07 June 2022

Praying with the Psalms in Pentecost:
7 June 2022 (Psalm 104)

‘There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it’ (Psalm 104: 26) … a fresco in Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before today begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections from the seasons of Lent and Easter, including my morning reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 104:

Psalm 104 is one of the longer psalms, and has 35 verses. It is sometimes known by its Latin name Benedic anima mea Domino. In the slightly different numbering system in the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate, this psalm is counted as Psalm 104. A portion of this psalm (Psalm 104: 24-35) was the appointed psalm on Sunday morning (Pentecost, 5 June 2022).

Psalm 104 is closely related to the first Genesis creation narrative (Genesis 1), where the waters are separated before the creation of Sun and Moon. This is a hymn of praise to God as the creator, creator of the heavens and the earth (verses 5-9). God is wrapped in light, the waters above (the skies) are his heavenly dwelling and the rains, the winds and the fire (thunder and lightning) are his messengers and servants, so that we depend on God for our very existence.

Verse 2-4 tell of the creation of the heavens and verses 5-9 of the earth. To ancient people, light (verse 2) was a thing, so likening it to a garment made sense. God built his heavenly dwelling on the chaotic waters (verses 2b-3a).

The wind (verse 3c) brings rain clouds from the sea; both are under God’s control. The hot wind in verse 4 is the sirocco, a desert wind from the east.

People saw the earth as a disk supported by pillars or foundations (verse 5). Before God’s creative acts, the waters (verse 6) covered the earth. God chased away chaos, bringing order. he restricted the waters to the mountain tops as snow and to the valleys as rivers (verse 8).

God will never again allow the waters to cover the earth (verse 9) and all that lives (verses 10-18): creatures depend on him for their very existence (verses 27-30).

God’s marvellous works (verse 24) are countless, all are made in his wisdom. He has made them in wisdom, with perfection of design and ethic, absolute integrity, truth and beauty.

For people at that time, the sea was almost chaotic, beyond controlling (verse 25), but God is so great that even Leviathan, the mythical sea monster, is his harmless, sportive creature (verse 26).

All living things depend on God at all times, for their food (verse 27) and their life (verse 29), without it, they die. Lack of God’s presence causes terror. His creative agent is his spirit (verse 30). Creation is continuous, continually renewed. The glory of the Lord (verse 31) is the magnificence of the created world, his visible manifestation. His power is evident too in earthquakes and volcanoes (verse 32).

The psalmist vows to praise God throughout his life.

‘The Old 104th’ is a well-known tune composed by Thomas Ravenscroft (1592-1635), and associated with a number of hymns, including ‘Disposer Supreme, and Judge of the earth’, in 1686 by Jean-Baptiste de Santeüil (1630-1697) and translated into English in 1836 by the Revd Isaac Williams (1802-1865).

Ralph Vaughan Williams’s composed an arrangement for ‘Disposer Supreme’ or the ‘Old 104th’ and the hymn ‘Disposer Supreme’ (New English Hymnal, No 216). His harmonisation for this hymn is his adaptation of the ‘Old 104th.’

Vaughan Williams probably came to know and love this because of the strong Gloucestershire connections of Isaac Williams. Indeed, he was so fond of this tune that he wrote a remarkable Fantasia on it for piano solo, chorus and orchestra.

Isaac Williams was John Henry Newman’s curate at the University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, Oxford, where John Keble preached his Assize Sermon, the spark that ignited the Oxford Movement. Williams became the most prolific of the Tractarian poets, writing no less than 11 volumes of poetry for the movement. He was the author of Tract 80, on Reserve in the Communication of Religious Knowledge, which, next to Tract 90, stirred the greatest controversy. He was curate to Keble’s younger brother, the Revd Thomas Keble (1793-1875), who was also a Tractarian.

‘You cause the grass to grow for the cattle’ (Psalm 104: 14) … cattle grazing in fields by the River Ouse near Passenham in Northamptonshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Psalm 104 (NRSVA):

1 Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honour and majesty,
2 wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
3 you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,
4 you make the winds your messengers,
fire and flame your ministers.

5 You set the earth on its foundations,
so that it shall never be shaken.
6 You cover it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
7 At your rebuke they flee;
at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
8 They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys
to the place that you appointed for them.
9 You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.

10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills,
11 giving drink to every wild animal;
the wild asses quench their thirst.
12 By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation;
they sing among the branches.
13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.

14 You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,
15 and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine,
and bread to strengthen the human heart.
16 The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
17 In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has its home in the fir trees.
18 The high mountains are for the wild goats;
the rocks are a refuge for the coneys.
19 You have made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows its time for setting.
20 You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the animals of the forest come creeping out.
21 The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
22 When the sun rises, they withdraw
and lie down in their dens.
23 People go out to their work
and to their labour until the evening.

24 O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
creeping things innumerable are there,
living things both small and great.
26 There go the ships,
and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

27 These all look to you
to give them their food in due season;
28 when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
30 When you send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the ground.

31 May the glory of the Lord endure for ever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works—
32 who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke.
33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
34 May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
35 Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!

‘You have made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting’ (Psalm 104: 19) … Sun and Moon House on Market Square in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘The Time to Act is Now!’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by Linet Musasa, of the Anglican Council of Zimbabwe.

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (Tuesday 7 June 2022) invites us to pray:

Let us remember that we only have one earth and that we must act urgently to protect and support local and global ecosystems.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

‘Disposer supreme – the Old 104th’ sung by the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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