Sunday, April 8, 2012

Thoughts and Poems about the Universe

Religious and natural explanations of the universe have been expressed in countless poems and prose. Here are four works on that topic. They range from atheistic to profoundly Christian.

John Godfrey Saxe makes the accusation that none have seen the Truth and God is unknowable.

William Herbert Carruth's poem presents his Unitarian-Universalist view that the same phenomena may be described using different words.

G.K. Chesterton's prose speaks of the freshness and youthfulness of the Creator who delights in making daisies. At first this appears to be merely fanciful, but the theology is profound.

The poem by Catherine Faber contains two lines that I especially like: "Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote the rocks" and "Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote the sky." I agree with her up to a point. Humans wrote the Bible. In fact, numerous authors wrote those 66 books over about 1200 years. Yet throughout we find the singular theme of the Seed/Son of God whose incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension and coming again transforms all of nature. That this theme is consistent from Genesis to Revelation reveals that the Bible was divinely superintended.

The Blind Men and the Elephant

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind 

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl: God bless me!
but the Elephant
Is very like a wall! 

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear! 

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
I see, quoth he, the Elephant
Is very like a snake! 

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain, quoth he;
'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: Even the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can
This marvel of an
Elephant Is very like a fan!? 

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
I see, quoth he, the Elephant
Is very like a rope! 

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong! 

Moral: So oft in theologic wars, 
The disputants, I ween, 
Rail on in utter ignorance 
Of what each other mean, 
And prate about an Elephant 
Not one of them has seen!

-- John Godfrey Saxe

Each in his own Tongue
 A fire-mist and a planet,
     A crystal and a cell,
 A jelly-fish and a saurian,
     And caves where the cave-men dwell;
 Then a sense of law and beauty
     And a face turned from the clod, --
 Some call it Evolution,
     And others call it God.

 A haze on the far horizon,
     The infinite, tender sky,
 The ripe, rich tint of the cornfields,
     And the wild geese sailing high;
 And all over upland and lowland
     The charm of the golden-rod, --
 Some of us call it Autumn,
     And others call it God.

 Like tides on a crescent sea-beach,
     When the moon is new and thin,
 Into our hearts high yearnings
     Come welling and surging in:
 Come from the mystic ocean,
     Whose rim no foot has trod, --
 Some of us call it Longing,
     And others call it God.

 A picket frozen on duty,
     A mother starved for her brood,
 Socrates drinking the hemlock,
     And Jesus on the rood;
 And millions who, humble and nameless,
     The straight, hard pathway plod, --
 Some call it Consecration,
     And others call it God.

--William Herbert Carruth (1859-1924) 

From The Little Book of American Poets. Ed. Jessie B. Rittenhouse. Cambridge: The Riverside Press,1915.

Perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is
younger than we.

-- G. K. Chesterton

The Word of God 

From desert cliff and mountaintop we trace the wide design,
Strike-slip fault and overthrust and syn and anticline...
We gaze upon creation where erosion makes it known,
And count the countless aeons in the banding of the stone.
Odd, long-vanished creatures and their tracks & shells are found;
Where truth has left its sketches on the slate below the ground. 
The patient stone can speak, if we but listen when it talks.
Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote the rocks.

There are those who name the stars, who watch the sky by night,
Seeking out the darkest place, to better see the light.
Long ago, when torture broke the remnant of his will,
Galileo recanted, but the Earth is moving still 
High above the mountaintops, where only distance bars,
The truth has left its footprints in the dust between the stars.
We may watch and study or may shudder and deny,
Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote the sky.

By stem and root and branch we trace, by feather, fang and fur,
How the living things that are descend from things that were.
The moss, the kelp, the zebrafish, the very mice and flies,
These tiny, humble, wordless things -- how shall they tell us lies?
We are kin to beasts; no other answer can we bring.
The truth has left its fingerprints on every living thing.
Remember, should you have to choose between them in the strife,
Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote life.

And we who listen to the stars, or walk the dusty grade 
Or break the very atoms down to see how they are made,
Or study cells, or living things, seek truth with open hand.
The profoundest act of worship is to try to understand.
Deep in flower and in flesh, in star and soil and seed,
The truth has left its living word for anyone to read.
So turn and look where best you think the story is unfurled.
Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote the world.

--Catherine Faber 
From here.


Tina said...

During my mother-in-law's final days, after her stroke, she kept mentioning a poem she had loved in her youth, but the only line she could recall was "and Jesus on the rood." I finally found it in an anthology (100 Best Loved Poems, I think), and read it aloud to her often in the nursing home. She never tired of hearing it. Thank you so much for reminding me of this happy memory we shared.

Happy Easter my friend! May God bless you richly in the coming year!

Alice C. Linsley said...

A blessed Eastertide to you, Tina.

May you also know the richness of His love and mercy.

God is good.