With today’s chapter, Psalm 150, this chapter-a-day journey through all 150 chapters of the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics is complete. The editors of the compilation chose a short, powerful song of praise for the final refrain. Some scholars believe that it may have been composed for this purpose. In the original Hebrew language, “Praise the LORD” is “Hallelu Ya.” Thus, we end the journey with a shout of “Hallelujah!” and a call for “everything that has breath” to join in the chorus.
Among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers we have a very active team of people who are committed to the spiritual discipline of prayer. They do a great job of teaching others, myself included, in ways to develop our spiritual muscle in this essential practice.
A few years ago, I learned from our prayer team a simple technique that transforms my natural rhythm of breathing into a repeated prayer. One phrase is repeated with every inhale, and another phrase is repeated on every exhale. I have personally found this helpful when I am trying to quiet myself from stress or anxiety and when I am preparing my heart to enter into corporate worship.
As for the specific phrases used, the options are endless, but I have found that certain familiar lines from Jesus teaching and the Great Story that I have particularly helpful…
Inhale: “Come to me you who are weary” Exhale: “I will give your soul rest.”
Inhale: “Cast all my anxieties on Him.” Exhale: “He cares for me.”
Inhale: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty” Exhale: “Who was, and is, and is to come. The whole earth is full of His glory (This one helps me breathe deeply! 🙂 )
Inhale: “Let everything that has breath” Exhale: “Praise the LORD.”
In the quiet this morning, I find myself reflecting on my spiritual journey. As a child I was taught religion, in which empty rituals were carried out as part of a transactional process. I did the religious things in an effort to counter-balance my human failures with religious duties in the hope of earning God’s favor. After entering into a relationship with Jesus, I came to learn that the Spirit connects and holds all things together. It made all the empty religious ritual even more impotent while, at the same time, a whole knew world of possibility opened up to me. I discovered that connection with the God of creation is as simple and profound as breathing.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
And he has raised up for his people a horn, the praise of all his faithful servants… Psalm 148: 14 (NIV)
There is a story in the book of Acts in which Paul and Silas were imprisoned the dungeon of a town called Philippi. About midnight the two of them were singing praises and hymns as they prayed. Suddenly an earthquake struck, loosening their chains and breaking open the prison doors. Talk about dramatic. Sometimes our praise has a miraculous, dramatic effect.
In his book, The Philippian Fragment, Calvin Miller tells the fictional story of a first-century pastor in the same town of Philippi who happened be imprisoned in the same cell along with one of his elders. The pastor sees, scratched on the dungeon wall, the names “Paul and Silas.”
Remembering how Paul and Silas sang at midnight as God sent an earthquake to open the doors of the jail, we took courage. “Do it again, God!” cried Coriolanus near midnight. He began to sing a hymn in monotone, and I joined in. We praised God at full volume with some of the great songs of the faith. Ever and anon we stopped to see if we could hear even the faintest rumblings of a quake. By three in the morning we still had not raised a tremor and decided to give it up. There seemed so little to rejoice about.
Suddenly a jailor who had heard us singing sprang into the cell.
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” he asked.
We told him in great joy.
“I can’t do that,” he said. “It’s too risky.”
As he left, he yelled over his shoulder, “Would you cut out the noise. It’s three in the morning.”
Still, I felt better for simply having praised Him. Praise clears the heart and dusts the mind of selfishness. It lifts the spirit and transforms the prison to an altar where we may behold the buoyant love of Christ.
It is not jailors who make convicts. It is the self-pitying mind that makes a man a captive.Praise frees us. The jail cannot contain the heart that turns itself to attend the excellency of Christ. “Gloria in excelsis!” deals with stone walls and iron bars in its own way. When morning finally came, I was elated. I found a flint rock in the cell and scratched our own names above the etching of Paul and Silas: “Eusebius and Coriolanus—We sang at midnight and felt much better the next morning.”
Today’s chapter, Psalm 148, is at the center of the final five songs of praise in the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics known as the Psalms. As we’ve discovered on this chapter-a-day journey, ancient Hebrew songs often put the central theme of the song smack-dab in the middle. The central theme was in the center holding the core. When the editors of the compilation put the last five songs of praise together, they placed today’s song smack-dab in the middle. It holds the core of the final theme of praise.
Praise is a central theme throughout the Great Story. When rebuked by the religious leaders for His followers shouting His praise, Jesus replied that even if they were silent the rocks would “cry out.” Today’s psalm speaks of all creation praising God, and in fact all matter does continually resonate at frequencies we can’t hear. The universe itself perpetually resonates at 432hz. When John was given a vision of heaven’s Throne Room in his Revelation, he describes it as a scene of endless praise.
