Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.
Wonder, Heartbreak and Hope (10)
February 11, 2011
by Gideon Strauss
(In this series I reflect on my work as an interpreter for South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the late 1990s, and try to tease out some of the biblical beginnings for a spirituality of political practice, looking in particular at a few Psalms.)
As I write this I am looking at the Facebook page of my elder daughter, a college student in Boston. Trying to cope with the effects of snowstorm upon snowstorm, she is posting photographs of zoo animals. She comments: “How can anyone look at this without wanting to yell out of wonder for days on end? … If I'm stuck on campus in the cold … looking at pictures of amazing animals is second best to actually going to a zoo or a conservation park.”
My daughter’s Facebook pictures remind me of Calvin Seerveld’s response to Psalm 104 in his book Rainbows for the Fallen World. Seerveld paraphrases this Psalm (and I excerpt from here and there):
creatures—what a fantastic number, Lord,
and you crafted all of them with such (deep) wisdom:
the earth teems with your handiwork!
Let the Lord God Yahweh enjoy what he has made …
Poems like Psalms 19 and 104 indeed suggest the possibility of a public Christian spirituality: they celebrate the common reality in which all human beings exist. But seeing this reality requires a certain way of looking. Seerveld writes, “About the only way … urban people can get help to understand Psalm 104 is to go to the zoo. … When you go with the eyes of a child to the zoo, there is a chance at least to become fascinated by the fantastic variety of improbably creatures … The point is this: we civilized Christians have got to catch the living vision of Psalm 104 again. We believers have to hear this Word of God reform our perception, let it be born again as it were, to wide-eyed, childlike astonishment at the marvelous, mystifying handiwork of the Lord all around us if we are really serious about responding to his revelation aright.”
Psalms like 104 are, says Walter Brueggemann in his book on the Spirituality of the Psalms, “expressions of creation faith.” “They affirm that the world is a well-ordered, reliable, and life-giving system, because God has ordained it that way and continues to preside effectively over the process.” This kind of creation faith, says Brueggemann, is “an affirmation of God’s faithfulness and goodness … experienced as generosity, continuity, and regularity.” Even the heartbreak and darkness that we encounter in our political lives and bring before the face of God in our prayers is made bearable by our wonder at the bigger picture of God’s faithfulness to God’s creation. Creation gives meaning where evil vandalizes meaning. The very fact that we can tell that some things are very, very wrong is the result of our knowing what is right – and that wonder-filled knowing of the right is a discernment of this world as the creation of God, sustained by God.
A Christian creation spirituality is a covenant spirituality. It is covenantal in its recognition that the good order that undergirds our experience of life is the result of God making promises and keeping promises. This world is held together by God, and without his covenantal work, nothing would have meaning.
But what are the implications of such a spirituality for our political practice? How is a public Christian spirituality also a spirituality for the doing of justice?
—Gideon Strauss is editor of Capital Commentary and CEO of the Center for Public Justice.
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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”