Once having marched Over the margins of animal necessity, Over the grim line of sheer subsistence
Then man came To the deeper rituals of his bones, To the lights lighter than any bones. . . Carl Sandburg; The People, Yes
Sometimes, and not always for lack of something better to do, I ask myself: What will have become of man and the earth in, say, 500 trillion years. (That is a long time.) Certainly something will be around then. What will it be? What will we have learned? What will we be thinking and talking about then? Inflation? Wars? Will we be arguing about which is the real king of beers? Will soap operas still be popular? How thick will the plot and the gossip of ''As the World Turns'' become, after terra firma has turned for another 500 trillion?
From a perspective of 5x10 to-the-fourteenth-power years hence, from a thought of a power capable of sustaining life that long, some things can begin to seem fairly petty.
Now I can hear you saying (and my own conscience screaming), ''Do you mean to be so irresponsible as to suggest that the news of the world today and the news of the neighborhood be casually ignored with a 'This too shall pass' sort of shrug? Isn't this Escapism Sublime?'' Not necessarily. Perhaps what we may need to get us unhung from so many of our hangups is a sense of creation big enough to allow us to put away some of our childish things, war and hate included.
From a larger perspective, I think, we can see ourselves not as this nation or that race, but as the family of man - involved in a momentous process, a stumbling but ongoing search for something more vital, something that feels truer than what we know now. Slowly, in great shuddering, beleaguered steps we are looking for guidance, seeking a higher ground. Is this not true? Is there not an immense perspective to seek? The oftentimes agonizing news is not the whole story. In 1982 we haven't, by any means, found our ''final condition.'' We may go through great pains; but we grow. Seeds sprout. Buds bloom. Caterpillars fly. Metamorphosis happens.
One of the more exciting metamorphoses happening right now - in this moment of our 500 trillion years - is the questioning of Newtonian physics as a final statement of the laws governing this universe. With the advent of Einstein and quantum physics, the view of the universe as governed by a fixed, rigid set of laws has been losing ground. Pardon the cliche, but things are ''relative.'' Reality, or truth, is less determined now by laws of physics ''out there.'' According to Einstein, we are not mere bystanders in this world. Instead, this world is very much tied to our consciousness of it: things are not objective, they are subjective - subject to our perspective. As poets, mystics, saints, and thinkers have been telling us for centuries, our real world is not an objective, empirical entity to be looked at from only one two-dimensional perspective. If things are truly relative, what we see ''out there'' may have something to do with the way we are seeing it. The implications I find behind quantum physics are that the kingdom of heaven is to be found within us.
The shift from an objective sense of experience to a subjective one does not make us little gods - rather, it gives us the opportunity to question the old ones. And one of the most pernicious of the old gods is the Newtonian law that for every action there must be an equal and opposite reaction. This is physics that declares the world is balanced, but this balance is inert, mindless - a balance of bodies at rest. So if this physics is correct, we would be living in a world where the governing laws tried to keep things in a kind of cosmic status quo - the physics of action and reaction would deny any sustained momentum. It would oppose the life force.
In human terms, Newton's law accounts for all sorts of false belief systems and superstitions. It is, in a sense, the Old Testament notion of ''an eye for an eye'' - a reaction for an action. Taken into our thinking processes, this law would rule by instigating a tyrannical balance, that age-old myth that for every joy there must be a sorrow; for every grain of order, a grain of chaos; for every good, a bad.
Because Newton's physics is only valid in a closed system (as a final statement about the world), a move to a new order must be considered impossible under his laws. Because change is impossible. Here, metamorphosis doesn't happen.
Nowhere, I think, is the resistance to change more evident than in the general thought about who we are and what we are able to do. For example, at the World Future Society's recent conference in Washington, a man stood up at the end of a panel discussion entitled ''Communication and Religion'' and asked the panel - made up largely of ecumenicals from the nation's mainline Protestant faiths - what they thought about personal transformation. The question was a timely one. Growing numbers of people these days are finding the pursuit of more transcendent ideals and values more fulfilling than the pursuit of better material standards and comfort. And in this seeking, many people have felt themselves ''wake up'' to a larger sense of themselves, their capacities, and their responsibility to the rest of the human race. They have found themselves, in a degree, transformed - less selfish and more caring than they used to be.
The question was taken by a man from a West Coast school of religion. Wagging his finger at us, he fairly shouted, ''I think this whole idea of personal transformation is poppycock. It doesn't take into account human nature and the amount of evil in this world. As the Scriptures say, 'The good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.' ''
For a while I think many of us felt pretty bad - mostly about ourselves. But what broke the feeling for me was a sudden recognition of his Bible quote. Not what it said, but who had said it. The Apostle Paul had said it. And Paul was a man who went through the most classic case of transformation in history! At that point, for me, all the poppycock boomeranged. The panelist was giving us a kind of limited, status quo, ''Newtonian theology'' that didn't allow for change, and which was self-defeating.
One thing is certain, faced with the crises and opportunities of 1982, some form of metamorphosis needs to happen. Some larger perspective needs to be gained. Looking ahead 500 trillion years broadens things, but to make it that far we need to begin with our own lives today. Transformation for the better won't come blindly.
The most powerful transformer I have found is the same book Newton himself studied ceaselessly during the last two-thirds of his life, following publication of his laws. It is a much maligned, often misunderstood book called the Bible. Because it has been so badly interpreted, used, and misrepresented over the years, many people just write it off. Yet look at what the last half teaches: meekness, mercifulness, purity, openness, peacemaking, courage, integrity, patience. These are not philosophical abstractions, and there is nothing theoretical about them. Instead, they are practical and fundamental because they focus on, and come to grips with the unredeemed, untransformed human self within us. The deeper nature of these qualities could take longer than a lifetime to realize. If we are to make any quantum leaps past war and hatred, this is where we need to begin. Then we will still be here in 500 trillion years.
Even longer, no doubt.