Enjoy good luck in an Ordered Universe

Pembroke College Oxford

Sunday 22nd April 2018. Preacher – the Chaplain

The Ordered Universe Project is a multi-disciplinary engagement with medieval science, philosophy and theology. One recent project was on Augustine’s de Musica, resulting in the construction of an instrument from the period. The most recent study was on the work of Bishop Grosseteste of Lincoln, exploring how he understood the inter-connectivity of the world’s order, and the emergence of interpreting it evidentially, even its systematic incompleteness.

Alexandra Carr writes of her work:

Suspensio is a site specific work made to coincide with the launch of the conference ‘Science, Imagination, and Wonder: Robert Grosseteste and his Legacy’ at Pembroke College, Oxford, presented by the Ordered Universe.

It draws upon the treatises on Light and on Colour (De Luce and De Colore), by medieval thinker, Bishop Robert Grosseteste.

The structure of Suspensio is informed by key architectural features of the Damon Wells Chapel. Steel cables cross each other to form 25 nodes in suspension above the aisle. A single glass bead is hung from each node to every other node, creating a clustered network of points of reflection.

During the day Suspensio floats effortlessly, with a delicate and subtle presence, allowing the viewer to see into its structure. When night falls, the projected illumination brings a bolder yet more elusive character to the installation.

The nebulous nature of the entire structure beguiles and draws the viewer in to see the delicate network that creates the whole. Suspensio is a fitting reflection of the methodology and nature of the Ordered Universe project; the sum of its parts never fail to sparkle into a glorious unity.

If you look at the illuminated installation from the perspective of the altar, it has seemed very appropriate for this liturgical season – over passiontide, resembling beads of sweat and longing, recollecting the words set by Gibbons into an anthem: Drop, drop slow tears.

            Drop, Drop slow tears

And bathe those beauteous feet

Which brought from heaven

The news and Prince of peace.


Cease not, wet eyes,

His mercies to entreat

To cry for vengeance

Sin doth never cease.


In your deep floods

Drown all my faults and fears

Let not his eye

See sin, but through my tears.

As well as this image of penitence and Grace, it also echoes visually the gift of manna falling from heaven of which we heard in our first reading. The image of open clouds dropping provision, in terms of water in this instance, carries themes of baptism and renewal; cease not mercy, and crying not for vengeance but for a renewed community.

I think that this art installation enables us to consider what words alone don’t really get to. In fact Art has a redeeming capacity to draw us out from our compulsive binary literalism when it comes to argument and language, into a more poetic engagement, which is immensely more fulfilling then ‘winning’ an argument.

A lot of my friends are considering giving up social media: Facebook, Twitter and the like; partly because of the way in which personal information has been abused, but partly also for a much more humane reason. I find myself constantly being drawn and goaded into engaging with arguments which seem aggressive and unfulfilling. Somebody today had a go at a London Church for wishing ‘good luck’ to a couple who got married yesterday, with the sarcastic remark ‘who doles out this good luck, the good luck fairy?’ I don’t really know why the reaction is so over the top, I suspect that the writer has been taken in by a common (but erroneous) argument, that it’s unchristian to believe in ‘luck’. Perhaps he believes (as some do) that Luck was a derivative from Lucifer, it isn’t of course it comes from the middle high German Glück, but it’s driven I think, by his conception that God is the source of every blessing and luck has nothing to do with anything. But he obviously haven’t heard Callum’s excellent sermon last year on the significance of the insignificant, nor can he support a football club. So in a way, the debate and interaction can be creative and prompt real thought. It made me realize that perhaps the real reason I enjoy football is because I don’t think that God cares in the slightest who wins. I believe God is concerned for every person there on the pitch and in the terraces. But it doesn’t seem to me that God supports any football team consistently. The evidence certainly doesn’t suggest so!

An exciting thing about something as pointless as football is that it doesn’t matter, and that’s what matters. It’s not permeated with morality, it doesn’t depend on who deserves to win, it’s enjoying the freedom to play, inhabiting that systematic incompleteness of creation which we already mentioned: in terms of humane life it seems to me to be more enriching than finding theories of everything, or general universal theories –its rich because it doesn’t matter, it inhabits the gaps, it encourages human play.

And it’s not a self-indulgent sort of play because it’s unpredictable and free. I wonder if you ever seen on a film set in the 70s or 80s a rather familiar executive toy, Newton’s Cradle? Five chrome balls suspended in a cradle, often on the desk of manager or Chief Executive. If you raise one ball the energy will be communicated to the ball at the other end of the sling; likewise with two, but if it’s three of five balls that are raised, then strange but predictable things happen. I guess it was a symbol of the power at the boss’s fingertips that made this toy popular. If so, it’s a rather indulgent toy, symbolic of that desire for power at one’s fingertips to cause others to move. Self-indulgence on your desk top.

But if that is the case, it’s also rather salutary reminder of our impotence: because it only works for a short time, perpetual motion – or really moving things for good for ever – does not exist in our physical universe: I’m willing to be corrected over dinner, but I suspect that energy dissipates over time: friction is part of the problem, which is why there is an every molecule in the universe and energy to keep going in its lifespan: there is half-life in the old atom yet. Gerard Manley Hopkins puts it much more poetically, as you might imagine he would!

Their lives the dearest freshness

Deep down things. (God’s Grandeur)

God’s grandeur is shown in the eternal delight of energy in the world: it is not superficial or self interested, but ‘deep down’, and this charged power is not raw aggression but a ‘dearest freshness’. Easter celebrates resurrection, the emergence of one who can reorder and give life to our dissipated energy and renew our lives ground down by all manner of friction. That’s why this image, like this season, trumps reasonable argument, by setting the wonder of ordered Scientific evidence in a mysterious context which is not mystification.

It is time to be glad for neutral-ness, for incompleteness and space, where we can wish people good luck, without that being restrained by a puritanical desire to box everything up in predestined and unfree notions of God’s sovereignty.

For this coming term, then, make your own luck, work hard and morally, but in the neutral spaces, Good Luck!

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[Revd Dr] Andrew Teal Chaplain, Fellow, Lecturer in Patristic & Modern Theology, Pembroke College, Oxford. Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Oxford Warden, Community of the Sisters of the Love of God. ADVANCE NOTICE: Inspiring Service. November 23rd 2018 The Pichette Auditorium, Pembroke College Oxford. A panel of speakers to inspire adventurous and fulfilling service. Speakers: Lord David Alton of Liverpool, a leading lay British Catholic; Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, one of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; Revd Prof Frances Young, leading British Methodist; and The Most Revd & Rt Hon Prof Rowan Williams (Baron Williams of Oystermouth), formerly Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of the world-wide Anglican Church.

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