“Creativity is the force of the imagination being formed into something true and beautiful by the world’s constraints. You can see it is a sufficient generalization of both science and art,” explains Tom McLeish, the author of the book The Poetry of Music and Science, an examination of the role of creativity in both scientific and artistic domains. Musician, pastor, and astronomy-lover, Rick Pidcock has just completed a project that demonstrates how contemplating the imaginative insights into the natural world that science has brought us can fuel the artistic imagination. His new album, Consider the Stars, seeks to celebrate the spiritual poetry of the science of space.
I had the chance to ask Rick some questions about the process of making music celebrating God’s truth as revealed in astrophysics and the thinking behind some of the lyrics.
Christy: What was your vision for this project?
Rick: The main vision for the album is to plant seeds for a liturgical language that utilizes scientific consensus to worship God in scientifically precise, spiritually deep ways. It’s not just for science-minded believers. For believers who are not yet accepting of scientific consensus, it’s a chance to explore theological and scientific connections and imagine how modern science could expand their worship. I also hope it could bring nonbelievers, skeptics, and believers together to sit side by side in child-like wonder of the stars.
Christy: At the 2019 BioLogos Conference you led a breakout session about this album project where you shared some of your life story and how you came to see science as an expression of God’s truth that can lead believers to wonder and worship. You grew up in what many people would see as a coercive and restrictive faith community where you weren’t really free to pursue your curiosity or express your emotions. Could you describe how you moved past that and found the healing and spiritual freedom to come to God with the thoughts and feelings you express in your songs?
Rick: In 2015, I was fully convinced of everything I believed, and I didn’t even think I had any questions about God. But then our church invited the 10,000 Fathers Worship School to take a dozen of us on a year-long discipleship journey. On that first night, they told us that we needed to have both God-awareness and self-awareness. I figured that my God-awareness was great, but I had never thought about my self-awareness. Then they had us write down our top ten high points and hard times in life. Suddenly, I began to realize how deeply my wounds were leading me to suppress my curiosity and emotions. Over the next year, 10,000 Fathers began a healing process in me that helped me grieve my wounds and reawakened the seeds of wonder that had been planted in me as a small child. Eventually, that journey would birth new wonders that would lead to an embrace of science. Consider the Stars is the first album from this journey.
Christy: How did the project come about?
Rick: During this season of healing I just described, I was introduced to the Unbelievable podcast, which led to learning about BioLogos. The writings of Francis Collins and Dennis Venema played a vital role in opening me up to scientific consensus. Then I watched two talks by Rob Bell entitled “Everything Is Spiritual,” where he explored how the universe is an overflow of energy in relationship that evolves in unity, complexity, and depth. His exploration of spiritual depth from scientific precision gave me inspiration for a creative language that I thought would make a really unique album.
Christy: Do you think your own creative work informs your imagination of how God the artist felt at the very beginning? How does the kind of creative reflection on reality that you attempt in this album expand your perspective on God’s work, character, and truth?
Rick: When I believed that my relationship with God was basically the result of a set of transactions by which God would see Jesus instead of me, I felt a strange disconnect from God and myself. If God was mainly interested in seeing Jesus rather than seeing me, then I shouldn’t be that interested in seeing myself. I was seeing myself more like a hidden asset on a spreadsheet than the child of a Father or the masterful creation of an Artist. There was no imagination in that. 10,000 Fathers helped me begin to see myself, others and the whole universe as God’s overflow. I felt connected to the whole of God’s creation. It was like a spiritual Big Bang of Wonder from the singularity of my true self hidden in Christ.
If I could see and celebrate the beauty of the universe, could it be possible that God might as well? I could now resonate with such mystics as St Francis of Assisi, who spoke of “Brother Sun,” “Sister Moon,” or “Precious and pure Sister Water” as family members in a universe that flows from God. Science helps us to explore the relationships between these energies and forms. Art helps us enter into those relationships through contemplation and celebration. When I evolve a lyric or shape a sound, I’m imaging the relational overflow of God. It’s not that Christians have to apply their imaginations in order to obey some rule. It’s more like, why wouldn’t we? Contemplating and celebrating relationship is at the core of consciousness.
In “Bang,” we imagine the depth of contemplation that God must have felt at the moment of the Big Bang. The outpouring of an artist flows from the depths of their inner life. For God to pour out not just a song or a painting, but a universe that is accelerating in its expansion, God must have had an incomprehensible depth of inner contemplation at the moment his eyelids opened for the Big Bang.
Christy: In the first track, “Singularity,” you explore the idea that God’s creative process often moves slowly from a mere “seed” to a complex maturity that bears almost no resemblance to its beginnings. We see this in the development of great trees from small seeds, complicated human lives from embryos, and at the highest level, a whole cosmos from a singularity.
