Picture of Buzz Aldrin taken by Neil Armstrong on the Apollo 11 mission to the moon
<To the leader: according to The Gittith. A Psalm of David.>
O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?
5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
9 O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
When Apollo 11 made its trip to the moon in 1969 the leaders of various nations and important voices from the earth were invited to send messages that were included on a small disk that included these greeting. Pope Paul VI included Psalm 8 as a part of his greeting and in light of the magnitude of the journey and the fragility of the men and machines that made the journey this psalm was an excellent choice. This is the first Psalm of praise and wonder in the Psalter and it wonders at the writer’s place in the cosmos and the place of humanity in the cosmos. It, like the language of the creation narratives in Genesis, is an expression of awe and praise, of reflecting on the majesty of the world and the universe that wondered encounters. Where Psalms 3-7 have found the psalmist finding their world compressed by fear, by weakness or sickness, by oppression or opposition in Psalm 8 we find the world expanded beyond the immediate moment as the poet gazes into the sky and enters into a state of wonder and awe.
Perhaps the place of wonder, praise and amazement arises out of the experience of being delivered. Where before there was wonder about the present moment because of one’s enemies, now the enemies have been silenced from the weakest of place-from the mouth of babes. The world is no longer compressed and the promise in previous Psalms to praise the LORD can now be fulfilled. This is as Rolf Jacobson calls it appropriately the Psalm for ‘soul searchers’ (Nancy de Clarisse-Walford, 2014, p. 120) For those who look out at the heavens and the earth and all of flora, fauna and features and marvel. In our modern age as we look further out into the night sky at galaxies and universes or deeper into the subatomic world we can still respond from a place of awe at the complexity and beauty of the cosmos we inhabit. Yet for many people the world has lost the sense of wonder it may have once had. The skies become illumined by electric lights blotting out the stars and constellations, the beauty of the world becomes reduced to cold and analytical resources to be exploited. We lose the mystery and magic of the world and the romance between the question of ourselves as a part of the creation and yet somehow entrusted with it as well. As Charles Taylor states memorably speaking of our disenchanted reality, “We might say that we moved from living in a cosmos to be included in a universe.” (Taylor, 2007, p. 59) What Charles Taylor is referring to is the sense of loss that many people feel about the difference between the enchanted cosmos of our ancestors full of mystery, magic and danger and our more analyzed and scientific universe where we have lost the sense of mystery and magic.
Psalms are poetry and in their words they wonder about the place in the world of the writer and the writer’s relationship with their Creator. What are human beings that you are mindful of them? These fragile and fickle beings that live for only a short time and then must pass the torch to the next generation. Yet in the midst of the marvel of the cosmos which the poet stands within is the contrast between the miniscule and the majestic. The finite is valued by the infinite, for the Creator has endowed the creation, these men and women, with the ability to reign. Perhaps reflecting back to the Genesis 1 creation narrative Psalm 8 talks of humans being crowned with the glory of God, perhaps a way of referring to the Hebrew thought that humans are created in the image of God. And echoing the creation narratives humanity rules over “the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” (Genesis 1. 26) and yet the place of the Psalmist is not due to the Psalmist own power or majesty but instead is bestowed upon them by the Creator whose name is magnificent in all the earth. It is praise and awe and wonder, and as Martin Luther reflected on creation almost 500 years ago the response was simply:
“For all of this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.” (Luther, 1994, p. 25)