I don’t normally catch up on the world of physics before I start my day. And yet, the other morning this headline got my very first click: “Speed of light maybe not fastest after all.” Perhaps it was because I had just been talking to my youngest son about why we see lightning before we hear thunder. Perhaps because I correctly sensed this was, actually, big news.
According to the article, an “international team” (how exciting!) of scientists at the CERN laboratory has “recorded subatomic particles traveling faster than the speed of light - a finding that could overturn one of Albert Einstein's long-accepted fundamental laws of the universe.”
Turns out, if Einstein’s 106-year-old theory of special relativity is undermined, this could upend what physicists have used to “understand (or describe) the way the universe and everything in it works.”
Of course, other teams of skeptical scientists are now testing the results of the initial experiment. But can you imagine what it must have been like for a physicist to first hear this news? Spending a life, a career, based on one thing only to have it disproved by something that is one 60 billionth of a second faster?
I actually can. Well, not the understanding-the-way-universe-works part - of which, honestly, I understand very little. (No offense to my high school physics teacher and college astronomy professor.)
While I may not understand what difference 60 billionths of a second makes in understanding the universe, what I do understand is what it means when ideas you’ve once lived, beliefs you’ve once held true and dear, laws you’ve maybe even once built a life around get upended. When suddenly all that you thought was, turns out to be not so.
While I have never - and most certainly will never - disprove one of Einstein’s laws of the universe, I have been known to discover how some of Middle Class American Christendom’s laws don’t exactly stand the tests of time.
Take, for instance, the law that says study hard, work hard, make good choices, believe in Jesus, trust and obey and all will be well. While most of us won’t say we believe it just like this, really, we do. Don’t we?
We’ve all heard enough stories of the good lives of the faithful and of the divine u-turns of newly born again to make us believe the law that pretty much says Me plus God equals Smooth Sailing. Einstein might have put it: M+G=SS. Or not.
However we express it, most of cling to this law in some fashion. We desperately want to believe it. And many of us base our lives on it - and encourage others to do the same.
Until we get to the point that I did a few years ago. When the stresses and disappointments and big hurts of life overwhelmed me. When I lay on the kitchen floor sobbing and telling my husband that I hated my life. When I finally realized that law - good old M+G=SS - was not true at all.
No matter how I tweaked my experiments. (A little more faith? A few more prayer requests?) It didn’t matter if it was only off by 60 billionths of a second or by 60 billion light years. (Is there even such a thing?) Off is off. Rendering everything I’d once believed useless. Leaving me wondering what all this meant that I no longer could believe that M+G=SS. And in fact wondering if M+G would always equal such Rough Sailing.
Antonio Ereditato, the spokesperson for these Einstein-toppling researchers, told the Reuters news agency this about his group’s findings: "I just don't want to think of the implications. We are scientists and work with what we know.”
I totally relate to both of his semi-paradoxical statements. Indeed, it was my over-thinking the implications of my own disproved theory M+G=SS that had me hating life and weeping on the floor that day.
But it was also my faith - and my working with what I knew - that got me back up off that floor, searching for a way to love my life again even if God wasn’t answering prayers the way I wanted, even if my life was headed in a direction it wasn’t “supposed to,” even if my parents stayed divorced, health issues swarmed, my own marriage buckled under stress of sunk finances and failed business.
Even in the worst of times, we must remember that we are Christians. We may not want to think of the implications of life gone wrong. But we work with what we know.
And what we know - no matter which universal or doctrinal or personal life theories get disproved along the way - is that God is good, all the time. That God is with us, Emmanuel! And that Jesus - who loves us, covers us with His grace - is the Light of the World.
That in every darkness, He is the Light that matters. Whether it’s the fastest or not.
(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)