Along my life journey, I have learned that praise sincerely offered whether in word, song, or thought is a spiritual activator. To the ancients, a “horn” was a metaphor of strength, and the lyricist of today’s song made clear that there is strength in praise. When I choose to offer up heart-felt praise from the prison of my own circumstances, there is a shift that occurs. It might be a miraculous shift in the tectonic plates of life as Paul and Silas experienced. It might be simply a shift in my faith and spirit as Eusebius and Coriolanus experienced. I’ve learned not to worry about the results and to simply let my praise hold the core in the moment. Whenever I sing praises in the darkness, I always end up feeling “much better in the morning.”
[Note:I know I did Psalm 145 yesterday, but it became obvious to me this morning that I needed to spend some more time in it. So, consider this a blogging BOGO from me to you! :-)]
The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. Psalm 145:15 (NIV)
He was weeping over the phone. Across the miles, on the other end of the connection, I knew that this moment was qadosh, a holy moment. It was holy, not because of any kind of religious piety or righteous achievement, but because of the depth of its suffering.
Along my life journey I’ve observed that religion has done a number on our concept of holiness. The institutional church has, as it always does, warped holiness into some kind of religious merit badge, a litmus test of morality, a trophy for those religious over-achievers at the top of the Sunday School class. In doing so, religion profanes the fulness of holiness.
Holiness is woven into creation unbound by church membership or religious ritual. Holiness is an encounter with the divine in the human experience. Holiness is not limited to the transcendental, spiritual glory of Jesus’ transfiguration. The emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual agony of his unjust, illegal, blood-drenched execution was a holy moment, as well.
That’s how I recognized the holy moment as my friend wept from the darkness of his own personal pit. He was joining the ranks of many who have gone before him. He was the woman kneeling naked and ashamed in front of the Son of God as her adultery lay publicly exposed. He was the prodigal covered in pig shit and eating the slop of his own choices. He was the wanton woman knelt down before Jesus as his tears wash the feet of the One he fully expects to condemn him like everyone else is in his life seems to be doing. He was me, 20 years ago, as I wept alone in the darkness of a warehouse apartment crying out over the shattered pieces of my life.
I knew this was a holy moment because I had been there myself. This was a holy moment because every human and religious pretense had been stripped away. He was, in that moment, spiritually naked and empty. He had reached a point when he could no longer play the game. This was his breaking point before the One who redeems, recreates, and uses broken things; The Potter who takes the lump of collapsed clay spinning on His wheel and begins to make something new. Whether my friend recognized it, or not, this was the waypoint on his journey that is the inflection point when old things begin to recede in the rearview mirror, and he will find a light on the horizon leading him in a new direction.
Today’s chapter, Psalm 145, begins the last five songs in this 150 song anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics. The editors end their compilation with five songs of praise. Today’s is a beautiful description of God’s goodness and I could have picked out any number of verses to chew on, but it was the phrase “you give them their food at the proper time” that resonated deep in my soul.
Remember that God’s base language is metaphor, and metaphors are layered with meaning. Make no mistake, food is food, as in the miraculous Manna that God provided the Hebrew tribes on their wilderness wanderings and the loaves and fish Jesus turned into an all-you-can-eat, filet-o-fish-o-rama. It’s also that which is necessary for spiritual survival and sustenance, as Jesus reminded the Enemy after fasting for forty days: “You can’t just eat physical bread. You need the spiritual bread of the Word.”
From there the metaphor expands to even more layers of meaning:
“In the beginning was the Word…”
“I am the Bread of Life…”
“He took a loaf and broke it, saying, ‘This is my body, broken for you.'”
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
Along my spiritual journey, I’ve experienced God’s provision of “food” at the “proper time” on both the physical and spiritual level. I remember being married with two small children, my first mortgage, no job, and no idea what was going to happen next. There have been moments when clients unexpectedly pulled the plug on projects, and I wasn’t sure how we would pay the bills. Then there was that lonely night in the dark warehouse apartment when every religious facade I had mistaken for being an actual spiritual resource had been revealed to be impotent, and my soul was starving for a scrap of real spiritual nourishment.
I had religiously participated in the ritual of Communion countless times in my life, yet that moment was the first time I truly tasted the Bread of Life. It was a holy moment. It was qadosh.
