"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 walking is easy. 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 understand why people kept to the trail--the prairie was not easy walking. The earth is not flattened; it’s humped and bumped beneath the heavy grasses. It's tough on the ankles.
At one time, on this ground where I live, there was many years of life underfoot. Today, 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, looks least like it once did. Fertile soil created by centuries of 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 the story I was telling might be different if we’d been touring fifty years ago. I’ll bet the back forty that I would have been bragging about how hard work and buckets of sweat had subdued the earth, turning all that dense prairie grass into endless money-making rows of corn and soybeans. To people whose ethnic past includes turning the sea into farmland, the row crops all around us would be proof of how hard we'd worked to tame the prairie.
Today, we’ve so completely altered our tall-grass prairie landscape that 99 percent of it looks nothing at all like what it did. Today, I wish my grandchildren could see at least something of the great sea of grass that left the Lewis and Clark speechless. I wish they could slog through verdant prairie grasses. I wish it was possible for them to get 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 Psalm 8 is sheer awe. Humankind rules over a vast range of flora and fauna. Why on earth should God almighty care so much for lowly us?—that’s the question that makes David's mind spin.
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 therefore with his own treasured abundance.
Lord God Almighty, thank you for your love and your kindness and your regard, your faith in us.
Now help us, please. Guide our hearts and hands and minds to help us know best how to rule.