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Sunday, October 02, 2011

One day tells its tale to another

Artis Divina
I was caught by surprise by this portion of the Psalm in this morning lectionary lessons. In fact, I don't think I really heard the Gospel, which made it really hard to listen to the sermon.

So, I didn't.

Was that presumptuous of me? My apologies. That rarely happens to me, but it did this morning. When it does happen, I have learned that I need to "listen to what the Spirit is saying to the church" rather that what the church is trying to say to me.

Here's the portion of the Psalm that touched my heart and has been buzzing 'round my ears:

Psalm 19: 1-6 (The Saint Helena Psalter) 

The heavens declare your glory, O God, *
and the firmament shows your handiwork.

One day tells its tale to another, *
and one night imparts knowledge to another.
Although they have no words or language, *
and their voices are not heard,

Their sound has gone out into all lands, *
and their message to the ends of the world.

In the deep you have set a pavilion for the sun; *
it comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;
it rejoices like a champion to run its course.

It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens
and runs about to the end of it again; *
nothing is hidden from its burning heat.

It's a bit chilly this morning on Rehoboth Bay. It usually doesn't get this chilly this soon. I remember a wonderful Thanksgiving Dinner a few years ago out on the deck with everyone in short-sleeved shirts.

I closed the windows and turned the heat to 65 this morning.

When I dressed for church this morning, I wore a wool shawl over a corduroy dress and, when I came home, changed into sweatpants, a turtleneck shirt and put on socks for the first time since mid-Spring.

I've traded sipping on ice water to lingering over a hot cup of tea, finding myself placing the warm mug next to my face when my fingers aren't wrapped snugly around it.

It's not that cold, really. It's just a sudden, unexpected change in the weather.

How does that happen? 

I know. The calendar says it is Autumn.  It's been such a rainy season that the usual glory of the leaves has been muted at bit.  They seem to be simply falling to the ground in a soggy, brown mess, weighted down by the rain and blown off by the wind.

The meteorologist reported this morning that it snowed last night in Western Maryland. Just an inch, she said. But, it's Western Maryland. And, it's only the second day of October!

The Psalmist sings:
One day tells its tale to another, *
and one night imparts knowledge to another.
Is that how it happens?

Is there some secret language in the cosmos by which trees communicate to other trees? Is there some code in the air which telegraphs to birds to begin to migrate, or some mysterious script in the waters that interacts with fish and shellfish and other creatures of The Deep?

Is it just merely a happenstance of the earth spinning blithely on its axis or is this evidence of the handiwork of God in the firmament?

There is, I think, an order and a logic to the universe that simply surpasses human knowledge. I think we try to imitate that order by ordering our lives with rules like the those in the "Ten Commandments" which I heard in the first lesson in Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20.

I don't really know how what Paul was saying had much to do with the Ten Commandments or the Gospel about the Wicked Tenants, but I did find myself chuckling at the Pharisees who were so self-absorbed that it took them a few minutes to realize that Jesus was talking about them.

Except, Paul did say this:
Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
"....forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead...."

It is an utterly human thing, when one is in pursuit of a goal, to put the past behind and press on. And yet, given the Psalmist's song, it seems quite "unnatural".

I think what happens to the Pharisee in me and the Pharisee in you (because, if there is a Jesus in me and a Jesus in you, there is a Thomas in me and a Thomas in you, and a Pharisee, too) is that we sometimes forget that our stories are part of the larger story God has to tell. We don't listen to the rhythm of the earth and are not part of the natural cycle of the earth.

We think what's here and now is all there is, so we store up treasures for ourselves, thinking that, as long as we keep the rules, we'll be safe. Secure.

Safety, I have discovered, is just an illusion.

Creation knows this little secret. After a winter of discontent comes a spring of new beginnings and a summer of recreation, until the cycle repeats itself.

The story of all of creation - like the stories of all our lives - are part of the ever-unfolding story of God's handiwork in the firmament.

When we lose sight of that bigger story, we fall. We fail. And, the temptation to sin - to miss the mark - becomes almost too much to resist.

I don't know. Maybe that's exactly the message the preacher had for the church this morning. If he did, I missed it because I wasn't listening. Instead, I was still listening to that amazing Psalm, which ends with these words:

Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
let them not get dominion over me; *
then shall I be whole and sound,
and innocent of a great offense.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my
heart be acceptable in your sight, *
O God, my strength and my redeemer.

"Presumptuous sin." Isn't that a wonderful phrase?
I think "presumptuous" is a good way to describe our state when we listen more to what the church is saying as opposed to what the Spirit is trying to say to the church.

When we create illusions of safety behind walls of rigid rules.

When we do not connect our stories to the ever-unfolding story of God.

When we get out of rhythm with the rest of Creation.

When we do not listen in on the tale one day tells to another. 


captmair said...

This is my favorite Psalm. I always thought of this as the "Pilot's Psalm", and when I was still flying out over the Pacific and would see a magnificent sunrise or sunset, or some other beautiful sight in the sky, I would remember the first few verses of it. Your insight gives me much to think about. Thank you.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks for your visit captmair. I, too, have often considered this Psalm when I've been in an airplane - especially when I've flown over the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls.

it's margaret said...

"We don't listen to the rhythm of the earth and are not part of the natural cycle of the earth."

So true --so very true... when I was working on a degree in museum studies in the early 90s, I went in to a certain natural history museum in Philadelphia, and the curator was bemoaning the fact that First Peoples always seemed to be exhibited in natural history museums and they shouldn't be... at which point, after a small silence because I know what was meant, but I said something to the effect of --or, we all should be....

I, too, am wearing socks for the first time since last May --caught unawares, and had to dig for 'em!

Many autumn blessins!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey there, Margaret. We have so much to repent of in our former - and ongoing - mistreatment of First People. Shame on us.

I just came in from a walk with Theo. I had a heavy sweatshirt on and I gotta tell ya, when that wind blew, I felt it in my bones. It's in the 50s out there. Jeeze Louise!

walter said...

On the Liturgy of God of Life Inherent: Dark unto Dawn uttereth speech and sheweth knowledge. 4, how wonderful is the fluidity of the spring of life! (ref. Psalm 19. 2).

Walter Vitale

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Walter