“You put everything under his feet.” Psalm 8
When I took my first steps over native prairie—good, rich Iowa earth that has never been cut by the plow—I was amazed at how soft it was, spongy, in fact. The rich accumulation of centuries of perennials creates vast root systems, not to mention a mushy mattress of mulch. The cushion-y earth beneath your feet makes you feel as if you’re walking on a cloud.
Which is not to say that walking is easy. I’m told there are places on the Oregon Trail, that mid-nineteenth century freeway west, where even today, a century later, wagon tracks distinguish themselves. After walking on native prairie, I know why people kept their oxen on the trail. Original prairie may be soft, but it’s not easy walking. The earth is not flattened; it’s humped and bumped beneath the heavy grasses, tough on the ankles.
At one time, on this ground where I live, there was centuries of life underfoot. Today, of course, that’s no longer so. If you want to hike on native prairie, you’ve got to hunt to find it because of all the states in the Union, Iowa, where I live, boasts the most altered landscape. That fertile soil created by native grasses is, today, almost completely under till. Row crops run like power lines as far as the eye can see so that today, out here on the edge of the Great Plains, there is much, much less underfoot.
Some time ago I showed a tour group around the region where I live, offered them a little local history. Most of them, like me, were Dutch-American. I told them what I just told you—how spongy and rich the Iowa land was when it was untouched. I told them how awed Lewis and Clark at the vast tall-grass prairie that existed all around.
The thought occurred to me, right then and there, how my narrative might differ if we’d been touring fifty years ago. I’ll bet the back forty that I would have been braying about how hard work and buckets of sweat had subdued the earth, turning all that dense prairie grass into endless rows of corn and soybeans. To people whose ethnic past includes turning the sea into farmland, the row crops all around us would have undoubtedly been enriching.
Today, honestly, I lament the fact that we’ve so completely altered our landscape. We’re much, much richer because we broke the soil, of course; but I wish my grandchildren could see at least something of the great sea of grass that left the Corps of Discovery speechless. I wish they could slog through verdant prairie grasses. I wish they had at least a sense of what this world was before the plow.
Dominion, David says, is what God gave us—what a blessing. We rule. Over the works of his hands, over God’s own creation, he gave us rule. What’s at the heart of things here in this entire psalm is still sheer awe. This cosmic mosquito, humankind, actually rules over a vast range of flora and fauna. Why on earth should this mammoth God care so much for lowly us?—that’s the question that sends David’s mind awhirl.
What an immense blessing—this dominion we’ve been given. What admirable authority he’s given us. He’s put so incredibly much under our feet. In a way, he’s signed over the works of his hands and blessed us with his own treasured abundance.
Lord God Almighty, thank you for your love and your kindness and your regard.
Now help us, please, understand how to rule.