GROUNDED: MAJESTY AND DIGNITY

A Reflection on Psalm 8
By: Rebecca Garrett Pace, Minister of Worship & The Arts

“What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
    mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.”
Psalm 8:4-5
Read the full text of Psalm 8 here.

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In the NRSV translation of the bible, the heading for this psalm is “Divine Majesty and Human Dignity.” As I was reading and re-reading Psalm 8 for the blog this week, I was just awestruck by this phrase, and that’s before I even got into the psalm itself. 
Divine majesty and human dignity.
So often, I see people — even people of faith — pitting these two concepts against each other. It’s either divine majesty or human dignity. God is good, but people are evil, fallen, broken, warped, disgusting, irredeemable. Or. People have infinite and cosmic divinity, and therefore I have no need of God, for God is nothing I am not. (I am, of course, over-simplifying in both directions. Hyperbole is a great tool of poetry.)
Divine majesty and human dignity. What are we, that God should care for us? And yet here we are, cared for by a majestic and divine God, and called to care for others with that same majesty and dignity. What an incredible, mysterious gift!
In Barbara Brown Taylor’s book An Altar in the World (you can check it out and purchase it here from The Dock Bookshop, a black-owned bookstore in Fort Worth), she spends her second chapter discussing reverence. And she doesn’t just talk about it in terms of showing reverence “upward,” toward God or the stars or big and powerful things. She talks about showing reverence in all directions — showing reverence by paying attention to that which is bigger than you, and also that which is smaller.
“Reverence stands in awe of something — something that dwarfs the self, that allows human beings to sense the full extent of our limits — so that we can begin to see one another more reverently as well. An irreverent soul who is unable to feel awe in the presence of things higher than the self is also unable to feel respect in the presence of things it sees as lower than the self.” - p.21
What are we, that God is mindful of us? — may we give thanks for our own small puzzle piece of life in this incredible, beautiful cosmos.
And what are we, if we fail to show reverence and respect to that which we perceive as lower? — may we recognize the importance of both God and grasshopper, both cathedral and crabgrass.
This World Communion Sunday seems like the perfect chance to practice reverence not just toward God, but also toward each of God’s wonderful creations, near and far, big and small and in between.
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Reflection questions:
  • When you read Psalm 8, what catches your attention? Are you drawn to the imagery of “the birds of the air and the fish of the sea”? Or perhaps the idea of God creating humans “a little lower than angels”?
  • Where have you experienced reverence, majesty, and dignity? Was it watching the stars, or doing a science project, or praying, or listening to music?
  • Is there anything in your life that maybe you’ve overlooked or dismissed, that perhaps deserves a bit more reverence? What can you learn about God from a dandelion, or a neighbor, or a single thread in your sweater?

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