Thirty-four years ago. I am sitting at the breakfast table eating oatmeal with my two sons, Phillip (6) and Geoff (4). It is November and snow has been falling, all night. The hemlocks and rhododendron bushes are bowing under the heavy white blanket. Inside the 100 year old log cabin, it is chilly if we move away from the wood stove.
Geoff is a cherubic blonde, with gray-blue eyes. There is always a humorous tilt to his mouth, as if ever anticipating the next frolic or bit of merriment. Phillip’s wise brown eyes see everything, but give up nothing. He is always studying, evaluating the world around him. Public school and Head Start have been canceled due to the snow. It’s an unexpected holiday and snow time will certainly play a part in our day. We are already making plans to go sledding up on Billy Cabin Mountain—if we can get the old Willis Jeep to crank. It’s temperamental.
“Mama, what’s God?” Geoff is playing with his porridge, moving raisins around, swirling the milk.
“Yeah. What is it? What’s God?”
He’s four. What to say? We are not church goers. I endured way too many varieties of religion growing up, depending on my father’s whims. From high church Episcopalian to fundamentalist full-body dunking Baptists to Roman Catholicism. I had carefully avoided indoctrinating these boys. Religious holidays were explained as the charming blend of Pagan cum Christian myths and celebrations they are.
“Mama!” He is impatient with my silence. “What’s God?”
Clearly he’s been hearing things at Head Start.
“Yeah, Mom.” Phillip decides to join the conversation, back from wherever his attention had wandered. “What IS God?”
That’s the thing about being a parent. Kids ask big questions and trust you to know the answer and tell them the truth. The problem here is, that at this time, it is a question I am still grappling with myself. I was currently immersed in reading Krishnamurti’s The Awakening of Intelligence (talk about an antidote to religion!), practicing yoga, meditation, modestly experimenting with LSD and mushrooms in an effort to “expand consciousness” as per Timothy Leary and Ram Dass. See, I, too, want to know: What is God?
Not who, mind you. What. The notion of an anthropomorphic Being in the sky spying on me and taking notes…well, that’s just plain creepy and beyond fanciful. Still, there is, I felt, something. Something ineffable and mysterious. Perceived but misunderstood (mostly). Grandly, sublimely, and infinitely both personal and impersonal all at once, all the time. Me, not Me. You, not You. Being, not Being. Matter and the Void. All and Nothing.
“Well.” Mothers leap where angels fear to tread. We don’t have any choice. “Lots of people have lots of ideas about God—and lots of the ideas are very, very different from each other, and lots of people think that only their idea is the correct one,” I began. “People all over the world, since the beginning of time, millions and millions of years ago, have created stories about what God is because they want to try to understand the world and the things that happen in life.”
“But, what do you think God is?” Phillip persists.
“I think … well, I think God is energy. Pure energy. You know how we’ve talked about the planets, the sun and space and how all the planets, including Earth, are all spinning around all the time?”
Nods. “Well, the world of God is like that, too,only much, much smaller. Invisible, unless you have a really, really powerful microscope. Remember how we looked at water from the pond in the microscope and saw the amoebas swimming around—but couldn’t see it with our ordinary eyes? Like that, only even smaller. Like this.” I grab a pen and start to sketch a molecule, complete with atoms, electrons, protons, neutrons and other swirly bits.
“This is the building block for the whole Universe. Everything, every single thing, is built out of billions and billions and billions of these. All swirling around, all the time. And in between each one is space. But somehow it all holds together, just like the planets and stars all keep in place in outer space.
“This table here?” I tap it. “Seems solid, right? But it’s made of billions and billions of atoms all moving around really fast. Your oatmeal? More atoms of a different shape, but still all moving around.”
“Can I see an atom?” Geoff.
“Well, like I said, you have to have a really powerful microscope. But even though you can’t see them now, they are there. Remember the amoebas in the pond water. What’s hard to understand is that even though they are so very tiny, and there are so many of them, AND they are all moving all the time, there is a lot of space in between each one. In fact, there is more space than there are atoms—but they all hang together to make tables, oatmeal, plants and you!” I tap his nose with my finger.
Serious concentration. A world of mystery is dawning. I can see it on their faces.
“But, you asked me what God is, and while this is only my idea, I think God is the energy that moves in the spaces between atoms and keeps it all working together … the table, the wood, the nails, your oatmeal, the milk … all the space in between all the atoms of everything, all the time. I think that is what God is.”
Phillip, peering at me, brown eyes still, focused. Geoff, stirring his oatmeal, looking out from under his fall of blonde bangs.
“God is everywhere?” Geoff.
