You make springs gush forth in valleys, they flow between hills. (10)
Here we have epic demonstrative poetry, the poet overcome by the glory and power of the creation — and the assurance that its creator actively sustains every natural and living creature. The author’s feelings are quite infectious:
You are clothed with honour and majesty, wrapped in light as with a garment. You stretch out the heavens like a tent, you set the beams of your chambers on the waters, you make the clouds your chariot, you ride on the wings of the wind, you make the winds your messengers, fire and flame your ministers. (2-4)
These verses appear well before the Lectionary selection, which starts at verse 24. The song continues relishing the diversity and complexity of creatures and the environment. As in several other psalms (145 for example) divine love also sustains and provides for this diverse living planet.
This assurance does not exempt humanity from responsibility for the environment.
In these days of global warming, extinction of many species and desertification, such a picture can be lost in fear. The psalms also long for times when divine love working through people can regenerate and fulfil the intention of the blueprint. In many countries, regrettably, politics hinder rather than help. Leadership counts.
Still, the poet is certain that our world is wonderful and enduring: “You have set the earth on its foundations, so that it shall never move.” (5) True, Psalm 102 counters that all things shall pass. However this poor little verse had the dubious honour of being one of those the church cited to condemn evidence of Copernicus and his scientifically sound theories heliocentricity — ‘the earth will never move’. Beware literal dogma; beware inflexibility, especially in the face of environmental evidence.
At Woden Valley this week we continue what seems to be a temporary and unintentional ‘Return to TiS’ trend — rediscovering some of the psalm settings in Together in Song that are seldom used. Psalm 104 in TiS 65 provides a positive and timely refrain, a prayer quoting verse 30:
Send forth your spirit O God, and renew the face of the earth.
We have arranged that refrain by A G Murray and the associated double tone (notes for four lines of chant rather than two) for three parts. Verses will be from the set text rather than the abbreviated selection in the hymn book.
24 O God, how manifold are your works, all ' made in wisdom the earth is full ' of your creatures. 25 Yonder is the sea, ' great and wide, with many living creatures both ' small and great.
Singing the verses to a tone is not as common in Christian communities as in years gone by. However, it is a flexible and harmonious way of joining deeply meaningful poetry with simple but sympathetic song. The tone allows a good degree of expression in telling the story of the psalm, provided the one-beat-per-syllable theory is not followed too closely.
The more singers can memorise and feel the simple progression of the notes of their part embedded in the harmonies as a whole, the more they can collaborate in a shared sense of the flow of the phrases in presenting the narrative. It takes a little practice and experiencing the song together until a collective understanding of the interpretation emerges. Very satisfying.
And just to keep our horizons broad and inclusive, listen to this powerful heartfelt rendition of Psalm 104 in Hebrew: