Highland Hills

So many hills I trod the miles, each steady grassy climb,
where each horizon seemed to be eternity in time.
Somewhere the unseen peak beyond each skyline drew me on,
on grassy tussocks, turf or scree,
on steady rise, on tired knee,
in cloud-mist, faded sun.

Each heavy, crossed horizon shows another up ahead:
another lessened slope that grows more stonily instead,
and weary limbs and counted steps attack the boulder field
which levels to the cairn at last
where, triumph gained and labour past,
the whole world lies revealed.

And is there fairer yet than this that our world has to show?
when trial and beauty seem as one,
and clouds that used to veil the sun
drift slowly, down below?

God’s Daydream

Last September I posted a scientific parallel of Genesis. Here it is again as a children’s story:

Some of God’s days are longer than others and some much shorter. Some are made up of lots and lots of our days. Peter, a very good friend of Jesus, said one of our days could be like a thousand years for God, and a thousand of our years could be like just one day for Him. He really doesn’t mind.

This story is about God’s days, his first special ones.

God’s First Day – Let there be light.

It is a story before all stories, the story of a daydream. It wasn’t a dream in the night because there was no night yet, and it wasn’t a dream in the day because there was no day yet. It was a daydream about a day that hadn’t happened. There was nothing, an emptiness with no people, no animals and no places for them to be. But the emptiness shimmered with little almost-waves like the surface of a calm sea just before the wind comes, but these were not almost-waves of water, they were almost-waves of light.

God knew His day needed light so he blew on the almost-waves and said ‘Let’s have light.’ They shimmered and shimmered until suddenly there it was, beautiful and dazzling and a little bit frightening. Well, actually, much more than a little bit – it was very frightening.  That is it would have been if we had been there to be frightened but luckily for us we weren’t and God liked it and there was no longer nothing. There were great, glorious waves of light.

It was the first day and it went by in a flash, which was quite long enough for God.

God’s Second Day – space.

The dancing light waves pushed and pressed at each other like children fighting for sweets. ‘All that light with nothing to do and nowhere to go.’ thought God. ‘I think there should be some order here.’

So he made a rule: some waves could not be in the same place at the same time but other than that they could do what they liked (actually he made some other rules we call the initial conditions but I don’t want to bore you with that).

The waves did as they were told. They flew here and there (which was of course the first ‘here and there’ – before that there was nowhere). As they flew they changed. They became red and green and blue, and strong and weak, and big and small – all the colours of the rainbow and many more things you and I could hardly understand and the space between them became bigger and bigger. It was the second day.

God’s Third Day – the Earth forms with land, seas and early life.

God said, ‘If they carry on like this they will fly away and disappear again. Let’s have a little bit of gravity here.’

And the waves came together in space and, wherever they did, they behaved as though they were tiny specks, smaller than the smallest piece of dust, but so many that they made galaxies and stars and planets and moons and all sorts of places – and one of them was our own home, Earth.

In the Earth, and other places too for all I know, some of them got together and made tiny almost-plants like the first almost-waves and these made more and more until they got together and began to build real plants. Each new plant could make more, bigger and bigger and bigger ones.

It was the third day, a very long one. For us it would have been millions of millions of years but to God it was just another day.

God’s Fourth Day – the seasons of the sun and moon, life in seas and land.

God said ‘Let’s have a few changes here.’

Now, if you remember, everything was made of waves of light, so the plants needed light to grow and change and they got most of it from the Sun and the Moon and the stars. The Moon is big like a small planet although it is not as big as our Earth. We are like two planets turning round and round each other as we go round the Sun together. This makes summer when it is brighter and hotter, and winter when it is colder and dimmer, and the in-between times, spring and autumn. It makes the sea tides rise and fall, and gives us bright days and dark nights.

All these changes caused changes in the plants. After millions of our years some of them changed a lot but to God it was just another day. The fourth one.

God’s Fifth Day – the spread of mammals.

God’s fifth day was even longer. Slowly the changing seasons and tides, and days and nights, and all the changes that the plants had to make to keep up, made the seas swarm with plant life and some of them became almost-animals. God liked that.

‘Let’s have more.’ He said.

So just as the almost-waves had become light, and the almost-plants became real plants, so the almost-animals became real animals. It took a very long time, fifty million of our years, until the seas became the home of millions of tiny creatures. Fifty million years is a very long time but it took a hundred million years before a very different animal grew called Trigonotarbids. It was different because it lived out of the water. It was the first land animal.

