Psalm 8: God’s Handiwork

Tuesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 8 which, in keeping with our first reading from Genesis, describes our Creator God in terms we can humanly understand.

I have always thought of these verses as the “Psalm of the Knitting God” who weaves the cloth of Creation to clothe us:

When I behold your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars which you set in place—
What are we that you should be mindful of us ,
    or that you should care for us?

Psalm 8:4

As beautiful as its images are, Psalm 8 contains a challenging verse which some, over time, have interpreted to support human domination of all creation:

You have made humans little less than the angels,
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them rule over the works of your hands,
    putting all things under their feet.

Psalm 8:6-7

Elephant Trophy Hunting

The verse has been manipulated to justify an attitude of supremacy rather than unity and cooperation with nature. That misinterpretation supports such activities as uncontrolled extraction mining, land seizure, trophy hunting and many other forms of natural exploitation.

More recent theology has helped to understand our role in Creation in a humbler, truer light, as stated in the introduction to Laudato Sí:


LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.

This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.


To prepare for prayer this morning, I reflected on “The Way of Beauty”, Stations of the Cross composed by Gilbert Choondal, SDB, a Salesian Priest of Don Bosco. He holds a PhD in Catechetics and Youth Ministry from the Salesian Pontifical University, Rome. Presently he is the president of the Indian Catechetical Association.
You may find these prayerful reflections helpful, especially as we approach the season of Lent. (You may have to double-click the picture of the Good Shepherd to make the document come up.)


Poetry: Hovering – Joseph Stroud

(for Tom Marshall)
Tom and I are walking Last Chance Road
down from the mountain where we had been
hunting mushrooms under a stand of coast oaks,
walking down and looking out to the Pacific
shimmering in the late fall sun, the light
on the surface like glittering flakes of mica,
when we see a white-tailed kite hovering
in the air, hovering over a green pasture,
hovering over the day, over the two of us,
our very lives hovering as well, there
on the California coast, in the fall, in the sun,
on our way home, with a sack of chanterelles,
with our love for this world, with so much time,
and so little time—all of it—hovering—
and hovering still.


Music: Take Care of the Planet – a delightful reminder from Australia🤗

Psalm 8: What Are We?

Tuesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

January 12, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 8, a brief, beautiful, and highly personal hymn to an awesome Creator.

Charles Spurgeon, celebrated 19th century Baptist preacher, calls this psalm “the song of the Astronomer”, as gazing at the heavens inspires the psalmist to meditate on God’s creation and the human person’s place in it. 

The core of Psalm 8 asks a question:
What are we that you are mindful of us,
we humans that you care for us?

Psalm 8:5-6

Indeed, what are we, who are we? It is a question which each of us spends a lifetime answering.

If you were asked to introduce yourself to a total stranger, how would you begin?

  • With your name, expressing your unique identity?
  • Any group to which you belong?
  • Or where you’re from?
  • What you life work is?
  • Where you fit in society, to whom you are related?
  • How you have been defined by your accomplishments?

For example, might the self-introduction sound something like this:

Any similarity to persons living or dead is purely unintentional 🙂

Hi, I’m Mary Smith.
I’m a dentist, born and raised in Schenectady.
I wrote the book, “How Gumdrops Ruin Kid’s Teeth”.
You may have heard of my great-grandfather and his brother,
the cough drop magnates.


Psalm 8 suggests a whole other way of self-definition:

Hi, I’m Mary, a child of God, 
part of an infinite universe 
that spills from God’s creative love.
 
I am in awe of our Creator
who loves and cares for me,
who has ennobled me in grace.
I try to let all my actions give God praise.

I take seriously my role
in cherishing all Creation.
As I do this,
my own divinely-given nature is revealed
and made available to God 
for the transformation of the world.

I will sing of your majesty above the heavens
When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you set in plac
e.

What are we that you are mindful of us,
that you care for us?
Yet you have made us little less than angels
crowned us with glory and honor.