In the quiet this morning, I’m praying for my friend who was on the other end of that call. He’s got a long, long road ahead of him. I did my best to assure him that if he relies on the Bread of Life to sustain him, and he doggedly presses on, one-day-at-a-time, towards that Light on the horizon, he will find himself in amazing places. He may find himself in a deep place, but grace is deeper still. He may despair in the moment at the waste he’d made of his life, but God may transform it into wisdom.
I’ve been there.
In the moment all he could see was the unholy ruins of his life.
Little did he know, it was the holy start of a new creation.
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:5 (NIV)
As always, if you know anyone who might be encouraged with today’s post, please feel free to share.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore. Psalm 125:2 (NIV)
I have always had a touch of seasonal affect issues. The long, dark nights and confining temperatures of deep winter in Iowa tend to easily put me into a funk. The past few days, the sun has been rising noticeably earlier and with it the temperatures have been rising, as well. The thick, white blanket of winter snow is almost gone. I can feel my endorphins kicking into gear like seeds buried underground in spring.
Yesterday, Wendy and I had appointments late in the day and found ourselves driving down the highway starting at a bright sun and seeing the Iowa landscape uncovered, ready for the resurrection we get to witness around this time every year. The further I’ve gotten in this life journey, the more I’ve come to appreciate the metaphors of creation. Anyone who has followed my blog for any length of time knows that Romans 1:20 has become a recurring theme in these posts:
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
I have found that the spiritual truths that God wove into creation increasingly come into focus and gain clarity as my eyes weaken and my vision fades with age.
My chapter-a-day journey is trekking through a series of ancient Hebrew songs that the editors compiling this anthology put together because they were all “songs of ascent.” They were songs commonly sung by thousands and thousands of pilgrims heading to Jerusalem for seasonal religious festivals.
Of the six songs of ascent I’ve read in recent days, three of them begin with references to “lifting my eyes” and “mountains“:
“I lift up my eyes to the mountains” Psalm 121:1 “I lift up my eyes to you” Psalm 123:1 “As the mountains surround Jerusalem” Psalm 125:2
Just as I drove through the Iowa countryside noticing the spiritual lessons embedded in the spring landscape, so the songwriters of the the songs of ascent were writing from the perspective of rural pilgrims hoofing it to Jerusalem. For many, it was a trip that took days or weeks to complete. What do I do when I’m on a road trip and heading to a particular destination? I look to the horizon for that moment I can see my destination and know that I’m almost there.
The lyrics of these songs of ascent use this common human behavior for spiritual purposes. Jerusalem and Solomon’s temple sat at the crest of a mountainous range. Viewed from a distance there are even taller mountains in the “surrounding” landscape. As a road-weary pilgrim finally seeing Jerusalem and those mountains in the distance, I would find myself still miles from my destination. My soul still has hours with which to meditate on the spiritual truths that God wove into creation.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.
In the quiet this morning, I’m feeling gratitude for the sun rising earlier and staying out later. I’m grateful for the sun’s warmth and the promise of the new life ahead. I’m also mindful of the spiritual lessons that creation has to teach me and remind me during this season each year; Lessons that Jesus pointed out to His followers:
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.
Among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers, we’ve been asking a lot of questions about distractions and attachments. Primarily, we’re asking ourselves some introspective questions regarding just how attached we are to our phones, tablets, and screens. And, how do those screens and the how the limitless amount of information and entertainment, literally at our fingertips, is forming us. While it might be easy to perceive this as some religious Luddite rail against technology, it’s really an attempt to ask some very sincere, personal questions about time, thought, habits, distractions, and Spirit.
Yesterday our Scottish crew (still stranded by COVID in America) was discussing the fact that back home in Edinburgh they would be spending a lot more time outside in the more temperate winter climate of the UK. Here in the snow and midwest deep-freeze of Iowa (-2 F this morning), that’s just not an enjoyable possibility. So there’s been a tremendous amount of screentime for the wee one as four adults try to work.
Today’s chapter, Psalm 104, is ancient Hebrew song of praise. The theme is the wonder of creation, and this is a great song for anyone who is fed spiritually by being out in nature. What is it that feeds your awe and wonder of the natural world? I know for a lot of people it’s the mountains. For me, it’s always been water. I love being on a ship out on the ocean, a sailboat, or even sitting on the dock in the morning at the lake. There is something spiritual and life-giving to sit in the quiet, to take it in, and to have undistracted time to think, ponder, dream, and meditate.
