21 November 2008

Entanglement, Affirmation, and Negation

I have begun reading Louisa’s book, and would like to share some initial thoughts here. I don’t think I’ll be writing a play-by-play as I read, but these thoughts tie in so nicely with some themes of this blog that I just have to share them.

The introduction alone is food for thought. There, not explicit but certainly latent, is an idea that physics has wrestled with for a long time—and, interestingly enough, so has Christianity. Louisa and I have had conversations about this difficulty in our intellectual and practical spheres. It is the tension or conflict between The Way of Affirmation and The Way of Negation.

These two devotional Ways, two approaches to worship, were important concerns in Charles Williams’ thought and work. I will explain what they are, some of their implications, some of their occurrences in CW’s writing, and finally what in the world they have to do with physics. Louisa, if you’re reading this, please chime in!

The Way of Affirmation is the use of images and metaphors in the worship of God. The clearest example is in the veneration of icons. Perhaps Eve could share some of her experience with Russian Orthodoxy, and explain more about the valid (as opposed to idolatrous) use of images in devotion. But the Way of Affirmation is not confined to physical images. It also affirms the use of mental images—pictures, as it were, for God—and metaphors. God is a mother hen gathering her chicks; God is a strong tower fortifying His warriors; God is the wall of the sheepfold, protecting His vulnerable flock. All of these metaphors have Biblical precedent, and the Way of Affirmation encourages their use in devotional practice.

The Way of Negation, on the other hand, rejects the use of all images as reductive, misleading, and ultimately idolatrous. Edward tore down the icons and crucifixes; Cromwell whitewashed the churches. Following the same impulse, some modern Christian writers (I think J.I. Packer is one) adjure their readers to reject all mental images and metaphors, since none can adequately express God’s attributes. They encourage people to think about God Himself, and not finite human ways of understanding Him. [I’m sure you see my opinion, that this is an inherent impossibility, given the finitude of the human mind, and an unnecessary overcorrection, given the plenitude of Biblical imagery].

Charles Williams allowed both sorts of characters into his novels, allowing both points of view talking time. Richardson in The Place of the Lion is the clearest expression of the Via Negativa. He meditates himself into a mental place beyond image, beyond word, almost beyond thought, until he ends up calling God “Nothing.” One the other hand, the smallest or strangest events in CW’s metaphysical thrillers can represent God so strongly as to seem almost identifications with Him. The most extreme example is at the end of The Greater Trumps, in which one character asks if Nancy, the young lady around whom much of the supernatural action has centered, and who has submitted to being an instrument of redemptive change, is the Messiah. Another answers, “Near enough.” The balance between the two ways is personified in the character of the Archdeacon and in his characteristic mantra: “This also is Thou; neither is this Thou.” Every person, every object, even every event can “be God” to some extent (i.e., can show us something about God’s work and personality), as long as we simultaneously acknowledge that no thing (person, etc.) can ever some anywhere near being God or imitate His attributes in their glorious infinity.

So, then, how on earth does this relate to physics? [I imagine it’s only on earth that it can relate to physics; in the transluner spheres physics are probably transcended by some more perfect understanding!] Well, Louisa touches on this in her introduction by dividing the traditional approaches to entanglement (her central concept of quantum physics) into several camps. Some physicists used a kind of abstractionist approach: the realities of physics can only be expressed in pure mathematics; therefore, metaphors, word-pictures, diagrams, analogies are inappropriate, because they are inherently misleading. Others, however (I think Einstein is in this group) affirmed the use of drawings and comparisons. Think of the little figures of atoms looking like solar systems, with particles orbiting the nucleus. Think of Schrodinger’s cat in the box analogy.

So my comparison should be clear. The Ways of Affirmation and Negation seem to be pervasive routes of human thought, and are not limited to religion or science. I think this kind of division could probably be traced in other fields, as well. The visual arts; indeed, Louisa uses the analogy of representative vs. abstract art in her introduction. Music: think operas or programmatic instrumental compositions, like Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, vs. dodecaphonic or aleatoric works or even purely formal pieces such as sonatas and fugues.

