Total Pageviews

01 March 2015

Speech that Reveals God: A Many-Splendored Thing (Okuli / Lent 3)

Psalm 19

Pattern of up and down 
movement from a 
single solar musical note.

The rain has stopped, the clouds have drifted away, / and the weather is clear again.
If your heart is pure, / then all things in your world are pure. 
Abandon this fleeting world, / abandon yourself,
Then the moon and flowers / will guide you along the Way.

This poem is by Ryokan (1758-1831), a Zen Buddhist hermit-monk/poet and beloved figure in Japan.  Even as he describes the world as fleeting, he sees it as enchanted and invites us to become one with it.  

His words at the end of the poem, "the moon and flowers will guide you along the Way" seem like a good segue to Psalm 19, as it, too, suggests that the world around us has something to say to us.

VV 1-6. Wordless Speech.
The heavens declare the glory of God; / the sky displays his handiwork. 2 Day after day it speaks out; / night after night it reveals his greatness. 3 There is no actual speech or word, / nor is its voice literally heard. 4 Yet its voice echoes throughout the earth; / its words carry to the distant horizon. / In the sky he has pitched a tent for the sun. 5 Like a bridegroom it emerges from its chamber; / like a strong man it enjoys running its course. 6 It emerges from the distant horizon, / and goes from one end of the sky to the other; / nothing can escape its heat. 

VV 7-10. Timeless Speech.
7 The law of the Lord is perfect and preserves one’s life. / The rules set down by the Lord are reliable and impart wisdom to the inexperienced. 8 The Lord’s precepts are fair and make one joyful. / The Lord’s commands are pure and give insight for life. 9 The commands to fear the Lord are right and endure forever. / The judgments given by the Lord are trustworthy and absolutely just. 10 They are of greater value than gold, than even a great amount of pure gold / they bring greater delight than honey, than even the sweetest honey from a honeycomb. 

VV 11-14. Confessional Speech.
11 Yes, your servant finds moral guidance there / those who obey them receive a rich reward. 12 Who can know all his errors? / Please do not punish me for sins I am unaware of.  13 Moreover, keep me from committing flagrant sins; do not allow such sins to control me. / Then I will be blameless, and innocent of blatant rebellion. 14 May my words and my thoughts be acceptable in your sight / O Lord, my sheltering rock and my redeemer.

הַשָּׁמַ֗יִם מְֽסַפְּרִ֥ים כְּבֽוֹד אֵ֑ל
וּֽמַעֲשֵׂ֥ה יָ֝דָ֗יו מַגִּ֥יד הָרָקִֽיעַ׃
“The heavens declare the glory of God; /
the sky displays his handiwork.” (V 1). 

The verbs סָפַר (spr) and נָגַד (ngd) point to speech as one of the themes of this three-part psalm.

1.The first part of Psalm 19 is about Wordless Speech: the witness of God's creation. What we so easily call "inanimate" is seen by the Psalmist as quite the opposite:

"All of creation is taken to be lively, responsive (conscious?) creatures, whose work is obedience (fruitfulness) and praise ... Israel ... takes creation seriously in and for itself as reference to Yahweh. This is not simply aesthetic delight, though it may include that. It is a theological witness to the wondrous reality of Yahweh." (Walter Brueggemann).

Far from being a void, the sky is the very word of God -- a Torah of nature that can be read by anyone. It is as legible as the written law.

This Torah tells of a Creator who breaks forth in sun and rain, who enters the physical world. One can follow this word by following the course of the sun in the sky, like reading a scroll right to left.

Walt Hearn, in his Scientist's Psalm, rhymes:

Earth we live on, merely one / Planet of a minor sun / Join this entire galaxy, / Showing forth His majesty!

Beyond our own galactic rim, / Billions more are praising Him. / Ten to some gigantic power / Times the height of Babel's tower.

Can a star declare God's glory? Can it have a voice to be able to sing God's praises? Astronomers have a surprising answer to those questions.  Scientists at the NOAO (National Optical Astronomy Observatory) have found that our sun is like a musical instrument. It rings like a bell, and vibrates like an organ pipe.

In an attempt to measure what is going on inside the sun, they have tracked the sound waves eminating from the sun. Just like a piano has 88 keys or musical notes, the sun has 10 million keys or notes.

The computer graphic above shows the pattern of up and down movement from a single solar musical note:  Blue shows the parts of the sun that are moving up, and red shows the ones moving up. You can find several clips with the sounds of our sun on YouTube; a link to one is below.

You can't dance to the song, but it makes it clear that the stars do indeed sing. They do have a voice to declare the glory of God.

2. The second part of our psalm is about Timeless Speech, the written Torah. At this point, the psalm moves out of metaphor and changes into more prosaic language. The focus is no longer on God’s "handiwork" in space, but on created humans and speech.

The section begins with a sentence containing the word Torah: “The law of the Lord (תּ֘וֹרַ֤ת יְהוָ֣ה) is perfect and preserves one’s life."

The psalm then makes seven statements referring to God’s instruction as found in Scripture. James T. Bartsch summarizes them:

- Perfect Speech (affecting a person's soul, V 7a)
- Sure Speech (affecting a person's mind, V 7b)
- Righteous Speech (affecting a person's heart, V 8a)
- Brilliant Speech (affecting a person's sight, V 8b)
- Clean and Eternal Speech (affecting a person's spirit, V 9a)
- True and Righteous Speech (V 9b)
- Desirable Speech (V 10)

What are these words of the Lord’s instruction worth? "They are of greater value than gold, than even a great amount of pure gold / they bring greater delight than honey, than even the sweetest honey from a honeycomb".

3. The third part of Psalm 19 is about Confessional Speech. Speaking to God directly and calling himself "your servant", the Psalmist acknowledges that he cannot be righteous through Torah alone. He asks God to acquit him, to clear him of guilt.

Since the social environment of life makes the observance of Torah difficult and encourages insolent people who scorn Torah piety, the Psalmist prays that God protect him from domination by their prestige and power.

The last verse, "May my words and my thoughts be acceptable in your sight / O Lord, my sheltering rock and my redeemer", often used by preachers before the sermon, reveal that the psalm is composed for oral recitation in an act of worship.

Solar Sounds Clip:

No comments:

Post a Comment