Academic journal article The Hymn

Hymn Interpretation

Academic journal article The Hymn

Hymn Interpretation

Article excerpt

This column is the second in a series of four on hymn texts employing a theopoetic idiom that holds together biblical imagery and scientific understandings of the natural world.

I have in my office a photograph of the earth rising above the moon. I am astonished every time I look at it. I study that "sunlit mossy stone" and words from the psalms rise spontaneously to mind: "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein" (Psalm 24: 1 KJV-the translation of my childhood and thus the version most accessible to my memory) . More words come to me as I look at the vastness of the space in which the planet floats: "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork ... In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race" (Psalm 19: 1 and 4b-5 KJV). I am suddenly aware of how different the cosmology of the psalmist is from mine. The heavens are a "firmament" for the ancient poet. The word in Hebrew means literally a strip of beaten metal. It was thought to separate the waters above the heavens so they would not flood the earth. But for me, instead of a stable cosmos, the heavens are a vast space, spanning billions of light years and filled with galaxies and black holes.

Far from weakening my faith, the photograph of the planet above the moon increases my sense of awe, wonder, and gratitude to God. The image brings home to me the moral implications of the psalmists' words: God has entrusted to us the care of this "mossy stone," this "garden," this "emerald," this "isle in space protected/ by one thin reef of air." The images are piled on top of each other, suggesting that our consciousness of environmental responsibility is fed both by the recall of the biblical witness, the "garden" of Eden, and by our scientific exploration of outer space. …

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