What a wonderful clarion call is sounded by the Psalmist here: “Send forth your spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth!” This strikes a powerful chord for us today as Christians and as custodians of God’s world.
But it is helpful to begin by considering the meaning of this exhortation in the context in which the Psalm was first conceived. So rather than starting with the later theological doctrine of the Holy Spirit, the Psalmist likely perceived the creative breadth of God as giving matter and all life a distinct, individual existence. It echoes the predominant worldview, or view of the world, encountered throughout the Hebrew scriptures. So we recall the creation narrative when the earth was without form and void … and then the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters. Similarly, Job declares “the spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty has given me life”
For the early Church renewing the nature of things in the world was seen in terms of the work of the Spirit of God acting within and transforming souls. In the pristine times of the first Christians, the Holy Spirit was forging a new face in all things, not only in the land of Judea but throughout the Gentile world. Thus the Gospel message was that the spirit shall be poured forth on high and there will again be a renewing of the face of the earth.
And so to today’s world. In reading the Psalm again it brought to mind the thinking of James Lovelock who celebrated his hundredth birthday last year. In the 1970s he introduced his concept of Gaia, the earth being a finely balanced single regulating organism. This did much to lay the platform for the current concerns about humanity irreparably damaging the environment. The pandemic we have all been living through has, if nothing else, brought home to us just how precarious and fragile is our relationship with the world and its diverse organisms. It is then with a renewed poignancy that we cry: “Send forth your spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth!”
Dear Lord, You have placed us as both stewards of your fragile world and as vulnerable members of it. As we strive to recover from pandemic infection financial disruption, and social insecurity, we again plead for you to send forth your spirit, and renew the face of the earth. Amen
Graham Handscomb, formerly Convenor of the URC Stepwise Task and Finish Group and member of Christ Church URC, Chelmsford.