Psalm 107:33-43 calls to memory for the people of God how God turned arid wilderness into areas flowing with water. God’s presence – and our cooperation with it – are mentioned as a part of how devastated areas are transformed into oases of life, verdant and fruitful. In this way the bountiful harvest is seen as a fruit of the Divine presence.
The simplistic way some approach this is as if good soil, good rain, good harvest, and having plenty are signs of God’s choosing to bless you either for your goodness or for some other purpose of God’s; and that lack of rain, bad soil, bad harvests, famine and hunger, want and disease are all God’s curse upon us if we fail to follow God or trust God. I remember hearing sermons at an Adventist-style Church of God church as a child using such language, to say such want was God’s coming judgment on the nations for their sin right before Jesus returned, judgment those who trusted in God could be rescued from through divine protection. Some preachers went so far as to imagine God lifting us away to some place of safety on this earth. Similar approaches to these images exist in the minds of those expecting such catastrophes at the end for the faithless, while the faithful are raptured away from this earth.
To be sure, there are texts such as the blessings and cursings lists in Deuteronomy which can be read this way very easily.
To me, though, the more natural reading of this Psalm is a more life-giving one: recognizing God as the Source of life, God’s movement as the movement toward life and away from death and decay. Understood in this way God is not seen as cursing those facing disaster nor granting those with much some great cosmic lottery, let alone a reward for being good little boys and girls.
Instead, always, ever, God is present in all people, all nature, all creation, as the Power at work to woo all things toward life, in all its beauty and complexity.
Seeing God in this way fits the experience of Christian mystics throughout the ages.
Whether quoting an otherwise not recorded saying of Jesus on this earth or writing down words of Christ received in mystical vision, the mystic who was the writer of the Sayings Gospel of Thomas pictures Jesus as turning to us and saying, “It is I who am the light that shines over all. It is I who am the entirety: it is from me that the entirety has come, and to me that the entirety goes. Split a piece of wood: I am there. Lift a stone, and you will find me there” (saying 77).
Similarly medieval mystic and social justice prophet St. Hildegard of Bingen taught believers to pray, recognizing the Holy Spirit as the life-giving presence found in all things, a fountain of life and healing accessible to all:
“The Holy Spirit animates all, moves all, roots all, forgives all, cleanses all,
erases all our past mistakes, and then puts medicine on our wounds.
We praise this Spirit of incandescence for awakening and reawakening all creation.
Spirit of fire, Paraclete, our Comforter,
You’re the Live in alive, the Be in every creature’s being,
the Breathe in every breath on earth.
Holy Life-Giver, Doctor of the desperate,
Healer of everyone broken past hope,
Medicine for all wounds,
Fire of love, Joy of hearts,
fragrant Strength, Sparkling Fountain,
in You we contemplate
how God goes looking for those who are lost
and reconciles those who are at odds with Him
break our chains!
You bring people together.
You curl clouds, whirl winds,
send rain on rocks, sing in creeks,
and turn the lush earth green.
You teach those who listen,
breathing joy and wisdom into them.
We praise You for these gifts, Light-giver,
Sound of joy,
Wonder of being alive,
Hope of every person,
and our strongest Good.”
Seeing God in this way, this puts the Psalm in a different perspective to me.
Learning to drink deep of the waters of the Spirit includes learning how to help cooperate with the Spirit’s work of bringing life in the midst of death, healing in the midst of disease, reconciliation in the midst of torn apart lives, and liberation in the midst of captivity.
So our task is not to judge or put down those suffering but to ask, what can I do to help bring life here? That may mean helping ensure those without water to provide for their fields have access to it through sharing our over-abundance. It might mean working to help limit our pollution and use more green energy for the pollution we wealthy first world folks are producing create damage to the earth that harms most those struggling on the brink of poverty both in our country and in the third world. A task of a spiritual person is finding, protecting, and helping thrive the life we find in little pockets in our world. This is participation with the Spirit.
In my own life, when I work as a chaplain, I feel that the work I and others on our team do to help bring healing in the lives of the hurting, both those sick and their families, is participating in the Spirit’s life-giving work in our midst. The nurses I work with physically help people connect with the Life-Giving, Comforting, and Healing work of the Spirit. I help people connect with the same Creator Spirit whose presence brings healing to heart, space to grieve, and reconciliation in relationships.
Yet my work is no more holy than my ancestors who worked together with the Spirit to help cultivate life as farmers that fed their families and communities, or those who today work to clean roads and clean up the earth from pollution.
In each of our lives we can learn to cooperate with the Spirit of Life, finding Christ in and under all around us, when we choose daily practices and ways of relating that help life break out where otherwise death, pollution, and disease can reign.
How have you found your way to help join in the Spirit’s work of greening our world and bringing life & healing to the broken?
Let’s find our place in that work.
And I ain’t whistling Dixie here,
Your progressive redneck preacher,