“Let us take the meadows of God.” (83:13)
People often say that their most spiritual moments come when they are away from other people, the synagogue or church building, and they are by themselves surrounded only by nature. It is in the meadows, amidst the mountains, the desert, or bodies of water, that they find God. I get this. People can be difficult and distracting. But prayer is not only a time to connect with God for its own sake, it is a spiritual discipline meant to refine the human being. And learning to find God while accepting others for who they are, annoying quirks and all, is the highest level of spiritual achievement.
“In utero, I was dependent on You.” (71:6)
The Grand Canyon and the Himalayas may be majestic and breathtaking, but there is no greater miracle than that of the creation of life. Science can describe the way a zygote becomes an embryo and grows into a child, but that doesn’t take away the gratitude for the baby’s birth, as we watch the child, so long dependent on the mother for everything, take the first step towards becoming an independent person.
Note: There is no contradiction between this verse and the Jewish teachings permitting abortion under a wide range of circumstances to protect the life or the physical or mental health of the mother.
“May the earth yield its produce.” (67:7)
Earlier in my life I loved planting gardens. I am still fascinated by sprouting things, even as I have found other things that occupy my free time in the spring, summer, and fall. I am continually amazed at the tiny seeds which produces tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. Sometimes I was disappointed when I planted a seed and saw nothing grow but weeds, as in the oath Job took on the land, “If my land cries out against me, or … if I ate its yield without paying, … instead of wheat let thistles grow, instead of barley, weeds.” (Job 38:40) Most of the time, however, the earth gladly yielded what I sowed and for that I was thankful.
“The pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys are enveloped with grain.” (65:14)
This verse is the picture of a sustainable community, describing a symbiotic relationship between the land, that which is planted or grows of its own accord, and that which eats off the land. The flocks consume the growth off the land and leave donations of waste which fertilize the land. The farmers shear the flocks to spin the wool, select animals for food, use the skins for parchment to write, perhaps a Sefer Torah, and plant wheat and barley for bread. The farmer cares for the land, the shepherd moves around the flocks, and all depend on God for proper rain in its season.
“The righteous will see and be awestruck; they will laugh at him. (52:8)
The righteous person sees the downfall of the wicked and is struck with awe. Others laugh at him, assuming that his awe is generated by surprise, implying that a truly righteous person would have had a matter-of-fact attitude towards an expected event, rather than being nonplussed by God’s power. How sad to lose the ability to be astonished by an expected event. The sun rises or the tide comes in or the dandelions bloom or a turkey stands in the middle of a busy street — what a wonderful mindset it is to be struck by awe at the physical world.