Tag: poetry

The Cosmos in an Apple

I can think of another instance in which a piece of fruit had cosmological significance, but this time we’ll focus on Newton’s apple:

Now, when Isaac Newton observed a certain relationship between and likeness between the behavior of the falling apple and that of the circling planets, it might be said with equal plausibility either that he argued by analogy from the apple to a theory of astronomy, or that while evolving a theory of astronomical mathematics he suddenly perceived its application to the apple. But it would scarcely be exact to say that, in the former case, he absurdly supposed the planets to be but apples of a larger growth, with seeds in them; or that, in the latter case, he had spun out a purely abstract piece of isolated cerebration that, oddly enough, turned out to be true about apples, though the movements of the planets themselves had no existence outside Newton’s mathematics. Newton, being a rational man, concluded that the two kinds of behavior resembled each other – not because the planets had copied the apples or the apples copied the planets, but because both were examples of the working of one and the same principle.

-Dorothy Sayers, The Whimsical Christian, pp. 124-125

Doesn’t it seem like this story could have come out of a fairy tale? This is one of the reasons I am glad I was encouraged to read Polanyi: he reminds us that science and imagination cannot be, and therefore are never, separated. Newton’s articulation of the law of gravity was a massive act of the imagination which saw an explanation of the workings of the cosmos in a falling apple.

It almost sounds as if he were a poet. Keats heard a nightingale and thought of ‘Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.’ Newton saw a falling apple and thought of the workings of the galaxy. Chesterton’s idea that everything is poetic really isn’t that far fetched.

The story also reminds us of the importance of analogies. As a preacher it reminds me that analogies are important for engaging the imagination, which in turn can lead to a better grasp of the truth. Call it a reminder of the need for ‘whimsical’ preaching.

Of Starry Pixels

The Wise Men of old beheld a star,
Named and ordained
Light years of old.
They divined a birth.

The years of faces buried in tomes
Of great lore, mystic meditation,
And in skies of wonder,
Led to epiphany.

Behold! A new heavens and a new earth.

And we, in this brave new world,
Do seek our enlightenment,
As we too, with faces buried
In skies of wonder,

Of starry pixels,
Dotted across the expanse
Of black screens
Of plasma and plastic,

Behold the new heavens.

Should we look up
For a moment,
We would lose sight
Of our cosmos, our creation,

Our flesh made word;
Disincarnate; reality made virtual,
Heavens made space,
Space made cyber.

Behold the new earth.

Bring your gifts from afar
And rejoice in the constellations
Of individuals networked,
In ethereal formations,

Of thumbs up and thumbs down –
Those five fingered
Keepers of orthodoxy.
But where do they point?

To heaven or hell?

On Exercise as Worship

At sunrise thirty young people ran out into the clearing; they fanned out, their faces turned towards the sun, and began to bend down, to drop to their knees, to bow, to lie flat on their faces, to stretch out their arms, to lift up their hands, and then to drop back down on their knees again. All this lasted for a quarter of an hour.

From a distance you might have thought they were praying.

In this age, no one is surprised if people cherish their bodies patiently and attentively every day of their lives.

But they would be jeered at if they paid the same regard to their souls.

No, these people are not praying. They are doing their morning exercises.

-Alexander Solzhenitsyn, At the Start of the Day, from Stories and Prose Poems, p. 216

I went on a Solzhenitsyn binge a while back. I didn’t write much about it. But tonight, before the kids went to bed, we all huddled up while I read some of his poems (they’re really small meditations on various life events). This one struck me afresh. Perhaps it is because I’ve started a new exercise program. After dropping a bunch of weight a few years ago, I’ve tried to stay in good shape for a while now; but I’ve become rededicated. I find that physical discipline has helped my spiritual discipline tremendously over the years. At least, in my experience, physical discipline sets a rhythm that can be conducive to spiritual discipline. But I’ve always fought to keep priorities straight, keeping in minds the words of the apostle:

For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come (1 Tim. 4:8, KJV).

Solzhenitsyn reminds us just how much exercise can look like worship. He never denies that it is profitable. He only points out the great paradox that people will often admire physical exercise and discipline without giving any thought to spiritual devotion, or even jeering at those who are spiritually disciplined. If someone raise their hands up during yoga class, hooray. But if someone raises them up in worship, not so much. We lack balance.

Are we as active in the spiritual gymnasium of the Means of Grace as we are in the gyms of this world? As we long for a certain body type, a certain physique, a certain look, do we long to be built up spiritually into the image of Christ? If not, when we bow down, and prostrate ourselves, and raise our hands up in exercise, we really are involved in a sort of idolatrous prayer. When we press up heavy weights on the bench press or in the squat rack, we are only living out a strange parable – that the weight will always be there. No spotter can ease our burdens. The burden of the self-worshiper is so great that it will weigh him, and pound  him, down to the very depths.  As we meticulously plan each meal as though it were a holy sacrament offered up to the god of self, in remembrance of the law of macronutrients,  do we remember that man does not live by bread alone? Do we remember that as the body is meant to live on food, so the soul is meant to live on Christ?

For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.

This is not to devalue physical exercise. Rather, it is to value it by putting it in its proper place. As Lewis was fond of saying, if you turn something into a god it will become a demon. Find balance.

Unreflecting Love

I was reading some poetry this weekend and came across John Keats’s 52nd Sonnet (otherwise known as When I Have Fears). It is a beautiful sonnet to say the least, but I was particularly moved by these words:

And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
   That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
   Of unreflecting love—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

Here I simply one to record one train of thought thought from my reading of this sonnet.

The line ‘Never have relish in the faery power/Of unreflecting love…’ struck a particular chord with my imagination. Just yesterday I finished up a lengthy series on Romans 8 and had to deal with that famous line of the Apostle Paul, ‘What shall separate us from the love of Christ?’ As I thought about how I might go about presenting such a grand theme as the love of Christ, I almost felt at a loss for words. I have reflected on the love of Christ for years, and because of that past reflection, at times I feel it is an unreflecting love at this point.

I would never say that love must be fully unreflecting. Rather, I would urge that we reflect on the object of love to the point that our experience in the present, at times, feels as though there were no need for reflection: that is that we would simply bask in beauty from time to time. That is what I wanted to do Sunday morning before the great love of Christ. And if the beauty of that experience were taken from me, indeed I think that I would sink. But I would not appreciate that beauty quite so much in the present had I not spent years previously reflecting on it.

The same is the case with purely human love in some sense. To enjoy unreflecting love is a great privilege; but it will never truly be enjoyed if the unreflecting love of the present is not backed up the deep reflections of the past. Beauty is fleeting. I can look at my wife and cringe at the thought of never again seeing her face. But if it is just a face, why would I cringe? Rather, behind that face, for me, lies a thousand reflections from that past dozen years that reinforce the significance of that beauty. Again, I say, it is the reflection of the past that makes way for the true beauty, or faery power, of unreflecting love in the present.

You can read the entire sonnet HERE.