Back in July, there was a discovery that might be a key to what holds the universe together. I am talking about the elusive Higgs Boson, a sub-atomic particle that if truly has been found as theorists think, it would aid in unifying a theory of everything regarding how matter and energy moves and have their being.
I need to back up a page or two and explain what this is and why we should care.
There appears to be three aspects of the universe; Matter, Force, and Bosons. We know the universe is made up of matter which can be broken into Mass and Energy. Einstein’s E= MC squared; energy equals matter times speed of light constant squared. We also know that there are forces in the universe that act on matter.
You might have heard of two of them, gravity and electromagnetism; but there are two more known as strong nuclear force and weak nuclear force. The strong nuclear force holds the nucleus of an atom together. The weak nuclear force is what makes a subatomic particle decay into another subatomic particle—think radioactivity as an example of weak nuclear force at work.
Bosons are the link between matter and force. The best analogy that I have heard is that of a dog leash[i]. The dog sees a squirrel and attempts to run but the owner pulls on the leash and the dog is brought closer to the owner. The dog is matter, the owner is the gravitational pull on matter, and the bosons are the leash that connects them enabling the gravitational force to act.
There are five currently known Bosons; photons which create electromagnetism; gluons which create strong nuclear force, W and Z Bosons which create weak nuclear force, and Higgs Bosons which creates mass. Without the Higgs Boson particle there would be no mass and therefore no matter. In other words, we and everything that we can touch and see around us would not exist. There is one other Boson that is only theorized, and that would be the graviton, the particle that initiates gravitational force between the particles with mass and compels them to come together.
The Higgs Boson was theoretical until this year. The theory was developed by Peter Higgs back in 1964. He theorized that there was a field of energy that extended through out the universe that when particles cross this field they slow down and create mass. This field became known as the Higgs Field, and the particle that would instigate this mass, the Higgs Boson.
There is some speculation that what was discovered was not the elusive Higgs boson but rather a Higgs Boson wannabe. This would be a particle that acts sort of like that of the elusive Higgs boson but not quite. The Higgs Boson if indeed found would help explain the mass of everything. Everything.
Leon Lederman who wrote the book The God Particle, explains this quest began about 600 BCE with the Greek philosopher Thales. “Thales asked himself whether all the varied objects in the universe could be traced back to a single, basic substance, and a simple, overarching principle.[ii]”
The nickname for the Higgs Boson, The God Particle, originated as a joke in a speech and was then used as a working title of the book Lederman and Teresi wrote. The thought it would end up as the title of the book was not considered and as Lederman writes, “the title ended up offending two groups: 1) those who believe in God, and 2) those who do not.[iii]” Lederman also joked that it really should be called that goddam particle because it has been so difficult to find.
Now it should be no surprise that I would seek to do a sermon on the God Particle because after all, it’s very name oozes with theological nuances. I looked at what other clergy wrote about this discovery. The responses were what I would have expected.
Several Christian ministers wrote the Higgs Boson offers the proof of god’s existence, quoting the Letter to the Hebrews that it is by faith that God created the world so that “what is seen is made from things that are not visible.[iv]” I did not find their argument particularly inspiring for me but I appreciated their need to affirm the existence of god.
A Unity minister[v] saw the god particle as being part of the divine mind, the stream of god consciousness that manifests all creation. For her the Higgs Boson and the Higgs Field was a metaphor for what happens with the thoughts we think. Her point was that our allowing negative thoughts to build would create negative experiences for us.
I found two sermons written by Rabbis on the God Particle, one offered a Rosh Hashanah sermon and the other a Yom Kippur sermon. I found their thoughts to be more compelling than the Christian or Unity preachers.
