“Matter is Merely Frozen Light …”

Religion, meet science. Science, this is religion.

It was like an awakening from a coma to read these words in Matthew Fox‘s brilliant book Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh. Fox is an Episcopal priest, a brilliant theologian and the founder of the University of Creation Spirituality in California.

His writing aims to expose, among other things, the intimate connection between spirituality and the bio-processes of nature. With the help of contemporary scientific minds like Brian Swimme, he has tried with varying degrees of success to make the marriage between science and religion seem apparent and necessary to common schmucks like, for instance, me.

I have no mind for science. I never have. My most successful foray into scientific study was a group experiment in the fourth grade in which I managed to use a battery and some small bits of wire to get a tiny lightbulb to glow. Since then, my attempts have grown feebler.

Though I received high marks in my science classes all the way up through college, it was clear that science was not my forté. I excelled in so many other things — eating, sleeping in, and outdated imitations of Ronald Reagan, to name a few — it hardly seemed to matter that I was not going to be the next Albert Einstein.

As I’ve grown older and my attention span has lengthened, I’ve developed a certain amount of reverence for science despite my inability to be a scientist. The Discovery Channel is a fascinating place to waste a half an hour. And science fiction, when wedded with the right amount of character development and political intrigue, has always been high on my list.

I love Star Trek. I devoured Piers Anthony‘s Isle of Woman novel, which tells the story of one couple as they advanced through the stages of evolution along with the stages of their relationship. I’ll even occasionally spend a few minutes with Bill Nye the Science Guy, learning how to perform some of MacGyver‘s less-complicated miracles.

Nevertheless, despite my enthusiasm for the science that is all around me, I am generally clueless about how most of it works. Bill Nye would not be pleased to discover how many experiments I’ve botched. And I retain scientific data in my head for all of 30 seconds before my mind trails off in search of some more pleasingly mythical explanation of how the world operates. To this day, I prefer to believe that water boils only when it is angry and planes fly on pixie dust.

On the other hand, religion has always seemed perfectly relevant to me. I’m fascinated by the way people worship, the way they understand their connection to the universe. I’ve sat quietly in Quaker meetings, played basketball with Sikhs, stood before altars to the Great Goddess, been lectured to by a Zoroastrian, and even donned a pink yarmulke to enter a synagogue.

Religion is beautiful and meaningful for me. Though I don’t claim to understand spirituality, I believe that religion can play a vital role in its development. Religion is a method of bridging the gap between the closed world we often walk through and the spiritual world that exists inside of us and all around us. Though by no means do I believe everyone needs religion, I do feel it has an admirable purpose.

Science’s purpose is similarly admirable. It is the study of how the world works logistically. It is our attempt to find the order of things. It works often in opposite of the way religion works. Religion is an ordered attempt to tap into something abstract that cannot be fully described. Science starts with abstraction and searches for order. When we embrace both then we find a balance between order and abstraction.

But how do they link? I mean, it’s always seemed to me to be an obvious necessity that the two fields intermingle. Their split from one another has wrought devastation throughout history. Our religious traditionalists have been known to murder scientists for postulating theories that might unsettle the status quo. Our scientists have been known to create tools of destruction much more effectively than tools of love.

We are creatures who instigate crusades and holy wars. We are creatures who build bombs that can blow the Earth up nine times over (even though our reason should tell us that just once would suffice).

Our religion has no intellectual curiosity, nor intrinsic connection with the living world. Our science has no soul.

But despite our failings to incorporate them into our man-made fields of study, spirituality and natural law have remained intimately interwoven. And people like Fox and Swimme have been trying for years to reach those of us who have been socialized into one camp or the other, to help us bridge the gap between the two worlds.

Though I have never believed myself to be an enemy of science, my interaction with it has never deepened past a surface level. I am fascinated by it, and yet I’ve never found it important that I understand it. I am squarely in the religious camp.

Reading Fox’s book was a test for me. I was pushing myself to try to break through the mold and see the equation of existence more completely. Religion + science = the meaning of life? I doubt it. But whatever meaning was there, I was determined to discover it.

So I read. And read. And read some more. And nothing sank in. It all seemed to make sense on a surface level. But like all the other scientific trivia that has ever passed through my head, the meaning slipped away seconds after I closed the book for the evening.

Until I came upon that sentence.

“Matter is merely frozen light.”

It was meant to be a statement of summation after a long passage about the nature of light and matter in the universe. As with most of the other science I’ve read in my life, the preceding paragraphs were a blur to me.

But for some reason, that little sentence stuck to the walls of my brain. In the midst of the din of thick scientific language, I found an echo of truth in that simple sentence. Blah blah blah blah Matter is merely frozen light blah blah. How completely wonderful.

I won’t bother regurgitating much of the explanation that the book gave for this simple miracle. Suffice it to say that everything in the universe is made out of light moving at varying rates of speed. That means that everything we touch, taste, hear, see, and smell is light in some form.

When I choke down a Snickers bar and a can of Mello Yello at lunch, I am actually eating light. In fact, everything that I consume is light. Jared from the Subway ads can suck my ass.

My life hasn’t been changed dramatically by this revelation. But I can say that I look at things slightly differently now. This includes my spiritual life. If everything in the universe is light, even matter, then maybe spirit is also included. Everything is light. Everything has a common element. Dogs and diplomats are made from a common mold. In this small way, I share a common characteristic of existence with Gandhi, Jesus Christ, and Leonard Nimoy.

Of course, I also share the same common characteristic of existence with Hitler, Attila The Hun, and William Shatner.

Perhaps it’s best that I don’t think of all the possible ramifications of this knowledge.

Nevertheless, I am convinced now more than ever that science and religion have a place together, and that only when we start to understand these fields in common will we come closer to a fuller realization of the nature of the universe.

It’s going to take me a long time to get over my inadequacies in scientific comprehension in order to embrace the coming changes. But if I start small enough, everything is comprehensible. I only need to make sure that my sense of awe stays intact.

Article © 2002 by Jonathan Ratican