Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Singing of the Earth- Speaking to the Soul, October 18, 2016

A pollinator in Shepherd Farm garden at Church of the Good Shepherd, Town and Country, MO.

It’s October, so for many of us, besides being either joyfully or grudgingly immersed in the season of Pumpkin Spice Everything, it is the season of baseball playoffs. One of my favorite things during the seventh inning stretch is the renditions of “America the Beautiful” that are often sung. I have always loved the visuals brought to mind in that song as embodying the natural beauty of our country. Along with “Finlandia,” the reminders of the beauty of growing things, of the love we can have for the land, are always so vitally important, especially since it is often so easy to take this abundance for granted.

I thought again of the images in “America the Beautiful” and “Finlandia” as I read this Sunday’s psalm, Psalm 65. Many of the images of Psalm 65 seem like they might have been the inspiration for these two hymns.

The descriptions here of God’s domination of all natural forces and of creating not just order but an abundance of agricultural wealth to not just sustain the people but to demonstrate forcefully that God is not just merciful but mighty. Remember that Israel is an arid environment, and that the people are often at the mercy of extremes in climate and environment. Yet even in difficult paces, God is making the terrain bountiful and rich—notice that the verb tense is not in the past, but in the present. Examine the pregnant imagery employed here: in verse 11, furrows are “drenched” with “heavy rain;” in verses 13-14, a wilderness is instead filled with fields that can sustain and fatten a multitude of flocks. The image of valleys “cloaked with grain” is striking, and so lavish. 

But what I tend to notice is that God is here portrayed as a farmer, as one who makes the earth bring forth both beauty and plenty. Last Sunday was World Food Day, so how wonderful it is to ponder the ways that creation continually renews itself in each growing season. In verses 9 and 10, God tends to the Earth, and waters the plants that grow for food upon it, and then God prepares the grain so that it may be eaten and bless the people. God’s abundance reaches to the round corners of the Earth. Abundance becomes clear when people are fed. 

Psalm 65 also mentions our sins in verse 3—or “our crimes,” as theologian Ellen Davis translates it. It acknowledges the power that sin can have on us— they are “stronger than we are.” Yet the second half of that verse notes God’s astounding grace in forgiveness of those sins, that God will “blot them out.” Even though our misdeeds are strong, we can receive the gift of forgiveness. With that gift, we can attempt to make recompense for our sins, especially those against the Earth and those who share this small planet with us. Dr. Davis notes that God blesses the Earth with growth (verse 11), so that even the valleys join with dawn and dusk in singing out their joy. Yet it is up to us to make sure that that our practices in and on the Earth do not damage it, but tend to it and respect and support its sacred work of sustaining us as God intended. It is up to us to make sure that the abundance of the earth is used righteously, for the good of all who dwell upon it.

Every year, it is estimated that ten million children less than five years old die of hunger and malnutrition. Every year. One in seven people on the planet face daily, persistent hunger. This is why Episcopal Relief and Development seeks to provide tools, seed, and livestock for the creation of sustainable family farms throughout the world. 

Urban gardening at Holy Communion.
But there are concrete actions we can take to help do our part to make sure the bounty of the earth is used for the blessing of all the people of God, no matter their nationality or creed. This is why, this year, nearly two dozen members of the Diocese of Missouri joined dozens of others from around the area to walk in the Crop Walk on September 25 for the benefit of hunger ministries in St. Louis and around the world. This is why the parish I am privileged to serve as intern, the Church of the Good Shepherd, pours its energy into Shepherd Farm, once again giving away 2,000 pounds of food this year to the hungry. This is why my home parish, the Church of the Holy Communion, has sustained and expanded a vegetable and pollinator garden for more than seven years that has also grown thousands of pounds of produce to be given away at the food pantry operated by our sister parish of Trinity Episcopal Church in the city of St. Louis. 
Some of the Episcopal Crop Walk contingent.

And these stories are repeated hundreds of times over across the nation, as more and more religious organizations become involved in cultivating the land that they have to produce abundant harvests of food for the benefit of our brothers and sisters who are hungry. But we know, that with care, as God’s very example shows us, we can also tend to the Earth lovingly, reverently, and in so doing bring forth blessing over all the Earth, from dawn to dusk, from mountain to valley.

In her translation of Psalm 65, especially verses 9- 14, Professor Davis highlights the saturation of goodness that God continues to embed in creation:

You visit the earth and water it;
You abundantly enrich it—
God’s stream, full of water. 
You set their grain—yes, You set it just so.
Drenching its furrows, settling its hillocks,
You soften it with showers; its growth You bless.
You have crowned the year with Your goodness,
and Your wagon-tracks drip richness.

The pastures of the wilderness are dripping, 
and the hills are girdled with rejoicing.
The meadows are clothed with the flocks, 
and the valleys robed with grain.
They shout out; they even sing.

The glory of God is reflected in the song wrung from the hills and valleys, from the first shoots of growth in spring to the heavy branches sighing out their joy as they are covered with juicy, lavish fruit in autumn. Harvest time as well as spring time is the time of the Earth’s singing. It is the time of the seed falling to the receptive earth, to slumber through the winter to be reborn in the spring, reminding us of resurrection and life abundant. May our hearts be fertile soil for the word of God, that they may bring us, singing too, to a holy covenant of life with and for each other, blessed by and inspired by the abundant love of God for us in creation.

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