Do You Hear the Music of the Spheres?

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." John 1:1, 14

During a recent worship service we sang a favorite hymn, “This Is My Father’s World.” The words to the first half of the first verse are, “This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears, all nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres.” Maltbie Babcock authored this hymn and apparently was enough of a saint to hear the music of the spheres.

That phrase, “the music of the spheres,” caught my eye. What does it mean? It sounded familiar, and after a few moments of thought during the offertory I recalled the phrase from some reading in astronomy.

The phrase dates back to Pythagoras, a sixth century B.C. Ionian, better known for his theory of right triangles. He proposed that the universe was arranged in a series of concentric spheres, like Russian dolls, with earth at the center. The sphere and the circle were perfect shapes to the ancients, and so they were certain the universe must reflect that divine geometry. Pythagoras was also convinced that as the spheres rubbed against each other they produced a heavenly sound he called “the music of the spheres.”

While his cosmology may be a bit off, you have to admire his theology. The universe made sense, and it was beautiful. He believed this order and beauty must have an underlying rationale and reason. Though subject to various imperfections and tribulations in life the universe has to have a certain principles an individual can count on.

Six centuries later John wrote in his Gospel that the Word was in the beginning, and was with God and was God, and through the Word all things were made (John 1:1-2). Word, in Greek, is logos. It meant reason, logic, intelligence. John had picked it up, baptized it, and gave it a name. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (1:14). John knew that behind all the noise of life, God was speaking. When the time was right He spoke through his Son. The universe was not ultimately chaotic and unpredictable. A benevolent intelligence that had created it all was now guiding, directing and redeeming.

The divine melody constantly plays. Few are the ears that hear it. Take time to listen for it today and every day. Watch for God’s gentle signature in the world around you. Listen for his invitation to live deeply, and to trust that in him you can find peace.

I would like to know more about Maltbie Babcock. He evidently was a dedicated Christian, musician and perhaps a bit of a scientist to boot. He seems to me to have that wonderful combination of a warm heart and clear mind. Whatever the case he certainly wrote a beautiful hymn that reminds us of God’s presence in an often chaotic world.

Or as Babcock put it in the final verse of his memorable hymn, “This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget, that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet.”


Dr. Terry Ellis

February 17, 2013