Reflections on Psalm 65, God and the Creation.
Grandpa (Bimbo) and I had been driving through the desert for many hours and the early morning light had long changed into the searing heat of midday.
The vehicle continued along the track and over a dip that left the sparsely treed gully and rose to a rocky ridge. ‘Are you thirsty, Bub?’ ‘Yes, Bimbo. It’s very hot, isn’t it?’ ‘Mmm, a bit warm. Are you hungry, Bub? ‘Mmm, a bit hungry, Bimbo.’ ‘Do you feel like eating a fish?’
Playing along, I answered, ‘Yes Bimbo, I’d like … maybe two fish for dinner’. ‘Well, what about a nice cool drink of water to go with them two fish?’
‘Where’s the water, Bimbo? We need water to get fish,’ I reminded him in case he’d spent too much time in the sun. It was easy to do out in this arid place. And there were no fishing lines in the Land Rover anyway or clouds in the sky. ‘Come on, I’ll show you.’
And off he went, walking to a large flattish rock sitting near a washout, still chuckling. He quietened then, stood still and silent beside the rock and looked around. I looked in the direction he looked and could see nothing, no dust, nothing that wasn’t there the last time we passed here. It was all the same pale dry landscape. He was satisfied with what he saw and bent down, crouched over a rock.
As I watched, he moved the rock and then lay flat on the ground. I walked closer and peered down at him. What was going on? I crouched beside him and put my head to the ground, trying to see into the hole. ‘Can you get the bottle out of the truck for me?’ I didn’t want to leave the hole in the ground because I could smell water now. The scent of clean fresh water stole into my nose.
Cool water, it seemed, was a definite possibility. Bimbo dipped the bottle into the hole in the ground and, as he handed it up to me, a few drops of water fell into the dirt. I watched water fall in slow motion to the ground and hit the dirt with a minute splash of dust.
He cupped his hands and drank as he lay facing the hole in the ground and then, twisting to look up at me, squinting through the glaring sun, he asked, ‘So how many fish did you say?’ I giggled and held up two fingers.
He lay face down on the ground again and dropped his shoulder, so his arm disappeared into the hole. His face was turned sideways towards me, and he shook his head very slightly, warning me to stay still, to be quiet. As his arm came out of the hole, I bent forward to get a better look. He lay on the ground shaking with laughter at the look on my face.
There in his hand lay a perch with its tiny orange-brown flecks and its rounded gills working like pistons searching for water in the air. He tossed me the fish. He found another one as well.
I watched as Bimbo carefully moved the rock back over the hole. He broke a small branch from a nearby tree and brushed at the ground where we had been, and our marks, too, were gone back into the memory of earth. I was still too much in awe and couldn’t ask any questions as we sat in the vehicle and Bimbo drove off further up the track. He glanced at me several times and grinned, probably because it wasn’t often that I was lost for words.
I had seen him do amazing things but never this kind of truly big, amazing thing.
Here in this story the First Nations author Debra Dank’s understanding of her grandfather and country expands like a bright balloon. Her appreciation grows, and there is a sense of wonder threaded through every word. That cool water could be found in the middle of the shimmering desert. The deep, generational knowledge of her grandfather.
And something similar happens in today’s reading. We go from something that is contained, to something that is vast and infinite.
The Psalms are a collection of songs and poetry. In many ways they are like a hymnbook, that people would sing on their way to Jerusalem, as they walked through that dry and dusty land. Some are thought to have been written by King David or to have used his identity to imagine how he might have put things.
And our Psalm 65 starts in a fairly predictable way . . .
Verses 1 -4
Are the language
Of the Jewish faith.
It is a familiar frame.
The Home Ground:
The Sacred City.
The Temple Courts
“The goodness of your house.”
Your sacred temple.
This is the language of faith and familiarity for the Jewish people.
God’s House looks is the Temple in Jerusalem.
Now the Temple is important to David. It’s what he knows.
After the Exodus from Egypt, it was believed that God could be housed in the Ark of the Covenant.
Think Indiana Jones. A small, intricately carved box.
And the Ark was dangerous,
It almost had a fierce electrical current.
We read in 2 Samuel 6:
They carried the ark of God on a new cart. David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might.
When they came to the threshing floor, Uzzah reached out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen lurched. The anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him there, and he died there beside the ark of God. David was angry because the Lord had burst forth with an outburst. David was afraid of the Lord that day; he said, “How can the ark of the Lord come into my care?”
So . . .
David sends it away, but the people there are blessed and a few months later he wants it back.
Then he comes up with an ingenious idea . . .
If the Ark is holy and dangerous, then let’s store it away in a Big House in Jerusalem, that only priests can access at special times.
It’s a strange human tendency to want to make something wonderful and intangible into something small and manageable. But it’s what we do.
In many ways it is the opposite of faith, I think.
So . . . in 2 Samuel 7 we read this . . .
Now when the king was settled in his house, then he said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.”
But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, “Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle . . . When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring . . . He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
There we have it. David’s son will be the one to build God’s House in Jerusalem.
The idea of the Temple matters to David. So much so that even on his death bed he is passing over plans to his son Solomon.
