I have completed my reading of all 150 psalms in English verse. Besides lament psalms, one of the common themes is the glory of creation. Summer is a good time to experience the great outdoors and God’s creation. For my last post in the “psalms for summer” series I give you my top 10 outdoor moments of the summer [in no particular order] and the middle verses of Psalm 148 in English verse.

 

  1. Soaring 600 feet in the air over a valley holding hands with my lover on a zip-line near Whistler
  2. My granddaughter running dirt through her fingers in the backyard potato patch
  3. Hearing the gurgle of a creek on the “Love Walk” north east of Mission
  4. The waving high grasses and a sudden downpour at Batoche, SK overlooking the South Saskatchewan River
  5. Cruising in a boat on Rock Lake in southern Manitoba on a quiet evening
  6. The view south from Heritage Park in Mission with the Fraser River in the foreground and Mount Baker in the distance
  7. The green of the Thompson River valley with dry barren hills rising above it east of Kamloops
  8. The first view of the Rocky Mountains on the western horizon as we approach Calgary from the east
  9. Walking in the cool of a cedar grove in Revelstoke National Park near the Trans-Canada Highway on a hot day
  10. Driving across Saskatchewan and seeing the big sky over the prairies with myriads of cloud formations

 

Praise him, heav’ns that heav’n upbear;

Waters, higher hung in air

Let them praise their sov’reign Lord,

For they rose beneath his word :

He hath fix’d their places fast,

With a bound that ne’er was pass’d.

 

Praise the Lord from earth below;

Monsters of the ocean’s flow ;

Fire and cloud, and snow and hail,

And the storm’s obedient gale ;

Mountains, and their highlands all;

Fruitful groves, and cedars tall;

 

Beasts that field or forest bore ;

Worms that creep, and birds that soar ;

Kings, and men of lowly birth ;

Chiefs and judges, thron’d on earth;

Youths and maids in blooming choirs ;

Smiling babes, and hoary sires :

 

All, your Lord’s high name proclaim,

High and bright o’er ev’ry name :

 

I am almost finished my reading of the Psalms in English verse this summer. I am back at work along with other educators who return to work around this time, and many others in North America who have taken summer vacations. In Canada, we also celebrate Labour Day at the beginning of September. This is an appropriate time to reflect on the value of work while lamenting the dangers of worshiping work.

Most psalms originated for use at special occasions of Sabbath and worship but there is one that is appropriate for reflecting on work: Psalm 127. It puts our work into the larger perspective of God’s work and reminds us that we do not accomplish anything on our own strength no matter how long the hours!

Psalm 127 also celebrates the joy of family, which many of us have experienced this summer at gatherings and reunions. I am greatly blessed to have a life partner, four children, a daughter-in-law, and a grandchild as well as parents, siblings, in-laws, and extended families.

 

Except the Lord shall build the halls,

In vain the builder’s pain ;

Except the Lord shall guard the walls,

The watchman wakes in vain.

 

In vain the toil ere morning break,

The midnight couch unpress’d,

The anxious care that still must wake,

While his belov’d may rest.

 

God gives the blooming household band,

And crowns the fruitful birth :

As arrows in a warriour’s hand,

They guard the plenteous hearth.

 

How bless’d the man, whose quiver bears

So bright, so dear a weight!

The clash of arms unharm’d he dares,

Though foemen throng the gate.

 

Saturday, August 6 is the 76th anniversary of the one of the world’s biggest tragedies in history: the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, Japan. Thousands of people died that day with the death toll rising to over 100,000 after the bombing of Nagasaki a few days later. Since then millions more have died as a result of bombs and their widespread devastating effects. I pray that our remembrance of this horrific event give us strength to work for peace in our time. Today is also the opening of the Olympic games. I detest the commercialization and economic injustice of the games but I admire the spirit of equality and harmony between nations for a few weeks as they play together.

This is an appropriate day to hold the vision of an ancient psalm before us. Psalm 85 includes that wonderful picture of peace and justice embracing and love and truth kissing each other. When will that vision come to fruition? The answer is “blowin’ in the wind” but we continue to trust God’s promise and we continue to pray for mercy and long for peace. Here is the entire psalm in English verse.

 

Lord, thou hast bless’d our wasted land ;

Thy terrors cease to burn ;

And, led by thy deliv’ring hand,

Our captive tribes return.

 

Thy people’s guilt is all forgiv’n,

Their sins are cover’d o’er;

Thy wrath’s fierce storm has onward driv’n,

Thy smile has dawn’d once more.

