HOLY NIGHT PREFACE & ENDORSEMENTS
“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”
Of all the ideas that were to find their way into Holy Night, it was that particular Einstein saying that persuaded me to sit down at long last and see if I could actually write this book.
Going back a few years before that, one of the early factors lay with the nine hundred year-old parish church in the little town where I live. It keeps its doors generously open every day, and although I never attend any of the services I couldn’t pass by at other times without looking to see if it’s empty, knowing that when I have the place to myself I’m soon aware of a nourishing sense of beauty. Sometimes, though, there’d be an inner sort of interference, a persistent little thought at the back of my mind telling me that this level of beauty is no more than a hint at the real thing, that there’s something much deeper than this, a genuine perception of . . . what? Of something profoundly real, but so deep within truth’s core that it was beyond any experience I’d ever had or, it seemed, was ever likely to have.
So I started to get interested in science instead, partly because I’d never learned any and was a bit shy about that, more seriously because the time had already come (late ‘70s, early ‘80s) when a largely new generation of highly articulate media-wise scientists were not only writing books but appearing on tv and radio documentaries to explain the fascinating components and processes which go to make up our amazing universe. I was soon absorbed in theories, explanations and pictorial evidence, all of it not only enlightening but, for a new boy like me (already turned 50), astonishing.
But could it really be true, or was Homo Sapiens kidding himself again? How could an entire cosmos of at least 100 billion galaxies have sprung from something smaller than the point of a needle? That’s what they called the ‘Big Bang’ which within the first microsecond of its existence had become a fireball that was a billion trillion times hotter than the centre of the sun would be, and a trillion trillion trillion trillion times denser than rock. One of the unforgettable descriptions of the result was Carl Sagan’s calculation that if you counted all the stars in all those galaxies they would outnumber all the grains of sand on all the beaches of planet Earth. Could I honestly tell myself to put my trust in these things? And the answer was yes!
So it was much the same with the other half of reality, that realm of almost infinite smallness which builds the entire universe out of atoms and is eccentrically governed by the unruly rules of quantum mechanics. “If we think we can picture what is going on in the quantum world, that is one indication that we’ve got it wrong”, says Werner Heisenberg - but that doesn’t stop you trying to work out how a particle can move from one place to another without a journey in between, or be in both places at once, and how it is that photons can be both particles and waves . . . and so on and on and on, probably ad infinitum. Could I accept this version of reality as a package deal with the great macrocosmic universe out there, considering that the two systems seem to go by different rules? Again the answer was yes!
And I began to wonder why I was so capable of having faith in science but not in religion. What was it that the church was doing wrong and declining as a result? Wrong question; the problem lay in what it wasn’t doing. Why wasn’t it learning and preaching the great miracles of creation that science was now discovering ? Why not put priests on science courses? Indeed, why not invite into church pulpits some of those scientists best known to believe not only in their profession but also in a power beyond the reach of science, and let them explain that far from wanting science to take the place of religion there must be genuine ways of blending the two together into one complete expression of reality (to the great approval of Albert Einstein and, I suspect, Jesus).
(As I say all this I’m beginning to wonder if writing Holy Night was my way of writing my own invitation to the wedding.)
I don’t like overstretched prefaces when others write them so I’ll underline just one more aspect of the book and hope that the rest speaks for itself. What I don’t believe is that some all wise, all powerful and all perfect being created the universe and everything in it. At the same time I don’t believe that it happened by accident either. What begins to make sense for me is the idea of a timeless non-spacial realm of infinite possibilities - a concept of Eastern mysticism from long ago which Western science has begun to find out for itself, though from a different angle. The only new thing I’ve added (unless someone else did it thousands of years ago) is the idea that any such non-material possibility has its own primal instinct and volition. In Holy Night it’s (the character of) God himself who demonstrates just that. This is when the story reaches the point where ‘he’ has become conscious enough to remember what it was like when he wasn’t conscious - except for a twitch of feeling. And the feeling became Yearning, and the Yearning was to Become, and so he took the one-way leap from Beingness into Being, bringing the seeds of space and time with him. (The only important thing he still hadn’t recognised was that he’d just given his own account of the Big Bang.)
This makes so many things in the story work as a story rather than a quasi theological tract. It allows God as a character to be an innocent but enthusiastic ignoramus whose greatest wish is to learn who he is, what he’s done, and what he should do now. Indeed, Satan says of him ‘The only way God can understand anything is by creating that which understands it. He can’t even know himself without creating that which knows him” - and no one knows God better than Satan who proceeds to educate him about the incompetent mess he’s made of evolution, especially of humans. So God has learned something new, and is grateful. Then there’s Labass, chief scientist in charge of Satan’s underground ‘Creation Room’, who demonstrates for God the faulty chemistry of the universe itself. So God has learned something more, and is grateful. At the human level it is Joseph who is God’s educator, enlightening him about human nature simply by showing it at work within his own very human self, beginning with anger at the ridiculous situation he’s been drawn into, then into a guarded calm which then moves watchfully into understanding, and in the end draws forth a fruitful forgiveness that prompts him to teach an eager God enough elementary carpentry to help convert the manger into a crib. As a return favour the grateful God introduces Joseph to the entire universe - by the simple method of letting him become it for a while. All of it. Science calls it Entanglement.
