Miscibility and spiritual transformation

by Maria L. Evans

“[God] stays far away from us, because if He approached He would cause us to disappear. he waits for us to go to him and disappear.”–Simone Weil, from The Things of the World

In what seems like another life, I was a junior high science teacher. One of my favorite demonstrations to illustrate the miscibility of substances was to take 50 milliliters of water and 50 milliliters of absolute ethanol and place them next to a larger graduated cylinder.

“Ok, gang, I have 50 ml of water over here and 50 ml of ethanol over here. When I pour these into this graduated cylinder, how much will be in it?”

Of course, I would get the “DUH” look and eye rolls and the scrunched up faces and a couple of annoyingly-toned responses of “Well…a hundred milliliters.” I would then pour the two liquids together dramatically.

“Billy! Come up here and read what it says on this cylinder. How much does it say?”

Then little Billy would look…and squint…and look again. “Uh…ninety-six.”

“Really? Well, how’d that happen?”

Of course, the theory was that I had tricked them somehow. I hadn’t poured it all in. So I’d have little Billy pour his own and mix them…and again, the cylinder stared back unmercifully. Ninety-six milliliters.

“Ok, y’all. How is this possible?” Blank stares.

I would then take out two beakers, one with 250 milliliters of gravel, and one with 250 milliliters of sand.

“Watch carefully. Here’s how it works.”

I’d then take a large bowl and mix the sand and the gravel thoroughly.

“Again, folks, here’s a bigger beaker. What should it say when I pour this in here?”

“Five hundred milliliters.”

“Suzie, would you pour this in there? Get it all in, now.”

“What’s it say?”

Now, the answer would differ based on the size of the gravel, but it was always less than 500 milliliters.

In questioning the students, they would get around to the idea that the physically small size of the sand particles could fit between the cracks and crevices of the gravel…and I would go on to explain that in our two liquids, that was what was also happening. The more compact shape of the ethanol molecule slipped in between the cracks and crevices of the more “V” shaped water molecules and this fully mixed, or miscible substance resulted.

This, I believe, is the stuff of spiritual transformation.

I suspect the spiritual molecules of what we call the human soul are rather bulky entities indeed. I suspect at our birth, they are more like Buckyballs, but as the weight of the world presses and shapes them, they begin to become more studded and irregular from years of sin and turmoil. The molecules of God-stuff–something we tend to imagine as large and voluminous–are actually quite small and compact. When we open ourselves up to the possibility of transformation–when we embrace radical hope–when we dare to become vulnerable to the power of God–those molecules slip between the cracks and crevices of our soul and we become a more miscible entity. However, we can’t sit still and expect it to happen. We have to allow mixing to occur. We have to consent to being stirred, shaken and bounced around like a chicken leg in a bag of Shake and Bake.

Perhaps the fearful part of this is that, like in our junior high science demonstration, the end result is we will be a contracted substance compared to the two substances in their separate containers of volume. As ego and self gives way to God, we will become 96 milliliters instead of a hundred. That said, it’s important to remember that this transformed substance cannot be separated at room temperature. It can’t go back to being just water and just ethanol. Once transformed, we can’t go back.

Perhaps, as we watch the institutional church change, and us change with it, and feel fear, we have lost track of the power of miscibility. Could it be that somehow, the windows of the institutional church have been flung wide open, God-stuff is pouring in, and we are a little nervous about it sliding between every crack and crevice of our being?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

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