Have you been counting? I have. So far God’s fifth day has been a hundred and fifty million of our years but it wasn’t over yet! It was another two hundred million years before much larger animals grew. You will have heard of these, they were Dinosaurs.

And still God’s fifth day was not over!

The Dinosaurs roamed the Earth for another hundred and seventy million years. There were lots of them: small ones, large ones, very, very large ones, even some that could fly, but eventually they came to an end and the only ones left were some of the ones that could fly. They became birds. I expect you guessed that. And that was the end of God’s fifth day.

If you have been counting it took five hundred and twenty million of our years, and if you weren’t counting it still took five hundred and twenty million.

God’s Sixth Day – the coming of Mankind.

Once the big dinosaurs were gone the world was safer for smaller animals. God’s dream was getting better and better.

‘I like them.’ Said God, ‘Let’s have some more.’

So monkeys and pigs and songbirds and horses and camels and little shrews and all sorts of creatures spread far and wide but God’s daydream was still not finished.

God said, ‘There’s no-one else here quite like me. I want someone to share it with.’

He didn’t mind what they looked like because he had made many different creatures, but he wanted someone who would be pleased with this world and love it like he did – friends who could look after it all. Once the animals had spread all over the Earth, which took nearly sixty million of our years, God breathed his spirit into one of the creatures and it loved the world he had made. After many more millions of our years it became us. That was the end of God’s sixth day.

God’s Seventh Day – He rests.

So the heavens and the earth were finished and everything in them, and on the seventh day of God’s daydream he blessed it because it was the day that he rested from all the work that he had done. The seventh day went by in a flash just like the first.

Then the serious work began.

Small Deaths and Life.

When the leaf or the sparrow falls,
or the bough breaks or bends,
the curtain falls and the encore calls no more;
when sunset fades from castle walls,
there, writ small in a thousand daily ends,
the quiet message of the Word
blending time with eternity :
past, present, future,
in one, continuing, I AM.

And did He share in all our common ills?
scratch at an itch, or sneeze?
ache with weariness, suffer with the miles?
Did He feel the weight of troubles borne alone?
or dash His foot on many a wayside stone?

Did He disdain the tempting devil words?
Nor use the eternal power that sent Him here?
Did He die our thousand daily deaths
until that greater death we forced on Him,
that He so freely died for us,
the glad gift of the Lover to His beloved?

And was His death a gift?
or mark the value of the gift,
of the giver,
and the receiver?

For God so loved the world
that He gave His only begotten Son,
that all who believe in Him shall not die
but have eternal life.

The Son of God, the Son of Man,
did not come into the world to die,
but to bring the gift of eternal life
to all who believe in Him.

But what are we to believe?
The world displayed the Word from the beginning.
What new thing was this?
He came. That is mere history.
His teaching was not new –.
He taught the unchanged Law,
the truth we should already know,
leaving no excuse.

The unity of Father, Son and Spirit
binding the Eternal into time,
the Son of Man, the Son of God,
the Lover that so loved the world
that He who came to bring us life
died at the hands of His beloved.

That was His gift,
a new law:
‘Love one another
as I have loved you.’

Rivers of Memory (3)

(1) Pishon                    (2) Pishon and Havilah

Havilah, Gihon and Beyond

Havilah extended beyond the fabled garden, beyond ‘Eden’. If it was the whole land mass that encompassed them then Havilah is Africa; a land of great stretches of deserts, savannah and rainforest, crossed and fed by rivers such as the Congo, the Nile and the Zambesi. The fertility of this region is steeped, as is all fertility, in water. Hunter-gatherer families followed it through the rich waterlands of the Great Rift Valley. This richly rivered region in the east of Africa led west to the Congo and east to the sea. Southward lay savannah, woodland and the Zambezi from which they had come. To their west, between them and the Congo, lay the far ridge of the Great Rift Valley rising to over two thousand feet, above the tree line, keeping them to the east. Through the Rift Valley itself ran the chain of rivers which fed Lake Kalahari. Lake Victoria however flowed out to the river that would become the Nile. And the Nile led them north.