You have given us rule over the works of your hands, put all things at our feet:
O LORD, our Lord,
how awesome is your name through all the earth!


Poetry (well really prose): from Hamlet by William Shakespeare 

Shakespeare uses Psalm 8 as his reference point for Hamlet’s monologue.
Hamlet is saying that although humans may appear to think and act “nobly” they are essentially “dust”. Hamlet is expressing his melancholy to his old friends over the difference between the best that men aspire to be, and how they actually behave; the great divide that depresses him. (Spark Notes)

I offer the passage to say that Hamlet has become disillusioned, lost his awareness of his own awesome identity in God. Don’t be like Hamlet.

Hamlet, played by Edwin Booth – c.1870 (source: wikipedia)
I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth, 
forgone all custom of exercises, 
and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition 
that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; 
this most excellent canopy, the air—look you, 
this brave o'erhanging firmament, 
this majestical roof fretted with golden fire—
why, it appears no other thing to me 
than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors. 
What a piece of work is a man! 
How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! 
In form and moving how express and admirable! 
In action how like an angel, 
in apprehension how like a god! 
The beauty of the world. 
The paragon of animals. 
And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? 
Man delights not me. 
No, nor woman neither, 
though by your smiling you seem to say so.

Music: Domine, Deus Noster (Psalm 8) by Marc-Antoine Charpentier 

Psalm 8: Hymn of the Universe

Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr

October 17, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 8.

O LORD, our LORD,
how glorious is your Name over all the earth!
You have exalted your majesty above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings
you have fashioned praise ….

Psalm 8:2-3

Just yesterday, I got an email from the amazingly organized Sister who manages our grounds. She wanted to alert us that there would be a small “star-gazing” event this weekend, sponsored by our school, in case we might wonder about unusual nighttime visitors.


The note took me back to my own star-gazing days, residues of which percolate from time to time, especially during meteor showers. These days I do most of my “gazing” out our kitchen window, but when I studied for my certification in Earth Sciences, I had several opportunities for “instructed” star-gazing with excellent West Chester University astronomers. In a subsequent reflection, I described one such experience like this:

There are a few places where nature offers an experience of darkness so absolute it can be terrifying.  Assateague Island lies along the barrier coast of Virginia.  On a winter night, darkness there feels complete, enveloping.  As evening lengthens, night pulls its velvet canopy from the black ocean, covering the beach in silence. The whisper of rustling sea oats along invisible dunes is the only link to a land left behind.  But slowly, like sparks rolling through dry tinder, stars burn one by one through heaven’s blanket.  By midnight, their incomparable brilliance convinces the soul that it has never been and can never be alone.


Three thousand years ago, our psalmist felt the same way:

When I behold your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars which you set in place—
What are we  that you should be mindful of us,
we human beings that you should care for us?

Psalm 8:4-5

Charles Spurgeon, revered Baptist preacher, calls this psalm “the song of the Astronomer“, as gazing at the heavens inspires the psalmist to meditate on God’s creation and humanity’s place in it.

You have made us little less than the angels,
and crowned us with glory and honor.
You have given us rule over the works of your hands,
putting all things under our feet.

Psalm 8:6-7

Pope John Paul II said this:

 …. for those who have attentive ears and open eyes, creation is like a first revelation that has its own eloquent language: it is almost another sacred book whose letters are represented by the multitude of created things present in the universe. St. John Chrysostom says: “The silence of the heavens is a voice that resounds louder than a trumpet blast: this voice cries out to our eyes and not to our ears, the greatness of Him who made them.

General Audience – January 30, 2002

And our dear Pope Francis reiterates this thought so beautifully in his epic encyclical:

At the end, we will find ourselves face to face with the infinite beauty of God, and be able to read with admiration and happiness the mystery of the universe, which with us, will share in unending plenitude.

Laudato Si’

Let’s rest in all this beauty as we pray today with Psalm 8


Music: Beautiful Universe – Tim Janis