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FOR THE YEAR OF FAITH

PSALM  104 

by Canon Jim Foley

 Our Christian churches are well-accustomed to the recitation of Professions of Faith and Creeds and we have also come to accept that these are the product of long years of heated debate among theologians. Every phrase that has found its way into a Creed has had to fight for its place. Such documents carry the stamp of doctrinal authority and that is what is expected of them. Even when set to music, the sound of battle is never far away.

During this Year of Faith I would draw attention to an equally venerable but totally different kind of profession of faith that comes to us from the pen of a poet. It is cherished by the Synagogue, where it began life more than two thousand years ago, and is equally cherished by all the Christian Churches who give it pride of place on the major Feast of Pentecost each year. Jews and Christians alike raise our voices to proclaim our faith in God the Creator of the universe in the inspired words of Psalm 104. This year we make this poet’s Act of Faith our own.

The poem is a tapestry of exceeding beauty with the Creator at the head of creation ‘wrapped in light as in a robe’ (v1). The creation is called to witness and to respond in a profound act of adoration. The tapestry unfolds to reveal the wonders of the created universe and to solicit a response of faith in a providential God who not only brings all things into being but whose Spirit constantly ‘renews the face of the earth’ (v30).

The entire poem is framed between two identical responses of faith: ‘Bless the Lord my soul’ (vv 1 and 35).

The images throughout are both visual and audial. Sight and sound combine to enrich this act of faith in a way which is not possible in the conventional creeds. Apart from the splendid fertile landscapes, eleven classes of creatures and their habitats are specifically named. Man finds his own place among them in a deceptively modest image:

Millet.the.angelus

Man goes forth to his work,

to labour till evening falls (v23).

It is given to man to care for the created world and to share in the work of creation and preservation. He too is called to ‘renew the face of the earth’ (v30).

Having celebrated the vast panorama of life on earth, our poet takes a step back to contemplate the gift of life itself and, likewise, the fragility of life and the prospect of death:

You hide you face, they are dismayed;

you take back your spirit, they die,

returning to the dust from which they came. (v29)

 To speak of the wonder of life on earth without recognising its fragility and confronting the prospect of death would be remiss. Our poet is not blind to the fact that life is transitory, yet the consequences of this lie beyond his immediate vision. He is satisfied with the life he celebrates and simply professes his faith that both life and death are in the hands of the Creator. Christians will look to the New Testament for the prospect of an even fuller life after death under the guidance of the Good Shepherd. ‘I came that they may have life and have it to the full’ (John 10, 10). For St Paul this involves not only humanity but the whole of creation:  ‘Creation itself will be set free from the bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God’ (Romans 8.21).

 Our poetic Act of Faith ends with a resounding: Alleluia.

AN INVITATION TO YOUNG ARTISTS

Young artists (S 5/6) are invited to illustrate the images or any aspect of this poetic act of faith as an exercise in discovering the inexhaustible riches of the Word of God and possibly in rediscovering their own place in this year’s tapestry of faith. Any artistic medium may be used, including photography. The best of the illustrations will be published in a later edition of this web page on Pentecost Sunday, 19 May 2013. To participate contact Canon Jim Foley at the above contact address.

– To view/print this article in PDF format click here.

Psalm 104: A Poet’s Profession of Faith

Bless the Lord my soul!

Lord God. how great you are,

clothed in majesty and glory, (verse 2)

wrapped in light as in a robe!

You stretch out the heavens like a tent.

Above the rains you build your dwelling.

You make the clouds your chariot, (verse 3)

you walk on the wings of the wind,

you make the winds your messengers (verse 4)

and flashing fire your servants.

You founded the earth on its base, (verse 5)

to stand firm from age to age.

You wrapped it with the ocean like a cloak: (verse 6)

the waters stood higher than the mountains.

At your threat they took to flight; (verse 7)

at the voice of your thunder they fled.

They rose over the mountains and flowed down (verse 8)

to the place which you had appointed.

You set limits they might not pass (verse 9)

lest they return to cover the earth.

You make springs gush forth in the valleys: (verse 10)

they flow in between the hills.

They give drink to all the beasts of the field; (verse 11)

the wild-asses quench their thirst.

On their banks dwell the birds of heaven;

from the branches they sing their song.

From your dwelling you water the hills; (verse 12)

earth drinks its fill of your gift.

You make the grass grow for the cattle (verse 14)

and the plants to serve man’s needs,

that he may bring forth bread from the earth

and wine to cheer man’s heart; (verse 15)

oil, to make him glad

and bread to strengthen man’s heart.

The trees of the Lord drink their fill, (verse 16)

the cedars he planted on Lebanon;

there the birds build their nests: (verse 17)

on the tree-top the stork has her home,

the goats find a home on the mountains (verse 18)

and rabbits hide in the rocks.

You made the moon to mark the months; (verse 19)

the sun knows the time for its setting.

When you spread the darkness it is night

and all the beasts of the forest creep forth. (verse 20)

The young lions roar for their prey (verse 21)

and ask their food from God.

At the rising of the sun they steal away (verse 22)

and go to rest in their dens.

Man goes forth to his work, (verse 23)

to labour till evening falls.

How many are your works, 0 Lord ! (verse 24)

In wisdom you have made them all.

The earth is full of your riches.

There is the sea, vast and wide, (verse 25)

with its moving swarms past counting,

living things great and small.

The ships are moving there (verse 26)

and the monsters you made to play with.

All of these look to you (verse 27)

to give them their food in due season.

You give it, they gather it up (verse 28:)

you open your hand, they have their fill.

You hide your face, they are dismayed; (verse 29)

you take back your spirit, they die,

returning to the dust from which they came.

You send forth your spirit, they are created; (verse 30)

and you renew the face of the earth.

May the glory of the Lord last for ever! (verse 31)

May the Lord rejoice in his works!

He looks on the earth and it trembles; (verse 32)

the mountains send forth smoke at his touch.

I will sing to the Lord all my life, (verse 33)

make music to my God while I live.

May my thoughts be pleasing to him. (verse 34)

I find my joy in the Lord.

Let sinners vanish from the earth (verse 35)

and the wicked exist no more.

Bless the Lord, my soul. Alleluia.

– To view/print Psalm 104 in PDF format click here.