Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there,
living things both small and great.
There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.
These all look to you to give them their food in due season;
When you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
When you send forth 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—
who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke.
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.
— Psalm 104:25-34 (NRSV)
“The all-powerful and unutterable God, who was before ages but did not have a beginning nor will ever have an end, formed every creature in a wonderful manner with the creative power of willing and then placed every creature in a wondrous manner.” – First Part, Vision 6:1*
I can’t read the part about the “the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it” without smiling. My vision is that of a great three-masted clipper with sails fully set, dolphins riding the bow wave and a great whale sounding nearby. I’m sure that wouldn’t have been Hildegard’s vision as clipper ships hadn’t been invented yet although sailing vessels certainly had. And my “vision” certainly doesn’t qualify to be in the same category of Hildegard’s either. Mine is merely an image while hers had greater import. Still, whether “formed to sport in it” or “placed…in a wondrous manner,” I still see the flukes of the whale and the splash it creates.
But the Psalmist also speaks of “creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.” I wonder how he knew of all the things? Did the Psalmist live by the water? Did he know how to fish? Did he see the octopus and the skate, the tuna, goby and grouper?
What the Psalmist didn’t know is that while God provides food for the sea creatures as he does the land creatures, man has upset the balance that was present in creation, and many species that were once plentiful in the great waters are now extinct or reaching extinction. Has God turned his eyes from the innocent and taken their breath away? It doesn’t seem like the God I know.
I haven’t read all of Hildegard’s writings so I don’t know whether she addressed a world so full of greed and selfishness that it causes the deaths of creatures placed by God in their proper places. I do think she would include something like this as part of the rebellion against God, the sin that caused Lucifer to fall from heaven and the unrighteous to find themselves in the same predicament as the rich man who refused the beggar Lazarus even the crumbs from his table (Luke 16:19-21).
May there never be a world without a leviathan sporting in the deep waters or dolphins riding bow waves. May there always be fish, cephalopods, crustaceans, brachids, and all the variety of life the Psalmist (and Hildegard) could never imagine. May humanity wake up to the diversity of life that extends so far beyond the species of homo sapiens.
All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small,
all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.
~Cecil Frances Humphries-Alexander
*Hozeski, Bruce, trans., Hildegard of Bingen’s Scivias, (1986, paperback ed.) Santa Fe NM: Bear & Company Inc., p. 68