Friday, February 5, 2016

The Bigger Part of Reality

Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion;
and to you shall vows be performed, O you who answer prayer!
To you all flesh shall come.

When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us, you forgive our transgressions.
Happy are those whom you choose and bring near to live in your courts.
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, your holy temple.

By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation;
you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.
By your strength you established the mountains; you are girded with might.
You silence the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples.

Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs;
you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.
You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water; you provide the people with grain,
for so you have prepared it.

You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges,
softening it with showers, and blessing its growth.
You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with richness.

The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy,
the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy.
Psalm 65

Reflection – Well, after many, many weeks of a certain kind of psalm—the ‘our enemies are pursuing us to destroy us – help!’ genre, we now have something completely different. Psalm 65 is a psalm of unadulterated praise and thanksgiving, one of the truly great ones on that theme.

It is of course a harvest psalm – the pastures are overflowing and the meadows are clothed with flocks, the valleys with grain. God’s absolute mastery over nature (establishing the mountains, silencing the seas) means that when nature is doing what nature does—multiplying with fecundity so that there is abundant food to be had—it is to God that we render our thanks.

In Madonna House, especially in Combermere here, we are an agricultural people, and so it is easy for us to make this psalm our own. We know very well, as any farmers do, that all the hard work and wise husbandry of soil and seed, flock and herd, can all go for naught if killing frost or withering drought come at the wrong time. So we know that ‘if the Lord does not build the house’ (the field, the barn, the apiary, the bush lot), then ‘in vain do the builders labor’.

In our rural and agricultural context, giving thanks to God is natural, spontaneous, the obvious thing to do. But what about all you city dwellers? Leaving aside the fact that most of you probably ate food today, and that food was probably not grown in a laboratory on the international space station, so somewhere in there a farmer was involved.

But it is true that once you are, like most people in North America, two or three or ten steps removed from the earth (which I personally believe to be one of the root mistakes we have made in our modern society), then the natural awareness that all life is from God and nurtured by God becomes a bit… tenuous, shall we say?

Well, thanksgiving may not flow as obviously or spontaneously, but it should still flow. Look around you, wherever you are now. There is a sky above you, a sun and clouds, moon and stars. There is ground beneath you, even if it covered with asphalt and pavement. There are trees and birds and animals, plants and flowers. And there are people—millions upon millions of them. Each made by God, each a unique reflection of divine life and love. Even the ones who may be distressing you or may be living disastrously bad lives—even them.

All is from God, all comes from His hands and is desired and meant by Him to be used (in the case of things) for the service of love or to be receivers and givers (in the case of persons) of love. The divine bounty flows and flows and overflows, yes, even in the heart of the urban landscape, there are meadows brimming with flowers, pastures decked with flocks, granaries filled with wheat. If we have eyes to see them.

Thanksgiving situates us in the heart of reality, in the largest part of ‘what is’, rather than the narrow confines of ‘what is not’. There is an entire cosmos that simply is—only a small portion of that cosmos that tragically is not. When we burst out in grateful praise and prayer, we are choosing to live in reality, the biggest part of reality, rather than continually placing ourselves in the wound, in the unreality of creation’s incompleteness and brokenness.

Psalm 65 is a grand psalm, then, for all of us, farmers or not, to dwell in the courts of God, His holy temple, which ultimately is the entire heavens and the earth and all that fills them, filled by our Father in heaven out of His love for us and all creation.

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