August 16, 2015 | Psalm 104 | Rev. Nancy Talbot –
Depending on which expert you ask, I’ve just survived one of the most stressful days of all: moving day. The day itself, a week ago Saturday, wasn’t actually all that stressful, but the unpacking, organizing and reorganizing of all our worldly possessions has been exhausting. It’s been physically tiring to be sure, but more than that it’s been mentally draining. That’s because almost every day I go to look for something I can’t find. Or I try to do something fairly routine like watch my favourite tv show or print something off my computer and I can’t because the printer isn’t hooked up or I haven’t yet figured out how to change the channel with our new service provider. All of this is compounded by the fact that I can’t find much of anything here at the church either because we too are in the middle of organizing and reorganizing our house.
Moving house and renovating a building is stressful. But what I’ve come to realize this week is that it isn’t really the moving or the rearranging itself that’s causing me the stress, what’s really stressful is my need to feel like I am in control of my life. There’s something about knowing where the car keys are and having a place to put the plastic bags in the kitchen that helps me maintain the illusion that I am in charge of what happens to me on a day to day basis.
Think about it. How much of what you do in a day, your routines and habits, all the things that have a proper place in your home, all the things themselves, how much of that helps you feel like you have a place in the universe ? How much of it gives you a sense of security and order? I’ve been surprised to discover this week how much all of that stuff and where it goes makes me feel in control of my life and how disorienting and taxing it is to not have all of those things in place.
And yet according to French philosopher Teilhard de Chardin around 80% of our life is about contending with things over which we have no control.
If ever there was a psalm to cause us to ponder who is and who isn’t in control of our lives, surely it would be Psalm 104 that we just read this morning. When I first read it earlier this week I couldn’t help be reminded of the well known biblical dialogue between God and Job in which God questions Job “Can you make the wind blow or the rain fall? Can you fix the earth on its foundations and cover the mountains with water?” Oh how we mere mortals like to think we are so great and yet in the face of the Creator of the heavens and the earth it seems we are actually quite small.
That’s certainly the sentiment of Psalm 104, this beautiful ode to God’s eternal and overwhelming greatness.
Back in the day when this Psalm was first composed, in the days before doppler radar and the science of seismology, God must have seemed very powerful indeed. Imagine not knowing how to contain a forest fire or reinforce your building in anticipation of the big one. Imagine seeing a grey whale swimming in English Bay and not knowing it was a grey whale, thinking perhaps it was a sea monster. What must it have been like to just see a meteor shower without having marked on your calendar that it was going to happen on August 12th or driven up a mountain to get a better view? Imagine how awesome it would be to just have those experiences and not really understand anything about them. Imagine how humble you would feel and how amazing God would seem.
When I was in my 20’s I used to love spending summer weekends at our family cottage with my friends. Every night, weather permitting, we would lie out under the stars and my friend Doug who knew the name of every constellation would start pointing out Orion’s belt and the big and little dippers and on and on he’d go. After he moved beyond the basics I would tune him out because for me there was something about not knowing where everything was situated and what name it had been given by human minds that allowed me just to wrap myself in the mystery and the wonder of it all. Just to receive the beauty and the gift and the awesomeness.
It was as if there was a part of my being that actually wanted to know I wasn’t in control, this longing to know I didn’t have to be in charge.
Years after I lay under the stars at the cottage I attended a lecture series with cosmologist Brian Swimme . Some of you will remember the Powers of the Universe study we engaged in several years ago based on Brian’s work. It was Brian who first invited me to reorient myself when I lay out under the stars, not to look up at them but to look down. If you’ve never tried this you should sometime. It is an amazing feeling to look down at the universe, feeling the gravity of the earth holding you close, looking out into the vastness of all that is beyond us.
The writers of the ancient psalms had no way of understanding the cosmos in the way we understand it now, no way of understanding creation the way we do. So the language they used to describe God makes it seem like God is not only larger than life itself but far away and in control. In the way the psalmist sees it God is in total command of creation using fire and water to punish and reward and viewing everything through their own limited experience of life. For example suggesting that the earth is so solid it will never tremble.
In our day and age we understand too well that fire is caused by lightening as well as human hands; that earthquakes occur along fault lines as a result of compression in the earth’s crust; and that the earth is not actually the center of the universe.
And yet there is much the psalmist gets right in his understanding of the created order. Food is given in due season, life does renew itself and it is ultimately good. And notice how humanity is not the focus of his writing nor does humanity exercise dominion over the created world.
Could it be that the writer had a sense of what we now know to be absolutely true, that humanity and all creation is actually a part of one huge connected web? That we are more reliant on creation than creation is reliant on us? That the world of which we are a part is vast, awesome and unwieldy and yet somehow mysteriously ordered and contained.
What he couldn’t have known which we now do know is that we human beings and all creation is actually made up of the same elements. We really and truly are children of the stars. Or as Brian Swimme puts it, we are the Universe reflecting back on itself.
Which is perhaps why theologian Barbara Brown Taylor says that when she looks at the stars there is “a commotion in her bones, as the ashes of dead stars that house our marrow rise up like metal filings toward the magnet of their living kin.”
Ultimately it is not just God who is great, but we too, who are literally made in the image of the Divine, and from the same matter as the stars. We too hold great potential and great creative power. For me there is something about that knowledge that allows me both to be more gentle with myself when I feel like I am out of control and more trusting that what I really need will be given when I allow myself to loosen my grip on what I am desperately clutching as I try to gain a sense of order in my life. I don’t actually have to order things because at a foundational level they are already ordered. I don’t have to create a place for myself because I already have a place in the depths of who I am.
In her book Seven Sacred Pauses, author Macrina Weiderkehr tells the story of a group of westerners who hired some bushmen guides to help them travel through the Kalahari Desert. Not being used to the pace their employers were expecting, the bushmen suddenly sat down to rest and no amount of persuasion could induce them to continue the journey until they were ready. The reason for this much needed rest, the bushmen explained, was that they had to wait for their souls to catch up. Unlike us westerners so driven by our need to be in control, so controlled by our need to succeed, achieve and get ahead , the bushmen knew how to honour the natural pace and rhythm of their inner beings. They called this ancient knowing “the tapping of the heart.”
The suggestion of the psalmist is that we were created to praise and worship God. Another way of saying that might be to say we were created to honour creation with our living.
Summer is a great time to listen to the tapping of the heart, to take the time to drink in the wonder of creation and the wonder of our very lives, to give ourselves over to that which is already provided for us without our asking and often without our knowing. To find within ourselves the place we have already been given to be here on earth.
And when we observe the bounty and the power of creation and remember we are all connected to and created from the same source may we be resolved in our commitment to tend and care for our earthly home and more daring and more trusting in our ability to let go of our need for control and to experience and enable new and renewing life that comes to us as gift from the creator – the source of our being and all that ever was and ever shall be.