Happy indeed are those who follow not the counsel of the wicked, nor linger in the way of sinners, nor sit in the company of scorners, but whose delight is the law of the LORD, and who ponder his law day and night.
They are like a tree that is planted beside the flowing waters, that yields its fruit in due season, and whose leaves shall never fade; and all that they do shall prosper. Not so are the wicked, not so!
For they, like winnowed chaff, shall be driven away by the wind. When the wicked are judged they shall not stand, nor find room among those who are just; for the LORD guards the way of the just, but the way of the wicked leads to doom.
America was the first nation in the modern era to put happiness into its founding document as an inalienable right for its people. Later the Americans placed similar clauses in the post war constitutions of Japan and South Korea. In South America a different ideology – called buen vivir in Spanish – rooted in the worldview of the Quechua peoples of the Andes describes a way of doing things that is community-centric, ecologically-balanced, and culturally-sensitive. In Spanish the term means good living. This idea is written into the constitutions of Bolivia and Ecuador. On the one hand we have a pursuit of happiness, and on the other an idea of living well. One is individualistic, one is communitarian. I suspect the Psalmist’s ideas of happiness were bound up with the communitarian search for a good life.
Even before Covid many in our society were looking to live better. We might have described it as looking for a better work/life balance, down sizing, or simply as “wellness”. Since the pandemic there’s been a huge move to work from home and then to move home further out from crowded cities to anywhere with a good Internet connection. I’m hardly in a place to criticise – Orkney has had many people come to live here since the pandemic.
Yet the happiness the Psalmist wrote of is about rather more than individual happiness; it’s about realising at the deepest level that the good life comes from being at one with creation and Creator. Not only are we to be like trees, planted and sustained by flowing waters, we now realise we have to plant trees, live in harmony with nature, and find that living well for ourselves means finding ways in which we ensure that others live well too. Shopping locally, eating more sustainably, and finding ways to reuse and recycle, are all now becoming part of what we do to live well.
Help us, Most High, to live well, work in harmony with creation, attend to times and seasons, and live simply, that others may simply live. Amen.
The Rev’d Andy Braunston is the URC’s Minister for Digital Worship and a member of the Peedie Kirk URC in Orkney.