Revolution! Copernicus did fling

……Earth’s sphere into high orbit.

Luna laughed as Terra stumbled to conceive

……Her own reeling, tethered traverse.

Neither up nor down, twin poles tip and taunt,

……Horizons are lost and words echo naught.

Love no more moves her celestial spheres,

……The airless void is Eve’s womb now.

Beyond Terra’s fragile veil, the sun’s golden

……Bright rays inflame and ravage all.

Life clings to its chance outpost, marbled blue,

……As cosmic dangers marshal round.

She is an orphaned beauty, the soul child

……Of atoms, random profligate seed.

Voyager exposes Saturn’s icy rings

……Stretched round their barren no-where world.

Hubble’s optic burst slaps home with cold dread

……As the angelic host falls silent.


Thou observed when first the stars sang for joy;

……Quantum spark set the cosmos aflame.

Boundless wave in particulate presence;

……Time unfolds from heaven’s One door.

All cosmos is the Lord’s unsparing gift.

……Odds are lost and miracles return.

Galactic legions march the realm of space,

……Now the infinite made extant.

Apollo’s glory! This star’s perfect blaze,

……Logos light and love’s endless burn.

As Mary’s womb did eternal God enfold,

……So earth’s small sphere His Body holds.

The Messenger reclaims his medium

……and sets fine-tuned forms dancing again.

Our silvered moon keeps tilt and tide;

……And gloves Sinai’s bright holy face.

Signed world, rare Earth revolves to wonder.

……All this for you, God made, was made, man.

Like so many children, I grew up feeling a sense of wonder as I gazed into the dark night sky. The unfathomable ‘otherness’ of the moon, the dazzling Milky Way, and the twinkling bright planets, right there naked before our very eyes, create a sense of both awe and longing. The stars and vast expanse of space are both so very real and yet so very unreal. To gaze upon the heavens and feel spiritual wonder is an utterly natural and fundamentally human experience.[1] Yet atheists such as Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins have endeavored to strip the heavens of any spiritual meaning. According to Sagan, “We live on a hunk of rock and metal that circles a humdrum star that is one of 400 billion other stars that make up the Milky Way Galaxy, which is one of billions of other galaxies.”[2] Sagan’s video series, Cosmos, boldly taught a generation to look up to the heavens and wonder not at the glory of God but at our own existential abandonment and ultimate meaninglessness. There is a war in the heavens.

In the poem “Cosmos”, I endeavor to expose this battle over cosmological meaning and provide the imaginative tools to win it. Using the structural framework of the Medieval cosmos, this poem progresses through the modern deconstruction of meaning in the universe to a chiastic turning point at which the poem then rebuilds layers of spiritual significance through a renewed understanding of cosmology. The poem’s sacramental conception of the heavens draws from both the Medieval imagination and new scientific data, such as quantum particles, the existence of galaxies, and the indeterminate nature of light.

I have chosen to use poetry as a medium for meditation on cosmological meaning in order to pry open cracks within the modern mind so that old ideas might seep in. Poetry forces the imagination to actively engage with the faculties of analytical understanding. The density of poetic imagery demands that the reader makes unfamiliar connections between symbols and ideas which wrestle open new possibilities for understanding and thereby prompts new interpretive lenses for old, dried-up facts. “Cosmos” ventures to take advantage of this potential in poetry in order to help modern readers reimagine the universe as a place of wonder and sacred meaning.

Through the chiastic structure of “Cosmos,” the reader reverses history. The first half of the poem follows the modernist interpretation of the universe as the poem ascends from earth, through the Medieval layers of the heavens up to the edge of the known universe. Here at the edge of meaninglessness, the reader faces the stark psychological alienation that is the fruit of atheistic materialism. If Sagan is correct that “the Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be,” then we are orphaned souls, isolated minds, the freak accidents of an unknowing world.[3]

The psychological alienation of materialism expressed in the central word “Alone” provides the point of inversion from feigned meaninglessness to reintegration of physical reality and spiritual meaning. Only the transcendent God, dwelling in eternal Trinitarian unity, is capable of bearing the weight of such a word as “Alone”. He alone can provide the foundation for both the material reality of the cosmos as well as the spiritual reality of the human soul. His Being alone can allow the poem to reweave spiritual meaning into the material fabric of the universe.

