Saturday, March 21, 2009

“The Ancient Sage”

We host an every-other-week gathering in our home, which we simply call "Sunday Breakfast". As the name would imply, we serve breakfast to our guests, after which we gather in the living room for worship, Bible study, and discussion. We usually have a "questions that skeptics ask" segment in which we pose some of the difficult questions that skeptics ask us, or that our own "skeptic within" might raise. Tomorrow, we will be asking some difficult "why" questions. I plan to use the following poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in our discussion. It was written in 1885, late in the life of the poet. Because this site often considers evidence for and against faith, I am sharing the poem with my readers. Tennyson shares insights he gained over a lifetime about faith and hope, urging caution against certitude, and healthy humility for all who pursue truth. Feel free to offer your comments!

"The Ancient Sage"
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

If thou would’st hear the Nameless, and wilt dive
  Into the Temple-cave of thine own self,
There, brooding by the central altar, thou
May’st haply learn the Nameless hath a voice,
By which thou wilt abide, if thou be wise,
As if thou knewest, tho’ thou canst not know;
For Knowledge is the swallow on the lake
That sees and stirs the surface-shadow there
But never yet hath dipt into the abysm,
The Abysm of all Abysms, beneath, within
The blue of sky and sea, the green of earth,
And in the million-millionth of a grain
Which cleft and cleft again for evermore,
And ever vanishing, never vanishes,
To me, my son, more mystic than myself,
Or even than the Nameless is to me.
  And when thou sendest thy free soul thro’ heaven,
Nor understandest bound nor boundlessness,
Thou seest the Nameless of the hundred names.
  And if the Nameless should withdraw from all
Thy frailty counts most real, all thy world
Might vanish like thy shadow in the dark.

‘And since—from when this earth began—
  The Nameless never came
Among us, never spake with man,
  And never named the Name’—
Thou canst not prove the Nameless, O my son,
Nor canst thou prove the world thou movest in,
Thou canst not prove that thou art body alone,
Nor canst thou prove that thou art spirit alone,
Nor canst thou prove that thou art both in one:
Thou canst not prove thou art immortal, no
Nor yet that thou art mortal—nay my son,
Thou canst not prove that I, who speak with thee,
Am not thyself in converse with thyself,
For nothing worthy proving can be proven,
Nor yet disproven: wherefore thou be wise,
Cleave ever to the sunnier side of doubt,
And cling to Faith beyond the forms of Faith
She reels not in the storm of warring words,
She brightens at the clash of ‘Yes’ and ‘No’,
She sees the Best that glimmers thro’ the Worst,
She feels the Sun is hid but for a night,
She spies the summer thro’ the winter bud,
She tastes the fruit before the blossom falls,
She hears the lark within the songless egg,
She finds the fountain where they wail’d ‘Mirage’!

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