Musings of a Math-Challenged Creation

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Contributed by Julie Atwood.

Musings of a Math-Challenged Creation

It’s a sleepy Sunday afternoon. I’m sprawled next to my husband on the living-room couch, our three-colored calico cat plopped on my lap. As I fondle the backsides of Chloe’s velvet orange-black ears, she purrs and kneads the blanky I keep folded over my knees to protect them from her needle-claws. She seems oblivious to the physicist on the computer screen before us as he paces and lectures and scribbles huge equations on his chalkboard. She’s quite unlike my husband—who fixes his gaze on screen, physicist, chalkboard, and the equations scrawled across it with equal fascination.

I imagine at this moment, Chloe is feeling very much like me.

Only moments earlier, my own eyes were glued to that same screen and physicist as he promised, in hushed and eager tones, to unfold for us a world of mystery. “They used to claim only ten guys on the planet understand the theory of relativity. Well, that’s not true. After one guy discovered it, most people have caught on. But I can say with confidence that nobody really understands quantum mechanics.”

As he launches into his explanation of the famous quantum “double-slit experiment,” I feel the usual thrill course through me. I’ve heard this explanation many times before. But I never grow tired of learning about waves and particles that don’t quite behave like one thing or the other, but rather like both—depending on whether or not they’re being observed. It’s a mystery on a scale with the Trinity. Or the dual nature of God when He became a Man. A mystery that reflects the paradoxical nature of its Creator . . . and that has been scientifically proven.

But this lecturer, unlike several others I’ve heard expound upon this fascinating mystery, soon veers off into a foreign language. It’s punctuated by chalk-scrawls of letters, numbers, angles, arrows, and squiggles that resemble secret codes or uprooted earthworms. Words like probability and let’s say n equals x squared creep into the scientist’s lively humor-spiced lecture.

I cringe. My stomach sinks. The new terms prove distracting to me as the speaker’s gangster-growly Brooklyn accent . . . which only moments earlier proved no less charming to me than his dashes of offbeat humor.

As the numbers, letters, angles, arrows, and earthworms multiply across the board like a vat of overturned alphabet soup—and the spoken foreign terms (rendered only more exotic by that unlikely Brooklyn accent) pile up like mounds of rubble about to crash down about my ears—it happens.

My brain dies. Ossifies. Atrophies.

Its convolutions unravel, smooth out into ribbons that are ironed into oblivion. Its pores slam shut . . . tight as the window of a bank teller when she spots a masked man approaching with a gun. In moments, my skull feels as though it houses a heavy and lifeless chunk of granite. For all I understand the remainder of that lecture—for all I comprehend any entity in general called math—my brain might as well be a lifeless chunk of granite.

For I grasp math no better than a chunk of granite would.

Or a tree.

Or a cat . . . the very cat now purring and paw-pumping my knees.

I drop my gaze from the screen down to the furball of licorice, snow, and pumpkin curled up vibrating on my lap. The avalanche of equations barked in a New-York accented lecture fades within my ears to the wordless—and numberless—thrumming of soft purrs. Imagining how Chloe might perceive a physics lecture, I’ve never in my life felt so connected to an animal.

Yet as I study with delight the asymmetrical swirls of her vivid triple-colored fur, I realize something amazing about all those crazy non-patterns. They’re splashed across a body whose bones, muscles, internal organs, and even whorled brain are designed, by contrast, with a symmetry and complexity that staggers my imagination.

And I’m struck by a second startling revelation.

Chloe herself is created from quantum particles (or waves).

She’s the product of divine information . . . shaped in the form of insurmountable mathematical equations.

Whether or not she understands it, my cat is made from math.

My cat is full of math.

And so is a tree.

And a lifeless chunk of granite.

And so am I.

Whether or not I understand it, I too am created out of math. Out of staggering information. Out of quantum equations so complex even the world’s greatest physicists don’t fully comprehend them.

Again I hear the dry amused comment of the famous lecturer on the screen: “Nobody really understands quantum mechanics.”

He may spout off with confidence myriads of complex equations—including, I’m sure, a number of them that he himself proved the first to solve. Yet he admits, with commendable humility, that even he cannot grasp the full scope of the mysteries he’s spent his life exploring.

I’m taken back in my thoughts to this morning’s Sunday-school class, during which a visiting prophet took turns interpreting every class member’s prayer language. As the visitor approached me, my heart began pounding audibly. What if the syllables spewing from my mouth prove to be only gibberish?

But after hearing me rattle off the strange sounds I’ve murmured many times before—but always in the safety of my own room—he did offer me an interpretation.

A message from God . . . to me.

You have nothing to fear at all. Wherever you go, I am with you. I send My angels in charge over you. There’s no reason to think that I will ever leave you. Though your father and mother forsake you, I will never leave you. I have known you before the foundations of the world were made, and I will never abandon you. I’m with you to the end of the age.

This spoken through a human stranger who was only visiting, who’d never seen me before, who didn’t know me from the two bold intercessors seated on either side of me. Who could have no earthly idea that dealing with fear of abandonment proves one of my greatest struggles.

Now, whenever I speak forth those mysterious syllables, I’ll know with certainty that God is offering me words of comfort, encouragement, and hope . . . even though, with my conscious mind, I still can grasp the words of my prayer language no better than the countless quantum equations that comprise every particle of my DNA.

As I scratch behind the respective black and half-black, half-orange ears of my kitty, I feel my sinking heart swell again within my chest. My granite brain thaws, eases back into vibrant living flesh and convolutions and deep thoughts.

I matter. I am loved. And even in my ignorance of mathematical equations, I’m a miracle of God’s creation.

I’m connected not only to the feline on my lap, but also to my husband sprawled beside me on the couch as he loses himself in those equations . . . and even to the physicist dishing out those foreign words and numbers from our computer screen. We’re all connected. For we are all named and loved, designed and spoken into being, by the same Creator. The Author of all equations, information, and holy mystery.

And the One who, beyond all these mysteries, is Love.


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