‘The name of the second river is Gihon, it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush.’
Genesis 2: 13

 The land of Cush is what we now call Ethiopia, where even older remains have been found, and Gihon the Nile or perhaps the narrow split which opened in the northeast of Havilah and has opened further since then to become the Red Sea which is growing even now. It drew our ancestors on, eventually to Mesopotamia: the land of the Hittites, Tubal, and the Sumerians; the gateway to the eastern arc of the fertile crescent and the country of Ararat. The naming of Assyria shows it was established by the time Genesis passed into written form.

Tigris and Euphrates

‘The name of the third river is Tigris which flows east of Assyria. And the name of the fourth river is the Euphrates.’                                                                                                                                         Genesis 2: 14

And so to the last of the great rivers associated with the genesis of humankind whose names we still know today: Tigris and Euphrates. Here the sequence of the rivers is broken. To get to the Tigris from Africa you must cross the Euphrates first, yet the Euphrates is placed fourth. The Tigris was the more important waterway. Ninevah, capital of Assyria, was built on its banks, as was Asshur, the city of the Assyrian god. The placing of the more important river first may be explained by the oral history having been written into this later historical setting.

The names of the earliest rivers are lost in prehistory, somewhere, long after the Taung child who was given the name Lucy,  between the time that language developed enough for us to tell stories and share memories and histories, and the development of writing, perhaps around the time long before writing, when we recorded our daily lives in cave paintings. Nowadays the name Pishon means a bouncing or jumping waterflow, conjuring pictures of falls and white water, whereas Gihon us a river that gushes on. The earlier root sounds may have had other meanings.

We will never know how much of the prehistoric oral record survives and how much is later addition, but we do know the history of our ancestors is rooted in these stories of ours as much as in our genes.

(1) Pishon                    (2) Pishon and Havilah

Rivers of Memory (2)

(1) Pishon                   (3) Havilah, Gihon and Beyond

Pishon & Havilah

Pishon… that flows around the whole land of Havilah where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellyium and onyx stone are there.’
                                                     Genesis 2: 10-12

These early names carry echoes of a homeland, Eden meaning pleasure. Havilah means stretch of sand, a dry or coastal land associated in the collective memory with dry savannah, desert or coastal dunes, yet watered by the waterways of our first home. Fertility in the midst of a parched land of fragrant gum trees, precious alluvial deposits and banded quartz. This memory, handed down orally from our earliest understanding of home, is earlier than the ‘Garden’ of Adam and Eve. That was not Eden; the garden was in Eden, a dim, half-recollected image of another land in the west, unnamed and scarcely understood, from which Eden was eastward.

The only thing we are told which might identify Havilah is that there was good quality gold there, and bdellyium and onyx. Gold must be panned or mined and refined. It must be melted, moulded and crafted; bdellyium is a fragrant resin or gum from which perfumes and unguents were made. Onyx is a dark, banded agate, often treated by immersion in sugar or honey solution for several weeks, then soaked in acid solution turning its natural colour to bands of black and white. A jewel in its own right, the dark and light layers lent themselves to the production of cameos. The worlds choicest supply is in Algeria; one of the earliest onyx quarries was in Egypt.

The story of Pishon and Havilla would have been an oral tradition from long before the development of writing. Gold, bdellyium and onyx imply a level of expertise, co-operation and sophistication way beyond what one would expect in such an early society, but this has become a written account. By the time of the development of writing these skills were well developed, and writers have always been ready to add an editorial comment, here illustrating the land of Havilah with products known to readers.

To come, the final part: rivers Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates.

(1) Pishon                   (3) Havilah, Gihon and Beyond

Rivers of Memory (1)

(2) Pishon and Havilah                    (3) Havilah, Gihon and Beyond

There are personal and race memories: the past, woven into the present in language, in relationships, and in stories. Words and names have roots in history. Etymology, the study of the origins of words, can throw light on the history of humanity. With what we know already, with archeology, palentology, and old stories that predate writing, we can get a glimmer, a tiny vision, of our past.

There were once four rivers: Pishon, Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates.

Pishon

‘A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. The name of the first is Pishon…’ Genesis 2: 10,11

In 1924 in the southern heart of Africa, limestone quarrymen in Taung in the Kalahari, found the skull of a female, early pre-human child, who lived and died there two and a half million years ago. Taung is some fifty miles from the African township of Bethlehem, but there was no Bethlehem then, no Taung, no Kalahari. We might not recognise the humanity in her family group with modern eyes, but it was there; tenacious, adaptable. They had survived for a million years and spread throughout Africa in the tropical rainforest through valleys and plains, following the provider of fertility: water. Today we have given these waterways names: the Orange River, the Limpopo, the Save, the Zambezi, and its tributary the Shire into which Lake Nyasa empties, falling, some fifty miles downstream, over the Kholombidzo Falls to the coast. As well as these great rivers there are lakes like seas. Lakes we call Tanganika, Rukwa, Jivu, Rwanda, Mobutu Kyoga, Turkana and many others. Greatest of all is Lake Victoria.

