“. . .for like the grass they will soon wither,
like green plants they will soon die away.” Psalm 37
Lawns are shabby right now. We’re not in any kind of drought, but the abundant rainfall we’ve had this spring and summer probably kept the grass from having to reach for moisture, so that when the rain stopped and the heat arrived our lawn turned to toast, the grass going as dormant as it will in January.
King David is not wrong in his appraisal of things here, of course: real villains—real evil men and women—don’t last. Their hay-day is fleeting, you might say. Hitler and Stalin had designs on world conquest, but they both like a’moldering right now. Somewhere in the ocean Osama bin Laden is too, his minions still killing when and where they can, a bizarre cult of hate and death. But, David says, Al Qaeda too shall pass—that’s the promise of the first verse of Psalm 37.
I know very well what he means.
Look—why beat around the bush? This isn’t my favorite verse in the Bible, and I probably have Walt Whitman to blame. What’s my quarrel? I just don't like the comparison. Grass has been withering all month long under the heavy gaze of an outrageous July sun. The perennials aren’t standing up very well either. I know what David means.
But last night a cool breeze came through, straight from Canada, and this morning we’re twenty degrees colder than we were yesterday. Highs today may reach into the 70s; for most of the month, we’ve been in the 90s. Our air conditioning shut down, and you know what else?—if the temp stays close to what it is this morning, it won’t take long and that tawny grass will be emerald. I know it will—just as every April I know it will. The whole bunch of perennials we’re so proud of—they’ll be back too, not to mention the those gorgeous heavy-laden peonies. Everything may wither for a season, but they’ll be back. I know they will and so do you.
There’s something unspoken in this verse that reminds me of horror movies because just when you think the blob or the atomic anteater devastating New York is finally gone, there’s this wink, this raised eyebrow that suggests the horror may not be completely wiped out. No, no, no--not true! The wicked, says David, are like grass—they die.
Well, I got news, David. Grass doesn’t die quite so fast. It may get cut and shorn; it may brown like old leather and get prickly underfoot; the earth may go seemingly bald beneath it but grass will be back.
That’s what Leaves of Grass is all about, and while I’m not into yawping as barbarically as Walt Whitman, his American classic testifies, from the dark destruction of the Civil War, that the grass will come back, that life will return.
Some may well consider “Song of Myself” to be holy writ. I don’t count myself among them. But, like Whitman, I really do love green stuff; and I just can’t help my unease when David equates beastly wicked folks with God’s lovely growing things. It’s the Bible, the word of God--I know, I know; but here, I wish he’d have found some other comparison.
I promise to take the lesson to heart because what David is telling us is the most comforting assurance God’s word offers anywhere in holy writ—“don’t be afraid.” The bad guys'll wither away. That’s the story, something that needs to be said, time after time after time.
I just wish he’d stay off my grass and leave my peonies alone. . .