Matter is spirit moving slowly enough to be seen.—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
This quote sounds quaint, but does it have any truth? I think so.
What we think of as matter is in its essential nature massless energy which has been bound together in various ways so that it exhibits mass. As Einstein showed, E=mc² means that mass has an incredible amount of energy in it, because c is equal to the speed of light, so take any mass in kilograms and multiply it by 299,792,458 (meters per second) and then again by another 299,792,458 and you get its energy content in Joules.
Just 1 kilogram of mass (2.2 lbs) has the energy of almost 9×10¹⁶ Joules, or 90,000,000,000,000,000 Joules, that’s 90 quadrillion Joules, or 90 billion megajoules (25 billion kilowatt hours). In other words, a single pineapple 🍍 has the energy equivalence to power all of North Carolina for a week and a half, or power my own townhouse for 2.4 million years. That’s how much energy is “bound up” in what we see as mass.
Massless energy takes the form of light or photons (as well as gluons). These are pure energy packets which don’t have mass. They stream freely through the universe at the speed of light. But when such massless energy gets bound together, it exhibits mass. As PBS Space Time’s astrophysicist Matthew O’Dowd explains,
99% of the mass of the proton is in the vibrational energy of the quarks plus the binding energy of the gluon field… Even those quarks, as well as electrons, gain their tiny masses from a type of confinement via the Higgs field. Take away the Higgs field, and they are massless speed of light particles… It looks like everything with mass is composed of a combination of intrinsically massless light-speed particles that are prevented from streaming freely through the universe, as well as the fields that confine those particles.—Matthew O’Dowd, “The True Nature of Matter and Mass,” PBS Space Time, YouTube, https://youtu.be/gSKzgpt4HBU
Thus, it is the binding together or confining of massless energy that we call matter particles with mass. Calling them “particles” when they are massless though may be misleading, as there is no mass there that we typically associate with thing-like particles. It might be better to call them light quanta, or energy packets, instances of electromagnetic energy/radiation. Take away the confinements binding this energy together, and they are simply massless speed of light packets, or what we could call “pure energy.”
Is this pure light-speed energy the same as what we think of as “spirit”? Perhaps. Energy is what powers all things. It’s what makes things tick. It is perhaps what Paul referred to when he said “in God we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). This living, moving, breathing, perceiving, doing work, etc., all requires energy. Energy is what powers it, that which makes it happen, makes it move, makes it live.
Earth gets most of its energy from the sun. The sun is continually pumping high-energy photons into Earth’s biosphere, which are converted by plants through photosynthesis into sugars which can store that energy. The energy is converted into matter with mass, the sugars, until it needs to be used to do something, such as build something, and it is then converted back into energy to power the action. Animals get their energy from consuming these plants (or other animals who have consumed them), and that includes us in the food we eat. It can all be traced back to energy.
We are energetic beings, running off the fuel of this energy, energy being that which gives us life and consciousness, which allows us to move and do. The Divine Spirit of the cosmos has metaphorically breathed into us this breath of Life, this energy which makes us living souls. The Spirit of Life is this energy from the sun cycling through the Earth’s biosphere.
When energy is in its pure light-speed form, it cannot be seen. It travels at the speed of light, and cannot be seen directly. It is only in its interactions with other things, such as the retinas in our eyes, and in the electrochemical activity of our nervous system and brain, that it becomes visible. And when it is bound together in the mass of particles and becomes matter, when it “incarnates” into things and beings, it also comes to be seen.
Then this spirit-energy is, as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “moving slowly enough to be seen.” The Spirit of God, this energy of the cosmos, incarnates into the things and beings of the world, including you and me. We are that incarnation.