“My screen is open, my kettle is on. Come on over, it’s been too long” *
One of the beneficiaries of the lock-down might be Zoom Video Communications, listed just a year ago in mid-April 2019 at $36 per share. On Friday evening their share price closed at $128 after a difficult week, following concerns over data integrity. It is not regarded as a one-way ticket: Goldman Sachs for one has a ‘sell’ rating on the stock. However, inverting the image of its recent share price performance provides a reasonable approximation to the share price graphs of most conventional businesses hit by the lock-down.
Zoom has hit the spot because it enables easy virtual communities to come together at a time when social gathering is verboten. Not just as pairs of individuals video-conferencing as opposed to telephoning each other, but as a network of relationships, even joining together over a meal.
In past centuries, self-isolation meant just that, even though faith has taught us for millennia that we can come together in spiritual communion when physical communion is impossible. Now technology is showing us that it can be done: and there is a parallel to be drawn between things virtual and things spiritual in this respect.
So, as we approach the great festival of Easter, we consider what faith and science teach us about spiritual communion beyond our physical life, and how they are starting to converge.
Last Wednesday at 9 am, I found myself listening to ’The Global Philosopher’ on BBC Radio 4 with Michael Sandel. It was an extraordinary experience, hearing perspectives from so many corners of the world sharing their outlook and views. I found myself imagining how it would feel to speak with ancestors and descendants across the great journey of time in the same way as we can now communicate across space.
Virtual communications have annihilated the barriers of space between us: how long will it be before time is also challenged?
Followers of astrophysics will be much more familiar than me with the concept of the space-time cone: how the limits placed on our experience expand before us and behind us, limited only by the speed of light. In a recent lecture, Professor Brian Cox explained how only black holes can distort that cone, since not even light can escape their massive gravitational pull.
But the constraints which govern the great laws of nature - gravity light and time (see ‘Love in Creation’) – are features of physical creation, not necessarily restricting the spiritual existence from which they are derived. Why should it be necessary for these constraints to restrict the spiritual world? For those who believe in a dynamic existence beyond the physical one, why should we not look for an understanding of quantum mechanics and dark matter and energy which is multi-directional and multi-variable?
One of the most deliberate miracles in the Christian gospel is the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The story explains how Jesus allowed the tragedy to develop, so that he could demonstrate the power of life over death.
As we approach Easter, the challenge of spirituality is laid firmly before us. It is not about death winning on Good Friday. It is about an existence beyond physical death, and there is much in all four Gospels to set out that reality.
Several years ago in Lambeth Palace chapel, I remember hearing Archbishop Rowan Williams explaining how Jesus deliberately raised the profile of his entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, like a modern day marketeer focusing attention on the extraordinary transformation that was about to take place.
We need to learn afresh about our spiritual existence, and bring comfort to so many who fear the separation of death: brought vividly before us as the virus emergency reaches deep into our communities.
If spiritual existence is to be personally meaningful, it must be accompanied by individual memory: how otherwise would we recognise ourselves, and be able to enjoy shared experiences in spiritual conversation? I have, therefore, for several years seen the brain as a modem between physical consciousness and the soul, embodying a flow of information much as a computer network does between its server and the local terminal, with the memory being vested in the soul, not the brain.
So, we should give thanks this Easter for the two thousand year old teaching that we receive about spirituality, particularly at this time of great need. Even in churches you will find many whose understanding is more about social gathering and physical togetherness than about the essence of the Christian faith: that the nature of the Conscious Creator is love, unconditional and spiritual love - and the way that we can best find that reality in everyday life is by loving our neighbour as ourselves, as so many are now doing enthusiastically in their local community.
For Jesus’ statement ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’ (St Matthew 25:40) explains how it is that, through following the second great commandment, we do the first.
Gavin Oldham OBE
* Quotation credit - with apologies to PG Tips, whose actual advertising slogan (change ‘screen’ to ‘door’) no longer complies with lock-down rules.