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The Size of Things

The Size of Things

The Size of Things

I find it fascinating that very tiny amounts of a chemical can have a massive effect on our bodies. The pills I take each day are measured in milligrams: a thousandth of a gram! Ten mg of this, 20mg of that. Extraordinary. The toxicity of some poisons is measured in micrograms (a millionth of a gram) and even nano-grams (a billionth of a gram). Then, of course we know how the tiniest residue of peanut can kill someone with an allergy.

Currently, of course, we worry about the tiniest, microscopically small elements of Covid-19 virus floating around in the air or left on a surface. We seek the protection of equally small antibodies generated after inoculation. Have you ever wondered how those incredibly thin hypodermic needles are manufactured? I’m told they start with a large tube which is gradually stretched and reduced through smaller and smaller dies. Stretching a steel tube like this until it’s so thin we hardly feel it penetrate our skin stretches the imagination. Modern engineering achieves results that involve fantastically fine tolerances. In a jet engine the huge turbine blades, that spin at 10,000 times per minute, have a tip clearance from the casing shroud measured in thousands of an inch—as small or smaller than the diameter of a human hair! How on earth can such precision be achieved? The circuits etched or printed onto a silicone chip for computers are around ten nanometres wide—a nanometre is a billionth of a metre. The mind boggles.

What about the atomic and sub-atomic world? The power released by splitting an atom is phenomenally huge. We have yet to master the greater power of nuclear fusion, the process in the Sun giving life and light to the Earth and the Solar System. It occurs in reactions between particles far smaller than we can see and outputs unbelievably massive energy. Einstein’s famous equation is well known, E = mc2 where m is mass and c the speed of light. Well known, but not widely understood.

The hinge points of my life often began with small moments that seemed wholly inconsequential at the time but resulted in changes of huge significance, equivalent to an atomic blast. Looking back on my life I see chances missed and chances taken because of decisions, conversations and actions that seemed unimportant at the time. A telephone call that went wrong, a conversation here, a temporary job there . . . a multitude of small things, sometimes casual or unintended, that made me who I am today. We have a hard time recognising the true importance of things at the time. Wants and needs in conflict distort perception.

Thomas More was betrayed by his friend and protégé Richard Rich in return for public office. When his betrayal was revealed in the trial, Thomas famously said (at least, in the movie) “For Wales? Why Richard, it profit a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world . . . but for Wales!” I hasten to add that the Land of Song is a magnificent country filled with delightful people, but compared to Richard’s soul, it had little value. For Richard, fame and power were all-consuming. In an earlier encounter, More offers Rich a prosperous teaching post, and this dialogue occurs:

More:  “Richard, you would be a fine teacher. Perhaps a great one.” Rich: “lf I was, who would know it?” More: “You, your pupils. Your friends. God. Not a bad public, that.”

But sadly Rich can’t see it. He is offered the post of attorney-general of Wales in return for betraying his friend and mentor by perjury. A decision made, a corner turned and an honourable life destroyed.

I was raised by goodly parents. Their greatest gift to me was The Church of Jesus Christ . . . but it nearly wasn’t. The missionaries taught our family (or at least, mum and dad—my sister was only two, and as a bored ten year old I tried to dodge out of their lessons whenever I could). Anyway, after several weeks they told the missionaries they weren’t interested and not to come back. As the  days went by mum felt “something” was missing, something good, an uplifting sensation she had when the missionaries were coming that wasn’t in the home anymore. Just a feeling, but she asked dad to invite them back again. This was easy to do, since he was their postman. But they thought he was just being courteous in conversation (he was a gregarious, chatty chap) and not serious, so they didn’t respond. Then mum wrote to the mission home, to say that she asked the missionaries to come but they hadn’t and could someone do something about it. Then the whole world of the Church descended on us! After about six months we got baptised. And that, as they say, has made all the difference.

A small feeling, and life completely changed for us.

The Church and its teachings are my life. The happiness it brings me is beyond price. Callings and assignments have stretched me in ways nothing else could. My character and values were shaped by it. I am the person I am because of it. And all because of a fleeting, fugitive feeling that “something was missing”. I doubt if I would ever have joined the Church in later years as an adult.

It is so terribly easy to ignore inspiration. Like Richard Rich, worldly desires may drown heavenly communication. The voice of God is still and small, it gently whispers: a light caress, seldom a push in the back. In spiritual terms these negligible promptings are as powerful as the physical equivalents I described at the start, and impact the soul. We should all do well to listen more carefully like my mother, and act on it.


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