Bible verses, spirituality

The Tomb and Schrödinger’s Cat

In addition to graduate school and my usual ER job, I have a new side hustle: babysitting. One of my attendings has two young boys, 3 years old and 10 months old. Despite having a live-in au pair, she occasionally needs childcare since her husband is an anesthesiology resident and is literally never home. The one time he was, he was sleeping from working overnights, and I felt horrible when he woke up to comfort the little one. It’s taken months, but the little one has finally started to trust me enough that he does not scream every time I try to put him down for a nap. Maybe singing 40 verses of Baby Beluga does that to a baby?

The week before Holy Week, little one was not liking me when I watched them for a morning. It took over an hour with a least 45 minutes of screaming to get him to nap, and I was exhausted after I finally got him down. I forgot the Netflix password on the TV, and the older one wanted to do something. I was desperate to find something quiet to do when he commented on my mug. “Is he alive or dead?”

“What do you mean?” I asked

“The cat. I think he’s dead.”

I looked at the mug, noticing it was a Schrödinger’s cat mug. I’ve heard Schrödinger’s cat before, but mostly remember the concept from a Big Bang Theory I saw in passing:

Essentially, this smart man Schrödinger proposed that a cat was in a box with a deadly substance. At some time, the deadly substance would kill the cat, but to the outsider (us), we could not be sure when it would happen. Therefore, the cat could be thought of as both alive and dead until the box was opened. He used this to explain something about quantum physics that is way above my level of thinking. I’m just glad I spelled quantum physics right on the first try.

These Schrödinger’s cat mugs operated the same way. All you see is a black box until you pour hot water into it:

Screen Shot 2018-04-04 at 10.12.01 AM

For about a half and hour, the kid and I played, “is the cat alive or dead?” I poured hot water into one mug and then the other, cooling them down between pours. (Hey, it was quiet, it was something, and it worked!)

Praying through Fr. Kevin O’Brien’s book The Ignatian Adventure, I have reflected on Jesus and His tomb more than I ever have before. In my reading, I was done with the Passion by Tuesday of Holy Week when I was reading Luke 23:50-56 about Jesus being laid in the tomb. It’s past the Easter Octave, and Jesus has still not appeared to His disciples. (It’s like St. Ignatius is making a point or something…)

How hard was it to think of Jesus as dead in the tomb? Did any of His followers, even His mother, think of Him as alive? How did they pass the time? Did they tell stories of God’s victories in the past like the Exodus? Did they sing Psalms? Did they pray? Did they snap at one another? Were they all together or alone? Who kept vigil at the tomb? Did the soldiers shoo them away? How were they feeling? What were they thinking?

In reflecting on Jesus and His tomb, I cannot help but think of my morning playing Schrödinger’s cat with a 3-year-old. Jesus could be thought of as both having been defeated by evil and defeating evil until that tomb was opened. He could be thought of as both alive and dead until that tomb was open. And even after the tomb was opened in John 20:1-18, John believed He was risen while Peter just seems to have walked away confused. Mary Magdalene cried that His body was stolen until Jesus made Himself known to her.

I think of the faith it took for Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John to even go to the tomb that morning. They could have sat in their uncertainty, but instead they chose to see the tomb to find out if Jesus was alive or dead. They’re greeted with more uncertainty, finding an empty tomb and burial cloths. Mary Magdalene thinks the body was stolen (John 20:11, 15) while John “bent down and saw the burial cloths there” and then “went in….saw and believed” (John 20:5, 8).

In seeing the same thing, in all visualizing the tomb, John thought of Jesus as alive, Mary Magdalene thought of Him as dead, and Peter did not know what to think. 

It is fascinating to me how John and Mary Magdalene had such different reactions in seeing an empty tomb. John saw the empty tomb and believed Jesus had risen. Mary Magdalene saw the empty tomb and wept because she thought someone had stolen His dead body. I want to know what Peter was thinking, but I think he was unsure of the meaning of the tomb.

But just like with Schrödinger’s cat, none of them could truly know if He was risen or dead until they opened the tomb.

I tend to be pessimistic like Mary Magdalene. I cannot even start to list how many times I have wept to God because when I expected to find an answer, I found a metaphorical empty tomb. I try to be like Peter and be open to either possibility. I try to be like John and find some proof I hold onto to believe. But I usually end like Mary Magdalene, assuming the worst, and weeping over something that is not even dead or as bad as I imagine it to be.

First, I naturally have a high need for cognitive closure, so I crave certainty more than other people. Then, I’m an ER nurse. I am good at my job because I always assume the worst case scenario and prepare accordingly. When thinking of nearly any uncertainty, I tend to assume the worst, that my hopes and dreams will not be realized, and prepare for the worst.

When faced with an empty tomb, I assume the worst. I assume Jesus is dead. I assume the cat in Schrödinger’s box is dead. I am horrible with uncertainty because of my pessimism and lack of faith. I do not willingly entertain any kind of hope because I do not want to be disappointed. But in doing so, I miss out on such opportunities for hope and therefore, faith.

I love that Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene before John and Peter. Mary Magdalene is in the empty tomb, alone, weeping, thinking someone has taken her Lord. She is distraught because she does not know where His body is or where to find Him. Jesus comes into that place, asking her what is wrong. Mary Magdalene does not recognize Him even while looking at Him and talking to Him. It takes Him calling her by name for her to stop weeping to look at Him and see that Hope is alive and well. He does not let her think He is dead but rather shows her that He is alive.

How much I am like her! I am doing The Ignatian Adventure because I was literally distraught that I could not find the Lord in my life. I am realizing week after week that He was already there. I just did not see Him or have a heart open to receiving Him. I was too busy being distraught that He was absent instead of looking for Him.

As I prayerfully have walked through these weeks, nothing much exteriorly has changed. I am still an ER nurse in graduate school and unsure if everything I’m working toward will work out. I am still tempted to peel away the stone of the tombs – the uncertainties – in my life instead of thinking of them like Schrödinger’s cat – as both alive and dead, good and bad – until the time comes to see what they are.

Yet, I know the Lord is greater than Schrödinger’s cat. Even when beaten down and killed, He still rose. Therefore, when I open those boxes in my life, the boxes where I don’t know if something good or bad is on the other side, I know Jesus is there. Regardless of what I find, I will not face any of it alone. Regardless of how dead something appears, Christ makes all things new. Regardless of the pain, I am learning that faith is worth the uncertainty, that hope is worth any possible disappointment.

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