The last ten days I have been back in my hometown, caring for my mother who has suffered a stroke. I’ve been working with my sister to get her medical care and to clean, update, and prepare her house for her release from rehab, doing all within our power to keep her out of a nursing home or assisted living. One of the things we had to do was go through old photographs and assorted detritus from our childhoods. Born in the 60s, I am a child of the 80s, and there have been many fashion experiments that we have discovered in old photographs that have brought fits of laughter in the midst of our anxiety and exhaustion.
I found a box out in the garage of a lot of my college stuff—posters of Magnum PI and the Beatles, a calligraphy print of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, old notebooks, and cassette tapes. When I was in college Christian pop and rock had just become a big deal. Although I didn’t listen to a lot of that type of music (my tastes ran more toward classical, new wave, and indie artists), I did like Amy Grant, and she did a lovely, simple song based upon Psalm 104’s celebration of creation. It’s a simple song: the sound of night insects, then a legato guitar arpeggio, and then the simply sung lyrics and melody, straight from our portion of Psalm 104 we will hear on the Day of Pentecost. You can listen to it on YouTube. Each layer of sound is reminiscent of the steps and stages of creation, from simple to more complex.
One of my favorite lines of this section of Psalm 104 is “In wisdom you have made them all.” When I was a kid, sitting in science class and learning about the amazing diversity of life was a religious experience for me. There are creatures that live in extreme cold, extreme darkness, extreme heat. There are giant amoebas called xenophyophores that live six and a half miles below the surface of the Pacific. There are bacteria that eat oil that have developed in the Gulf of Mexico. There’s a species of walking stick insect in Borneo that grows to over a foot long. There’s the Venus Flytrap. There’s the seahorse. There’s the platypus. There’s the sea urchin. There’s a plant called “dancing grass” that visibly moves in response to sound.
The psalm celebrates the splendor and order of creation and the absolute generosity and sufficiency of all the works of God. Once again, as in Psalms 8 and 9, we are reminded that all that we have and all that we are are gifts from God. In this reading, we see mountains being turned into something insubstantial by the power of God—this time they smoke. God is the seat of ultimate power– but that power is used for blessing far more than for curse. There are abundant images of plenty- use of words like “manifold,” “all,” “full,” “great,” “wide,” innumerable,” “filled,” “endure forever.” All of the images but one remind us of gifts. The one reminder that this generosity is in itself something that we enjoy but do not earn is found in v. 29: “When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to dust.” Our time on earth is short in our sight but is nonetheless a gift.
The first 24 verses of this psalm retells the story of creation from Genesis, but we get the SparkNotes version here. The order in verses 25-29 echoes Genesis –as well as evolutionary theory (I’ve always felt that the laws of physics are some of the most amazing miracles and signs of God’s love for us). First there is the sea, full of life, then come crawling things out of the water and onto the land, and some things become great. I have always thought of the Leviathan as a dinosaur-like creature, so that’s the image I get there, as well. And then there is the mention of the breath of life as in Genesis 2. The sea here is represented as a place of creation, which is different than how it is often depicted elsewhere in scripture, as a place of chaos, disorder, and storms.
I have heard people claim that they don’t believe in miracles. And yet, they are all around us: the blaze of a rainbow against a dark prairie sky after a thunderstorm of percussive force. The firing of synapses, electric impulses timed just right, as a baby stands upright and toddles her first few steps. The frilled beauty of wildflowers, so easily discounted, but greater in loveliness than Solomon in all his glory. And this week, watching my mother relearn words and go from simple demands to sentences and paragraphs and names, finding creative ways including drawing and metaphor to attempt to get around the roadblocks the injury to her brain has created. In the same seven days that reminds us of the breadth and beauty of creation, my mother has been recreating her connection with language and speech, facing her long recovery with realism but also with hope, faith, and perseverance. I know that her deep faith informs it all, for my mother’s relationship with God has not been shaken one bit. These small but consequential miracles remind me of God’s ongoing creation and care for us, granting us comfort and peace in the face of struggle and trial. The works of God are indeed without number, and the grace of God undergirds each miraculous moment.
O Lord, how many are thy works! In wisdom thou hast made them all!
The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire is a writer, musician, and a priest in the Diocese of Missouri. She is priest-in-charge of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Ellisville, MO. She posts daily prayers at her blog Abiding In Hope, and collects spiritual writings and images at Poems, Psalms, and Prayers.