I hope such a compression of themes doesn’t give an impression of the book being a bit on the happy-happy side. I was certainly surprised at how funny it got at times. When I reached the scene where God manages to get Satan laughing - his first time ever - and then joins in it himself until they’re both speechless, I had to stop writing for a couple of hours because it had got me going too. At most times, though, the issues seem pretty big, especially the one particular theme that underlines the whole story.
The alternative to the idea of the universe having been made and organised by an independent being who knows everything, is that it’s the universe itself which is evolving into an independent being who will come to know everything. It is God who is evolving, and at his own pace. After all, it took 300 thousand years for elementary particles furnaced in the Big Bang to create the first atoms of hydrogen and helium; longer again before molecules began to form; longer still for the appearance of the first cells. (Amazing how complex cells are. If you see a microscope photo of one it looks like a medium size city as seen from a thousand feet up.) And so it goes on, one layer of life after another but never actually forming until the one before is tried and tested enough to make possible the one to come. Our belief that the arrival of the human is the final and finest stage in creation is that embarrassing sort of megalomania that homo sapiens seem to need as clothing. We have no idea that we ourselves may already be part of the next development any more than the cells in our bodies know who we are, or even that we exist. Whatever our future may be, I can’t see it as anything but yet another stage in the universe becoming its final self, the complete and fully conscious I Am.
I’ve no idea if that’s true.What I do know is that I’ve become gradually aware of a centre in myself that I feel I can now call religious. The cells in my body may not know about me but I know about them, and the one thing that’s certain is that I can’t live without them. If we have the same relationship to the Universe as our cells have to us, then such a life has great worth and meaning. The meaning is that we belong. From particle to galaxy to universe, we belong. We really are all one. Try getting depressed when you think like that! I go and talk to the apple tree in our garden instead. We’re made of the same stardust.
Vincent Tilsley 2009
“This is one of the
two most extraordinary books I have read. You know the entire plot before it
starts …the time came for her to be delivered … there were shepherds
abiding in the fields … the heavenly host … no room at the inn …
But this telling is different. Under the fantastical guise of science fiction,
it gives a psychologically credible account of how archetypal principles such
as Wisdom, Folly, Love, Birthing, Law and Destruction weave the universe. Unless
you are really allergic to spaceships or angels, you will be astonished and
Chris Clarke, Professor of Applied Mathematics.
“ …a bold and
challenging adventure into a dearly held tale, written in an original and riveting
fashion. The huge issues about Good and Evil, God and Satan, and about where
evil comes from, were tackled in a way that managed to burrow deep into my preconceived
ideas and unpack them, and on occasion turn them round … a real gem.”
Fr. Marcus Ronchetti, Anglican priest.
“Holy Night is unlike
anything else I have ever read … It will entertain you, amuse you and
intrigue you, and it will also make you think. Although in one sense it reads
like a ‘ripping yarn’ and its sci-fi elements are worthy of Star
Wars, it also stretches the intellect in rather the same way as Pirsig’s
‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ did … It may leave
you, as it left me, with a sense of speechless delight in the privilege of being
a bumbling, struggling yet awesomly creative ordinary human being, reinventing
the world in every moment.”
Marian McCain, Psychotherapist and writer.
“Holy Night is a narrative
in which theology, cosmology, quantum physics, poetry and meditation fuse into
a dazzling high-wire drama … What shines out above all is the author’s
zeal, his exhilaration and delight in the art of telling this extraordinary
story … (His) enchantment with his theme and his uncomplicated joy in
communicating his profound insights sing above it all and echo long after the
final page is turned. Sheer class.”
Annie Eagleton, English teacher.
“It’s a long
time since I’ve been unable to put a book down … a wondrous mix
of deep magic and almost fairy-like mirth … I may hand a copy to each
of my clients as a spiritually uplifting gift.”
David Harper, counsellor.
“As one who is heartily
sick of the insipid farce that Christmas has become, I had thought that the
Nativity would never reach me again as it once had. Holy Night changed that.
All the major issues of life and death, light and darkness, sin and guilt, meaning
and despair are dealt with in a vibrant, witty and most compelling manner …
It has a message of deep importance for our times.”
Don Hills, education psychologist.
“A really fresh and
innovative story studded with some glorious gems, combining science fiction,
science and mythology. It’s a story for our time, inspiring us to take
responsibility for the unfolding of life on Earth.
Ian Mowll, worker in grass roots Social Enterprise and Charity Organistions.
“Vincent Tilsley has
managed to construct a quite spellbinding and thought-provoking story, a magical
exposition of the mystical and metaphysical. Forget the Da Vinci Code –
this is wondrously mind-blowing stuff and deserves a place in everybody’s
library. When you’ve read it you’ll want to read it again and again.
A true voyage of faith and self-discovery, and beyond. You’ll never look
in the night sky again without wondering!”
Ian McHenry, NHS Special Health Authority.
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