Psalm 104: Sustainable creation

You make springs gush forth in valleys, they flow between hills. (10)

Image: Libby O’Loghlin

Here we have epic demonstrative poetry, the poet overcome by the glory and power of the creation — and the Creator. 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)

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.

Kanga on the keys? They don’t seem too interested — but our world and theirs are one.

In these days of global warming, extinction of many species and desertification, such a picture can be lost in fear. However, 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 heliocentricity — ‘the earth will never move’. Beware literal dogma; beware inflexibility, especially in the face of scientific environmental evidence.

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Typical Genevan melody for Psalm 104, alternating minim and crotchet groups.

We seldom use the Genevan Psalter, an example of which is shown above. They are hymns rather than responsorial. But Together in Song offers a positive and singable refrain based on verse 30, striking a timely and relevant chord, so to speak, about conservation and the need to renew not only the physical environment but also human social and moral conditions.

Send forth your spirit O God, and renew the face of the earth.

TiS 65

The verses in TiS are not those in the Lectionary selection. And anyway, it’s a pity to skip that wonderful imagery and language in verse 25. Replace TiS words with 24-34, 35b, adding pointing according to the double tone provided, as follows (depending on the translation):

Yonder is the sea ‘ great and wide;
with its creeping things innumerable, both ‘ great and small.
There ‘ go the ships,
the Leviathan that you ‘ made for sport.

Ps. 104: 25, 26

Did you pick up the little ’35b’ in the verse selection? What’s with the silently omitted 35a? Full marks to the Hon. Lord High Selector of Verses, whoever that was years ago, who took the brave step of omitting its “Let sinners be consumed from the earth”. While we can not, would not change the psalmist’s angry feelings at the time, we can select our message for consistency with later wisdom, notably the New Commandment.

Finally, a reminder of our male voices singing a small sample of Psalm 104 from the Rachmaninoff All night vigil – ‘lite’. I don’t think it quite sounded like this but the feeling was there:

Blagoslovi dushe moya Gospoda, Psalm 104 from Rachmaninoff Op. 37