Tuesday, June 8, 2021 (Day 8)
Katie Snipes Lancaster
Psalm 8 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
Lord, our Master,
How majestic Your name in all the earth!
Whose splendor was told over the heavens.
When I see Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars You fixed firm,
“What is man that You should note him,
And the human creature, that You pay heed,
And You make him little less than the gods,
With glory and grandeur You crown him?
An Opening Word
You may know John Donne for his love poems. He was considered a metaphysical poet, and served as a priest in church of England, specifically as Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
Of Donne, the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church sees both his love poetry and his devotional poetry as two parts of a greater whole: “His great theme as a love-poet was the bliss of union; his great theme as a preacher was God’s mercy. Both themes are given singular force coming from one who wrote so often of a love that was ‘rage’ and not ‘peace’; and knew in experience the meaning of working out one’s salvation with fear and trembling.” And I see their point: the distance (literal and figurative) between lovers, the gifts and failures of communicating one-to-another, the longing, the force between—it all has a counterpart in faith. You see this in our multipronged readings of Song of Songs, for example.
It is an adjacent tension to the one in today’s psalm. This psalm portrays at once humility and a high view of humanity, a sense of separation from God who is galaxies-beyond, and a unity with God who is made “little less than gods” (or celestial beings, just slightly down the ancient “divine hierarchy” with God imagined at the top). It points to the tension we feel between the immanent and infinite realities of God; that God is as close as our heartbeat and breath, and simultaneously woven within the farthest-flung constellations. Whereas Psalm 8 wrestles with the intimate-and-cosmic attributes of God, it is as if John Donne (in his poem below) living in awe at the power of the intimacy of the cosmic God. He is saying to us, “digest” this good news: God makes a home within you, your heartbeat and breath, God’s shelter and sacred space.
Prayer from the Mystics: John Donne (1571–1631)
Wilt thou love God, as he thee! then digest,
My soul, this wholesome meditation,
How God the Spirit, by Angels waited on
In heaven, doth make his Temple in thy breast.