2002, Creekside Press


by Cranston Stroup


All things must change. Inflexible, the law
Held over matter still its cold decree.
The crystals, three-dimensional and staid,
Looked forward to a fourth to set them free.
So, constantly, under the benign and strong
Dissolving influence of water, light,
And heat, the crystals changed their forms.
And thus new combinations and designs
Were formed on earth, and in the mind of God:
Until one day no crystal formed. But there
Where it had been changed there strangely lay
A life ... four-dimensional and free.
A tiny plant had started off alone
On those uncharted waters of the earth
To destinies unknown to it or to
The mind of God. Quietly it moved,
This first uncertain bit of life. It moved
And suckled air; and as it fed on air
Divided. So as days spread into years
The sea, and all the rivers and the streams
Soon teemed with diatoms. But soon some lives
Found shelter where there were no rays of sun.
It happened then that one more greedy life
Absorbed another being; grew to live
On plants. And thus the protoplasm came
To live without its feeding chlorophyll.
Then animals were born, and born to live
Without the sun, but feed on other life.

See the change it made. Within the mind
Of God evil was born, for life had fed
On life. And this once dark and virgin mind
Of God conceived of Death and pain.

......................................................And thus
As God conceived of Death, there art was born;
And with art conscious beauty. So the world
From its own travail bore its loveliness,
In God and all that lived.

........................................And all this life
Found haven after death within the mind
Of God. The Unmoved Mover now had life
And permeated all the earth with forms
Which molded changing life. And soon these plants
And animals which groped, one-celled and blind,
About the earth, had sought and found their like,
And were a colony. And as they lived
Their vital labors were partitioned 'til
This once-barren earth teemed with many plants,
And countless animals who felt the urge
To leave the hospitable sea so filled
With life and find a home. Later the wolf
And saber tooth began to roam the wilds-
Followed the ancient, giant reptiles who
With clumsy, monster feet trod down the ferns.
These transient behemoths gave way to sheep
And nimble goats, and graceful, agile deer.

The old order changed. The wolf remains.
The saber tooth is gone. But ugliness
And beauty are companions on the way.
So out of shadowed contrast ... art was born.
And now the great, long-conscious God looked down
Upon the earth, and saw that it was good.

Go to Part III

To Part I, Part III, Part IV

"So beauty blossomed in the mind of God." Part III, line 14. Morning glory. Watercolor with egg tempera by Jeff Chapman-Crane. For a larger image, click here.

Commentary, continued from Part I

As a young Christian philosopher, Cranston Stroup was fascinated by the scientific theories of biological evolution and of the origins of the universe. He held no sympathy for fundamentalism. Indeed the religious culture within his family supported intellectual openness and encouraged vigorous engagement with the forces shaping society. Cranston resolved to undertake an epic poem opening a vision that might dissolve tensions between scientific theories of creation and the deepest truths within the Christian faith. I believe that he may have prepared this poem as a dissertation to complete his work in philosophy and to secure his Bachelor's degree from Stanford University.

In 1927 Alfred North Whitehead published Religion in the Making. In this imaginative treatise the British mathematician and philosopher proposed that God is interdependent with the world and develops along with the world's evolution. Cranston's poem suggests the influence of this book. Whitehead's analysis would, several years later, inspire a stream of Protestant reflection that came to be called "process theology." However even the earliest "process theologians" emerged after Cranston's composition.

When we attempt to probe the nature of God, "We come to comprehension's brink," as Cranston put it. Beyond that brink, poetry has clear advantages over systematic theology: This may be why the Bible contains so much of the former and so little of the latter. A poet can reach outward with all the color and evocative associations that words may inspire, while the philosopher or theologian must dangle stair-steps of rationality into the unknown.

Continues with Part III

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