Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Scripture for the Day: Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number—living things both large and small. There the ships go to and fro, and Leviathan, which you formed to frolic there. All creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground. May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works—he who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains, and they smoke. I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord. Praise the Lord, my soul. Praise the Lord.

I would have never guessed that a pandemic would so warp my perception of the world, it seems like I can hardly remember all the way back to the rhythms of life in early March. I do know it involved a good deal of rushing around; getting our boys off to school, my wife and I jumping into separate cars each morning to commute to our respective offices, days spent in meetings, and for me driving through Atlanta’s notorious traffic to visit people in homes and  hospitals, spending more time in traffic to get home, then coordinating getting our boys to and from sports practices, trying to squeeze in some exercise for ourselves, figuring out what we’re having for dinner (embarrassed at how often it involves a drive-thru) … Living the American dream, I guess.

Now that we’ve all been confined, more or less, to our own homes for 12 weeks and the old daily activities have been curtailed, I notice that my neighborhood, suburban though it is, is still rather bustling; with wildlife.
My wife and I now have the luxury of taking evening strolls around our community and in addition to seeing our human neighbors we’ve discovered a large owl that lives nearby. He’s practically invisible when perched in a tree but when he takes flight his impressive wingspan catches your eye, especially if the only illumination is back light from the moon. We’ve made it something of a game to see if we see him on any given evening; even if we don’t, we hear him through the window we keep open at night. I’m sure he was there before March; I’d just never noticed. 
As the evenings have warmed, the tree frogs are now croaking, crickets too. I expect to see the first firefly of the season any day now and I’m not so happy the mosquitoes will soon be out in droves.  I’ve set up a workstation in a spare bedroom and I generally keep the window in that room open too. The daytime birds make more racket than the evening critters but there’s a reason we call it birdsong, it’s beautiful. I also will pause when I hear woodpeckers hammering at trees and occasionally the metal cap at the top of our chimney. 

A few years ago, episcopal priest, Barbara Brown Taylor wrote an autobiography entitled, Leaving Church, and you can guess from the title that was a bit scandalous in clergy circles. In it, she observed, “I know plenty of people who find God most reliably in books, in buildings, and even in other people. I have found God in all of these places too, but the most reliable meeting place for me has always been creation.” [1] She explained how her faith walk took her away from urban ministry so she could better immerse herself in a life more attuned to the rhythms of the natural world.

During this time of unexpected separation from the patterns of city-life and ministry, I can empathize with her as well as better understand the words of the psalmist; to see the multitude of creatures that are part of the work of God’s creation that I, perhaps, was prone to overlook.

The psalmist ends with a word of praise, and yes, it could be interpreted as the voice of the individual, but in this time of pandemic, I hear it as a call for the community of faith to draw nearer, someday (prudently), to worship the God who made all of creation. Rev. Taylor’s path was to pull away from her community of faith, and I don’t fault her that decision, it was done prayerfully and deliberately. I, however, even as I’m becoming more attuned to the natural world, am having an opposite reaction. I have felt a stronger call to come back and gather as the church. I realize that when we do gather to praise God as the Body of Christ, we won’t be the same. I pray we will learn to have the eyes of the psalmist and find balance between the world humans have created and God’s creation, to find a faithful balance.

Lord, may we love all your creation, all the earth and every grain of sand in it. May we love every leaf, every ray of your light. May we love the animals; you have given them the rudiments of thought and joy untroubled. Let us not trouble it; let us not harass them, let us not deprive them of their happiness, let us not work against your intent. For we acknowledge unto you that all is like an ocean, all is flowing and blending, and that to withhold any measure of love from anything in your universeis to withhold that same measure from you. Amen.

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (1821–1881)

[1] Taylor, Barbara Brown, Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith, (New York: Harper Collins, 2007), p. 79.