‘Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them….
‘The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.’
Psalm 111:2, 7, from Psalm 111, lectionary psalm for Jan. 31, 2021
Every week, I read the text — whichever text it is — a first time. I will read it again and I will do research and I will read it yet again, seeking the spark that arcs across from the ancient word to my own world. Sometimes flame flares so swift and strong and bright that words flow without much effort. Sometimes the spark catches but smolders; there is something there, but I struggle to know it. Sometimes there seems no spark at all, and I think I’ve chosen the wrong text of the lectionary four. I worry at the words like a dog worrying at a bone, working that a spark might fly, worrying that this time none will.
Every week — or two — I read the text a first time. Looking to see a light to see by.
The week I read Psalm 111, I immediately knew v.7 was the intended spark: ‘The works of his hands are faithful and just.’ The works of God’s hand. This is a phrase I’ve studied much and know well. Humans are God’s handiwork. This is where I would spend the week: pondering my identity as a made-creature, my calling to be faithful and just. With a sigh of satisfaction, I read the rest of the psalm, turned out the light, and settled to sleep, secure that verse 7 would spark. I would gather the tinder — translations and lexicons and what commentaries I have — strike the text, watch it flare, tend the flame, and write the fire.
The tinder didn’t catch. Because the text did not spark. Because in the Hebrew, the predicate in v.7 is a pair of nouns: ’The works of his hands truth and justice.’ The meaning shifted in my mind. Not that God’s handiwork — otherwise unnamed — has the quality of being faithful or just but that God makes truth, God makes justice. Truth. Justice. These themselves are the works of the LORD. The lexical study surprised. I checked multiple translations hoping one would give me back the adjectives of the NRSV. None did. I felt bereft. I had thought myself spoken of, or to, reminded of being God-made; reminded to be faithful and just. ‘The works of his hands truth and justice.’ I felt as if a door had closed and shut me out of the psalm entirely. I circled the psalm again. Noting the way ‘works’ ties it together: ‘works’ are great, are studied and delighted in; ‘works’ have power, are shown; ‘works’ are truth and justice; God’s instructions are ‘worked’ in truth; those who ‘work’ them gain understanding. ‘Works’ are a definite thread; but do they connect to me?
Sunday snow came. Monday snow came. The ground was covered over. The air moved with the falling of the flakes. The world was transformed. I had a snow day — entirely unexpected. Entirely unexpected as well was the way the snow drew me out and into it. Crunching across the ice-glazed, snow-covered grass. Wanting to see and hold in my mind’s eye a picture of just snow and sky and trees. Shades of gray, white to near-black. Wanting to go deeply in. Apart. No houses, no cars, no wires, none of the messy interconnectedness that is human life in this close-in suburb. Wanting to see the world that is not-us — deep green holly, dark cool evergreen, bare tree branches stretched out and up — all overlaid by this grace of snow — its shape and shading at once stark and soft, striking and subtle. Other.
Snow day as Sabbath unexpectedly imposed, unexpectedly allowed. Snow shifting the quality of the light. I’d been reading for a spark to summon me to examination of self and world, to whatever next-work is needed (and so much next-work is needed). I’d been following the thread in search of a knot to keep it from pulling loose. Snow shifted my sight to show psalm and snow day were the same gift. Stop tugging at the thread, stop worrying for a word of exhortation. Stop. Experience a word of wonder. This psalm is about the LORD. It is a summons to sit and study honor and majesty and greatness and power and mercy and grace and truth and justice. Stand. Snow cold underfoot. Snow coming down. Listen. Snowfall has a sound of its own even as it makes all the other sounds different. Look with open eyes, soft gaze. Snow light changes sight.
Look to see the LORD whose work I am. Only then can I see the work I am made to be.
This is wisdom; this is delight: wonder in the LORD.