I’m not really using these ideas to try to make a point or anything. Obviously I’m more of a Way of Affirmation kind of girl, but I see the beauty and the theological/scientific advantages of both. So, I guess I’m just encouraging you to ponder both, and observe which you tend to use in your devotional life and in your making of art.

16 November 2008

The Age of Entanglement

Louisa Gilder, one-time contributor to this blog, has just published her first book! It is entitled The Age of Entanglement: How Quantum Physics Was Reborn, and is available here. Louisa is not only a childhood friend, writing partner, and brilliant Christian conversationalist, she's also a fantastic writer. I have just ordered the book, so haven't read the final version, but I did have the privilege of reading a draft years ago. That version was much longer, and included an embedded dramatic work, since excised, that I hope she'll publish as an independent work someday. The Age of Entanglement is a lively, delightful romp through the minds, ideas, and lives of several noted physicists, especially John Bell, and their work on entanglement--what Einstein called "spooky action-at-a-distance." The book is perhaps most aptly called the biography of an idea, and imaginatively recreates conversations to bring the physicists and their concept to life. I'll have to post again after reading it!

11 November 2008

The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards

I came across these on the Internet today (public domain) and was quite struck by them. I thought I'd share them with you all. These were written over a period of several months when Edwards was 19-20 years old. I wish I were that thoughtful when I was a teenager! And I wish I could make such resolutions even now and keep them. Even the one to read over this list once a week would be quite something for me.



Jonathan Edwards


Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.

1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God' s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriads of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many soever, and how great soever.

2. Resolved, to be continually endeavoring to find out some new contrivance and invention to promote the aforementioned things.

3. Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.

4. Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.

5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.

7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

8. Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God. July 30.

9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.

10. Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.

11. Resolved, when I think of any theorem in divinity to be solved, immediately to do what I can towards solving it, if circumstances do not hinder.

12. Resolved, if I take delight in it as a gratification of pride, or vanity, or on any such account, immediately to throw it by.

13. Resolved, to be endeavoring to find out fit objects of charity and liberality.

14. Resolved, never to do any thing out of revenge.

15. Resolved, never to suffer the least motions of anger towards irrational beings.

16. Resolved, never to speak evil of anyone, so that it shall tend to his dishonor, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.

17. Resolved, that I will live so, as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.

18. Resolved, to live so, at all times, as I think is best in my devout frames, and when I have clearest notions of things of the gospel, and another world.

19. Resolved, never to do any thing, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour, before I should hear the last trump.

20. Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance, in eating and drinking.

21. Resolved, never to do any thing, which if I should see in another, I should count a just occasion to despise him for, or to think any way the more meanly of him. (Resolutions 1 through 21 written in one setting in New Haven in 1722)

22. Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power, might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.

23. Resolved, frequently to take some deliberate action, which seems most unlikely to be done, for the glory of God, and trace it back to the original intention, designs and ends of it; and if I find it not to be for God' s glory, to repute it as a breach of the 4th Resolution.

24. Resolved, whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then, both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.

25. Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.

26. Resolved, to cast away such things, as I find do abate my assurance.

27. Resolved, never willfully to omit any thing, except the omission be for the glory of God; and frequently to examine my omissions.

28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

29. Resolved, never to count that a prayer, nor to let that pass as a prayer, nor that as a petition of a prayer, which is so made, that I cannot hope that God will answer it; nor that as a confession, which I cannot hope God will accept.

30. Resolved, to strive to my utmost every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than I was the week before.

31. Resolved, never to say any thing at all against any body, but when it is perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of Christian honor, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the golden rule; often, when I have said anything against anyone, to bring it to, and try it strictly by the test of this Resolution.

32. Resolved, to be strictly and firmly faithful to my trust, that that, in Proverbs 20:6,‹A faithful man who can find?Š may not be partly fulfilled in me.

33. Resolved, to do always, what I can towards making, maintaining, and preserving peace, when it can be done without overbalancing detriment in other respects. Dec. 26, 1722.