“All the time?” Phillip. “Everywhere?” He nods to himself.
“Yes. Keeping it altogether.”
“He’s in my milk?” Geoff.
“Yes, but—this is important—God is not a HE. God is just … God. Energy. God energy.”
“In my shirt?”
A grin tilts his rosy lips. “In me? In my tummy?”
“Yes!” I laugh. “God is most certainly in your tummy!” I reach over and tickle him.
“And in the snow!” Phillip jumps up from the table. “So we can go out and play in the snow and be playing with God!”
Chairs are pushed back, bowls dumped in the sink for later, and the search is on for gloves and hats and scarves. We are on a mission: to go into the world and play with God!
Out of the mouths of babes. “Get on board, little children, get on board…”
I am not now, nor was I then, a physicist nor a theologian. I’m sure my science was shaky and my theology ill-conceived. Nonetheless, they had asked me what I thought and this was as close as I could get, then, to what seemed to make sense.
Fast forward. July 2012. Higgs-Boson particle discovered, which then gives credence to the Higgs Field.
Defined, most simply, “The Higgs Field is an … invisible field of energy that exists throughout the entire universe. The field is accompanied by a fundamental partical called the Higgs Boson, which it uses to continuously interact with other particles. As particles pass through the field they are endowed with the property of mass … and become heavier, and consequently, slower.
“Although apparent, mass is not generated by the Higgs field, as creation of matter or energy would conflict with the laws of conservation; it is, however, transferred to particles from the field, which contains the relative mass in the form of energy. Once the field has endowed a formerly mass-less particle, it slows down because it has become heavier, therefore giving other particles the chance to latch onto it using the electromagnetic force.
“If the Higgs field did not exist, no particles would have the required mass to attract one another and (would) simply float around freely at light-speed. The process of endowing a particle with mass is known as the Higgs Effect.” (Wikipedia).
Some are calling it the God Particle. Without it, there would be no creation. No … nothing. For additional understandable information, check out this physics site: http://www.fnal.gov/pub/inquiring/questions/higgs_boson.html
This momentous scientific news received about 15 minutes of tepid media coverage before people went back to persecuting and killing each other in the name of some God or prophet or religious rite. “My cult’s better than your cult…”.
Clearly, I’m still not a church goer and hold to no orthodoxy of any flavor. It isn’t necessary. Or desirable. (Though I do enjoy a good ritual from time to time with incense, candles, music and great clothes! Nice way to focus and move beyond oneself for a time. But that’s about entertainment.). I’m pleased to have science confirm what as a young mother I intuited—that there’s a whole miraculous Universe in which to play with God. Everywhere. All the time.
And, you know what? This energy, this Higgs Field, does not give a tinker’s damn what you call it. It is completely unconcerned about who you love, marry or have sex with. It is sublimely indifferent to the color of your skin or your nationality. The rituals of spirituality you entertain yourself with? Unimportant, except to you, as that. Entertainment. It doesn’t even care who gets elected president of the US—or of Kazahkstan, for that matter. Its sole purpose is to hold the Universe together and keep it working. That leaves the rest of everything—the ethos of how to live on the planet, in space with one another—to us. We have to quit thinking some god-head out there is going to rescue us, support our prejudices, vanquish our enemies, or bestow riches on our friends and family, just ’cause we subscribe to a particular myth or practice a certain ritual. If you still think that, you’ve missed the whole point of thousands of years of theological evolution.
Study the holy writings of many cultures. There’s a lot of wisdom and there’s a lot of crap. And it was ALL conceived of and passed down by human beings as a means of regulating culture, controlling populations, providing comfort, consolidating power and wealth, and on occasion teaching people how to behave in a semi-civilized manner. Most of it can be interpreted to mean anything you want. Quote it out of context to make your points. Disregard the inconvenient sections.
Here’s the bottom line: It. Does. Not. Matter. What. You. Believe. As Krishnamurti said and wrote: You can put a stick on the mantle and worship it daily and after a time you will begin to believe that it is holy, spiritual, God. When, in reality, it is still just a stick.
I repeat: It. Does. Not. Matter. What. You. Believe. Because, irrespective of what you or I believe, or don’t, the universe still holds together—and that DOES matter because it enables the being-ness of Matter. It isn’t a miracle. It isn’t supernatural. It’s physics. That is a marvelous, marvelous thing.
It still leaves open big questions. Off the top of my head, I’d like to know:
- Are thoughts matter? Do they have mass? They are certainly energy, i.e. electrical.
- Do our thoughts impact the Higgs Field? or does the Higgs Field influence our thoughts?
- And, the really big one, Where and how did the Field come into Being?