These are the days of miracles and wonders
A few years ago, my friend Drew went down to the post office because he needed to mail a package. When he got there, the place was full, the line snaking out the door. It turned out that one the postage scales was broken, and the people behind the desk couldn't help anyone until they managed to get it working again. They poked at it and prodded it, while the mood in the room grew darker. Finally, one person, who noticed Drew's clergy collar, challenged him, "Why don't you pray for it, Padre"? The room laughed, and Drew, grinning, laid his hands on the ailing machine and prayed. He didn't expect it to come humming to life at that very moment, so he was as surprised as anyone else when it did. Since then, he has laid hands on a radio and a car, with similar results. It's disconcerting.
I was thinking about this largely because I've been reading Marilynne Robinson. She pointed out in an essay that strange disconnect between the world as we experience it and the world as we now know it to be. Our everyday world works just fine using principles of physics that have been well known since the days of Newton. Things fall because of gravity. A resting object stays at rest. An object placed on an inclined surface tends to slide down. The floor holds us up when we stand on it. The sun rises, every day.
What's amazing about that world, which behaves in ways we understand, is that it is the merest skin on a world so strange most of us cannot begin to conceive it. That solid floor is mostly empty space. Quarks, leptons, antileptons, and antiquarks dance within the matter of our very bodies. We cannot know both the location and the momentum of even one particle, never mind of the universe. This whole cosmos appears to be composed of mystery: of things which exceed our understanding. And yet, the world works. We can predict it.
A few weeks ago, I was on the deck of a boat in Maine, looking for whales. After a while, a puff of white vapor appeared on the horizon and we moved toward it. As we approached, a great black curve broke the water, then dived, then emerged again. It went on for more than an hour. Sometimes, it would dive deep and we would not know where it would re-emerge. Other times, it strung shallow dives like pearls on a cord. It was, apparently, a fin whale, which is the second-largest animal on earth, but we could see it only in glimpses: a blowhole, a small bit of the back, the baleful hint of an eye.
Why do we think we can see this world whole, if we cannot see even one creature as it truly is? And yet, how impoverishing if we should cease to try. Why do we think we can see God whole, when most of the time we cannot even understand ourselves? And yet, our limited vision does not mean God is not there. It means we need to grow in our ability to see, to keep alert for hints and glances, and, perhaps, to accept that we will never see everything at once.
For me, that's OK. Seeing that whale, even in partial glimpses, was magical. Thinking about quarks is an entry to wonder. Neither begins to approach the mystery of the human heart. I'd rather live in a world I cannot understand than blinker my mind and convince myself that I do know everything. The world is not made to our measure, and neither is God.
That, in itself, is mercy.