Poetry in Science and Theology


(Randy) #1

According to Merriam Webster, “poetry” is “writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm.”

Science, in many ways, is poetry in that it appreciates and describes order. Christianity also perceives purpose and order, and in the Bible breaks out in poems through praise and lament.

Many science journals use poetry (ASA and JAMA, Journal of the American Medical Association) come to mind) regularly.

Does anyone have a stanza or quote, metered or not, that has helped them with their response to science? It could even be a well-put statement by a person of faith or science like Bonhoeffer, Muggeridge or Agassiz or Dobzhansky.


(Jay Johnson) #2

One of my favorites, by Rumi (13th century):

Little by little, wean yourself.

This is the gist of what I have to say.

From an embryo, whose nourishment comes in the blood,
move to an infant drinking milk,
to a child on solid food,
to a searcher after wisdom,
to a hunter of more invisible game.

Think how it is to have a conversation with an embryo.
You might say, “The world outside is vast and intricate.
There are wheat fields and mountain passes, and orchards in bloom.

At night there are millions of galaxies, and in sunlight
the beauty of friends dancing at a wedding.”

You ask the embryo why he, or she, stays cooped up
in the dark with eyes closed.

                                                     Listen to the answer. 

There is no “other world.”
I only know what I have experienced.
You must be hallucinating.


(Laura) #3

After the one extravagant gesture of creation in the first place, the universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances, flinging intricacies and colossi down aeons of emptiness, heaping profusions on profligacies with ever-fresh vigor. The whole show has been on fire from the word go. I come down to the water to cool my eyes. But everywhere I look I see fire; that which isn’t flint is tinder, and the whole world sparks and flames.
-Annie Dillard

Maybe that’s prose rather than poetry, but I really appreciate Dillard’s view of the natural world. And on that note, it’s interesting how responses to science can sound a lot like Psalms – the wonder, the feeling of being in awe of something so much bigger than we are.


(Jay Johnson) #4

Two more, one by the Polish poet Adam Zagajewski, followed by Whitman. Then I am done. I (sort of) promise.

We know we’re not allowed to use your name.
We know you’re inexpressible,
anemic, frail, and suspect
for mysterious offenses as a child.
We know that you are not allowed to live now
in music or in trees at sunset.
We know—or at least we’ve been told—
that you do not exist at all, anywhere.
And yet we still keep hearing your weary voice
—in an echo, a complaint, in the letters we receive
from Antigone in the Greek desert.

I am the poet of reality
I say the earth is not an echo
Nor man an apparition;
But that all things seen are real,
The witness and albic dawn of things equally real
I have split the earth and the hard coal and rocks and the solid bed of the sea
And went down to reconnoitre there a long time,
And bring back a report,
And I understand that those are positive and dense every one
And that what they seem to the child they are
[And that the world is not a joke,
Nor any part of it a sham].


#5

I like this one:

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

-Charles Darwin


(Randy) #6

Matthew Arnold, “Dover Beach”:
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.[22][23]

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”—from “Aurora Leigh.”

In argument similes are like songs in love; they describe much, but prove nothing. Franz Kafka


(Randy) #7

Here’s a quote from “The Chosen” which reminds me of poetry:

The Chosen (Chaim Potok):

“Human beings do not live forever, Reuven. We live less than the time it takes to blink an eye, if we measure our lives against eternity. So it may be asked what value is there to a human life. There is so much pain in the world. What does it mean to have to suffer so much if our lives are nothing more than the blink of an eye?

I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that a blink of an eye in itself is nothing. But the eye that blinks, that is something. A span of life is nothing. But the man who lives that span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant. Do you understand what I am saying? A man must fill his life with meaning, meaning is not automatically given to life.

It is hard work to fill one’s life with meaning. That I do not think you understand yet. A life filled with meaning is worthy of rest. I want to be worthy of rest when I am no longer here.”


(Jay Johnson) #8

Teaching the Ape to Write by James Tate

They didn’t have much trouble
teaching the ape to write poems:
first they strapped him into the chair
then tied his pencil around his hand
(the paper had already been nailed down).
Then Dr. Bluespire leaned over his shoulder
and whispered into his ear:
“You look like a god sitting there.
Why don’t you try writing something?”


(Randy) #9

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace.


(Randy) #10

Copied from Randalrauser.com, an excellent apologist website. Dr Rauser quotes Willem Drees–European Christian physicist:https://randalrauser.com/2018/05/a-scientists-creation-story/

There was a time
when there was no time,
when time was not yet.

The time
when there was no time
is a horizon of not knowing
a mist where our questions fade
and no echo returns.

Then,
in the beginning,
perhaps not the beginning,
in the first fraction of a second,
perhaps not the first fraction
of the first second,
our universe began
without us.

After the beginning,
perhaps not the beginning,
after the first fraction of a second,
perhaps not the first fraction
of the first second,
after our universe began,
still without us,

then
the universe was
like seething water
without land and without air,
like a fire
without wood and without cold.

The universe,
as small as it was,
created itself space, matter,
and the cool of the day.

ln billions of galaxies
the universe made itself
from dust stars
from stars dust.

Much later,
from dust from stars
from dust
from stars from dust
swirled our Sun
and from leftovers
the Earth, our home.

Thus,
after ten billion years,
there was evening
and there was morning:
the first day.

Life
a modest beginning,
undirected,
a history of failing
and occasionally
a small success.

A molecule
carried information
from generation to generation,
history bred purpose,
by chance.

Poison
became a gift,
oxygen
a protective robe.

Billions of years later
cells merge,
sex and aging,
death and deception.

