I once met a physicist in the food court at LAX. I asked him about “quantum entanglement,” the only bit of physics I know. His eyes lit up. He said, “Yes, all things are related.”
The basic idea of quantum entanglement is that two particles can be intimately linked to each other, even if they are separated by billions of light years in space; a change induced in one will affect the other. This is a mystery. How can a change in one particle immediately affect the other at such great distance unless, of course, the two are somehow really one? Science is catching up to what Jesus and the mystics have always known—reality is relational and undivided. It’s one, not two.
The question is not whether we are related, then, it’s about how we choose to relate—in rivalry or in the mutual blessing of unity. This is the basis of Jesus’ prayer.
In the seventh and final week of Eastertide, Jesus prays for unity, “that they may be one, as we are one” (v 11). It’s a fitting end to the Easter celebration. Oneness, or union, is the whole point of Easter. Julian of Norwich called it “oneing.” This is the Christ mystery.
Whatever else COVID-19 reveals, it exposes just how much we are tied together, especially in suffering. COVID-19 is shattering the illusion of the separate, autonomous self, but it is also revealing how much we resist and deny our kinship. If things fall apart, it’ll happen because we forcibly refuse oneness.
The urgency is real, and the stakes are high, but in fairness, it takes time to accept the oneness of all things. Consider our slow path to monotheism. It didn’t happen overnight. Monotheism, which declares there is one God, was preceded by monolatry, which worships God while still declaring the existence of other gods. Strictly speaking, the first command of the 10 commandments is monolatry. “You shall have no other gods before me”(Ex 20:3). It was only after the Babylonian exile that monotheism was fully embraced. It was a huge breakthrough in religious imagination. Today, Jews affirm the Shema, Christians affirm the Credo, and Muslims affirm the Shahada—all declaring there is but one God.
There’s lots of convincing evidence that this huge breakthrough in religious imagination is also the source of untold violence, with each faith making the claim, “My God is true, yours is false.”
So, how do we reconcile all this division with Jesus’ prayer to become one?
In his book Jerusalem, Jerusalem, James Carroll points out that the problem may have to do with how we imagine the notion of “one”. In an age preoccupied with counting things, the term “one” is easily imagined as a number, as in, there is one God, not two.
And that would be true. However, as Carroll points out, when God is imagined numerically, we begin to see God as a single object over and against all other objects. In this case, Carroll says, “God is thought of as a solitary entity, standing apart from all others, and therefore against all others.” When we apply the numerical imagination to monotheism, “such a belief is inherently a source of conflict, not peace.”
In the end, we become like the gods we imagine.
This is why Jesus invites us to see God differently. He wants us to be one, in the same way that he and the Father are one. In this light, Carroll says, “The oneness of God is not a number, but a relationship with what exists.”
God exists in relationship, reconciling all things, particularly through suffering love made visible on the cross. God is not a numerical unit that stands over and against the rest of creation. God is an undivided relational reality that is in rivalry with nothing, not even death. God is a community in unity “oneing” creation. We are all one in Christ.
We are desperate for this kind of religious imagination—one that reveals we are all delightfully entangled in Christ. May it be so.