Since early childhood I’ve been spellbound by the endless varieties of life that pop out of simple clumps of grass. Now it’s a delight to pass this tiny adventure on to my toddler grand-daughter. It’s hard not to feel Nature singing God’s praise, whether the delicacy of the birds fluttering around my bird-feeders right now, or in the miniscule perfection of the small green spider and her web near the table where I’m writing. The medieval Jewish classic, Perek Shira, Chapter of Song, captures this life-giving song, placing short biblical praises of God from across the Hebrew Bible into the “mouths” of stars and beetles and horses, among other wonders of the natural world. I have celebrated the birth of my first grandchild by creating an aleph-bet picture book that adapts Perek Shira into a celebration of the environment and its Creator for children of all ages, All the World Praises You! an illuminated aleph-bet book, appearing July 15. Honeybees for my name, and dahlias, for my little granddaughter lead you on a wild ride through our precious environment, replete with non-denominational Jewish spiritual joy and environmental ethics. This essay is the fourth in a series that I’ll post over the next few weeks, presenting art and ideas drawn from this celebration of nature in the Jewish soul.
(Psalm 104:31) May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in His works!
The compiler of Perek Shira chose this ecstatic praise of God from one of the grandest, most optimistic views of Creation in all of Tanakh. Psalm 104 presents a 35-verse song of gratitude to the God who created a world of perfect natural order and balance, who, at the cosmic level “established the earth on its foundations, so that it shall never totter,” yet, at the human scale, made “the grass grow for the cattle, and herbage for man’s labor that he may get food out of the earth.” The modern bible commentator, Amos Hakham, suggests that “the central idea of the psalm [is the contemplation of] the splendid order of creation [that] brings a person to revere, fear, love, and surrender himself to the Creator.” Many phrases within Psalm 104 resound through other late biblical works, such as Proverbs. You will find other references to Psalm 104 throughout this work.
The fact that the original compiler of Perek Shira matched this grand verse from Psalm 104 with something as mundane as grass raises a thought-provoking tension. Biblical texts often treat grass as a great blessing, while others, such as Psalm 37, regard it as insignificant and impermanent: “1Do not be troubled by evil men; do not be incensed by wrongdoers; 2for they soon wither like grass, like verdure fade away.” This contrast between great and small, between transient and everlasting, suggests that even the smallest, least-substantial among us can perceive and praise the God that enables and suffuses all Creation.
A moment from my childhood! This painting grew from my childhood memories of countless happy spring and summertime moments whiled away propped on my elbows in my family’s garden, probing the grass for tiny flowers and insects. If I was really lucky that afternoon, I might catch sight of a tiny startled lizard. Over the years I have remained spellbound by the infinite variety of life sheltered in a seemingly insignificant clump of grass, just as was the original compiler of Perek Shira. How better to express the grand sweep of this verse from one of my favorite psalms, than to relate it to these small lives!
With our eyes planted at ground level, we scrutinize a dense clump of grass. A worm, ants and a gangly daddy-long-legs crawl out from between the blades, a tiny lizard clambers up onto a strong blade, while ladybugs and my eponymous honeybee prepare to alight into the warm summer air. A small bud of the dahlia representing my granddaughter’s presence appears at left.
The poetry and painting lead us to muse about aspects of our own lives, our relationship with God, and how we relate to the natural world in both our mundane and our spiritual lives.
- How do you relate your own life to the miniscule phenomena of the natural world? What kind of objects capture your own attention and imagination?
- What other tiny things play essential roles in our environment? How has humanity’s evolving ability to see their role in the greater world changed through history?
- Do you have favorite works of art—literary, visual or musical—that express wonder at the variety of life in nature? Do you relate these ideas to your sense of connection to God?
You will find the painting, and more information on All the World Praises You! on its webpage. Another version of this essay, suggestions for related reading, along with materials for elementary-school age and bar/bat mitzvah age readers— rich discussions of the paintings’ meaning, the letter itself, explorations in environmental science, and even links to “citizen-science” programs— are available at Diving Deeper! Enrichment Materials for All the World Praises You! Enjoy—there’s more to come!
All the World Praises You! is available (shipping July 15) wherever books are sold in the USA, and through Amazon.com across the world. E-book versions are also available. Please see www.AlltheWorldPraisesYou.com for more information. The notes above are adapted from Diving Deeper: Enrichment Materials for All the World Praises You; sources are included there also. Please click on the link above for more!
All the World Praises You! an illuminated aleph-bet book, by Debra Band, with new translations by Arnold J. Band.All materials herein copyright (c) Debra Band 2018. All rights reserved.