The Spiritual Law of Conservation
15 September 2019: The Spiritual Law of Conservation
July 17, 2020 through August 5, 2020.
That’s the launch window for NASA’s yet-to-be-named Mission to Mars. The previous rover was named Curiosity. Assuming a safe launch, this rover will land in February 2021 and its mission will last at least one Mars year, which is 687 Earth days. The scientific goals include searching for evidence of past life and testing the atmosphere to see whether consumable oxygen could be sourced. In other words, whether human life could be sustained on Mars.
The landing site is the Jezero Crater. It’s a 45-kilometer-wide crater (that’s about twice the length of Manhattan) that once held a lake and river delta. You really, really should watch this two-minute video about Jezero Crater. It was a lake of water. Neptune and Uranus, sister planets farther from our Sun, are called Ice Giants, though very little of their original water still exists as ice. Water is important.
All of this is amazing to me, not least because the physics and chemistry and biology that we study on Earth are the same physics and chemistry and biology that are everywhere in the Universe. It’s an obvious but also hard to comprehend truth.
It means that the properties of water—two Hydrogen atoms attached to one Oxygen atom—these properties are the same wherever and whenever water occurs in our vast and expanding Universe. Ice melting to water; water evaporating to steam; steam solidifying into ice. Always and everywhere the same. It is a Truth that exists regardless of our opinions or experience or nationality or whether we are even paying attention.
I was paying attention to water throughout our church retreat this weekend. I was so grateful for Friday night’s rain after 17 days without, and I was so aware of the resultant humidity. I was aware of Emma needing water after scaling the difficult side of the climbing wall. Twice. Red-faced, sweaty and victorious, she crowed, “He (the camp counselor) told me I was better than most boys!”
The whole time on the lake I was calculating the distance back to the dock, even while being mom of the century and taking Emma and two new kids out in the four-seater paddleboat and letting us go under the spraying fountain a few times. I’m pretty sure I was the only one pedaling. I was aware of Emma needing water at 5:15 this morning when she woke up coughing. And aware of the water from that stupid fountain still squelching around in my shoes as I walked around and around the dark conference center, not having been able to fall back asleep.
This was particularly galling since I’d tried to go to bed early. The young people in my room, however, were loud and jacked up on candy they won (and ate) during family Bingo night. After a couple of attempts, even though it was past all our bedtimes, I finally told the kids to leave. My exact words might have been, “Just get out!” Emma soon came back and went to sleep. But by that time, I was exhausted and seething. Waiting.
Eventually Mark came in and went to sleep. Still I lay there waiting.
Wondering, in my furious exhaustion, whether he knew Jack was still downstairs. Wondering whether Jack had taken to heart the rest of that thing I might have said, “Just get out! I don’t care whether you come back!” But fortunately he did come back. He quietly closed the door, crawled in beside Emma, read a couple of pages by the light of his glow sticks, and went to sleep. Everyone breathed contentedly. Resting after a wonderful day. And me, furious and ashamed of my fury, I seething in the finally quiet dark.
I replayed the scene over and over while I circled the pre-dawn campus. I prayed about it in the back of the chapel, eventually emerging into the golden morning.
I was kinda grumpy at breakfast.
A friend joined me and said, “Jack is such a great kid. He sat with us on the porch last night and we talked a little about school and things.” She went to get coffee and another friend sat down and said, “I just really enjoy Jack. He watched the Clemson game with us last night and he’s just so polite and funny. I really like being around him.” And at the beginning of the morning workshop, my friend Joe said, “Jack is one of my favorite kids ever. I was so glad he stayed up with us last night.” I excused myself to go get some water. Oh, and to wipe away a couple of tears.
The worship service was held in the chapel, and the scripture reading was Ephesians 4, which our fabulous retreat leader and preacher, Dr. James Calvin Davis, called the primer for Christian Ethics 101. Paul entreats the Ephesians “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called…making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” I was convicted.
And then the familiar, comforting and yet mystical words. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”
Always and everywhere the same. A Truth that exists regardless of our opinions or experience or nationality or whether we are even paying attention.
But wait! Here in the midst of this universal truth, here is the particularity: “each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”
This means that there is one God. And each of us is entrusted to a particular calling—to live out a singular purpose that enhances and completes the whole. You are the only you there is or will ever be. And the rest of us are counting on you.
On the way to the retreat, Jack asked me whether I thought we’d be alive when the world ended. I asked him when he thought that would be. He thought it’d be soon, what with climate change and wars and the degradation of the environment. Emma said, “Wait, when is the world ending?”
“I don’t know, probably when we’re adults.”
“Oh,” said Emma. “I thought you said it’d be soon.”
I dug a little deeper and Jack decided, given how things were going, humans would affect the end of the world—or at least the end of humans—in about 50 years. So I asked him, if you think the world will end in 50 years, you’ll be 61—Daddy’s age—does that change how you’ll live your life? Does it affect the decisions you’ll make? Does it affect what you think is your purpose in life?
Paul might’ve asked, what is the grace given you according to the measure of Christ’s gift?
That fact that physics and chemistry are the same throughout the Universe is both obvious and astonishing to me; and it reminds me of what many mystics have said, which is "if something is true, then it's true everywhere". Meaning, of course, that Truth is bigger and more encompassing than any human understanding of it. And it's true for all beings and non-beings. Everywhere in the Universe. And. And we each are charged with shining our own particular light to illuminate and embody this truth.
I think of this as the spiritual law of conservation. In science we talk about the total energy of a given system being conserved in the sense that it remains constant—it can be neither created nor destroyed. It can only be transformed or transferred—as, for instance, water.
Ice became water. Water is steam. Steam will become ice again. Familiar? Those of us in the Christian tradition might proclaim this mystery of faith: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
It’s the same truth. It’s the same mystery.
If it is true, then it is true everywhere and in every time. Here is how Richard Rohr describes this mystical truth.
It doesn’t matter whether Physics or Christianity or Chemistry or Islam or Political Science or Buddhism or Biology says it. It’s the same mystery, and we are each individually and collectively bound by and set free within it. Regardless of our opinions or experience or nationality or whether we are even paying attention.
As I was lying awake waiting for Jack to come to bed, I was also praying. Asking for grace. Asking to live into my particular calling as a parent, as a wife, as a friend. Asking to desire my particular calling, to want to pursue and perfect it. Asking for my bitterness and fury to be cleansed in the grace of sleep. Assuming, hoping, that I didn’t need to get up, change clothes, and go find my child.
In the midst of my bitter prayer, the door opened. Jack came in, crawled in beside Emma, read a couple of pages by the light of his glow sticks, and went to sleep. The last words I’d heard were a quiet, “Good night, Jack!”
And then Jack’s quiet, happy, “Good night, Joe! See you tomorrow!”
Every new morning, Christ will come again.