Rabbi Amy R. Perlin states finding “that “God particle within” that makes us more than mass, weight, protons, neutrons and bosons — that makes us human, breathing beings who love and hate, capable of good and evil; life-givers when we activate the God particle with in us, and tragically life-takers when we ignore the God particle within that teaches us to sanctify life, cherish differences, and embrace the “other” who is also created in God’s image.[vi]”
And Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater echoes her on Yom Kippur. He states, “The God particle, the glue that holds us together, becomes visible when we transform our faith into action. So I ask: Where is the God particle in Syria, as a civil war continues to rage on, with babies slaughtered before our eyes, with the world community sitting on the sidelines? Where was the God particle when extremists, acting like brutal savages, took the lives of Ambassador Stevens and his staff? … Where is the God particle when one in five American children lives in poverty and hunger, where schools are closing, where food is contaminated, where droughts, floods, fires, storms and melting ice caps threaten our planet and all the creatures who call Earth home? … The God particle remains invisible, remains an elusive and unattainable equation that offers us nothing, if we human beings do not bring it to light, living out our destiny as creatures created in the image of that God particle[vii].”
As a metaphor the god particle is what binds our humanity together and elevates it to actions of compassion and empathy for the other. We can see the effects of the god particle in the good that is created in the world. It is our highest and best selves being brought to bear on the world. We may not be able to see it directly, but we can feel it and see the results of it in the world around us.
The god particle that creates order and mass, without which the particles of the universe would simply be zooming around at the speed of light, can indeed be a metaphor for that which connects us all in our humanity. It is what gives rise to compassionate action when we witness the devastation from Tornadoes and Hurricanes in our own communities as well as communities far away. It is what makes our hearts reach out to care for children who are abandoned or abused. It is what makes us rescue and assist beached whales and dolphins back into the deep oceans.
It is what inspires the Gandhi’s, the King’s, and the Truth’s of the world to stand up against oppressors to free a people from injustice. And while Rabbi Grater does not see the god particle in the travesty of Syria’s civil war, or the brutal attack at Benghazi, or even within the poverty in America; there will come forth the stories of incredible bravery, of incredible compassion, of incredible actions even within these travesties. The stories will come forth out of the northeast where whole neighborhoods were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy or by the secondary causes like the fires that burned uncontrollably. These stories will detail acts of bravery and compassion just as powerful as any recorded in any sacred text.
How can I state this with such confidence? Because such stories have been told when ever there have been travesties in our history. We know the stories of brave men and women hiding Jews in Nazi occupied Europe. We know of Martha and Waitstill Sharp, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the ten Booms who sought to protect Jews and smuggle them out of the country or to speak out against the oppressive regime. We know of the men and women who created the Underground Railroad here in the US to smuggle runaway slaves to freedom. And we know of the stories in South Africa and in Rwanda and today in Uganda of men and women who found a way to express compassion and justice when compassion and justice to the other could mean death.
I remember when the AIDS pandemic started; it seemed that the entire world had turned its back on young gay men. But in the midst of the horror of these men becoming sick with a host of illnesses, there stirred a response of compassion that was so vital to turning the tide of that disease. The metaphor of the god particle that binds us to one another was active and compassion and love became not only visible but palpable to the families and individuals impacted by the specter of AIDS.
We have seen the god particle create massive movements for justice in our nation and abroad. It was present in the civil rights movement, in the migrant farm worker movements, and I believe it is present in the immigrant rights movement. We only need to be open to its stirring within our hearts.
The god particle, that elusive divine spark all religions acknowledge yet called by many names, moves upon the face of humanity and binds us together to act justly, to love kindness, and to walk humbly in the world. May we be the field in which the god particle may gain mass and be visible in our communities. Blessed Be.
[ii] The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, what is the question, Leon Lederman / Dick Teresi © 2006 Houghton Mifflin Company, NY
[iv] Rev. Steve Runholt as found at http://www.warren-wilson.edu/~chapel/docs/12-07-15.pdf
[vi] Rabbi Amy Perlin Sermon as found at http://www.tbs-online.org/listings/rabbi-study/the-god-particle-rosh-hashanah-sermon-57739-17/
[vii] Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater as found at http://www.pjtc.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=144:the-god-particle-and-life-yom-kippur-5773&catid=94&Itemid=912
The God Particle by Rev. Fred L Hammond
4 November 2012 © Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa