Friday, September 5, 2014

Flourishing Flowers of the Field, A Meditation on Psalm 103:15-17


"But the merciful goodness of the LORD endureth for ever and ever upon them that fear him; and his righteousness upon children's children;"  Psalm 103:17 (Coverdale)

This verse has been ringing in my head for months now.  In fact, the psalm like an ear worm has worked it's way into my thinking.  Psalm 103 is so vast and has many layers.  To unpack it, reflect on it and dig for more could fill up a book or more and should be reserved for much better writers and thinkers than I.

Though, I am left with this nagging feeling that I should write something about this psalm.  Let me start with this verse.  The first word is "but," leaving us to read what came immediately before:

"The days of man are but as grass;
for he flourisheth as a flower of the field.
For as soon as the wind goeth over it, it is gone;
and the place thereof shall know it no more.
But the merciful goodness of the . . . "

There is something oddly comforting about scripture that openly admits that humans are dying.  Be it psalm 90, or James' writing in the New Testament, or even Jesus telling us not to worry about tomorrow, there is something about confronting the notion of our death that is refreshing.  Think about how much of our lives, in our culture, is viewed as immortal, invincible. We plan for years at a time.  We treat our bodies as if nothing can hurt them.  We're surprised when we look older in pictures.  It's almost as if all of the negative things that come with aging and dying were supposed to happen to someone else.  Sure, they look older because they are getting older, but me? 

Not only is there something comforting about scripture's confrontation with the idea of dying, but also with its tying our dying to the natural process of life.  "As for mortals, their days are like grass;" (NRSV) We are all like the grass that we see come and go every year.  Those leaves that will be changing colors and falling to the ground over the next few months are pictures of our mortality.  At once, we are given youth, energy, time, resources, choices and with the choices we make, we flourish.  We use our time and energy to grow and develop based on how we treat ourselves and our existence.  If that time is used for good, we grow for good; likewise, if we use that time unwisely, then our "flourishing" may be lacking.  Nevertheless, we have this vital resource, most of us, called time and energy and thus we flourish.

But, as soon as we flourish, the wind passes over and we are gone.  Moreover, within a few generations, your unique life, gentle smile, hopeful words are gone and remembered no more.  Even some of the most famous will be forgotten in a hundred years, and certainly in a thousand years.  Death is the great equalizer; it is the same in every generation.  The wind that passes over the flower of the field shows no mercy and just as the flower grew from the soil, so is it returned to the earth.  Perhaps this flower in its death and return to the earth may provide some nourishment to the next generation, but when it is gone, it's gone and sooner or later, remembered no more.  The beauty is replaced by another flower.  The flourishing is the work of another generation.

We do everything we can to resist this notion.  And, why shouldn't we?  It really makes no sense in the context of our lives.  If we're open to it, we are surrounded by such immense beauty that it is, at times, overwhelming.  If we were to take a pause and think of the "flowers" in our lives rather than complaining about the weeds, the beauty would be astounding.  But, this isn't a lesson about looking for the flowers in your life; this is a confrontation with our own mortality, something that is so humbling and startling and that has been on the minds of psalmists and hymn writers for generations.

There is a haunting feeling when we lose someone we love.  Having experienced so many profound moments with someone in life and shared the depth of existing leaves us rebellious to the notion that we or those that we love will be forgotten.  No matter how comforting it may be to think that they are "in a better place," we have to pick up the pieces of their loss and get to know them (for lack of a better phrase) in a different way.  This isn't to mention a serious contemplation of our own dying, a pervasive thought that has kept Woody Allen in business for decades.  This reflection of our own mortality is almost beyond what we're capable of thinking, but the bards of every generation sing the song of our own end.  Natural or unnatural, scary or comforting, the wind passes over and we are gone.


the merciful goodness of the LORD endureth for ever and ever upon them that fear him...

Some translations say "from everlasting to everlasting."  The people of Israel didn't perceive a God that was out to destroy the world like the God we see described from time to time in our own culture.  God was celebrated for creation.  God was blessed for creating and pronouncing it good.  For the psalmist, the merciful goodness of YHWH is a timeless, spaceless banner into which creation is taken.  Over and above the natural processes as we see them (life, death, wind, grass, etc.) God's love is the natural constant, a backdrop that is permanently fixed.  But, even the word "backdrop" is challenging because it is this love, this steadfast love that surrounds the natural on every side. 

Our lives, like a breath, come in and go out.  But, the mercy, the love of God is for ever and for ever.  It's existence is beyond our concept of time and it's motion "forward" is beyond our perception.  Galaxies, stars, planets exist and then are gone.  The world as we know it exists in one way and then it is gone.  Our contribution to the earth will be what it is while we are here, then it is gone, remembered no more.  But, God's mercy endures for ever.  It is this mercy, this constant, that holds all things together.  As Christians, we believe that this love took its shape in Jesus Christ who (to quote St. Paul) is "all and in all," and to quote St. Luke from Acts the one in whom "we live and move and have our being."  This steadfast love of God links all of creation together as a constant.  It is this love that gave birth to creation.  It is this love that sustains and renews creation.  It is this love that draws us into a new (to us) reality of God at our death.

Therefore, if it is this love in which we were created and have our being, in which we are sustained and renewed in Christ, what is our role in our brief existence?  Is it not to live out this love in our own humble and clumsy but fully human way?  If this love is the constant that fills creation, is it our role in our short stay to bring out this love, to highlight its beauty and to show it unabashedly to all?  The flourishing flowers of the field, all rooted in the same soil, all returning to the same soil take their nourishment from the steadfast love of God in which they were created.  This love calls us in many and different ways to to show forth beauty and love to the world.  This is more than doing good for the sake of doing good; it is a radical understanding of the universality of the steadfast love of God filling all things and enduring unto the ages of ages. 

At this, I am humbled and challenged.

No comments:

Post a Comment