Contrary to the very good advice I was given, and which I’ve given myself, once again I’m typing this into the cruddy WordPress app rather than doing it on the text editor and copypasting it into the web interface. This is because I’m trying to be spontaneous and I’ve got a lot of other writing today, based of all things on Strawberry Switchblade. You probably don’t remember them.
Anyway, you will presumably be aware of the story about Ha-Nukkah and the cruse of oil for lighting the menorah which was only enough for one night but lasted eight days. Whether this is a true story or not, it’s reflected in the reported experiences of many other people. For instance, one of my friends was a very poor single parent and had only a few grains of instant coffee left in the bottom of a coffee jar and couldn’t afford to buy any more, but claimed (and I have faith that this did happen) that it lasted her ages. This is very similar to the miracle of the cruse of oil, and it gives me to wonder whether that miracle was just the most prominent such event of its kind, in which case it’s still worth celebrating for it being brought to public attention that such things happen.
I used to do a lot of washing up at church breakfasts, which were for the neighbourhood including the homeless incidentally. The area we had to do it in was quite cramped at the time although it’s since been extended, but in spite of the fact that people were cooking, serving, washing up and carrying dishes in and out, in a place which literally had hardly any elbow room, so far as I know nobody ever got in anyone else’s way, a fact which someone else brought to my attention. This is not my peculiar observation, although I can confirm it was true. It was one of several such phenomena which took place in our old church.
The immediate question arises of why, if G-d can do something like that, some of her beloved children are worms who eat babies’ eyes alive and so on. I don’t have complete answers to that although I do have some, but I won’t be going into that here. You’re also at liberty to scoff of course. I personally won’t be doing that either.
But I want to make the observation that this is a space-related miracle. For some reason the space between the bar and the cupboards, which I seem to recall would measure about sixty centimetres, was adequate for seven adult bodies to occupy and it didn’t even look particularly crowded or odd. This is the peculiarly British “dimensional transcendality” of Doctor Who fame – the kitchen area was bigger on the inside. Unlike the TARDIS, though, this area – actually volume, this is 3-space – was fully exposed to the rest of the nave. So yes, my claim is that G-d can warp space. Parallel lines did not stay the same distance apart behind the bar.
Another way in which space is said to be divinely warped is the apparently little-known miracle of Qephitzat Ha-Derekh, קְפִיצַת הַדֶּרֶךְ, or the “shortening of the way”, which I’m going to call “Kefitzat Haderech” for reasons which shall become clear later. This term has interesting translations from a science fictiony perspective as the first word can be translated as “jump” and is related to the word for “clench”. This is a situation where there is a divine need for a person to reach a destination faster than is usually possible, so they simply get there. The way between their location and the place they’re supposed to be shrinks. According to the Book of Genesis, Abraham sent his chief servant Eliezer (this is the name given him later rather than in the Bible itself) to find a wife for Isaac and he reached a well within a day which would be expected to take longer where he met Rebecca. In this case he travelled on a camel. Also in this case, it’s said that Eliezer actually wanted Isaac to marry his own daughter, meaning that he wasn’t particularly keen on this errand, so it may be that the way was shortened for him to stop him having second thoughts and acting upon them rather than because he was a particularly blessèd individual, but simply because it was divine will that that happened and presumably Eliezer was free to change his mind, which is interesting because it suggests that free will is more fundamental to existence than geometry. One possible answer given to the problem of free will in a deteministic Universe (or rather one in which the non-deterministic aspects are unhelpful to the problem) is that since omnipotence is the ability to do anything, one of those things is the apparently impossible existence of free will.
Someone mentioned another incident yesterday which interested me again which seems to count as Kefitzat Haderech was when they saw an incident putting a child in danger of serious injury nine metres away too late to stop it from happening, and found themselves instantly standing in the way, thereby saving the child. This and the other incident begins to build up a picture of the circumstances in which Kefitzat Haderech are likely to take place, or rather the conditions necessary for Kefitzat Haderech, that it occurs when there’s a need in accordance with the divine will. It isn’t a parlour trick or something which can be easily brought about, but happens when there’s a need.
Spoilers for ‘Dune’ follow in the next paragraph
Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ series (let’s pretend the later novels weren’t written) is remarkably good although I lack the stamina and attention span to bother to read them nowadays. I have however read the first book, ‘Dune’ itself, which deals with the arrival of a Messiah who was planned to be female by a religious order of women who have been conducting a human breeding programme for centuries, but when it comes to it her mother chooses to conceive a boy. This Messiah is referred to as the Kwisatz Haderach. It’s pretty much obvious that this term is a modified version of Kefitzat Haderech. Rather strangely, although Herbert doesn’t use the phrase to refer to the Shortening Of The Way, not only does the shortening of the way exist in the ‘Dune’ universe but it is carried out by a process of mental discipline by Guild Navigators on Spice (the original spice Melange, not the twenty-first century street drug, which I presume is named after it), who move spacecraft and their occupants between star systems by folding space and travelling without moving. This just is Kefitzat Haderech, but for some reason isn’t called that but a similar term is used for something completely different.
