I’ve been pondering the Higgs boson. And the result of my pondering is a definite lack of understanding. But I’m in good company. Here’s geneticist Professor Steve Jones:
I don’t understand any of it,” he says, cheerfully. “What the public doesn’t know is that most scientists don’t understand other scientists.”
It’s all a bit like those people who introduce the Christmas gospel (i.e. John 1:1-14) as: “St John explains the mystery of the Incarnation”. In both cases it’s relatively easy to work out the meaning of the words sufficiently to be able to summarise them in coherent sentences. God’s creative rationality has taken human form. The Higgs boson is the particle that ensures other particles have mass.
But I can’t really get my mind half as easily around what either of those statements mean. Perhaps that’s part of what’s so interesting in putting them side by side. There’s something so strange about reality that attempts to describe it are as much about inventing a language to make sense of it as anything else.
Making sense of it in scientific terms is about generating the next experiment or refining the model by which we investigate and explain. Making sense of it in theological terms is rather more about exploring how to live in it in a way that is both true and good.
But there’s another thought that comes from putting these two things side by side: perhaps God is the meaning that gives meaning to all other lives, and God’s reason is what makes the universe’s rationality an objective quality, and not simple a human construct..
Of course, when people describe their life as meaningless, they’re not usually talking about it in philosophical terms, but existential and relational ones. Whatever we think about the world, the meaning that matters seems to come more from our relationships.
And so Christmas might celebrate that the reason behind all reasoning, the meaning underneath all meanings, relates to us, loves us, does not leave us alone. We celebrate the meaning-giving meaning of our lives.
But if all that’s too serious (or possibly just overworked twaddle), I leave you with a joke. A Higgs boson goes into church. The priest says, “Sorry, no Higgs bosons are allowed in here.” The boson says: “But how will you have Mass without me?”
Happy Christ’s Mass, as we celebrate the stuff of incarnation: the life of the Spirit gifted us in the matter of the sacrament, the love of God gifted to us in the company of other people.