34. Resolved, in narrations never to speak any thing but the pure and simple verity.

35. Resolved, whenever I so much question whether I have done my duty, as that my quiet and calm is thereby disturbed, to set it down, and also how the question was resolved. Dec. 18, 1722.

36. Resolved, never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call for it. Dec. 19, 1722.

37. Resolved, to inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent,- what sin I have committed,-and wherein I have denied myself;-also at the end of every week, month and year. Dec. 22 and 26, 1722.

38. Resolved, never to speak anything that is ridiculous, sportive, or matter of laughter on the Lord' s day. Sabbath evening, Dec. 23, 1722.

39. Resolved, never to do any thing of which I so much question the lawfulness of, as that I intend, at the same time, to consider and examine afterwards, whether it be lawful or not; unless I as much question the lawfulness of the omission.

40. Resolved, to inquire every night, before I go to bed, whether I have acted in the best way I possibly could, with respect to eating and drinking. Jan. 7, 1723.

41. Resolved, to ask myself, at the end of every day, week, month and year, wherein I could possibly, in any respect, have done better. Jan. 11, 1723.

42. Resolved, frequently to renew the dedication of myself to God, which was made at my baptism; which I solemnly renewed, when I was received into the communion of the church; and which I have solemnly re-made this twelfth day of January, 1722-23.

43. Resolved, never, henceforward, till I die, to act as if I were any way my own, but entirely and altogether God' s; agreeable to what is to be found in Saturday, January 12, 1723.

44. Resolved, that no other end but religion, shall have any influence at all on any of my actions; and that no action shall be, in the least circumstance, any otherwise than the religious end will carry it. January 12, 1723.

45. Resolved, never to allow any pleasure or grief, joy or sorrow, nor any affection at all, nor any degree of affection, nor any circumstance relating to it, but what helps religion. Jan. 12 and 13, 1723.

46. Resolved, never to allow the least measure of any fretting uneasiness at my father or mother. Resolved to suffer no effects of it, so much as in the least alteration of speech, or motion of my eye: and to be especially careful of it with respect to any of our family.

47. Resolved, to endeavor, to my utmost, to deny whatever is not most agreeable to a good, and universally sweet and benevolent, quiet, peaceable, contented and easy, compassionate and generous, humble and meek, submissive and obliging, diligent and industrious, charitable and even, patient, moderate, forgiving and sincere temper; and to do at all times, what such a temper would lead me to; and to examine strictly, at the end of every week, whether I have done so. Sabbath morning. May 5, 1723.

48. Resolved, constantly, with the utmost niceness and diligence, and the strictest scrutiny, to be looking into the state of my soul, that I may know whether I have truly an interest in Christ or not; that when I come to die, I may not have any negligence respecting this to repent of. May 26, 1723.

49. Resolved, that this never shall be, if I can help it.

50. Resolved, I will act so as I think I shall judge would have been best, and most prudent, when I come into the future world. July 5, 1723.

51. Resolved, that I will act so, in every respect, as I think I shall wish I had done, if I should at last be damned. July 8, 1723.

52. I frequently hear persons in old age, say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age. July 8, 1723.

53. Resolved, to improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and confide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him; that from this I may have assurance of my safety, knowing that I confide in my Redeemer. July 8, 1723.

54. Whenever I hear anything spoken in conversation of any person, if I think it would be praiseworthy in me, Resolved to endeavor to imitate it. July 8, 1723.

55. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to act as I can think I should do, if, I had already seen the happiness of heaven, and hell torments. July 8, 1723.

56. Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken, my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.

57. Resolved, when I fear misfortunes and adversities, to examine whether I have done my duty, and resolve to do it, and let the event be just as providence orders it. I will as far as I can, be concerned about nothing but my duty, and my sin. June 9, and July 13 1723.

58. Resolved, not only to refrain from an air of dislike, fretfulness, and anger in conversation, but to exhibit an air of love, cheerfulness and benignity. May 27, and July 13, 1723.

