Of Stars & Experiencing Faith
Sometimes you read a poem and wonder if it was written just for you.
Then you realize that the person who wrote it did so 150 years ago, and it's merely the timeless nature of what they were able to capture that speaks to you.
And that's kind of even more awesome.
Today, I read this beautiful poem by Walt Whitman, and it has had me thinking about it ever since:
When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide,
and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured
with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist nigh-air, and from time to time
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.
Like many 19th-century poets, Whitman would often make the first line of his poems their title, so this one is named "When I Heard The Learn'd Astronomer."
There's so much that I love about this. Whitman is reflecting on a lecture that he attended where a "learn'd" astronomer waxed eloquent about the mathematics of astronomy.
Afterward, the crowd in the lecture room applauds the presentation, but Whitman is left feeling hollow. Outside, he stares up at the stars and finds the wonder he was denied in the lecture.
Try as he might, the astronomer could not capture the beauty and mystery of what it feels like to look into the night sky and see the light of the stars in all their glory.
Sometimes faith suffers the same kind of treatment when learn'd theologians or apologists do their best to explain it in logical, rational terms or when they perform rhetorical gymnastics trying to stuff the mystery of the Divine into neat little, explainable boxes.
Listen, I'm not against the study of theology, not by a long shot. I've spent over a quarter of a century of my life devoted to it. But, I sometimes look up from the latest theological work I've been reading, rub my weary eyes, and long for more.
I've learned over the years that you can spend all your hours trying to figure out how to explain faith, figure out the nature of God, and find the proper interpretation of Scripture.
Still, nothing makes your faith real to you like experiencing its mystery firsthand and feeling as though you are in the transforming presence of God because of that experience.
I can tell you all about the theology of grace, but I'd prefer to share the stories of when I had grace wash over me in moments when I felt like it would never come.
I could expound on what the Bible teaches about prayer or tell you about the moments when I was face down on the ground praying for God to show up somehow, and then it happened.
Sometimes you have to leave the lecture hall and stare at the night sky.
May it be so for us all. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.
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