Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sunday Morning Med--Poetics

The moon marks off the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down.
You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl.
The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God.
The sun rises, and they steal away;
they return and lie down in their dens. Psalm 104:19-22.

Things work. That’s the idea here, or so it seems. Things work, and they do so because of you, Lord, because it’s your world and you run the whole shebang. Things work because all of it is in your hand, under your care, beneath your authority.

“The sun knows when to go down” is fun, as playfully poetic as anything in the Psalms. Just for a moment, the poet gives human character to the sun, almost as if poetically at least, he were pagan. But he doesn’t really mean what he says: the sun does not determine when to rise and set, then post those times on its website.

And that’s not the intent, despite his language. Like lions who fill their stomachs once night falls, then rest when dawn paints the east, the sun goes down only because it obeys God’s directions, as does all of nature. That’s what he means.

What is suggested, poetically, is subservience. “The sun knows when to go down” suggests obedience not whim; the sun understands its job and its obligation. It knows what is right.

Adherents of some of the world’s great religions like to think that all wholesome theology is poetry. Questions can be begged of that assertion: what is “theology,” after all, and what is “poetry”?

But even defining terms reduces poetry to proposition. The great beauty of Psalm 104, its panorama of God’s good world, is put at risk even by my own taking it apart. To cut the psalm in pieces the way I am reduces its joy and vitality. Maybe I should just quit thinking about it and love it.

But then I wouldn’t have come up with that idea had I not worked at analysis. I might have read through the poem, noted its gorgeous mainstage production of creation, and moved along. The line “the sun knows when to go down” set me to smiling, then prompted me to think about why I liked it. Poetry without analysis is a risk, too.

Far better minds than mine will argue the claim that all great theology is poetry. I’m not smart enough to answer the questions it raises. What I do know is, I really like the theology of T. S. Eliot, in “Ash Wednesday,” which is, really, just another take on this beautiful poem, Psalm 104.

Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated
And let my cry come unto Thee.

            Think about that. No, don’t. Just listen.

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