If you would have told me fifteen years ago that I would love fiction, I would have so non-fiction laughed in your face. If you would have told me that my favorite novel would be in the sci-fi genre, I might have encouraged you to book a flight on a SpaceX rocket. Yet here we are.
Deeper Heaven is more than a commentary, it’s a sort of celebration of C. S. Lewis’ Ransom Trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. We focused on this trifecta at our most recent Fiction Festival, and I thought I’d read Hale’s book as part of my preparation. Well worth it.
She references Michael Ward’s book, Planet Narnia, and especially the medieval cosmology/astronomy Lewis so clearly loved and threaded into Narnia and these earlier planetary books. I enjoyed Ward a lot, and I think anyone can read his stuff. But if you’re just getting started you might find Hale’s orbit a bit more inviting.
I have grown older since the last time I read Perelandra, and reading it again has made me older still.
Of course I’m riffing off the Green Lady’s testimony; growing older is how she describes her learning, so does the King, as well as Piebald. We learn more and it makes us less young. Solomon once wrote that in much wisdom and knowledge there is much grief and sorrow. And there is much to maturing that is misery. It is a fight to keep the joy.
Ransom’s fight on Venus is a good fight.
I reread this second part of the Ransom trilogy because our next Fiction Festival is at least about That Hideous Strength and I wanted a fresh meditation through the whole series for sake of my preparation. I’m adding the fifth star to my previous four in 2014.
Good evening to our school board, faculty, families, friends, raggants young and old, and especially to our candidate for graduation. I know the work required to get to this point, and it is an honor to push this celebration toward its crescendo.
Our fifth graduating class turns out to be our smallest. There is a song that says one is the loneliest number, but one senior allows for a more singular charge, even as others listen along.
ECS is a not a music school, but music is certainly both an instrument and expression of our learning. Bonnie is a musical young lady. Music isn’t the only thing we teach, and music isn’t the only thing Bonnie makes, but there has been a harmonious relationship between she and the school.
It would be irresponsible to say that ECS caused Bonnie’s love of music, and certainly we didn’t create her appetite and aptitude for singing or her abilities with instruments. As she said during her capstone presentation, her family is a musical family, dad and mom and also older siblings. They have been taking songs and packing instruments with them all over the world, sort of the traveling Netherlander von Trapps. On our school’s trip to the UK in 2018, one of her sisters pulled out packets of worship song lyrics from previous youth retreats; apparently carrying such papers was an international priority. The Bour sisters’ mantra might be: “Let’s sing!” How many Raggants Got Talent entries has Bonnie been in singing or strumming (or sashaying)? It won’t shock you that she took quite seriously the job of ukulele arrangement for “Let It Go.” Musica eius erat, est, et erit (Her music was, is, and will be).
ECS also has a history with music, and Lord willing, we will repeat that chorus many times. One school story from before there was a school seems appropriate to remember tonight. On Friday evening, October 14th, 2011, we had our very first Committee meeting. A Committee was formed before a Board, because a Board decides what the school will do, a Committee decides if there should even be a school. Mr. Sarr, Mr. Weinberg, Mr. Martin, Mr. Light, Mr. Bowers, Mrs. Higgins and myself got together, and after we prayed, the first thing we did was watch a TED Talk on YouTube, just like they did at Plato’s Academy.
It was a talk about how everyone can, and should, come to enjoy classical music, given by the conductor/composer, Benjamin Zander. I rewatched those twenty minutes again a few days ago, and it resonated just as loudly. He played a few pieces on the piano, he pointed out some connections between notes (“the job of the C is to make B sad” and the B wants to “get home to E” in Chopin’s 24 Preludes, Opus Number 28: No. 4 in E Minor), and also commented on how leaders see great opportunities and do not doubt that they can encourage and empower others to get where they’re dreaming.
If I remember correctly, we hadn’t started singing any Psalms yet as a church. We certainly hadn’t had a Matins because we didn’t have any students, so no Cantus, no choir, no Bible songs, no school-endorsed egg shakers. What we did have that night was a drum beat of conviction that we could come to love a lot more things, that it would be good for us, that we could grow, and that a bunch of others would also get a taste and be drawn into the gravity of the project.
This is about music, sure, and music is a metaphor for a bunch of things that make up the tones and rhythms of our school culture. And this, as it turns out, shouldn’t be too surprising, because there is a sort of music that plays in the universe.
You may hear it referred to as the “music of the spheres,” or the “harmony of the spheres.” These spheres are not the various spheres of life, as Kuyperians regularly refer to them, but the heavenly, celestial orbits. Not only poets, but scientists watched and measured and calculated the movements of the planets, and they noticed and celebrated the ratios and harmonies.
Joahannes Kepler was a German mathematician and astronomer, born 25 years after Martin Luther died, who worked before the word gravity was applied to stellar phenomenon, who labored to describe the motions and laws of the planets, and he spoke about it as music. One of his books is called Harmonices Mundi, or Harmonies of the World, in which he presented his case that the speed of the planets at two various points in their ellipse around the sun have a proportion equal to a musical interval. This heavenly choir had a tenor (Mars), two bass (Saturn and Jupiter), a soprano (Mercury), and two altos (Venus and Earth). Though earlier philosophers like Pythagorus and astronomers such as Ptolemy considered songs of the cosmos, Kepler commended them as God’s works.
