Monday, August 25, 2014

Take a Good Look Around

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,

all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth
Psalm 8
Reflection – Monday Psalter time again. We have had quite a sequence of psalms so far that have had strong elements of distress, cries for help, anguish in suffering, and confrontation with evil.

Now, as if to give a relief from this necessary aspect of prayer, we have a psalm that simply praises God and exults in his work and his greatness. There is something of a lesson for us in this, too (the psalms are, among other things, the great schoolbook of prayer for the Church). That is, we have to leave off our lamenting and groaning over the state of the world and of our own lives, once in a while, to simply rejoice in the goodness and beauty of God.

Something is badly amiss in our faith if we never stop, take a good look around us, and glorify God for his majestic name. No matter what is happening in our lives, what terrible sorrow or grief we may carry (and it can be severe, I do know), there is a larger world than that sorrow surrounding us, and a larger God who embraces it, and praise breaks us through to that larger world, on the level of faith if not that of our emotions.

The specific praise of psalm 8 flows from apprehending the beauty and greatness of creation on the one hand, and the immense royal dignity given to human beings on the other hand. The human person as the master of the world, of all created things, given dominion and crowned with glory and honor—this is the great cause of our wonder and joy in this psalm.

Environmentalists have wrongly identified this strand of biblical theology with the subsequent destruction of the environment from the industrial revolution onwards. This is utterly illogical and deeply silly, since I do not think the normal course of being given stewardship over a thing is to wreck it and ruin it. Generally, we take care of things we are given responsibility for.

I also don’t think the architects of the industrial revolution and of modern heavy industry were much occupied with a spirit of deep piety and constant meditation upon Genesis 1. The general idea seems to have been to make as much money as possible, as quickly as possible, poisoning earth, air, water, and maiming and killing one’s own workers in that process. To lay all that at the feet of the biblical theology of creation is a stretch at best, a ludicrous calumny in fact.

Meanwhile, Psalm 8 is a fantastic celebration of human dignity precisely because creation is such a wonderful, marvellous thing, and God has paid us such a compliment in asking us to take care of it. And this psalm takes on a deeper resonance yet when prayed in the spirit of Jesus Christ.

Human dominion over creation has been elevated to a new height, the man Jesus of Nazareth seated on the very throne of heaven, and calling us to love creation the way He loves it, to have our small human love and care for the world suffused and transformed into a share in the divine cosmic tenderness and mercy for the whole universe.

There is much to ponder in all this, much to meditate on, and much profit to be had from praying Psalm 8 in the spirit of Christian faith. The whole relationship of human beings to God and to creation in a sense is found in this rather short psalm. So let us pray it, and in praying it lift our minds and hearts to this immense vision of life, and above all praise and thank God for having made all things so wondrous and well.