On a dark, clear night, out in the country, far from the city lights–where you can really see the stars…
How do they make you feel? Do they fill you with awe and wonder? Do they make you feel insignificant?
Do they feel orderly–your mind searching for the constellations?
Or do they feel chaotic–like they’ve been spilled across the inky darkness?
I read a fascinating piece the other week arguing that modern people, like you and me, have grown up being taught the laws of physics, mathematics, physics, and biology. Where ancient people saw “The Heavens” we see “Space.” Where ancient people saw “the campfires of the gods” or “pinpricks of heavenly light coming through the veil of the night sky” we see “flaming gasses lightyears of impossible distances away.” Where ancient people saw nature personified, we see nature materialized.
No wonder we struggle for identity, meaning, and purpose. You can’t reduce everything around you to its materials without significant loss. I don’t know about your mother, but mine is far more than a stack of hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen atoms.
I’m not arguing against science. I’m not urging a return to a premodern mythology of the heavens. But I do think it would be wise to let their prescientific worldview challenge our own–because the universe ought to feel more like a womb than a machine if we’re going to feel like we belong. Let the poets speak, and bring some wonder back.
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth. (Psalm 19)
“In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”
“Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.”C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, 180.