It is no mistake that Lewis has Aslan sing Narnia into creation in The Magician’s Nephew, or that Tolkien has Eru teach the Ainur to sing reality into existence in The Silmarillion. Whether or not Yahweh sang in Genesis 1, God asked Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? … when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4-7). Certainly our future is one of singing, and we will join the angels singing the Lord’s praises for creation and redemption.
Music is not mere “filler,” not just background noise, though those are fine uses. There are many different lawful and beautiful types of music, occasions where certain styles are fitting and good. Music was not only one of the seven liberal arts, in many ways music is the rhetoric of math, perhaps even the crown of classical education. The Quadrivium are arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. If arithmetic is numbers, geometry is numbers in shape, astronomy is numbers in movement, and music is numbers in time. Music is the adorning of time.
One of your responsibilities, Bonnie, is to carry and advance Christ-honoring culture by beautifying time, and by blessing others as you help them develop and ears to hear. This includes all of your interests, not just your instruments.
You are well known for taking a long time to do your homework, breaking homework surveys in the process. You are also well known not just for taking a long time to eat your food, but for taking a long time to decide if you even like what you’re eating or not. It was a frequent conversation on the UK trip: Do you like it? Do you like it now? Do you think you’ll ever know if you liked it?
This is a funny quirk, and perhaps your non-committal relationship to food will go with you for a long time. But, I want to charge you not to settle for this with your calling to make mellifluous music.
You have a desire to please others, and this is generally a good desire. But you also need to learn what really pleases you, and in doing so, make it and play it and perform it and it will be a delight to others. Benjamin Zander called it “one-buttock playing,” where the music pushes you over. Keep learning, and then honor your teachers by multiplying their investment.
Mellifluous is an adjective that applies to a voice or words meaning sweet or musical; pleasant to hear (New Oxford American Dictionary). It comes from the Latin mellifluus a combination of mel ‘honey’ + fluere ‘to flow’. So, put some honey on a minute. Make mellifluous minutes.
Do this with every thumb’s-plunk on the piano, every thumb’s-pluck on the ukulele, every thumb’s-strum on the guitar, every thumb’s-swipe to the next sheet of a song you’ve written.
It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night, to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre. For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy. (Psalm 92:1–4 ESV)
In submission to the Lord of math and ratios and decibels, with thanks for majors and minors, white keys and black keys, uks and kazoos and synthetic cat gut violin strings, with a Steinway and with a Stradivarius, honor Him as a steward who beautifies time. Let’s sing!
This was my third full time through the book, and I’ve read large chunks more times than that. I’d give it seven stars out of five if that was possible. This time I got to read it with my college astronomy class, to whom I assigned it, and I enjoyed sharing Ward’s discoveries with them and hearing their thoughts. I can’t assign it to everyone, but I can recommend it to everyone, whether for insight into world of Narnia or just for considering the unique power of donegality in fiction.
A week ago Monday night was not just a full moon, it was a supermoon. It’s not a particularly rare event, but it only happens three or four times out of the 13 or 14 full moons each year. At least once every 29.5 days the moon is called “full,” and a supermoon is when a full moon coincides with the moon’s perigee, which refers to the point in its elliptical orbit at which it is closest to Earth. This makes the moon appear up to 14% larger and 30% brighter than when it is farthest from Earth. Last Monday was a great display, even from Marysville.
I’m assuming most people would say that the moon is at its most glorious when it is full, and what we should all consider is that when the moon is most full it is also most obedient. The moon doesn’t produce its own light, all its glory is borrowed. When she is most in line with the sun she is most on display herself.
As male and female humans we are most ourselves when we are most reflective (Genesis 1:27). Though people are higher in the hierarchy of the universe than the planets, we do not produce our own light. We were made to bear our Maker’s image, to reflect His glory.
Like the moon, our obedience is glory. If you are struggling with your identity, it may be because you are not lined up to and looking at Him. This is also why our obedience is His glory. When we do good works, and others see our good works, they will glorify our Father, because He is the source of our light.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)
I chose this as one of the textbooks for our college astronomy class. It was excellent, and touched all four parts of the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy), but more like an excellent workout rather than an excellent wrap up. Much of Kepler’s work was before his time, and above my head.
Published in 1618 Kepler didn’t even have the word “gravity” to work with as he tried to explain the movement of the planets. He did have theology, and the praise He gives to God throughout his work is a fantastic example of acknowledging the Creator while doing science.
Probably don’t read this one first in your astronomical aspirations.
Monday night we have our final college astronomy class of 2020. One of the things we hope to see is Jupiter and Saturn so near to each other than they appear as one bring light. I say we hope to see it because our Snohomish weather forecast includes cloudy skies. We’ll try.
Some astronomers have wondered if this event was the Christmas star the wise men followed to find Jesus. Apparently in 7 BC Jupiter and Saturn were within one degree of each other three times in eight months. As fun as that theory is, the inspired account in Matthew makes it sound not only as a single star, but a star close enough to earth that “it came to rest over the place where the child was,” over a single house (Matthew 2:9-11), not just above the horizon.
