The heavens tell God's glory...

Earlier this week I sat quietly in the Chancel of our Sanctuary, bathed in soft
candle light, and waited to see if we would celebrate midday Eucharist. In time, we did as a few dedicated pilgrims made their way through the cold and sleet. We started late, but that didn't matter. The quiet of the afternoon and the safety of the space was enough food for our souls.

Psalm 19 was up for consideration and we read it twice as the practice of lectio divina suggests. Parts of it were perplexing - it is, I have learned, an intentional marriage of opposites - that together speak of the majesty and perfection of the Lord. Robert Alter's English translation and notes are most helpful.

The heavens tell God's glory,
     and His handiwork sky declares.
Day to day breathes utterance
     and night to night pronounces knowledge.
There is no utterance and there are no words,
     their voice is never heard.
Through all the earth their voice goes out,
     to the world's edge, there words.

(Alter celebrates the complementary parallelism of this poem that unites day with night, words with silence, heaven with creation as a way of underlining "a moving paradox:" the heavens speak with images, creation becomes the first word of God.)

For the sun He set up a tent in them -
     and like a groom from his canopy comes,
          exults like a warrior running his course.
From the ends of the heavens his going out
     and his circuit to their ends,
          and nothing can hide from his heat.

(It has been suggested that the poet now reinterprets an ancient mythological understanding of the sun that "resides in a celestial pavilion... only to emerge like a bridge groom from his wedding canopy... or a warrior dashing across the battlefield." Alter notes that this psalm links the traditional pagan mythology of the sun with YHWH who is the source of all justice and light.)

The Lord's teaching is perfect,
     restoring to life.
The Lord's pact is steadfast,
     it makes the fool wise.
The Lord's precepts are upright,
     delighting the heart.
The Lord's command unblemished,
     giving light to the eyes.
The Lord's fear is pure,
     outlasting all time.
The Lord's judgments are truth,
     all of them just.

(What is true in the heavens, in also true on earth: the way of the Lord is life-sustaining and saturated with truth. Therefore, embracing the way of the Lord is finer than gold and sweeter than honey.)

More desired than gold,
     than abundant fine gold,
and sweeter than honey,
     quintessence of bees.
Your servant, too, takes care with them,
     in keeping them - great reward.
Unwitting sins, who can grasp?
     Of unknown actions clear me.
From willful men preserve Your servant,
     let them not rule over me.
Then I shall be blameless
     and clear of great crime.

(The restorative nature of God's precepts are beyond comprehension and
measure. The double use of gold and sweetness - "two synonyms combined are a hyper-intensification - the sweetness of all imaginable honeys." Given such goodness, the servant of the Lord asks for forgiveness and direction away from sin and bondage to those who would subvert God's blessings on earth.)

We shortened the Eucharistic liturgy to a blessing and a breaking of the bread and passing of the cup followed by the Lord's Prayer. It was a gentle break in the middle of a full day. A quiet reminder of God's sweetness that can be all too easily forgotten. Psalm 19 ends with words that mean: let everything I say and all the stirrings of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord. Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart advance your true compassion, strengthen the bonds of social justice and nourish humility withing and among us all. What a great way to spend the lunch hour.

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