From My Soul Waits
When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers…
what is man that thou art mindful of him,
and the son of man, that thou doest care for him?
Who has stood in silence under the luminous canopy of a midnight sky and not wondered at the mysteries contained in this vast universe? No sooner is the question formed in our minds – “How far can my gaze reach into this never-ending vastness?” – than the boundless measure of the answer provokes in us an overwhelming sense of our own tininess. The psalmist (unlike us, the inhabitants of the electric light bulb age) probably looked upon the nighttime sky every evening. On one occasion, the questions evoked by the starry vision took shape in a poem, and that poem eventually became a hymn to be sung in the house of God, where it is still sung today.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes that the invisible nature of God is clearly visible in all the things that God has made, (Romans 1:19-20). If we will pay attention, the book of creation will tell us a good deal about its Author. The psalmist’s contemplation of Heaven inspired him to “see” beyond the stars and to give praise to their Creator – to his Creator. Even as the psalmist “considers the heavens,” his thoughts descend back to Earth. Given the infinite scope of God’s handiwork, he wonders, where does humanity fit in? Who are we, mere specks, that you not only see us, but care about us? (Psalm 8:4)
A clue to the answer is given even before the question is asked. Standing under the glorious night sky, the psalmist reflects that the infinite God’s praises are “chanted” in the squeals and cries of infants and children, (v. 2). This poetic visionary sees in the middle of the night what an exhausted parent can hardly imagine – an intimate and wondrous connection between God’s uncontainable glory and the blubbering of a newborn babe.
The psalmist is struck by the inscrutable paradox: within all creation, human life seems hardly noticeable, almost inconsequential, but in the thoughts of the Creator, human life is immeasurably valuable, dignified, and noble. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them,” (Genesis 1:27-28). Even this thought humbles the writer and leads him, once again, to give praise to God. The ancient poet does the modern reader a profound favor by sharing his nocturnal prayer with us. From time-to-time we would do well to stand with him under the stars, lift our own eyes toward Heaven, and hear what prayer the vision might inspire.
From The Fathers
“What is man that you are mindful of him?” What is this new mystery concerning me? I am small and great, lowly and exalted, mortal and immortal, Earthly and Heavenly. I am connected with the world below, and likewise is God; I am connected with the flesh, and likewise with the spirit. I must be buried with Christ, rise with Christ, be joint heir with Christ. (Gregory of Nazianzus)
When I consider what you have done for me, when I take the time to number the stars of your mercy to me,
I am left in awe at the loving attention you have given me.
Can you help my heart to be filled with more awe than anxiety, more gratitude than grief, more wonder than worry?
Then, like the psalmist, I can sit amazed at your goodness,
And, with the mouth of a child,
I can chant your glory.