There are moments in life best experienced in the arms of silence. There are other occasions that demand to be expressed in words. And there are times when the demanded words simply do not reveal themselves.
The silence group tends to take care of itself. For the two occasions requiring words, you would have a hard time doing better than turning to the book of Psalms for strength, inspiration or solace. This had been the songbook/prayer book of the Jewish people for centuries. It was the book Jesus knew so well that verses from Psalm 22 came to his parched lips as the life slowly bled out of him. And these prayer songs can continue to provide us with thoughts, words and inspiration for any time of our lives.
Over the next few months, I’d like to share with you a few of my favorites from the 150 psalms that have been handed down to us. May they stir up embers that may have cooled over the years and stoke the flames that still brightly burn in our hearts.
When I was younger I had a Basset Hound, Clementine by name (although, in all honesty, I wonder now if I had her or she had me!). Part of her routine was the evening walk, so it became part of my routine as well. My favorite memory of this ritual was when it was carried out in winter. There was a real bite in the New England air as the crunching of my boots upon the snow and the gentle tinkling of Clem’s dog tags chimed together in the icy silence. From the houses in the neighborhood light poured out of the windows, warm and inviting.
But, above all – literally above all – hung the stars, sparkling over me and my dog. When she was finished and we started back home, the vastness of the night sky made us both seem so fragile, so small, insignificant, yet in some way I sensed we were part of the “cosmic symphony,” a symphony of winter sounds and rich silence, of chilled breath and inviting lights.
Psalm 8:3 says,
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
Looking at the sky, or the Grand Canyon, the vast deserts or high mountain peaks, can all be a very humbling experience. It can put an often self-centered human being in their place, causing them to realize they are not the center of the universe, only a small part – albeit an important fragment because of what God has shared with us and entrusted to us.
And yet how often nature, in all its array, shames us terribly! Jesus reminds us, as we wallow in worry and fear of the future, to “consider the birds of the air” and “the lilies of the field,” both loved and cared for by Almighty God, and who, in their own way, trust that God will provide for them more than we often do.
How often do you pause and think of the numerous ways your life has been blessed by God? If we are honest, Thanksgiving Day remembrances simply cannot hold the amount of thanks that should be offered to God for the gift of faith and a relationship with our Creator, for lovers and friends, faithful animal companions and the sweet strains of music, the varied works of various artists, the fruits of the farmer’s toil and the wonders from the chef’s kitchen?
How often do we take the time to “consider the heavens” that cover us, “the moon and the stars” that inspire poets to awe and spur the child-like to flights of dreams and wonder?
Do we stop and consider, with great humility, our own greatness, a greatness that places us ” a little lower than the angels,” a greatness so pregnant with possibility that the Son of God was willing to sacrifice all for our eternal well-being?
The next time you find yourself caught short at the beauty you have been plunged into from your birth, at the depth and vastness of God’s love and passion for you, prayerfully read Psalm 8, then heave a gentle sigh of profound thanks!
Tom Yeshua is the pen name of Thomas E.L. Cloutier OFS, a transitional deacon who taught theology for 30 years at Nashua (N.H.) Catholic Regional Junior High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Don Bosco College in Newton, N.J., and a master’s in divinity and theology from St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Mass.