Monday, April 18, 2011

Psalms of nature

[The] Jews, like nearly all the ancients, were agricultural and approached Nature with a gardener’s and a farmer’s interest, concerned with rain, with grass ‘for the service of man’, wine to cheer man up and olive-oil to make his face shine — to make it look, as Homer says somewhere, like a peeled onion (104:14,15). But we find them led on beyond this. Their gusto, or even gratitude, embraces things that are no use to man. In the great Psalm especially devoted to Nature, from which I have just quoted (104), ’we have not only the useful cattle, the cheering vine, and the nourishing corn.saddle-billed-storks We have springs where the wild asses quench their thirst (v. 11), fir trees for the storks (v. 17), hill country for the wild goats and ‘conies’ (perhaps marmots, v. 18), finally even the lions (v. 21); and even with a glance far out to sea, where no Jew willingly went, the great whales playing, enjoying themselves (v. 26).
… In Norse stories a pestilent creature such as a dragon tends to be conceived as the enemy not only of men but of gods. In classical stories, more disquietingly, it tends to be sent by a god for the destruction of men whom he has a grudge against. The Psalmist’s clear objective view — noting the lions and whales side by side with men and men’s cattle — is unusual. And I think it is certainly reached through the idea of God as Creator and sustainer of all. In 104:21, the point about the lions is that they, like us, ‘do seek their meat from God’. All these creatures, like us, ‘wait upon’ God at feeding-time (v. 27). It is the same in 147:9; though the raven was an unclean bird to Jews, God ‘feedeth the young ravens that call upon him’. The thought which gives these creatures a place in the Psalmist’s gusto for Nature is surely obvious. They are our fellow-dependents; we all — lions, storks, ravens, whales —. live, as our fathers said, ‘at God’s charges’, and mention of all equally redounds to His praise.

C.S. Lewis, “Nature,” Reflections on the Psalms (1958) as republished within C.S. Lewis: Selected Books (London: HarperCollins, 2002) 354.

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