Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Omni-Presence, the Mystical Communion of the Spirit and Non-Locality

This blog entry was first posted on "Mercy Corner" a couple of years ago, but I was teaching on the Holy Spirit recently and thought it would be of interest to some folks in our new church family.

WARNING: I get kind of geeky and philosophical here.

A colleague and friend posted this article on his Facebook page recently: Science, Spirituality, and Some Mismatched Socks, by Guatam Naik (you can find it here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124147752556985009.html).

Being trained as a scientist and a theologian, I was fascinated with the quatum phenomenon described in the article. Quantum Mechanics is the study of sub-atomic particles (like electrons and protons), the things that make up those particles (like quarks and gluons) and the particle behavior of light (photons). (yes, Quantum Mechanics covers more than this but this isn’t a sceintific blog!) One of the inviolable laws of this science (or any science for that matter) is the fixed and unsurpassable speed of light: 299,792,458 meters/second. To put it in more tangible terms, the universal speed limit is the speed of light and at that speed you could circumnavigate the globe in 1 1/3 second.

Now, it is too complicated for this setting to explain all aspects of this experiment, but in 2008, scientists (Nicolas Gisin, pictured at left, along with colleagues and students) took two photons with specific characteristics (a certain spin), ‘entangled’ the protons with a laser (meaning there characteristics become related), shot these photons along two different fiber-optic cables of exactly equal length, to two Swiss villages some 11 miles apart. During the journey, when one photon changed characteristics (switching to a slightly higher energy level), its twin instantly changed its characteristics in a corresponding way (switching to a slightly lower energy level). But the sum of the energies stayed constant, proving that the photons remained entangled. More important, the team couldn't detect any time difference in the changes. “If there was any communication [between the particles], it would have to have been at least 10,000 times the speed of light.” There is some mysterious connection between these two things that defies space. The instantaneous relation between the two particles is refered to as ‘non-locality’; the aspect of these things that seems to defy location. Leading physicist Bernard d'Espagnat looks at this result and prompts him to affirm “life's spiritual dimension.” The writer of the article summarizes it this way: “Dr. d'Espagnat's big idea is that science can only probe so far into what is real, and there's a ‘veiled reality’ that will always elude us."

I firmly believe that the Creation not simply bears the marks of its Creator but reflects the nature of its Creator. We see this in things like the noumenal/phenomenal or ‘one and many’ tension of the world as it reflects the ‘one and many’ we see in the Lord himself (the Trinity). Perhaps we see more parallels here with this idea of relation that defies locality. Perhaps ‘non-locality’ is not quite the right concept but something connects things that is ‘omni-local.’ And so to the connection betweem the risen and still embodied Christ to his people as well as believers separated by half the globe is something that is real but difficult to conceive intellectually (Quantum Mechanics is wonderful at confounding the mind!). There is a mystical communion of Christ's Church within itself and with their Savior. To say that something is ‘mystical’ does not refer to its immateriality (just as the use of the ‘spiritual’ in the New Testament also does not refer to immateriality, but to refers to power over against the weakness of common flesh). Jesus is still an incarnated being and our union and communion with him and each other is not something solely between the constituent part of us that we call the spirit alone. In our whole being (body and soul), we are united to Christ and commune with his Church. And it is the Spirit of God who is this connection. We are bound, really and inseparably (unlike the ‘entaglement’ mentioned above) to each other through the mediation of the Holy Spirit.

This leads Paul to talk about how the shame of one part of this mystical body is the shame of it all. This has profound implications for us as we think of our brothers and sisters in poverty living a mile or two from our comfortable air-conditioned homes; as we think of our brothers and sisters facing persecution and famine in northern Africa; as we think of our brothers and sisters half way across the globe recovering from a devastating earth-quake or tsunami. Locality is irrelevant. They are us. Not in some kharmic sense, but in that we are one body. The mystical nature of the body of Christ is a wonderful and powerful thing. It’s a shame we don’t think on it as often as we should or treat it as the real thing that it is.


  1. Congratulations for taking on a fascinating and important topic.

  2. Please pardon the shameless plug, but this reminds me a bit of something I said, although I didn't get nearly as deep...