A Lesson in Physics

By Major Deborah Flagg – 

I have a book on my shelf with the intriguing title, Physics for Poets, by R. March. I love the juxtaposition of these two dissimilar nouns, creating a tension that begs us to look further. Anyone who has written poetry will know that the creation of rhyme and meter has very little to do with the elusive neutrino. Anyone who has studied physics will know that there is little of metaphor and simile in the mysterious equations.

Yet, the activity of subatomic particles makes ink adhere to paper, giving us masterpieces of poetic thought like “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the heart.” And physicists, when surprised by a charmed quark, a gluon or a lepton will often use the word, “beautiful” to describe the sheer poetry of the physical world.

While a good book on quantum mechanics can keep me busy for hours, I don’t claim to understand physics in all its glorious complexity. I am, however, an aspiring poet, always looking for the meaning of things, the meaning below the surface, bubbling and churning with richness. The one thing I do understand about physics is that its goal is nothing less than “understanding the mind of God”-apprehending the Meaning behind all meaning.

This ambitious little goal leads some physicists on a fevered quest for “the holy grail” of cosmological inquiry, the verification of the unified field theory. This theory unites all of the forces of the universe into a singularity, a completeness, a whole. It takes the four pulsating forces that make the universe run and fits them all together like pieces in a cosmic puzzle. This accomplishment would be monumental enough to make the front page of the Los Angeles Times, and would make the most jaded academic utter, “Yes! Beautiful!”

This quest for the “one-ness” of things is not new. The pre-Socratic philosophers grappled with these big questions long before anyone had heard of a particle accelerator. Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, the Greek philosopher, Thales said, “everything is water.” His star pupil, Anaximander, said, “everything is boundless.” Another Greek, Anaximenes, said, “everything is air.”

There seems to be a built-in desire in the human heart to make sense of the world, to make all the pieces fit. We long to stand back and look at our lives and see a completeness, a perfect pattern, a “one-ness,” and then to utter from the depths of our souls, “Yes! Beautiful.” Armed with the latest technologies and therapies, we pursue our quest with the tenacity of Einstein. Yet, most of the time we end up catching only hints and guesses.

Whether a physicist, a poet, or a paper hanger, we know that we are not whole. We know that there is something terribly fragmented at the core of our being, a brokenness encoded in our genes. We have a sense of how things ought to be and we feel uneasy because things are not like that. The good we want to do, we don’t do. The evil we don’t want to do, we do! Even at our holiest, there are pieces missing, lost somewhere in the universe. Where, then, is the wholeness that we seek?

God has a word for wholeness-a spiritual “unified field.” The ancient Hebrews articulated this idea as shalom, and its meaning goes far beyond mere peace or absence of conflict. It extends from the deepest desires of our hearts to the orderly workings of the cosmos. It is what God intended for human beings from the very beginning, and what Jesus meant when he said, “My peace I give you.” Shalom is God’s perfect plan, bringing all of the elements of our lives together in reconciliation and wholeness to form a complete picture of God-imaging humanity-beautiful!

God exists in shalom; where God is, wholeness is, and with perfect love and infinite patience, God beckons us to this place. He begins a good work in us for the purpose of bringing it to completion. He seeks us down the puzzling, splintered corridors of our lives in order to heal our “residue of ache.”

This is the redemptive story, the wonderful trajectory of God’s breaking into human history. When we can’t be whole, God is our refuge. When we can’t make the pieces fit, God is our very present help. This miraculous truth makes a nuclear reaction pale by comparison. It burns through our very being, altering the landscape of our lives, bombarding us with a fallout of grace. Shalom is ours; it is within our grasp!

In the beginning, God looked at his creation, and said, “It is good.” The picture of wholeness. Jesus poured out his life in love to restore that creation and said, “It is finished.” The picture of completion. Physicists, poets and all who search for the meaning in life can look upon this wondrous story and say, “Yes! Beautiful!”


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