I’m mentioning it for a few reasons. One, anyone could look toward the southwest at sunset to see the sky above proclaiming God’s handiwork, one night’s revelation of knowledge (Psalm 19:1-2). This is a once-in-a-lifetime event, give glory to God! Two, don’t forget that God established lights in the heavens for signs and seasons, and for days and years (Genesis 1:14). Wintertime, Christmastime, 2020time, these are His to rule and reminders of His vast and enchanted cosmos.
Three, God ordained not just stars, but a Son who is the “light of the world” (John 8:12, also 1:4, 9). That Son ordained a simple supper, not to stretch our conception of space, but to swell our calculation of salvation by grace. We are privileged to observe it every week.
And one more thing. In an older cosmology, Saturn was understood to have the characteristic of death, and Jupiter a sense of joy. Is there any other place we can look to see such a great conjunction of death and joy? When we look at the Lord’s Table, we proclaim His death (1 Corinthians 11:26) with great joy (Luke 2:10) and the light of our salvation is made more bright.
Here’s a short story I told the students for the ECS year-end assembly.
On the day before the very first summer break, the planets talked about their plans for the next three months. There were eight planets in the class, and their names were: Sol, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Luna, Mercury, and Venus. (Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto weren’t old enough for school yet, though they had finished Kinder Prep and were enrolled for the Fall.) If you were counting, you may be wondering about the one planet still unnamed. Her name was Amy, and this is the sad story about why no one knows about Amy anymore.
In another classroom down the hall, some of the stars were taking about getting away from the city and out into the woods where there was a lot more space. Next to them, many of the moons moaned about being assigned a planet to follow around and longed to be off on their own. Most of them were still too young to understand the gravity of the situation. A few meteors hoped to form a rock band.
Back in room 1543 almost all of the planets were excited to take their turn telling about their future intentions. All of them, that is, except Amy.
Sol went first. He was always trying to outshine the others. He said, “Every morning I’m planning to get up and run. I mapped a course that only the strongest can enjoy. Once I finish my run, I’ve got my eye on some little seeds that need a tutor. They need to be knee-high by the 4th of July, and I can help them as long as the clouds don’t get in my way. I’ve also been invited to a bunch of pool parties, family reunions, and camping trips. It’s going to be busy. I just hope I don’t burn out.”
Amy could not have been less impressed. She never appreciated that Sol acted like the universe revolved around him.
Mars raised his hand next. “I’m planning to play a lot of golf. I just got a new set of woods and irons, and I’m dying to try them out. My teammates and I, Phobos and Deimos, have been having some astronomical battles, so it should be fun.”
Amy thought to herself, “What a waste! Playing games all day? He might as well sit around and eat candy bars, too.”
Big Jupiter laughed like friendly thunder. “This summer is shaping up like a prince for me. I’m going to organize a canned food drive, and every Thursday we’re going to make a huge dinner for the homeless. Not everyone has great fortune like we do, so it’s good for us to give something back, you know?”
“Why would you give your stuff or your time to others?” Amy asked. Jupiter laughed again and said, “At least I won’t be too celestial minded to be any earthly good.”
Saturn said sadly, “There is never enough time. By the time I’ve penciled out my to-do list, summer break will be done. The whole thing is going to be a disaster. All you other planets will run rings around me. I really need to give some thought to this before it makes me sick.”
“What an Eeyore,” thought Amy.
Luna had been reflecting on all the previous plans, especially from Sol. She new she’d go mad if she didn’t work and make some money, and was looking forward to her graveyard shift job at the lake. She did wonder if it would mess up her cycle, but the silver lining was that she’d have plenty of time to hang with her friends at high tide.
Mercury said that he had a lot of people he wanted to write to, and might even start his own novel. He also hoped to study at least one new language. “And don’t forget about reading bingo; keeping track of all the books will be fun.”
Venus, who was one of the older planets in the class, said she was planning to surf a couple online dating sites. Some of the other planets laughed. Of course Jupiter did, and his face turned a little red.
There was only one more to go, and all the planets spun to look at Amy. She was thinking that she thought every other planet was stupid. She was thinking that she just wanted class to be over. She was thinking that thinking was hard. She was thinking…meh.
The teacher asked the question again in case Amy had forgot. “What are your plans for the summer? Are you going anywhere special? Doing anything in particular?”
And Amy said, “No.” (She would have said, “Huh?” if she had been a junior high planet, but she wasn’t.)
The teacher asked again. “There’s really nothing that you want to do?”
Amy said, “Why would I? This is supposed to be summer break, not summer “bust-my-behind.” This is time for vacation, not vocation. I have the rest of my life to work. My only aim is to do as little as possible.”
And this is why you’ve never heard of Amy. She lost her way that first summer break and never made it back to school. Every planet doesn’t need to follow the same course, but an aimless summer is out of place on our planet. Consider how to expand your sphere of influence, and model your plans around those who are determined to do great things. Don’t be like Amy.