We travel through cosmic debris.
All the time a war wages – starshower missiles,
The mayhem is our doing.
Harmony – meant to be sung –
ended with us.
Begin again with us.
From ashes we stand,
cupped hands opened to receive,
to re-enter Your orbit.
If it would still be meaningful to say, There are an infinite number of universes – if their profound otherness did not embarrass even the language of Being itself…if something we could discern and recognise as intelligent life were to occur in certain of these other realities, might we not learn that our notions of intelligence were, so to speak, parochial?
(Marilynne Robinson, Absence of Mind)
You might think it would humble us to know
at the end of all our knowing that, for all
this knowing, we are immeasurably small.
You might think the sheer expanse, the sheer scope
of all that we name Universe might blow
our very sense of union. That we call
"known" what keeps evading scientific thrall
(after all our knowing) only goes to show
that, while we think we can admire stars,
they do not give a damn. We are in truth
the dots beneath their microscope.
What are we
that we are mindful of ourselves? By far
better than knowing is to be known,
beneath an ancient love we cannot see.
Perhaps the most influential poem that William Cowper wrote was this hymn, “Light Shining Out of Darkness”, which contributed the phrase “God moves in a mysterious way” to the English language. The poem has a very simple, consistent rhythm and rhyme to it not found commonly in poetry today, but it also contains some of the most magnificent and comforting imagery of God’s power found outside of the Bible. My interpretation of Cowper’s poem was inspired by a recent post on A Devoted Life based on 2 Corinthians 12:9, one of my favourite verses in the Bible.
Power Perfected in Weakness (After William Cowper’s “Light Shining Out of Darkness”)
God shakes the footprints of the sea,
The oceans of the clouds;
Darkness trembles, hailstones flee
At his resounding sound.
He carves crevasses into earth
And tree-trunks slowly bleed;
He weaves the seasons to new birth
First with a dying seed.
A spear has pierced through his own soul,
A crown of thorns his brow;
He breaks apart to make the whole
And he shall show me how.
And so he plants thorns in my side
To teach sufficient grace
And rips away the shame of pride
To shine his radiant face.
Deep darkness is his canopy
Yet he is thick with light;
He spreads the vast, dense galaxy
That he might shine more bright.
If it is true,
then what I see as debris, dross,
may be somehow rearranged in You,
an altar where Your praises sing
and shine, though made of ash.
For no-one but You has eyes to see
the insides of the dark yet change
its composites and make it bright.
Only You who spoke the Word
can see the light explode.
If it is true
that you made the light ex-nihilo
and formed the domes, contained the seas
and turned the third day into dawn,
then I may be remade
though bloody red, dusty from the fight
and screaming into dark and soot,
and anti-matter in my mind;
You, it’s true, repair the black holes
in our souls and let in life.
How wide –
Encompassing the earth’s vast circle
scarred yet shining, reaching further
than these nails, from east to west,
wider that the earth’s whole orbit,
wider than the girth of sun,
than solar systems, galaxies –
How long –
Spanning further than the years,
the length of time, the age of sun,
longer than the distance from
His perfect light to our darkness,
no length too far, no distance out
of His love’s stride towards us –
How high –
From deepest depths to heaven’s heights,
further than the sky can tell,
than telescope can reach or gaze,
than every leap of intellect,
higher than the astronaut,
than gravity-defying leaps,
higher than our fears can rise,
than Helium, than Mercury –
How deep –
Plumbing the twilight zone, abyss,
the land of untold darkness where
our heavy spirits all must sink,
deeper than the weighty grave,
the downwards pull of everything,
deeper than our eyes can fathom,
deeper than the spear can pierce,
than apple-fall, than three-day’s-tomb,
deeper than proud Adam fell,
deeper than our sin.
To know this love –
the heights, the depths, the width, the length,
of all our finest knowledge, and
filling every cavity,
consuming all our entropy,
every way we look and fall –
love beyond it all.