Gravity is… What?
I find this to be an incredibly important question. I think it is fascinating to have come so far with science and technology…knowledge has greatly increased… yet we still have a veil between us and that which invisibly surrounds us, which holds the universe together, which makes the stars and planets move in harmony, which keeps our feet on the ground…that which makes apples fall to the ground. What is it?
In 2003, Dennis Overbye wrote a short essay for the New York Times titled “What is Gravity, Really?” He began like this:
”Gravity . . . it’s not just a good idea. It’s the Law,” reads a popular bumper sticker.
Gravity is our oldest and most familiar enemy, the force we feel in our bones, the force that will eventually bury us, sagging our organs and pulling us down, but for all its intimacy, it is a mystery.
He goes on to highlight the story of gravity, from Newton to string theory, through Einstein. He even mentions Cardassian expansion and other near-crazy theories. In the ultimate moment of the essay, he quotes Dr. Sean Carroll who poignantly says:
…and none of our current ideas is standing up and declaring itself to be the right answer, so we have to be bold.
I will be bold and offer a unique suggestion. It isn’t entirely something of my own devisings, and has been hinted at a number of places in literature, most notably by our friend Dante Alighieri in the early 14th century work “Paradiso.”
When Dante reaches the last (ninth) physical sphere in Canto XXVII, he finds that it is in fact moved directly by God himself. Not only this, but more importantly this movement thus causes ALL physical spheres it encloses to move. He says this:
This heaven has no other where than this:
the mind of God, in which are kindled both
the love that turns it and the force it rains.
As in a circle, light and love enclose it,
as it surrounds the rest and that enclosing,
only He who encloses understands.
No other heaven measures this sphere’s motion,
but it serves as the measure for the rest,
even as half and fifth determine ten;
He ascends thus further (actually ascends may be an incorrect term, what if we say transfigures further?), and reaches the very abode of God Himself. In these final moments Dante desperately tries to put it all together…to see how the spheres work together…to see and fathom the fullness of existence. He saw “Of the High Light appeared to me three circles, Of threefold colour and of one dimension, And by the second seemed the first reflected As Iris is by Iris, and the third Seemed fire that equally from both is breathed.” How incredible. I even composed a piece awhile back about this unbelievably glorious moment in literature called “the Wheel that Moves the Sun and Stars.” Ultimately, at the close, Dante says this:
But already my desire and my will
were being turned like a wheel, all at one speed,
by the Love which moves the sun and the other stars.
So, what do we know moves stars, planets, our sun … any mass? Gravity? Let’s ask the question like this: once set in motion, what is holding the movement of all things in harmony? Gravity? What if it was Love itself (notice it is capitalized here). The Love that moves our hearts to love, moves our hearts to sing – could it be that is what moves the sun? Could it be that this Love is moving everything, holding everything together, in some divine harmony?
A commission for Texas Choral Director’s Association I am finishing up is once again using the text of a favorite poet of mine, Robert Bode. The piece is actually about a forest fire and it is called “Conflagration.” Yet the fire is only the first half. The last half is what happens when the landscape is covered with ash after the fire is over. On second thought, not with ash…with nutrients… waiting to be used by green shoots bursting forth. Robert closes his poem like this:
What is this power
That pulls the tree
From the forest floor?
…that gathers the seas
and scatters the stars?
Is it the pull of the sun?
Is it the breath of tides?
Is it the gravity of Love?
It is the pull of the sun,
It is the breath of tides,
It is the gravity of Love.
What makes the tree burst forth from the ground toward the sun? It loves the sun.
What makes the tree cling to the earth digging roots deep? It loves the earth.
The tree stretches and holds fast because of gravity – because of love.
We stretch forth, sing, smile, give, receive… we are moved like a wheel, all at one speed. I feel like we can fight or participate in this great work though. There is a bit of a choice here for participation. Participate in what? Let me answer by asking a final question. Why in Dante is love suddenly capitalized to Love in the end? Why is it capitalized in Robert’s poem? Just a thought.
What if, really,
Gravity is… Love.