A rare
slow lungfish
slithered through the grass;
thus came amphibians to pass.

Successful life
a disaster,
gone
another tide.

Yesterday
a few million years ago
the East Side Story:
groups of apes groom,
hunt and call.

Sticks, stones, fire
eating from the tree of knowledge
the tree of good and evil,
power, freedom,
responsibility:

Beasts became us
more was delivered than ordered,
more than we can bear?

Religion
cement of the tribe
response to power
of mountains,
the storm, the sea,
birth and death,
power as large as gods.

Yesterday
ten thousand years ago
Abel was killed by his brother,
we farmers eat ashamed our bread,
the earth cries, forever red?

A new age,
a prophet wars
king and people,
a carpenter tells
‘a man
who fell among robbers,
was cared for
by an enemy’.

Look,
measure
and count,
challenge knowledge
and authority!
Enlightenment
way out of immaturity.

In us
our heritage,
matter,
information,
and a box
full of stories.

Between
hope and fear
our neighbours
life
here on Earth,
between hope and fear
the great project
of thought and compassion
on a road
of freedom.


(Christy Hemphill) #11

I’m really enjoying this thread, thanks for starting it. No one can ever say the lit majors never have their day on BioLogos. :slight_smile:


(Randy) #12

Me too! Thanks to all who are adding on to it.


(Randy) #13

Video of Letters to the Exiles, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”–a Catholic production from Grand Rapids about Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem.–I love this Jesuit priest’s rhythm.

In relationship to evolution and science, the link may be this: not only does each physical, created thing possess its own beauty; but we, as those carrying God’s image and part of that creation, dedicate all we interact with to God. We “justice” and “grace” to each other. Thus, as we grow to be more like Christ, we bring not only us, but all of creation, closer to God. What do you think?

As Kingfishers Catch Fire

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same;
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.


(David Lee) #14

Here’s a hymn-like song I wrote a few years ago:

1.  In chaos and nothingness, you of unnameable Name
    spoke into the emptiness, fanning dark energy's flame.
    Your Spirit was hovering, racing and shaping the birth
    of galaxy clusters, of sun and the moon and the earth.

2.  Your voice pierced the darkness, your Word blazed your light on the world;
    whole continents drifted while aeons and ages unfurled;
    and coaxing the DNA helix to double and bind,
    your Spirit breathed origin to every species and kind.

3.  O Lord, where were we when you laid the foundations of earth?
    When morning stars harmonised song, when the oceans burst forth?
    When you played your dice, when you planned that through chance life evolved?
    In mere mortal span, still your mysteries remain unresolved.

4.  So where then is wisdom, and can understanding be found?
    Yet heavens are voicing your glory: in Christ is their crown.
    Invisible God, given visible image, you came,
    breathed order and life: Jesus Christ, Name above every name.

       Transcendent and immanent, God ever three, ever one:
       we praise you and worship you, Father and Spirit and Son.

© David Lee, 2012

The intended tune, together with a background commentary, are at:

http://servicemusic.org.uk/hymn/creation.htm


(David Lee) #15

This isn’t a poem per se. Rather, it puts the start of scripture, Genesis 1, alongside a gorgeously written sonnet-form dialogue near the start of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and lets invites the reader to let them resonate with each other,

http://servicemusic.org.uk/docs/creationism.htm


(Jay Johnson) #16

Great lyrics are certainly poetry, but I’m afraid they would overwhelm the poor little poems with sheer volume. Maybe that deserves its own thread, if folks want to pursue it?

Enjoyed your stuff, @David_Lee. Personally, I always prefer a lyric that has some “meat” on the bone, like yours. Most contemporary worship music doesn’t do much for me, but I’m a crotchety old guy. To each his own.


(Randy) #17

Here are some George Macdonald quotes that seem to me like poetry:

“You doubt because you love truth.”
― In Lilith

“Philosophy is really homesickness.”

“What God may hereafter require of you, you must not give yourself the least trouble about. Everything He gives you to do, you must do as well as ever you can, and that is the best possible preparation for what He may want you to do next. If people would but do what they have to do, they would always find themselves ready for what came next.”


(Jay Johnson) #18

Nachman of Bratzlav (1771-1810), a Hasidic Jew, tries to answer the question how God, who fills everything that exists, could create something that is not him:

From "The Torah of the Void"
God,
for Mercy’s sake,
created the world
to reveal Mercy.
If there were no world
on whom would Mercy take pity?

So – to show His Mercy
He created the worlds
from Aziluth’s peak
to this Earth’s center.

But as He wished to create
there was not a where?
All was Infinitely He,
But He Blessed!

The light He condensed
sideways
thus was space made
an empty void.

In space days and measures
came into being.
So the world was created.

This void was needed
for the world’s sake,
so that it may be
put into place.

Don’t strain to understand
this void!
It is a mystery – not to be realized
until the future
is the now.


Once there was light,
much and powerful,
holy light,
and it was in vessels
– too much light,
too much power –
and the vessels burst!

When the vessels burst
the fragments
of Holiness
took form
becoming the outered sciences.

So, even of Holiness
there is offal:
Just as there is sweat
and hair and excrement,
so Holiness too
has its offal.


#19

Yesterday was Trinity Sunday, celebrated in many mainstream churches (Catholic, Anglican/Episcopal, Lutheran and others. Not sure when the Eastern Orthodox celebrate it.) We sang “St. Patrick’s Breastplate,” and the beautiful words, adapted from a Gaelic poem, are set to an old Irish melody.

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this today to me forever
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me these holy powers.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

You will find variations in the various hymnals. You can listen to a version here


(system) #20

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