The Milky Way
by: Michael Wilcock
The Milky Way, as such, doesn’t figure anywhere in the Bible. But perhaps it was that band of brightness across the night sky, where the stars seem most densely packed, that illustrated the mind-blowing fact that God brought home to Abraham in Genesis 15—innumerable descendants promised to a childless man. Why does Herbert link it with prayer, though?
There is a clue in another of his poems, “The Holy Scriptures (II),” not itself about prayer but about Bible reading. Here too he has a starry sky in mind: “Oh that I knew how all thy lights combine, / And the configurations of their glory! / Seeing not only how each verse doth shine, / But all the constellations of the story.” The apparent patterns the stars make should remind God’s people of the actual patterns he intends their lives to follow.
Concerning the night sky as a whole, not just the Milky Way, it is these constellations, as well as the immense number of the stars, that stargazers have always noted. In a similar way, to Abraham they represented a multitude of people who were not just numberless but also all related.
Consider this truth when you pray. All the people, all the things, that we talk to God about, and all the connections between them, are mapped out in his mind. He knows what he’s doing.
Here is the poem in its entirety:
BY GEORGE HERBERT
Prayer the Church’s banquet, Angels’ age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth;
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tower,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days-world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted Manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood.
The land of spices; something understood.