Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth, ... when the morning stars sang together...? ~ Job 38:7

I find a mystical connection among and between science, theology and poetry. I mean "mystical" quite literally (if the word "mystical" can, in fact, be used literally): That is, it is a connection that is difficult to get hold of or put into words (not that that's going to stop me from trying). The connection of which I speak is not the usual "dialogue" between science and religion, and it is not a covert or overt attempt to use science to prove theology or vice-versa. It is rather an interplay in which the one can almost stand in for the other, or a composition in which they sing in harmony (the harmony and the individual parts being a unity and separate at the same time). And the voice of the song -- the language that describes the interplay -- is poetry.

For the purposes of this discussion I define "science" as the limitless searchings of physics and cosmology, with infinity as the nexus at which it meets theology. "Let there be light" and the"big bang" of the primal explosion each speak of ultimate beginnings which are really penultimate (what was there before...?), and they are each metaphors -- poetic expression.

Here's one of those mystical connections: The "word" referred to in John's gospel ("In the beginning was the word") is both the utterance "let there be light" and the one who uttered it: the Word. The primal explosion of the big bang is an explosion of light -- the light brought into being by the word. Physics and Metaphysics. The element that strings it all together? Poetry. Perhaps there at the beginning before the beginning is not a micro-micro-nano-particle, but a word.

Another take: Deuteronomy reports, "The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms," and Einstein assures us of the conservation of matter and energy (nothing is lost). I am a Bible-believing Christian (the perspective from which I write), but my belief in eternal life is fed as much by the physics as by the Bible. A poetic view allows us to posit that they are saying the same thing. (As is Norman Maclean, in the absolutely beautiful last lines of A River Runs Through It: "Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.")

I am haunted by the cosmology of faith and the faith of cosmology. The language (the words) of the haunting is poetry. Here's A.R. Ammons:

This is just a place.
We go our round distance yearly in a star’s atmosphere,
turning daily into and out of direct light
and slanting through the quadrant seasons.
Deep space begins at our heels,
nearly rousing us loose.
We look up or out so high
sight’s silk almost draws us away.
This is just a place.

Currents worry themselves, coiled and free,
in airs and oceans;
Water picks up mineral shadow
and plasm into billions of designs:
frames trees, grains, bacteria.

But is love a reality we made here ourselves?
And grief – did we design that?
Or do these, like currents,
wind in and out among us merely
as we arrive and go?
This is just a place.

The reality we agree with that agrees with us,
outbounding this, arrives to touch,
joining with us from far away.
Our home, which defines us, is elsewhere
(but not so far away we have forgotten).
This is just a place.

If the conservation of matter and energy only allows for eternal life to be infinitely recycled stardust, so be it -- infinity is infinity. But if we stir in the possibility that the whole schmere is God's love project, then it is stardust held in the everlasting arms. I can live with that.

We must become more than what is left of our bodies
And will see and become what is always
Rushing toward us and around us. (David Wagoner)

A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean, University of Chicago Press, 2001
In Memoriam For May Noblett (This is just a place), A.R. Ammons
How It Will Be, David Wagoner

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