God's Open and Closed Hand

Ever since my days of reading the chilren’s nature magazine, Ranger Rick, I have responded to the sweeping love of creation found in Psalm 104:  the rain fleeing the thunder of God’s rebuke by pouring down to earth, the rock badgers hiding in crags, thirsty wild donkeys, the stork nesting in the highest branches of the cedars of Lebanon, the lions savagely “claiming their food from God” by night, then “going back to lie down in their lairs” as “people go out to work” by day.  The psalmist is clearly awestruck by both the grandeur of wind and mountains and sea, and in love with the particularities of innumerable creatures.  Today that psalmist would undoubtedly be an environmentalist.

But I am also struck by the image of God woven into this psalm.  Not only does creation reflect God’s glory; creatures themselves depend utterly upon God for their very existence:

“All creatures depend on you to feed them at the proper time.  Give it to them–they gather it up.  Open your hand–they are well satisfied.  Hide your face–they are terrified.  Take away their breath–they die and return to dust.  Send back your breath–fresh life begins and you renew the face of the earth.  Glory forever to YHWH!  May you find joy in your creation!”

It is this profound awareness of creaturely dependence on God that has animated ideas of predestination.  Our lives, and our deaths, have their origin in God.  And the perspective that this psalmist draws us to is not gratitude for our own existence, so much as a prayer on God’s own behalf, for God’s joy–an identification with God’s gaze. We do fear for our own lives, the psalmist recognizes; but in gazing upon creation’s beauty and its contingency upon the creator, we can also glimpse beyond concerrn about the fate or our own lives to a posture of praise that embraces wonder about the multiple-beinged dance between existence and mortality itself.

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One thought on “God's Open and Closed Hand

  1. Thanks for this reflection on psalm 104, a psalm which has such memorable imagery. I picked up my handy book, Sing a New Song: the Psalms in the Sunday Lectionary by Sr. Irene Nowell to check out when we as a Catholic community use this psalm. We use it 5 times: at the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, at Easter Vigil K, Pentecost Vigil, Pentecost Sun and Pentecost Common. Sr. Irene points out that this psalm’s stanzas follow the Creation story of Genesis. I like all the things that we keep in mind (Ranger Rick, ideas of predestination, as well as badgers) when we slowly and intently read this psalm.

    My favorite line in your reflection is

    And the perspective that this psalmist draws us to is not gratitude for our own existence, so much as a prayer on God’s own behalf, for God’s joy–an identification with God’s gaze.

    I hadn’t thought of this important perspective. Thanks.

    Like

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