But here in this Psalm . . . something incredible happens . . . like finding water and fish in the middle of the desert . . .
David portrays a bigger picture of God, of God being not just contained to a Temple, or closed in, but instead being found in the whole of creation . . .
his view expands like an open window out onto the wonders of who God is . . .
It is a deeply spiritual moment.
The American author Anne Lamott says this:
“When we are stunned to the place beyond words, we are finally starting to get somewhere . . . when an aspect of life takes us away from being able to chip away at something until it’s down to a manageable size and then to file it nicely, when all we can say in response is ‘Wow . . . that’s a prayer.”
In many ways this Psalm is David’s Prayer. It is a stunning vision of a Bigger House, A Broader Faith. A faith that is at home in the creation.
The recent TV series Alone featured several contestants trying to survive in the isolated Tasmanian wilderness.
The winner Gina Chick said this of her nearly ten weeks out in nature:
“This whole thing wasn’t a temporary thing where I was going to go and be ‘on the land’; for me it was about being one with the land. If we don’t have a house, there’s a part of us that freaks out. Think about how you feel when you’re moving house. If we have a shelter that feels secure and cosy, like a home, there’s a huge part of our nervous system that down regulates and therefore doesn’t burn as many calories.”
A big reason for Gina winning, was her sense of being at home in the land, by a frosty lake in Tasmania.
And here, David, connects to land and lists a catalogue of God’s works . . .
The far corners of the earth
The life giving oceans.
Dawn and dusk.
Places of spiritual encounter.
This is way beyond the confines of the walls and courts of the Temple. Way beyond the holy box containing God. God’s house is all around us. As vast and awe inspiring as the Milky Way.
Well, what do we learn from this?
Sometimes we can think that church is the only way to encounter God or be encountered by God.
But like David we need a bigger, broader vision.
For God is to be found outside the church as well, through the creation . . .
God’s Bigger House.
And this presence of God is to be discovered in all kinds of places.
Back in 2019 I visited Woomera, out in the desert. Rocky red earth lies around the town, which is ringed by ancient, dry riverbeds.
I went not expecting to find much, I was shocked to have a deep spiritual sense in this place.
The following poem was drafted onto my iPhone, while standing in a dry creek bed on the edge of town:
They always told me
The desert was dark
But instead, it is light:
Red rock copper light
Deep into the distance.
I stand in an empty creek bed
So seldom holding water
But of course
It is something deeper
That flows through here:
For from the outback of silence
Comes the continent of presence
And out here
Far from city lights
Presence is everything ...
I finish the poem by talking about life in dry places.
Phil Batterham has spoken of finding light when things get dark.
The creation has always done that for me. It is healing and restorative. It is spiritual.
It has brought perspective, presence, and a deep sense of connection.
So . . . What about for you?
Where are the places that speak to you of God?
This photo comes from John and Val Wilkie who caught a boat trip over the Derwent a few weeks’ back and saw a rainbow riding over the water. The next photo is Richard Dickins’ view from Red Rock.
The creation is full of wonder, full of God.
Well, how do we respond to this God that we find in the creation? In the Bigger house?
The Psalmist says:
“You leave us breathless when your awesome works answer us . . .”
“We sit in astonished silence.”
Helen Garner is a writer from Melbourne, whose books are filled with realism . . .
She speaks of a world
Of corner shops and milk bars
Of cobbled bluestone lanes and coffee shops on Lygon Street
Of buskers and trams
Of heavy skies and changing trees in autumn
Of the Marybyrnong River and suburban football grounds.
Her writing is as Melbourne as Moomba or the waterwall or the Yarra.
This is her home.
But a few years ago, Helen’s world expanded
And wrote this of her experience:
“In my heart all I want to do is go out of the boats and look at ice. Where to find a language for these miraculous frozen forms? The colour of an iceberg is impossible to name. The forms are inhuman but to name them we need the vocabularly of the body, of carpentry, dressmaking, masonry . . . Pocked. Dimpled. Chiselled. Bevelled. Frilled. Saw-toothed. Trimmed, carved, scrolled. Why can’t we let experiences lay themselves down inn us like compost, or fall into us like seeds which may put forth a shoot one day . . .”
So, this afternoon:
Do something spiritual.
Go for a walk along the Darebin or through the Rosanna Parklands.
Turn some soil in the garden or smell the roses.
Stare up at the sky at night and see some stars.
Find your place, in God’s Bigger House.
A prayer of wonder.
God of the endless sky,
God of the boundless ocean,
God who crafted the rocky peaks of the Himalayas,
God who flicked stars
Into the far reaches of the cosmos:
Whenever we are tempted
To think we have you figured out
Cause us to consider
The depths of the Milky Way
-stars that dot the night sky-
The reach of the Barrier Reef
Or the scale of gullies
Throughout the Blue Mountains.
And when we think of your creation,
It’s not only the dimensions,
But the details:
The design of an insect’s eye,
The patterns of honeycomb,
The wonder of the human mind.
The creativity of poetry
The beauty of music
The majesty of art.
Give us a Bigger Faith
Which is open at the edges
And humble to its core
So that together we might grow in worship
And when our words expire
May we sit
As we consider
The wonder of
All you have created,