I was distracted for most of 1970. That was the year the first baby came; and while he was welcome, I have to say that motherhood turned out to be quite demanding.
So I barely noticed on April 22 when millions of Americans formed marches and rallies across the nation to bring attention to the plight of Mother Earth. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring about the misuse of pesticides had been published eight years earlier, and Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin pushed environmental awareness further onto the national agenda by organizing that first Earth Day, 50 years ago.
But this “fragile earth, our island home,” as The Book of Common Prayer has it (pg 370), has owned the respect of the psalmists from deep time. The very heavens declare the glory of God, acknowledges Psalm 19. “The skies proclaim the work of his hands” (vs 1).
For the psalmist, God’s act of creation declares God’s wisdom and power in bringing order out of chaos.
Recalling Genesis chapters one and two, Psalm 104 describes and praises God’s proper dominion over all of nature. After expressing uncontainable praise for the Lord of heaven and earth, the psalmist addresses the Almighty himself. Then, as if turning to an audience, the psalmist reminds us of God’s power:
In verses 3 and 4
God wraps himself in light;
He forms the heavens;
He rides on the wind and makes it his messenger;
Clouds are his chariot.
In verses 13-15, God
Waters the mountains;
Provides food from plants and grass;
Makes wine for our pleasure;
Creates nests for birds and mountains for goats.
Next, the psalmist recalls God’s acts of creation in the beginning: how he set the earth on an immovable foundation and commanded the waters to fall into order (vss 5-9). In verse 18, God gave the moon and the sun tasks for the ordering of each day.
The linguistic movement back and forth in psalm 104, from second person to third person and present tense to past tense can be disarming if we dwell on it. But we have to remember two things: First, the psalms are poetry, and the writers often take great poetic license. The psalms are not, after all, statements of dogma or doctrine; rather they are to be entered into and enjoyed for the sheer pleasure of it.
Secondly, we see that God acted in the beginning and continues to act in the present time. What’s more, we can talk to God and we can talk about God. There are no limiting parameters to God’s story, just as there are none to our own stories.
Lest we forget, the psalmist reminds us that all creatures – that would be including you and me – are dependent upon God for breath and sustenance. If God would hide God’s face from us, we would return to dust. But when we open ourselves to God’s spirit, we are renewed (vss 27-30).
What will be our response to this outpouring of God’s creative self? With the psalmist, we are invited to “sing to the Lord” as long as we live; to meditate on God’s goodness (vss 33-34). (Note: Unlike the wicked we see described in verse 35, who will vanish.)
Praise the Lord, my soul.
Praise the Lord.
For study and practice this week:
Get outside. Take a walk. Sit on the patio. Read Mary Oliver poetry.
Order and Read Songs of the Heart by Joan Chittister. (Amazon is delivering.)
For an introduction to the psalms with previous posts and a bibliography, click here.
Marjorie George serves the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas as a consultant in Adult Christian Formation. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or leave a comment below.