The chiastic structure of the poem further conveys that the atheistic understanding of the universe promoted by Dawkins or Sagan is every bit as much of an imaginative construct as any other cosmological model. Commenting on the Owen Barfield’s Saving the Appearances, Malcolm Guite notes that “paradoxically, it is the human construction of a picture of the universe as supposedly dead, inert, and merely material that may turn out to be the vain or ‘false imagination’, the idol from which we need to be liberated in our search for truth.”[4] In The Discarded Image, C.S. Lewis also argues that the Medieval cosmological model was not so much disproven by scientific facts as discarded by a change in imagination. Lewis contends that each model of the universe is “influenced by the prevailing temper of mind… and reflects the prevalent psychology of [the] age.”[5]

At the same moment that Copernicus’ heliocentrism required a reworking of the cosmological model, technological advancement was changing the imaginative landscape of Western civilization from one of ordained order to one of unfolding progress. A divinely ordered cosmos demands our creaturely submission, but an ever-changing, meaningless universe allows man to be his own meaning-maker. The Medieval model could have been adjusted to accommodate heliocentrism; a sun-centered solar system can still proclaim the glory of God. It is not the scientific facts that cause the forerunners of Tyson and Sagan to perceive the universe as just a “a hunk of rock and metal that circles a humdrum star”; this is their imaginative interpretation of facts.

The Westminster Catechism states that the purpose of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. This truth provides the primary principle for interpreting the meaning of the material universe. God has created us to know Him and to live in joyful contemplation of his wondrous beauty.

Modern science has begun to clearly reveal that the cosmos is indeed well crafted to accomplish this purpose. In 1995, Guillermo Gonzales observed a brilliant solar eclipse in Neem Ka Thana, India. This eclipse became an epiphany for Gonzales. As he stared at the perfect fit between moon and sun, Gonzales said, “It occurred to me—the best place in the solar system to view a solar eclipse is also the best place in the solar system to support complex life . . . The same narrow circumstances that allow us to exist also provide us with the best overall setting for making scientific discovery.”[6] Gonzales’s work is part of an unfolding body of scientific evidence that reawakens real meaning within the material universe. As Gonzolas and co-author Jay Richards argue in The Privileged Planet, we are discovering that to be is to know; to exist is to be placed in a world intricately set up for the observation and the discovery of our Creator’s inexhaustible glory.

The infamy of Copernicus’ name accurately reflects the intensity of the cultural shift away from a Classical-Medieval world view to the Modern understanding of the world.  At the dawn of the third millennia anno Domini, we again stand at a cultural turning point. The wars of the last century have blunted our confidence in progress and we are plagued with as many social, economic, and political problems as ever. We are exhausted, disillusioned, alienated, and overwhelmed by our own technology. Simultaneously, astronomy and biology are again presenting us with vast new amounts of revolutionary data that must be interpreted and sorted into a fresh model of the universe. Cosmology has discovered the incredibly precise fine-tuning of the universe for the existence of life, and the fields of genetics and cellular biology have exposed the staggering complexity of life itself. The idea that the complex life flourishing on Earth could have just happened by meaningless chance becomes ever more intellectually untenable. On both the micro and the macro scale, we are rediscovering that science and poetry belong together, united by our holy wonder.

Citation Information

Annie Crawford, “Cosmos,” An Unexpected Journal 3, no. 3. (Fall 2020), 1-10.

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[1] Plantinga argues that our sense of divine presence in the world, the sensus divinitatis, is properly basic to human understanding. See Alvin Plantinga,  Knowledge and Christian Belief (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 2015).

[2]  Interview on ABC News Nightline, December 4, 1996.

[3] Carl Sagan, Cosmos. Video. Directed by Adrian Malone. Carl Sagan Productions. 1980.

[4] Malcom Guite, Faith, Hope, and Poetry: Theology and the Poetic Imagination, (New York: Routledge, 2016), 90.

[5] C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image: (Cambridge, United Kingdom, Cambridge University Press, 2016), 222.

[6] Reid Forgrave “A Universal Debate,” Des Moines Register, August 31, 2005. Accessed October 22, 2016.