 

God our Saviour, turn us still,

And let thine anger end :

Or, shall its clouds of vengeful ill

From age to age descend ?

 

Wilt thou not turn, that, glad in thee,

Thy people’s heart may live ?

Oh, give us, Lord, thy grace to see,

Thy full salvation give.

 

I hearken for the Lord’s dear voice,

And hear him gently say

Peace to the people of his choice,

Who turn no more astray.

 

Oh, o’er the hearts that fear his name

His bright salvation glows :

So guards the Lord, in peaceful fame,

Our smiling land’s repose.

 

And truth and mercy joy to meet,

And justice clings to love :

They bloom like flow’rs beneath our feet,

They shine, like stars, above.

 

God gives his grace, and o’er the land

The waving harvests spread :

Beneath his smile the righteous stand,

And he shall guide their tread.

 

For Canadians, summer is a time to be outside when the weather is most pleasant. We just returned from our annual trip across the four western provinces with a beautiful variety of trees, landforms, waterways, and skies.

There are a number of psalms with reference to creation. I particularly like what Burgess does with Psalm 46. Note how the stanzas are linked to each other in logical flow and yet how the central theme of the psalm—God’s presence, protection, and “peaceful victory”—comes through as loud and clear as the vivid imagery in this psalm.

An interesting trivial note is the use of the word “car” in the second to last stanza. Today in common language it is almost exclusively used to refer to the motorized automobile but of course it was not yet invented at the time of this translation and yet the word was already in use to refer more generally to “a vehicle with wheels”—in this case a chariot.

 

God is our refuge and our tow’r,

Our aid forever near :

Though earth should quake, and ocean low’r,

Yet shall not Sion fear.

 

Though mountains, sever’ d from the shore,

Fall thund’ring through the deep;

Though wild the waters rave and roar,

And shake the rocky steep.

 

A gentler stream, with gladd’ning tide,

Shall God’s fair city lave,

And, where the Highest’s tents abide,

Shall send its silver wave.

 

God, in her midst, with guardian might,

Defends her lowliest bow’r ;

And sure and soon as morning’s light,

God sends her succ’ring hour.

 

The heathen rag’d, but earth’s wide coasts

His voice dissolves with fear :

Our shelter is the Lord of Hosts,

And Jacob’s God is here.

 

Oh, come, his peaceful vict’ries know,

His wonders near and far ;

He cuts the spear, he breaks the bow,

He burns the warlike car.

 

Hark, how he quells the heathen’s boasts,

And sways the earthly sphere :

Our shelter is the Lord of Hosts,

And Jacob’s God is here.

Psalm 23 is one of the most loved and often quoted psalms of all time. I include the English verse version today for a few reasons:

  1. Because it is common readers will have a comparison in mind when they read. What do you think?
  2. It is a comfort to me personally today even though I do have needs, my life is not beside still waters, ill has befallen me, I am afraid, my cup is not overflowing, etc. Call it stubborn faith I guess.
  3. This psalm is about guidance through difficulty. I just got home from a meaningful time with my national church family where we did some difficult work of discernment together and all along I felt the power of the Spirit in a strong way, guiding us and giving us unity amidst diversity.

 

PSALM XXIII.

The Lord is my shepherd ; I ne’er shall have need :

He gives me my couch on the green, quiet mead ;

He leads me beside the still waters ; and brings

His wand’rer to pathways where righteousness springs.

And though through the valley of death’s gloomy shade

Thou call’ st me to journey, I am not afraid :

No ill shall befall me, with thee at my side,

Thy crook for my comfort, thy staff’ for my guide.

Thou spread’st me a banquet in eye of my foes ;

Thou crown’ st me with oil; and my cup overflows :

So, goodness and grace shall my footsteps entwine,

And God’s holy dwelling shall ever be mine.

Since beginning to teach the book of Psalms six years ago I have made it part of my spiritual discipline to read through the Psalms every summer, each time in a different version. This summer I am doing something quite different and reading all the psalms aloud from “The Book of Psalms translated into English Verse” by George Burgess [published in 1840]. My first impression was that this version trivialized the depth of Hebrew parallelism by replacing it with rhyming and perfectly metered lines but it has grown on me. The translator has lived deeply with the Psalms and labored some years over this project. This version includes King James Version style language [Remember, it was the only English version around at the time.] and heightens the poetic grandeur for English readers. I suppose I should record myself and post the readings on Youtube but since I have not yet taken the time to learn that technology I will post a few notable psalms on this site during the summer.