59. Resolved, when I am most conscious of provocations to ill nature and anger, that I will strive most to feel and act good-naturedly; yea, at such times, to manifest good nature, though I think that in other respects it would be disadvantageous, and so as would be imprudent at other times. May 12, July 11, and July 13.

60. Resolved, whenever my feelings begin to appear in the least out of order, when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within, or the least irregularity without, I will then subject myself to the strictest examination. July 4, and 13, 1723.

61. Resolved, that I will not give way to that listlessness which I find unbends and relaxes my mind from being fully and fixedly set on religion, whatever excuse I may have for it-that what my listlessness inclines me to do, is best to be done, etc. May 21, and July 13, 1723.

62. Resolved, never to do anything but duty, and then according to Ephesians 6:6-8, to do it willingly and cheerfully as unto the Lord, and not to man:‹knowing that whatever good thing any man doth, the same shall he receive of the Lord.Š June 25 and July 13, 1723.

63. On the supposition, that there never was to be but one individual in the world, at any one time, who was properly a complete Christian, in all respects of a right stamp, having Christianity always shining in its true luster, and appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever part and under whatever character viewed: Resolved, to act just as I would do, if I strove with all my might to be that one, who should live in my time. January 14 and July 13, 1723.

64. Resolved, when I find those ‹groanings which cannot be utteredŠ (Romans 8:26), of which the Apostle speaks, and those‹breakings of soul for the longing it hath,Š of which the Psalmist speaks, Psalm 119:20, that I will promote them to the utmost of my power, and that I will not be weary of earnestly endeavoring to vent my desires, nor of the repetitions of such earnestness. July 23, and August 10, 1723.

65. Resolved, very much to exercise myself in this, all my life long, viz. with the greatest openness, of which I am capable of, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him: all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and every thing, and every circumstance; according to Dr. Manton' s 27th Sermon on Psalm 119. July 26, and Aug.10 1723.

66. Resolved, that I will endeavor always to keep a benign aspect, and air of acting and speaking in all places, and in all companies, except it should so happen that duty requires otherwise.

67. Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what am I the better for them, and what I might have got by them.

68. Resolved, to confess frankly to myself all that which I find in myself, either infirmity or sin; and, if it be what concerns religion, also to confess the whole case to God, and implore needed help. July 23, and August 10, 1723.

69. Resolved, always to do that, which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it. August 11, 1723.

70. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak. August 17, 1723.

07 November 2008

Poetry Book Promotion

Dear friends, family members, and faithful readers:

My poetry chapbook, The Significance of Swans, is now available at If you have already purchased and read this book, would you please take the time to do me a very important favor? I would really appreciate it if you would dash over to amazon and write a little review for me. Even better: if you are connected with a literary magazine of any sort, would you consider publishing a book review of this volume? Now that the book exists, my publisher is encouraging me to try to promote it a bit more. I’ve done a series of readings, but those are necessarily local. It would be fantastic if almost every person who has purchased this book (and who enjoyed it!) would do one of the following:
1. write a review on amazon
2. write a review in a magazine
3. write a review in a newsletter (church, school, etc.)
4. recommend the book to someone else
5. write a comment about the book here on Iambic Admonit
6. write me a comment on facebook
7. suggest places where I could do more poetry readings

Can anyone do any of these for me? Thanks very much!

~ Sørina

03 November 2008

November Poem of the Month

Electrical Work

A sheaf of wires: a harvest of facts.
Bundled and baled into circuits of certainty,
running through walls with the hurry of truth,
enlightening with frightening speed
the ceilings and walls and cabinets and halls
of the house of my dubious brain.

Each is so sure
that it grips to its ground
with a boa-tight bond
and it sticks to its fixtures
with a passionate twist.

But one, a weedy question mark,
Infests the field with its ubiquitous queries,
Sounding a pestiferous drone,
A plaguey buzz of
why, why, why, why, why,
locust-winged doubts devouring the faithful grain.

~ Sørina