Since joining the Community, I feel I’m learning so much more about the Bible than I ever have before, despite having been a Christian for most of my life. As I was unemployed for my first few months here, I was able to attend Morning and Evening Prayer regularly. Morning Prayer is said daily at 10am in St Thomas’ Church (it’s wonderful to live right next door, but I’m afraid I have dashed in at the last minute on more than one occasion!) and as a Community we started Evening Prayer several days a week at 4pm in the Vicarage. Daily readings of sometimes unfamiliar parts of the Bible have been such a revelation, and in particular I feel I’m at last beginning to get to know the Psalms.
Not that I find them terribly easy! I remember being asked by Jutta if I had a favourite, which I didn’t at the time – I was struck by how many Psalms seem to veer dramatically between beautifully-expressed worship of God and a deep desire for vengeance on the writer’s enemies. It’s quite difficult for me to identify with the latter, not having experienced anything in my life which has really caused me to hate. I’m thankful for this; as has been pointed out to me, it’s sadly very different for many people throughout the world. But I felt that my favourite Psalm, when I found it, would be one which didn’t mention enemies – and before too long I settled on Psalm 19.
‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands’ (v.1). I’ve always been fascinated by astronomy – perhaps strangely, as my eyesight is too poor for me to be able to observe anything further away than the Moon! In particular, though, I enjoy learning about the lives and discoveries of great astronomers and other scientists throughout history – and it’s particularly interesting to hear how their religious beliefs influenced their work.
I recently listened to a BBC Radio 4 discussion programme about the mathematician and astronomer Johannes Kepler. I gather that he was a staunch Lutheran at a time when Catholicism was on the rise, and he missed out on academic advancement as a result, suffering considerable hardship. He always remained optimistic, however, as he was so excited by the scientific opportunities which were opening up, and I’m sure Psalm 19 must have been important to him – apparently his observation of the heavens led him to believe that Creation was still in progress, and that God was actually experimenting! He described his field of study as ‘celestial physics’.
I love the way Psalm 19 moves from the splendour of the stars to an expression of belief in God’s concern for, and knowledge of, the individual: ‘But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from wilful sins; may they not rule over me’ (v.12-13a). God who made the universe also knows what I am thinking and in what ways I am tempted, and yet still has faith in me. I’m reminded of a favourite line from a hymn, Graham Kendrick’s ‘The Servant King’ – ‘Hands that flung stars into Space to cruel nails surrendered’.
Such amazing love!