2014-01-08

Eucharist, Epiphany, and Richard Feynman


Today I celebrated Eucharist for Epiphany at TMI - The Episcopal School of Texas. Since our chapel service on Monday was our actual reading of the Epiphany narrative, I chose to talk about the Epiphany that happens within Eucharist, where the Risen Jesus is "known to us in the breaking of the bread". Of course, I used the Gospel text of Luke 24, where Jesus talks with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, but they do not recognize him as Jesus until he breaks bread.

And then suddenly the Epiphany dawns on them: It is the Risen Lord!

And as I was thinking about how the deep mysteries of the Universe can be revealed to us in something as simple as a meal that remembers a man, I remembered a toast given by Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman. He spoke of seeing the interconnections of all things in a glass of wine:


"A poet once said, 'The whole universe is in a glass of wine.' We will probably never know in what sense he meant that, for poets do not write to be understood. But it is true that if we look at a glass of wine closely enough we see the entire universe. There are the things of physics: the twisting liquid which evaporates depending on the wind and weather, the reflections in the glass, and our imagination adds the atoms. 

The glass is a distillation of the Earth's rocks, and in its composition we see the secrets of the universe's age, and the evolution of stars. What strange arrays of chemicals are in the wine? How did they come to be? There are the ferments, the enzymes, the substrates, and the products. There in wine is found the great generalization: all life is fermentation. Nobody can discover the chemistry of wine without discovering, as did Louis Pasteur, the cause of much disease. 

How vivid is the claret, pressing its existence into the consciousness that watches it! If our small minds, for some convenience, divide this glass of wine, this universe, into parts — physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology, and so on — remember that nature does not know it! So let us put it all back together, not forgetting ultimately what it is for. Let it give us one more final pleasure: drink it and forget it all!"

Now, I am not sure of the religious or spiritual beliefs of Feynman. I do not know if his glimpse into the Mystery of all things took him to the "Ground of Being" that sustained both himself and his glass of wine. Nevertheless, this quote nicely sums up a kind of integrative scientific spirituality: Capturing the totality in the finite. It links quite nicely with Eucharistic spirituality, in which the Risen Christ works through the stuff of earth-- particularly bread and wine-- to reunite all of creation with the Love of God. This integrated spirituality, sees even science-- especially science-- as a way of connecting with the Reality that gives us reality, "within which we live and move and have our being" [cf. Acts 17].

I think Feynman's words about wine-- and the wonderful PBS video clip which animates his words-- can really help us in developing such an integrated spirituality. As we partake of our sacraments and our prayers and our daily life, may we come to see the interconnectedness of all things, woven together in the One who sustains us and upholds us, who is known in the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the cup.


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This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.