Lent (Day 9) — “a Study in Joy”

In this brief interlude, Martin moves from his overview of the gloominess of the Catholic Church to a brief exegesis of Psalm 65, a poem in which the earth itself sings out with joy.  He begins by recalling a scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, in which God speaks to Arthur, and expresses some impatience with humans with all their groveling, and ends by saying, “Well, don’t [avert your eyes].  It’s like those miserable psalms.  They’re so depressing!”  Martin suggests that this is a common misconception about the psalms.  There was a Jewish tradition of lamentation, which is adequately represented in the psalms, but the psalms also include many poems about joy, often being poems of gratitude or thanksgiving.  He singles out Psalm 65 because it seems especially joyous, with the earth itself shouts out with joy:  “The pastures of the wildnerness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy” (translation included in Martin’s book — not sure of the translator or the edition).  This is a celebration of the bounty of the world, a world at our disposal, so that we too must shout for joy at being part of it.  

This little interlude reminded me of my favorite scene from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, the scene which alludes to the book’s title.  In it, Shug tells Celie that there is a world of God all around, that God is not just stuck in the boxes we call churches.  And that the world is always trying to get us to smile with all it’s bounty, but too many people don’t notice — they don’t stop and smell the roses — and Shug notes that “I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it.”  It is the formalism of religion, with its focus on rules and regulations that get in the way of spontaneous reaction to the wonder of the world, and in that spontaneous reaction (laughing when happy, crying when sad — the blues are their own celebration, for all their sadness) we have a chance to “touch” God in some way.  I think that Martin would not argue against formal elements and discipline in religious practice, but would argue that, if such formality and discipline gets in the way of noticing “the color purple in a field,” it is misplaced and does not embrace all of the wonder of the world around us.  

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