Poetic Anthropomorphisms


 7 October 2016

(This week’s reflection was written by William Joseph, a good friend and a priest scientist currently living in London. He wrote this reflection a couple weeks ago, as he was traveling on the Eurostar from Paris to London. He sent it to me because of my recent observations about God-talk and antropomorphisms. I post it today with his permission.)  

The sky slowly becomes luminous. A small brush stroke of red grows on the horizon and swells into a sphere of bright white light illuminating a new day. The child thinks: Time to get up, eat and see my friends. The mystic thinks: Thank you God for another day which you begin here with such beauty and hope-filling regularity. The scientist thinks: Thank you Isaac Newton for describing how I could trust that this morning would dawn for me again.  

Each thought is a different poetry, each with a worthy degree of anthropomorphism. The child is thinking not too far ahead with only a shallow memory of the past. Those spiritually minded envision a personal presence of the Devine who has arranged things in ways we cannot perceive and is ever willing to acknowledge our requests if not always respond to them positively. The scientist, being able to see a beauty in equations and poetry in the mathematical expressions of physical reality, is not unappreciative in what sounds like a sterile welcome to another day.  

All three are, however, based on anthropomorphisms, making our universe act in the only human way we know. But an anthropomorphism must be seen as an aid to understanding and not a description of what is happening in reality. To the child, everything is simply what happens in their world with no interpretation or judgement, only uncomplicated and short term anticipation. In traditional spirituality, the universe is uncomplicated by physical realities or theories but relies only on insights framed in myths and metaphors. To the scientist God is not needed to give us another day any more than to keep the Earth in rotation on its axis at its constant rate. Newton has that well in hand even if he cannot explain how it all started.  

The child wants only to know the when. The religionist and philosopher is concerned about the why. The scientist is interested in the how of the universe but understands the limitations involved. It may take all three to cover every possibility. The Jesuit paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin, in his Hymn to Matter, saw the universe as a “triple abyss of stars and atoms and generations.” In one unified concept he embraced the macrocosm, the fundamental particles of the physical microcosm and all humanity in the noosphere. He also championed the evolutionary nature which characterizes this universe.  

Soon, but not before its time, the light dims and darkness embraces our world. Could there be humanity even beyond or independent of this cycle of dawn to dusk and the darkness of night? While everyone does not think about it, anticipate it or view it as possible or necessary, we have all passed through moments in which we perceived it as an appealing thought and even a desire. If it is reality then eligibility must extend to humanity and not to some mechanism of membership. The Divine willed creation of a universe and that will not be limited by anthropomorphisms.  

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