The Given World

     In our time, physicists have discovered ever smaller subatomic particles. Perhaps one day they will find that there is nothing but an elusive shadow of matter at the core — or “nothing” itself. Going the other way, astronomers with their orbiting telescopes such as the Hubble have searched far into the cosmos trying to discover more about the universe, including its supposed Big Bang beginning and its likely end. These micro- and macro-worlds are fascinating and certainly real in accordance with the powers and limits of the scientific methodology by which we observe them.

     Of course, what many of us most want to know is how the Big Bang itself was set off. Who or what is the First Uncaused Cause of all the causes and effects that have followed. Is this who or what we mean by the word God? 

     Some say that the ever-expanding universe has no center. Another way to put that might be to say that anywhere in the universe could be the center or a center. Be that as it may, what, if anything, are we to make of what have been called the “appearances” — that is, how from an everyday human perspective, the sun does seem to rise and set, the constellations do seem to be truly there, and so on.

     Moreover, it surely true to say that we relate to other human beings within a set range or distance. We don’t love one another on a subatomic level (who ever says “I love your protons!” to a beloved) nor can we have a fully human relationship with someone always living apart from us on the other side of the planet. We can’t hug or kiss “in person” across thousands of miles.

    In summary, we seem to live in what I have called in a number of my poems “the given world.” This world is not far from the classical and medieval Ptolemaic or geocentric picture of the cosmos. Who or what made and gave this given world? Some would say God; others, not. My poem “Appearances” (below) ponders these questions. Two excellent books on this subject are as follows:

C.S. Lewis. The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature and Owen Barfield, Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry. Both of these books changed my life as a poet when I first read and then re-read them in the 1970s and ’80s.

 

Appearances

 

 but then, face to face

 –St. Paul

 

We saw them best in winter, bright and whole,

The constellations moving through their spheres, 

Arcing across the darkness of the pole,

Marking the skies with cold and fiery tears.

 

But now in orbit underneath the moon

A satellite’s thick lenses make us gaze   

Through Pegasus, the Lyre, too deep and soon

Further into a blurring cosmic haze.

 

And there we watch a romance of the stars —

Red Giants, White Dwarfs, Dark Matter’s Black-Hole Tomb —

All come from one Ur-Atom nothing bars,

Exploding, then ballooning to its doom.

 

Yet though Ptolemy’s optics seem undone

To rubble by the Hubble’s piercing stare,

We know that stare’s too fierce to be the one

That finds in time this given world we share. 

 

For when we love we love not well away

Nor dwelling bone-in-bone but with a space

Between us set like stars that prance and play,              

Apparent, there, and aching face to face.

 

–David Middleton

 

 

 

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