The Scripture in Creation

birchtrees.jpg

One of the many endearing stories of St. Seraphim of Sarov was a small act of devotion he engaged in during his years as a hermit. The area around his hermitage was designated by him with Biblical place-names. Thus one place was Jerusalem, another Bethlehem, etc. Thus did the great saint transform the trees and rocks and every path by taking it up into the Biblical story. His every action outside his hut was thus also an act of pilgrimage, a reminder of the mighty acts of God for our salvation.

He is not the only saint to have engaged in such naming, though I’ll not go into others here. Rather I want to draw my readers’ attention to this holy practice. In my previous post a comment was made asking how we might more fully encounter God in the creation about us, since the notion of a “secular” world is but a modern fiction and a contradiction of the Word of God and the Orthodox faith.

St. Paul gives this instruction:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father (Ephesians 5:18-20).

Filling our heart with the knowledge of Scripture we bring out of the treasure of our heart the remembrance of God and of His blessing of creation. For everything we see we may know a Scripture or a phrase from the liturgy that fittingly describes its place in the kingdom of God. I could make a considerable study and begin to suggest possibilities – though the possibilities are endless.

St. Antony the Great (I believe it was), was once asked by a philosopher why he had no books. The great ascetic replied, “My book, O Philosopher, is the world.” If you knew the Psalter by heart (as St. Antony most certainly would have), you would never be at a loss for words of praise to the Good God for the creation in which you live.

This very practice runs throughout the liturgy of the Church itself. A priest vesting himself, recites passages of Psalms that relate in a meaningful way to each garment he puts on. His every step is surrounded by Scripture. No moment in the liturgy is bereft of the Word of God. Thus in the liturgy the Word of God inhabits the Church and the Church inhabits the Word of God. With our hearts properly trained we will see that the world around us is equally inhabited and that we may, as St. Paul says, “Always and for everything give thanks in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.”

It is a practice that is not accomplished all at once – but I commend it to you. Memorize verses of Scripture (especially the Psalms) and note their fitness for the world in which you live. The rocks, the trees, the streams, the sky, the clouds, all that we see has its place within those holy hymns. Drawing on the treasure of the heart, we can encounter God at all times, giving thanks for all things.

15 Responses to “The Scripture in Creation”

  1. Mimi Says:

    Father, bless,

    I’ve often thought how wonderful it would be to memorize the Psalter. You have reminded me that I should set a goal to work on it.

  2. Wonders for Oyarsa Says:

    Of course memorizing the psalter is done one psalm at a time. For those of us wondering where to start, would you, or others care to share your top ten (excluding the western 51 and 25)?

  3. Wonders for Oyarsa Says:

    Oh, and excluding 23. It seems like those three are the most commonly memorized.

  4. fatherstephen Says:

    Psalm 104 (103) since we’re talking about Creation.

  5. Tom Says:

    Father Bless!

    Which English translation of the Psalter would you recommend using? The two main ones I know of are those in the Orthodox Study Bible, and the Psalter according to the Seventy published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery.

    Tom

  6. fatherstephen Says:

    Tom,

    May God bless! Actually I’ll use almost any Psalter other than one that has gone “gender neutral” like the NRSV. But currently I’m using the Orthodox Study Bible (the new complete one). My wife gave me one for Christmas and I’m enjoying it and the notes. We’ve waited ten years for its arrival.

  7. Mark Says:

    Father Bless!

    I was reminded of a book my Father Stephen (St. Ignatius) recommended, “Splendor in the Ordinary: Your Home as a Holy Place.” The (Roman Catholic) author goes through a home and daily activities, pointing out how all can be viewed sacramentally.

    Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Splendor-Ordinary-Your-Home-Place/dp/1928832202

    Oh, and I have to put in my two cents on the Psalter. Though I’ve not used it recently (this year I am using the (old) King James Bible for my daily readings) I am still subject to the ravages of Recovering Anglicanism, and hence prefer the Coverdale Psalter.

  8. Bill M Says:

    I was going to jump on the new complete OSB, but then read several reviews that expressed some misgivings about (1) quality of the notes (in some books worse than others, (2) the use of the NKJV for the base translation, and (3) some of the design choices – font, icons selected, maps, etc. I know that a bible edition like this cannot be “all things to all people”, but have you seen any of these kinds of criticisms? Do the hold water?