Somewhere here, in what is still among the most densely populated regions of Africa, early humans found their voice, language. We have few clues to the nature of their early speech: just a collection of root sounds common to later tongues, but home must have a name. Crows are said to have two main calls: kia! which signifies returning to their roost, and the deeper kaa! which signifies flying away from the roost to feed. These two cries can be heard in competition in any flock. They are voting. Whichever cry predominates determines the action of the flock.

One of the early root sounds in human language is pi, associated with drinking. Perhaps it came from the lapping sound. Another is a group of sounds all associated with water and beginning with s such as Spu: spit, sru: flow or stream and snu: to bathe, swim, float or flow. These sounds are not a language, they are roots from which language springs. Just possibly they had two sounds that joined meant home: pi-snu (drink-flow) or Pishon.

… the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellyium and onyx stone are there.’

                                                     Genesis 2: 10-12

(2) Pishon and Havilah                    (3) Havilah, Gihon and Beyond

Hazelnut Forest revisited

In March I wrote a puzzle poem Hazelnut Forest, its title an equation,
λ = 2πħ/p
so here is, as I said would be, the promised explanation.

The forest is the universe when the Word made all things new,
and the Spirit found the first conditions good and proving true.
Its leaves, the smallest particles of which the world is made,
the calling birds swift flying in the dappled light and shade,
are photons that were called to be when light was first displayed.

Its title is a formula, a particle’s waveform,
for everything is energy,
and particles just seem to be
the focus of a mystery,
the fine eye of the storm.

Another poem followed that wondered at the size
of the forest (or the world) as seen by wiser eyes.

How small the forest? We really cannot see.
We cannot give position, speed, time or volition;
to what is all around us, a truly strange admission.
As size get small and smaller, in the atoms heart and less,
in proton, quark or photon, and spacetime’s emptiness,
there is a finite limit bound in uncertainty.
How small is the forest? It’s just too small to see,
for in that finite limit is all infinity.

Men like Werner Heisenberg,
Max Planck and de Broglie,
worked out the math, and many more
have worked at detail and for sure,
where you and I give up and snore,
they plucked cherries from the tree.

A Circle With a Volume, I recall,
the last and strangest poem of them all,
came from Planck’s discovery
that length, like time, just cannot be reduced
infinitesimally small.
No matter what dimensions that we tell,
the smallest there can be, that we call Planck’s Length, L,
gives structure to the rest. There is no spell
that lets us cut fine finer till there’s nothing there at all.

The smallest, fundamental space,
the smallest, fundamental time,
are bound with that uncertainty
that binds the forest leaves.

Centre to edge is less than width,
the wheel’s centre to its rim,
your nose to your ear,
less than the wheel’s width,
less than ear to ear.

But the width of a fundamental
is the smallest distance possible .
Where can its centre be?
How far from its edge?

W. B. Yeats’ troubled poem The Second Coming that I quoted in this poem sums the uncertainty and the resulting fragility astonishingly aptly:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

From the inbuilt uncertainty of this fundamental seed, spacetime burst in an instant, followed by an immense expansion phase.
From fundamental to universal in microseconds.

This volume, this conundrum,
too veiled for us to see,
a mystery its diameter,
its radius an enigma,
the Sybil of Cumae,
time in eternity.

Ah! The Sybil of Cumae! Who was she?
Tis said she asked Apollo, who wanted her to wife,
that she might have, though mortal, as many years of life
as the grains of sand held in her hand.

False promises were made and when her wish was gained
her favours were withdrawn – Apollo raged.
Trapped through the years, her body aged;
kept shrinking in a jar ’til just her voice remained.

And why a hazelnut forest? In the mid-fourteenth century, following a vision, Dame Julian of Norwich compared all creation to a hazelnut held in God’s hand.
Such a tiny thing, encompassing all creation, shown her by God in a series of visions in which she saw the depth and greatness of His love for all mankind.