Psalm 6 may not seem like the usual summer fare of long sunny days and walks in the park but unfortunately those are not everyone’s summertime reality. Since last summer serious illness, deep misfortune, and death have visited our circle of family and close friends. I and my loved ones have prayed with the psalmist: How long? When no resolution is forthcoming I keep crying anyway because at least I know that I am heard.

 

Lord, not in wrath my sin reprove,

Nor let thy rod in vengeance move :

Have mercy, Lord, all faint I cry,

And heal the frame that droops to die.

 

My limbs, my soul, with anguish burn :

How long, O Lord? ah, yet return!

There is no mem’ry in the grave,

Nor death can praise : return, and save !

 

My weary groans have no repose ;

All night my couch with tears o’er flows ;

Mine eyes are dim and dull with tears ;

And foes have left the sign of years.

 

O men of guilt, depart, depart :

The Lord hath heard my weeping heart :

He knows my pray’r, he owns my call ;

In shame my foes shall flee and fall.

It seems appropriate on the eve of Canada Day to reflect on the state of our national church. I am doing a workshop at the Assembly in Saskatoon entitled “Running toward Community.” In light of this I found it ironic that a recent letter in the Canadian Mennonite was saying that if the BFC resolution passes it will be “time to run” away from the denomination. Without giving away all the content of my workshop, suffice it to say that my call will be that in a time of difficulty and controversy, it is indeed “time to run” but toward community, not away from it.

The questions before us as a denomination are: What does this community look like? What is the primary locus of this community? The reality is that we live in a post-denominational era where the present generation does not share their elders’ strong commitment to denomination, or even the local church for that matter. The title of a seminar at the assembly, “Young Adults don’t need the ‘church’” seems indicative of this sentiment. “Church” is in quotation marks because it is open to definition; young adults do value community but they question some of the structures of the church they have inherited. In the latest issue of the Canadian Mennonite, Gerald Gerbrandt says that church refers primarily to the worldwide community and the local community but that the national church is an important link between the two. So what will be the shape of our national church in the generations to come?

I am not a big picture thinker or an expert on structural matters and so even after reading the Future Directions Task Force [FDTF] recommendations I’m still not sure I understand all the ramifications of the recommendations. It seems to place greatest emphasis on the local communities, then the regional community, and least on the national community. I suppose opinions will range from whether the recommendations splinter Mennonite Church Canada into regionalism or whether they help to maintain the long term viability and unity of MC Canada. One thing I picked up that I would celebrate is a stronger emphasis on fellowship and worship during national assemblies with discernment and more decision-making to take place in congregations and area churches.

I came into this denomination at a time [1994] when there were two different denominations in North America coming together to form one—and eventually dividing into national churches of this one denomination. As an outsider coming into this new reality I was excited by two denominations coming together instead of dividing, as has been common especially among Mennonites. The “healing and hope” statement brought tears to my eyes as I committed myself to my new church home. In Alberta I worked for local conferences of both denominations charged with the task of integrating the youth structures. Ontario had already led the way a few decades earlier but I felt buoyed by the opportunity to work together and the possibilities for witness that unification could have for this new church entity. With the controversies and departures over the past few years it seems my initial euphoria may have been somewhat premature.

Contrary to many Mennonite denominations, Mennonite Church Canada’s origins in 1903-04 involved a unification movement. In his history of the General Conference in Canada [precursor of Mennonite Church Canada] Adolf Ens describes one of the first meetings—held not far from Saskatoon—as one without a formal constitution “but they did operate along the lines of the GC motto: In essentials unity; in nonessentials liberty; in all things charity… Disagreement did not imply disunity. Uniformity was not necessary… The motivation for creating the Conference was two-fold: God’s desire that the unity of Christians should manifest itself in outward structures, and the desire of the churches to cultivate communion in the Spirit and encourage each other in Kingdom work.”

The next year in article 4 of the new constitution it “explicitly specified that the Conference not interfere in the internal affairs of a congregation unless requested to do so. It was to be a consultative rather than a legislative body. The unity it sought consisted not so much in outward forms and practices as in love, faith, and hope.”

So there you have it! This is something to ponder at our present juncture. Whatever happens with the resolution I hope that it will lead to unity of our church and a stronger collective witness for Jesus Christ.

 

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