It’s also been claimed that a time warp exists by divine fiat. In the gospels, the faithful are said to be able to endure the tribulation even though it’s unbearable for the period it lasts, and this has been looked on as a form of time dilation, which of course exists uncontroversially according to relativity.
I have to say this whole thing reminds me once again of ‘The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’, in two ways. One is the spacecraft powered by bad news because nothing travels faster, but they “proved to be very unpopular when they arrived”. It also reminds me of the proverb “no matter how fast the body travels, the soul travels at the speed of an Arcturan Megacamel”, which is in fact based on the real Arabic proverb “the soul travels at the pace of a camel”. Sadly, I have very occasionally travelled by plane, to Paris and Madrid, and having covered the same distances by road, though not mainly on foot, the sense of disorientation and suddenness is very disconcerting and made me feel like I hadn’t earned it. It definitely isn’t to be recommended on an emotional level completely aside from the environmental aspect, and the RastafarIan principle “best is pure foot”, i.e. that one should walk everywhere one wishes to get barefoot, is rather appealing though I don’t honour it as much as I should. However, this clearly isn’t always a problem even for camels, because Eliezer’s camel seemed to move rather fast, perhaps faster than the speed of light. But there was a spiritual need to do so.
There are a number of alleged cases of teleportation. One of these involves an incident in 1593 when a man seems to have been teleported from Manilla to Mexico City and was able to report on an assassination in the Philippines whose news hadn’t yet reached Mexico. A definite case of bad news travelling fast then. In 1629, the Roman Catholic Church sent a mission to the Jumano people of present-day Texas, only to find that they’d been visited repeatedly several years before by a nun called the Venerable Mary of Agreda and converted to Christianity. They were able to describe her habit and its colour. The only thing was, although the Venerable Mary of Agreda was a real person, she lived in a monastery in Spain and never walked out of the entrance. This confirmed her claim that she was regularly teleporting to North America to convert the Native Americans. So good news travels fast too, apparently. Teleportation has also been offered as an explanation for Agatha Christie’s temporary disappearance, although I have to say that seems pretty elaborate and outlandish.
The issue of the nun leaves me in a bit of a quandary, because it really seems to me that converting indigenous people to Christianity is not necessarily a good thing. I can think of two reasons why that might have happened. One is that in this particular case it enabled them to protect their nation against the Apache by becoming allied with the Spanish, so maybe that’s what it was about. The other is that whereas it seems to us that it’s the result of it occurs only in cases of divine need, maybe it actually happens when the person concerned wills it strongly enough, and that sometimes becomes rationalised in that way.. Maybe it’s just as well it does, because otherwise it could lead to pride. In fact it reminds me of my experience of stigmata. I don’t consider stigmata to be miraculous at all. They’re more like a psychosomatic process where wounds appear on your body in a slightly similar manner to eczema and psoriasis exacerbating under emotional stress. They’re just the result of empathising with the Crucifixion and that manifesting as sympathy symptoms, or in this case signs. Incidentally, they didn’t feel like they were a major spiritual experience.
There are said to be incidents of women lifting vehicles off their children to save their lives. I’m sure this happens but it’s very hard to study. I’m also confident that a man was stuck on a desert island with a small baby would be able to lactate without any kind of external hormonal manipulation, from plants or otherwise. The point here is that these things happen when there’s a need. These examples, though, are not as startling as Kefitzat Haderech.
I don’t wish to claim for a second even that teleportation or hyperspace jumps definitely happen, but I think they need to be put in context. Before the apparent support of Donald Trump’s presidency by evangelical Christians, I believed in the virgin birth for the following reason. If it was necessary to bring about the messianic age by a human being born without conception by a human father, that’s just what would’ve happened. If it wasn’t then it didn’t. The reason I no longer believe that is that Trump supporters calling themselves Christian are clearly not doing a very good job of avoiding sin, strongly suggesting that Christ has no power to save them. I have faith in their honesty that they are Christian, but it isn’t helping them, which is sad for them. But the point is that the reason I don’t currently believe in human parthenogenesis is nothing to do with science.
To finish then, the question of whether it will ever be possible to travel to other star systems faster than light is not determined by whether we will have the technology to do it, although of course the chances are we would if we did it, but whether it fulfils G-d’s plan for us to do so.