  9. fatherstephen Says:

    Mark,

    Splendor in the Ordinary first came out when I was in seminary, in the 70’s, and was good then (I think the author is Thomas Howard). He is certainly driving towards some of the same things I am. I want to push the envelope a little but his was a delightful book. Very helpful at the time and still good.

    Hard to improve on the Coverdale Psalter. Actually my memory verses are mostly KJV based on my childhood.

    Bill M,

    There will always be such reviews. I’m using it right now, find the notes useful. Do we want more, of course! But this is a major achievement and a great step forward.

    Some of the translations attempted out there do not come close to the quality of using the NKJV as the base translation. Translation is very hard to do well. As is writing notes and commentary.

    I’ll be glad when some more Orthodox do a similar thing and hope it’s even better. But I’m happy to have it right now. I think people should avoid being hypercritical (it was never going to be perfect) and give thanks to God that we have even this and pray for more. Some people are owed a great debt of thanks for hard work done for nothing, as well as people who have personally invested financially to make this happen with no hope of gain.

    Most people haven’t any idea of all that it took to make this happen. It is a major event in the life of English-speaking Orthodoxy, not to be taken for granted.

  10. Bill M Says:

    Also, one of the reviewed mentioned that in some of the Old Testment books, some of the verse numbering was non-standard (for either Masoretic or LXX – in other words, something different from either entirely).

    B

  11. Bill M Says:

    Thanks for the feedback. I did not mean to imply (if I did) that because of some criticism the work was unworthy, or not worth using. Some of the reviews I’ve seen were overly critical (and full of the picking of nits). But others seemed level-headed, with some valid points to watch out for.

    B

  12. fatherstephen Says:

    Bill M.

    I did not take your question to be a criticism. I bought it and I’d recommend it. It’s not perfect, but it is quite useful. I’ve been using it as my main text in a study on Luke I’m teaching, and it has been quite helpful. Proof is in the pudding, and all that. I augment it with other things, but I’ll take it over any protestant edition I’ve held in my hands.

  13. Ioannis Freeman Says:

    Just today I was working with a man who sees me for care twice weekly. He has memorized at least a couple of passages from Holy Scriptures and applied them to meditation.

    Now he is about to complete memorization of Psalm 39 (38-LXX), and it became apparent to me that I needed to ask him to continue memorization into the first several verses of Psalm 40 (39–LXX) so that his memorization would include “…He set my feet on rock, and made my footsteps firm” 40/39:2.

    I mention this this point, because this man like many persons in recovery from addictions needs to learn how the Psalmist dealt with setbacks and resentments, without getting stuck as some misinterpret “…the sinner’s prosperity redoubled my torment” (39/38: 2).

    In addition, I mention it because the relative adjective of 39/38: 3 (“…but at the thought “of this” it flared up…”) can mistakenly lead to the belief that jealousy got the better of the Psalmist. Instead, just after the “flare,” the Psalmist says something resembling true therapy for the former addict: “Lord, let me know my fate, how much longer I have to live. Show me just how frail I am.”

    Again, if the flare came from a smouldering fire (heart) in Psalm 39/38: 3 that was jealous or resentful from seeing the “sinner’s prosperity,” then it would make no sense that the words of verse 4 “blurted out” after self-disciplined silence and disclosed authentic humility.

    Concluding with a call for the Lord to hear the prayer, and to turn away His gaze “…before I depart and am no more,” Psalm 39/38 flows directly into Psalm 40/39, where the Lord has heard the cry for help.

  14. A Pilgrimage at Home? « Turtle Rock Says:

    […] March 27, 2008 by turtlemom3 One of the many endearing stories of St. Seraphim of Sarov was a small act of devotion he engaged in during his years as a hermit. The area around his hermitage was designated by him with Biblical place-names. Thus one place was Jerusalem, another Bethlehem, etc. Thus did the great saint transform the trees and rocks and every path by taking it up into the Biblical story. His every action outside his hut was thus also an act of pilgrimage, a reminder of the mighty acts of God for our salvation. –MORE– […]

  15. Tom Says:

    Christos Voskrese!

    Father, you might be interested in the following psalter, a new translation in liturgical English, which has just been published.

    According to the blurb: arranged for liturgical use, with full kathismata and verses. King James and Douai version English, translated to conform to the Septuagint. Hardbound, rare book quality, full color, Icon plates, and manuscript ornamentation.

    http://www.ctosonline.org/liturgical/PK.html

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