Read: Psalm 104
O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures” (Psalm 104: 24, NRSV).
Some statistics simply stop you in your tracks.
For me, it was Science magazine’s report that 30% of North America’s bird population has disappeared in a generation. That’s 3 billion birds since 1970. Here is the link if you don’t believe me: Science Magazine’s Bird Report
If you are not bothered by this, then the rest of what I have to say will be of little interest to you. If, however, you share my despair, then what follows may offer a cup of cold comfort and an ounce of inspiration.
It was that word “despair” that sent me to Wendell Berry’s poem, “The Peace of Wild Things” (The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, Counterpoint, 1999). The poem opens with the line, “When despair for the world grows in me….” He meets us where we are, in other words, and I, for one, appreciate that he does not try to minimize my rising panic. But look where he leads us after that opening line:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
This poem offers an inspired prescription to combat despair—especially the despair that springs from contemplating what human beings have done to God’s garden planet. I need this remedy. I need this “balm in Gilead.” I need to “lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water.” I need the “come into the peace of wild things.”
But here is where the cold comfort comes in. If the wild things are endangered, then so, too, is our opportunity to “rest in the grace of the world” and be free.
I wonder, however, if Berry’s prescription may be part of the cure.
Go. Lie down “where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water.” Take Psalm 104 with you. As you “come into the presence of still water,” consider as well the words of the psalmist who caresses each of God’s creatures as they pass by in this ancient parade of praise. “Rest in the grace of the world” a while.
Not only will it make you feel better. It may even inspire you to rise up ready to preserve the peace of wild things.
Follow this link “The Peace of Wild Things” to listen to Berry reading his poem, plus you can also listen to Bill Moyers interviewing Berry in 2013.
Follow this link ANTHEM “The Peace of Wild Things” to listen to a choral setting of Berry’s poem by Jake Runstad. The performance is by the Stellenbosch University Chamber Choir.
Prayer: Lead us beside the still waters, Creator God. Then lead us to ways we can better care for your creation. Amen.
Introduction to the Tuned for Praise Series
Leonard Bernstein once observed that “music . . . can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.”
In this series, we will take advantage of music’s power to pick up where words leave off. Each Bible passage will be paired with a link to a recording that—in my judgement at least—interprets Scripture’s words in ways that words cannot.