Never underestimate a Park-bench revelation

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

Berated by one of his physics professors for having an interest in religion, Charles Townes never abandoned his faith over the next 70 years. In 1964, he shared the Nobel Prize in physics. Today, at Buckingham Palace, he collects the Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities.

After World War II, Townes chaired a US Navy-sponsored committee that encouraged research into what would eventually become the field of microwave technology, a science used to improve the performance of radar. The problems were complex, and the best thinkers on the subject were meeting to resolve the mysteries.

Sitting quietly one early morning on a park bench in Washington D.C., Townes had an experience he later described as a "revelation." The solution to the problem came to him all at once, complete and logical. All he had to do was write it down. This discovery led to the development of the maser, a device for amplifying electromagnetic waves, which later led him and his colleague Arthur L. Schawlow to their discovery and patent of the laser.

I, too, once had a watershed revelation, although it didn't have the broad-reaching effect that Townes's inspiration had. Townes recognized his discovery as a spiritual experience and was willing to acknowledge that recognition publicly. It turned out to be the opening moment of something that ultimately changed his life. But rather than leave physics behind, he used the inspiration to impel his work forward.

How many others are having similar experiences but not seeing the spiritual connection? God is talking to each of us, and the listeners are hearing practical answers. The limitless nature of God means that solutions are unlimited. The infinity of God, divine Mind, means that ideas come from an infinite source. We don't live in a universe made up of empty space; we live in a universe filled with ideas.

More than a century ago another religious pioneer, Mary Baker Eddy, relied on her ability to hear and listen to God. Willingness to know what God knows and the meekness to recognize the source of all knowledge led her to a theological discovery she described as the Science of Christ. She had a glimpse of the universe as created by God and given structure by divine Spirit. God being perfect, His structure is perfect. His creation consists of God's own ideas; therefore, each of us is perfect. This understanding enabled Mary Baker Eddy to heal herself, to heal others, and to teach others to heal.

Charles Townes also went on to teach. And he never forgot his moment of crystallization; neither did he hesitate to describe it as his primary example of spirituality and physics complementing each other. After all, in his words, "If you look at what religion is all about, it's trying to understand the purpose and meaning of our universe."

Townes became a spokesman on the subject of science and spirituality. His unprecedented talk in 1966 on the relationship between science and religion to the men's Bible study group at Manhattan's Riverside Church was heard by the editor of THINK, the in-house magazine of IBM. Later the lecture was published in that same journal under the title, "The Convergence of Science and Religion." Townes became the primary voice among scientists who sought to find common ground between the two disciplines. Speaking of science and religion, he wrote, "Their differences are largely superficial and ... the two become almost indistinguishable if we look at the real nature of each."

Imagine Townes's gratitude for the moment on the park bench. From that point forward, all discoveries would have to meet that "benchmark" for authenticity. That moment of pure truth set him on a career path that was so accomplished because he recognized that his discovery was from the limitless source, God.

If any of you lack wisdom,
let him ask of God,
that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not;
and it shall be given him.

James 1:5

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