Sunday, September 25, 2011

Clothed in Light and Playing with Monsters

Today's psalter for the Office of Readings gives us Psalm 104, a biggie broken down into three sections. This is one of those glorious psalms of  creation, perfect for a beautiful autumn day such as it is here (at the moment, rain could come anytime) in NW Pennsylvania.

For one thing, it gives the lie to those who claim that people of ancient, agrarian societies were so very, very different in their understanding and outlook on things than us enlightened, modern types, so bent on mere survival and valuing nature mainly as an aid to that survival. Because here is one of those ancient people seemingly on a nature walk, noticing and rejoicing in both the useful-to-man stuff --You make grass grow for cattle, and plants to serve man's to cheer man's heart, oil to make him glad and bread to strengthen man's heart--but also plenty of random stuff that is of little utilitarian benefit. He's just happy that these things exist because they are beautiful, startling, amazing:

You make springs gush forth in the valleys: they flow in between the hills.
They give drink to all the beasts of the field; 
the wild asses quench their thirst.
On the banks dwell the birds of heaven;'from the branches they sing their song...
...there the birds build their nests:
on the tree-top the stork has her home.
The goats find a home on the mountains and rabbits hide in the rocks.
You made the moon to mark the months;'the sun knows its time for setting...
...the young lions roar for their prey
and ask their food from God...
...There is the sea, vast and wide,
with its moving swarms past counting...
the ships are moving there
and the monsters you made to play with.

A note on the image of God playing with monsters. Every other translation I have checked does NOT suggest the image of God playing with the monsters (Leviathan, or, more interestingly, "Sea dragon" in the Douay). They all say that God created the monster/leviathan/sea dragon  to play there, "there" being the sea.  So, much as it is a neat image, one can't be sure  that the psalmist was really intending to convey that God goes swimming with monsters that way we might go swimming with dolphins.

But it is fun to think about it.