is warm, with room to move.
The inborn baby kicks,
sucks, feels, sees, hears.

It learns existence is co-existence long before birth.
Do we re-create this moment
in the fleeting moment of waking from sleep?

Cogito ergo sum – I think therefore I am,
flees before I am therefore there is other.
The awareness of one’s body in the world,
when I becomes we.

Existence is a common possession,
without which there could be no we.
It gives us our sum – our I am
our summa – our totality.
It sustains and guards us.

Language can be traced back
across continents, across times.
Sustain can mean feed
or provide continuing support.
feed and guard have the same root PA
from which by different routes
we get paternal and father.

There is a paradox.
The first father of whom we become aware
is our mother.

We co-exist in a world interdependent with us;
in which we live and breathe and have our being,
our all in all.

From the heart of I
to the farthest bounds of all our sight and knowing,
all that provides intimacy,
the wonder of our existence;
the familial closeness of child and parent,
within which we are constrained
and free,
calls for humility,
honour, respect and reverence;
all steeped in holy awe.

We renew it in our waking moments each day.

The I that seemed to be at its heart
is an echo of a greater I who keeps it all,
in whom we place our trust
our hopes for the coming day,
the feeding and guarding that a father provides:

Our Father …

Where Have all the Little Green Men Gone?

When I was a boy it seemed certain that somewhere ‘out there’ were other worlds like Earth – strange and wonderful plants, birds and animals and civilisations, good and bad like our own. People wrote stories, mathematicians calculated the chances. The universe was vast and becoming vaster. At home our old encyclopaedia knew nothing of other galaxies beyond our own Milky Way, yet ‘out there’ is now known to be filled with others. Science fiction writers had to invent hyperspace travel and warp speed, stargates and wormholes in space to cover the limitations of distance and speed of light.

And yet…

Even as the twenty-first century approached, when Dan Dare and Jeff Hawke had grown into Captain Kirk, Luke Skywalker and E.T. there were hairline cracks. I remember an article listing the factors which led to the development of life here, concluding that there would probably be at least a hundred thousand intelligent civilisations like our own. I noticed that among the factors the writer had not included was the influence of the Moon. We are almost a twin planet with a satellite so large it produces powerful tides that have driven adaptation and evolution in the tidal zone so critical as life moved from sea to land.

I wondered how many planets in the life zone of other stars had a similar large companion; one in fifty or less did not seem unreasonable, That would reduce the number of other civilisations to two thousand. Three more such missed factors would mean we were probably alone. A bleak prospect.

Since then work by scientists such as Nick Lane, evolutionary biochemist of University College London, on the origins of nucleated, cellular life which found that the common basic structure of mitochondrial DNA points to a single, one-off event in the origin of all cellular life: plants, insects, us, everything in the four and a half billion years this planet has existed (Google Nick Lane ‘The Vital Question’). Derek Bickerton, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics, University of Hawaii has found strong evidence of a similar one-off development in language and spare brain capacity. In ‘More than Nature Needs’ he investigates why, in the billions of years since complex creatures evolved on Earth, we are the only species that can study the universe in which we have evolved.

It is noticeable that more recent science fiction, such as Gravity and The Martian, is of human endeavour fighting the perils ‘out there’.
Are we alone? If so is that a bleak prospect?