The first Australians have been conscious of and connected to the land in much stronger and deeper ways than more recent arrivals can comprehend or feel.
Their livelihood was far more intimately bound up with their natural environment. Features in their traditional territorial landscapes have longstanding narrative and spiritual importance.
Somehow, this atmosphere permeates Psalm 85. The first verses speak of restoration and forgiveness but these blessings are anchored in a context. From the opening phrase we are reminded that we live in a certain land:
Lord, you were favorable to your land …
Later, we are assured that salvation is at hand; why?
… that God’s glory may dwell in our land (v.9)
But the strongest imagery is yet to come:
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. (vv. 10, 11)
Faithfulness, a fundamental divine and image-of-the-divine virtue, is somehow associated with the very heart of the creation.
As we so often find, lectionary readings are linked in many ways. I’ll bet the founders of our current lectionary didn’t have the land in mind as they made their selections, but the presence is just as strong in the text we hear from Exodus:
- In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway
- Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
- The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.
- Get you up to a high mountain … (vv. 3 to 9)
And where, in the reading from Mark, does John the baptiser appear? In the wilderness of course.
The land is by no means the main story in this psalm. There’s a lot more for you to discover (full readings are here>).
However, whether it’s bush-walking, growing your own, or working to preserve the environment, it’s a reminder to connect with our world afresh.
We shall sing a setting used previously:
It’s worth noting that No 45 in Together in Song would also be a good choice; easy response, simple chords, interesting harmonies for SATB in the verses. However, it does not quite cover the lectionary readings and I think verses 1 and 2 are necessary to set the scene.