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Entangled in our very being

by
21 October 2020

Frances Ward contemplates humanity’s connection with a fragile world — and the grace of God

istock

ENTANGLEMENT: a word used to describe the fate of an increasing number of minke and humpbacked whales, porpoises, and dolphins now swimming the coasts of the UK. These giant ocean creatures have all been found snared in fishing gear in recent years, tangled up and dying, in nets and lines that kill.

Entanglement is a word of metaphorical power to capture the hopeless, helpless state of political and economic structures and systems which fail to address the climate chaos of extreme storm, flood and fire, trees diseased, plastic everywhere.

How do we cope with that sense of being entangled in distress and deep grief that God’s creation is so threatened? An obvious reaction is to turn from macro-questions to micro-management — and so we become entangled in minutiae, trivial concerns, left-hemisphere processes and procedures. Our hands, soul, mind, heart, and strength — tied.

The sense of entanglement points in other directions, though, more positive ones.

In the 1930s, Erwin Schrödinger described a strange phenomenon, noticing that particles, when connected, became matter. Separated again, even at great distances of time and space, the connection is maintained, with each particle mirroring the other exactly and instantaneously. Schrödinger coined the word “entanglement” in a letter to Einstein.

Andrew Briggs and his colleagues, Oxford quantum physicists, describe it thus:

 

“Each atom . . . has a hard nugget in the centre — the nucleus — and flying or swirling or vibrating around this nucleus is a cloud or a vibrance of electrons.

“We say ‘cloud’ because each electron does not orbit the nucleus like a planet orbiting the Sun, but rather enfolds the nucleus all at once, like a soufflé around a grain of sugar. We say ‘vibrance’ because this cloud is not vague but precisely tuned, exhibiting the most precise vibrations in nature, and causing a kind of super-conduction of electric current around each nucleus.

(Andrew Briggs, Hans Halvorson, Andrew Steane It Keeps me Seeking: The invitation from science, philosophy and religion, OUP, 2018; p. 85)

 

Entanglement describes a universe that is ultimately mysterious, with particles echoing, resonating with others, in myriad relation, a metaphor of participation in space and time.

Briggs again: “Quantum entanglement offers us, if we can appreciate it correctly, another metaphor [that] illustrates some of the themes that Trinitarian theology affirms. . . In a three-part quantum entangled state there are three physical entities that contribute some of their properties independently, but which also exhibit an inseparable nature, such that some properties of the whole cannot be assigned individually to the parts, but exhibit purely a correlation or mutuality between the parts.

(p. 112/3)

 

THE Trinitarian God is a profound connection and vibrancy in ways analogous to how particles exist in entangled relation. God incarnate as Jesus Christ, moving as Holy Spirit to draw order from chaos, where all creation comes together, in deep harmony within time and space, in which God intimately creates, universally loves, entangling humanity within the world around.

Entanglement: a soufflé, a cloud. The 14th-century spiritual classic of apophatic theology, The Cloud of the Unknowing, was written in times neither peaceful nor contemplative — when war waged in England, Scotland, across Europe; when the Church was in captivity and schism; when plague raged uncontrolled.

The author describes entering the cloud, the “divine dark”, where the person seeks to be united with God, beyond reason, in ways inexpressible by language. To be known by God within this cloud is to live, entangled in hope, love, and lament, where there is always more to know and not know in deep connection with the generative power of the natural world, community, and God:

 

“And therefore shape thee to bide in this darkness as long as thou mayest, evermore crying after him whom thou lovest. For if ever thou shalt see him or feel him, as it may be here, it must always be in this cloud and in this darkness. And if thou wilt busily travail as I bid thee, I trust in his mercy that thou shalt come thereto.”

(The Cloud of Unknowing, by An English Mystic of The Fourteenth Century, with a commentary on the Cloud by Fr Augustine Baker OSB, edited by Abbot Justin McCann, Monk of Ampleforth, London Burns Oates, [1924], 1952; p. 8)

 

This work encourages us to abide in the cloud of unknowing, in the darkness of uncertainty and anxiety, and not try to escape, allowing God’s grace to find us there. The cloud of God’s grace reminds us that we are entangled in creation, the world around, other peoples and nations. To realise this is to live and participate differently, tuning our lives to the deep song of God’s creation.

Entanglement offers rich grounds for contemplation to inspire and sustain the necessary activism we need to change the consumerist habits of our generation. To participate in the cloud is to resist the market forces that commodify lives.

It is to journey from the intense pain of despair, through lament, to fierce hope that seeks to discern the grace of God in the darkness and the cloud of current times. It is to lament the passing of taken-for-granted normalities and to find the hope to live the moment as richly as possible — like there’s no tomorrow.

 

The Very Revd Frances Ward is a former Dean of St Edmundsbury, now a parish priest in Cumbria, writer, and a speaker at the Green Christian festival (23-25 October). Her latest book, Like There’s No Tomorrow: Climate crisis, eco-anxiety and God, is published by Sacristy Press.

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