“Your statutes have been my songs
in the house of my sojourning.” (Psalm 119:54)
My restless tongue intones the hope of home in the echo of the Psalms. Praise is the language of my people, my homeland, but I sojourn so far from home. I long for the land of harmony, but wander through valleys of dissonance. A wayward tongue blinds the eye to beauty, sounding complaint, frustration and disgust instead.
James writes that blessing and cursing gush from the same mouth. It ought not be, but is. I am an imperfect witness. Sometimes sounding praise, sometimes cursing the ground on which I stand.
Words pound the pavement with anger. News blares sounds of strife and struggle, neverending dispute. The unpeaceable kingdoms of this world sound the drums of dissatisfaction, distortion and destruction.
Oh, to speak one true word in a world where so many sounds collide and crash and dissipate. “To find my home in one sentence, concise, as if hammered in metal,” writes Czeslaw Milosz. “Not to enchant anybody. Not to earn a lasting name in posterity. An unnamed need for order, for rhythm, for form, which three words are opposed to chaos and nothingness.”
He knows the chaos and nothingness of sound without fire, words without life, clouds without rain. So many words flash and fade, undoing the family, the community, the nation. The furies of strife usher a deluge of destruction.
When the Lord instructs, “you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Deut 5: 20), He guides in the way of Life. He also reveals the way of creation. His Torah undergirds the very structure of creation. As Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote, “The Torah determines both the essence and the existence of the universe.”
His words echo Wisdom’s voice in Proverbs 8,
“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of old.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth,
before he had made the earth with its fields,
or the first of the dust of the world.
When he established the heavens, I was there;
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master workman,
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the children of man. (Proverbs 8:22-31)
Bearing witness is not an arbitrary rule but the shape of this ordered world. All things bear witness. The grass, the trees, the sun and the stars all bear witness. Day after day, they silently proclaim the Glory of God. Even as the tree bears witness to God’s glory, it silently bears witness to itself. The Dogwood tree in front of my house reveals the wonder of a Dogwood. In silence, I behold a symphony of shape and color and motion through all seasons of the year. The Dogwood tree gives witness of itself while witnessing to the Glory of God at the same time. And it also silently witnesses to the creation around it.
To adapt the words of John Donne, the Dogwood is not “an island entire of itself.” This little tree lives in mutuality with the soil below and the air above. Even as I behold the Dogwood, I behold the fiery Cardinal alighting on it’s crooked limb. The limb provides a place for revealing the Cardinal in all it’s splendor. In some way, the Cardinal reveals the Dogwood even as the Dogwood reveals the Cardinal. The sun above gives witness to Dogwood and Cardinal since without the light, I could not behold the wonder of each. At some level, every particular thing in this vast creation is giving witness to the Glory of God, the glory of it’s own unique form, and the glory of the world around it.
Into the midst of this wordless pageant, a voice speaks. I am the articulate voice. You are the articulate voice. We alone echo the Voice of God by speaking and singing into this world of glory. The Psalmist tunes my tongue and my ear to the sound of a true word. Even as the Psalmist sings the statutes of God in the house of sojourning, he anticipates the One True Word Enfleshed.
Jesus, the Word become Flesh is the True Witness of the Father, the World, and the person. In Him and by His Spirit, I behold the fullness of glory. Even as Jesus reveals the Father, He reveals my call as True Witness. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). The music of creation pulses in my heart, as the Word shapes my lips into songs of praise.
We play the honored role as articulate witnesses. Life and death are in the power of our tongues (Proverbs 18:21). We are learning to become who we are by the wisdom of Christ. His Word shapes our ears, and eyes and tongues. Like the Psalmist, we learn to sing His Word in our house of sojourning. May Jesus, the Word made Flesh, make our flesh the echo His Word. May our frail and muttering tongues give witness to the glory of God, the wonder of His creation, and the beautiful beloved people who people this world.
“O all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord praise him and magnify him for ever.”
* Image by Funchye on flickr. Used by permission via Creative Commons.