I think many Christians have experienced a sense of awe when contemplating oaks from acorns or babies from sperm and egg cells, but maybe fewer people have felt that same wonder thinking about the Big Bang. What led you to make that connection?
Rick: One of the more difficult barriers that many Christians have for embracing scientific consensus is that we’re 3,000 years away from the ancient Near Eastern context that Genesis was written in. Many of us have read Genesis through the same lens our entire lives and cannot imagine seeing it any other way. Because God is incarnational, I believe that God met the people of the Ancient Near East within the cosmological and literary framework that they understood to communicate a theology that can be translated to our context today.
Our song “Singularity” is an attempt to model God’s incarnational posture of meeting people where they are today. Whether Christians grasp the Big Bang or not, they at least connect with trees growing from seeds and humans growing from embryos. These are just two tangible comparisons that we can make for people today to show how God grows things slowly and developmentally over time.
We tend to think that when God speaks, whatever God says automatically happens. But Isaiah 55:10-11 says that God’s word accomplishes God’s will over time like a seed being watered. This pattern of God’s word producing its fruit slowly is used to describe the Nation of God (Psalm 80:8-11), the righteous (Psalm 92:12-14), the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 13:31-32), the Church (1 Corinthians 3:5-9), our awareness of God (Ephesians 3:17-19), the gospel (Colossians 1:6), and the reconciliation of all things (Colossians 1:15-20). Now we know from science that the universe was grown in the same way that the Bible says God grows everything else, slowly and developmentally from the particular to the universal.
Christy: In the song “Dark Mirrors,” you draw a parallel between dark matter, dark energy, and dark mirrors, an allusion to 1 Corinthians 13:12. How do you think the borders and edges of scientific knowledge relate to the borders and edges of spiritual knowledge? Are there lessons we can learn from the scientific approach to the unknown that apply to theology or the Christian life?
Rick: When Christians begin to see other possible ways of reading the Bible that allow us to explore modern science, we often feel fear about unexpected questions and doubts that may come up. I’ve heard from a number of Christians already who have expressed interest in science, but are afraid that I’m opening up a Pandora’s box for them.
“Dark Mirrors” explores dark matter as a metaphor for what draws us together and dark energy as a metaphor for what moves us forward. It uses the credal language of “We believe,” and yet does so within the theological context of the unknowing and the unseen. And it utilizes a jazz style to reflect the laying down of the heavy in exchange for the lightness of spirit that can come when we can embrace the dark mirror and when we can be okay with not seeing everything so clearly as we press forward into exploring God’s expanding wonder.
Dr. Bethany Sollereder, University of Oxford.
Rick Pidcock’s inspiring album combines the insights of science with a profound love for God and Scripture. Pidcock’s skillful interweaving of themes from these Two Books will leave you pondering the wonder and beauty of our existence in new ways.
Christy: “A Billion Years” struck me as a modern psalm, where wonder at the vastness of time and space culminates in a celebration of the love of God that, in the words of the Psalmist, “endures forever,” and in your words, amounts to “fourteen billion years of love.” What do you think are the similarities (or differences) between you exploring some of these concepts from astrophysics and the long history of believers observing the natural world around them in a posture of worship?
Rick: In Genesis 1, the author spoke of a cosmos where God separated light from darkness to bring order and beauty to the wild and waste. Then the author of John 1 described a cosmos where the light shined into and overcame the darkness.
Philosophers and preachers throughout Christian history have imagined a cosmos of expansion from light, even seven centuries before Edwin Hubble discovered the expanding universe. And they imagined it based on their theology traced back through Augustine to John 1 and Genesis 1. We have a lot of songs that celebrate creation in general terms. But what if we could bring modern science into our worship? Romans 1:20 says that God’s power and divine nature are seen through what He has made. We literally have 13.8 billion years worth of an expanding universe to celebrate. The potential songs and albums we could write to celebrate God’s power and divine nature being seen in what He has made is unparalleled. We have been called to consider the stars. So why not consider them, and then describe our discoveries in the songs of stars?
Christy: You have had the chance to share the album with some Christians who are professional scientists. What has been their response?
Rick: They obviously have way more knowledge than I do about their fields of study. But when they hear the songs, they really resonate with them. One of my favorite comments so far has been from a scientist who said, “I can finally listen to songs about my favorite subject.” The lay people who accept scientific consensus have really loved the songs. But most of my friends are coming out of a background that would not accept the science and may not quite know what to think about it. So I’ve mostly been met with either silence or private Nicodemus-type conversations. I have no idea what to expect the reaction to be. But I’ve had a lot of fun making the album and want to put it out there as a liturgy for those who accept modern science, as water to a seed for those who aren’t sure, and as a conversation starter for child-like wonder between atheists, agnostics, and believers.
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