What’s really cool about Psalm 104 is the thought with which the songwriter structured his lyrics. This is obvious to the casual reader, but when you break it down, it’s really genius. It’s structured like concentric circles moving out from the center (like the expanding universe?), and as the stanzas move out from the center they are connected thematically:
Three Verses: Celebrating the celestial world above the earth
Five Verses: The earth’s foundations and boundaries
Nine Verses: The diversity and abundance of life on earth
Five Verses: The earth’s cycles and rhythms
Three Verses: Celebrating the nautical world below the earth
As I meditated on this in the quiet this morning… (Actually, it wasn’t quiet. I had a three-year-old watching a YouTube of Transformer toys on my lap.)… I couldn’t help but think about the thought the songwriter put in to not only write a song about creation, but also craft it so that the whole song’s structure was another layer of metaphor that speaks to the design, order, and structure of the universe.
There is something so beautiful in this that was worth my time this morning with which to sit and meditate. It motivated me to whisper my own quiet prayer of praise for creation that’s all around me.
I also couldn’t help but be reminded of these questions Wendy and I have been asking ourselves about the things to which we are attached, the things that distract us, and the limitless information and entertainment waiting for me there on the phone, the tablet, the television, and the laptop. I can go down the online rabbit hole so quickly and become immersed in a world of information that offers me little or no spiritual benefit.
Or, I can be mindful of making different choices. Which is what I’m endeavoring to do today.
It’s a new year, and it is very common for individuals to use the transition from one year to the next to hit the “reset” button on life in different ways. So, it’s a bit of synchronicity to have today’s chapter, Psalm 96, start out with a call to “Sing a new song.”
In ancient Hebrew society, it was common to call on “new songs” to commemorate or celebrate certain events including military triumphs, new monarchs being coronated, or a significant national or community event.
Throughout the Great Story, “new” is a repetitive theme. In fact, if you step back and look at the Great Story from a macro level, doing something “new” is a part of who God is. God is always acting, always creating, always moving, always transforming things. When God created everything at the beginning of the Great Story, it was something new. When God called Abram He was doing something new. When Abram became Abraham it was something new. When Simon became Peter it was something new. When Jesus turned fishermen into “fishers of men” it was something new.
“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills…” Amos 9:13
“And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined.” Luke 5:37
“A new command I give you: Love one another.” John 13:34
..after the supper [Jesus] took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” Luke 22:20
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. Revelation 21:1
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Revelation 21:5
Along my life journey, I’ve observed that most human beings struggle with real change. A new gadget? Cool! A new release from my favorite author? Awesome. A new restaurant in town I can try? I’m there! But if it comes to a change that messes with my routine, a change that requires something from me, or a change that brings discomfort, then I will avoid it like the plague. Why? I like things that are comfortable, routine, and easy.
What I’ve observed is that “new” is always considered better as long as I think it will makes things easier or better for me. If it will rock my world, create discomfort, or expect something of me outside of my comfort zone, then I think I’ll cling to the “old” thing that I know and love, thank you very much.
And thus, most New Year’s resolutions sink down the drain of good intentions.
In the quiet today, I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’ classic, The Great Divorce, in which a bus full of people in purgatory visit the gates of heaven. There they are given every opportunity to accept the invitation to enter into the new thing God has for them on the other side. One individual after another finds a reason to stick with the drab, gray, lifeless existence they know and with which they are comfortable.
As a follower of Jesus, I embraced the reality that I follow and serve a Creator who is never finished creating. “New” is an always part of the program. It may not always be comfortable, but it’s always good.
As long as I am on this earthly journey, I pray that I will choose into and embrace the new things into which God is always leading me.
Growing up in the city, I had very little personal exposure to the agricultural industry that fuels our region. The news radio my dad had on every morning made a big deal about farming and markets, but it made no sense to me. I have this one memory of riding along with our dad in the family station wagon. I had to have been about five years old. I watched my dad jump a fence into a cow pasture to collect dried piles of cow manure into the back of the station wagon which he used to fertilize the garden in the backyard. That’s pretty much it other than driving through the fields to my grandparent’s house.
As an adult, I’ve spent about twenty years of my life in small rural towns where agriculture is all around me. Behind our back yard is an open field. There are cows on the other side of the golf course that winds through our neighborhood. The building where our local gathering of Jesus followers meets is next door to livestock farm, and when the wind is blowing just right the smell motivates you to high-tail it inside. I don’t have the buffer and insulation I had as a kid. Agriculture surrounds me at all times.
Because of this, and the fact that Wendy grew up on a farm and her dad taught Agriculture, I’ve gained an appreciation for the people, the lives, and the industry that helps feed the world. It’s also helped me understand and appreciate, with greater depth, an important spiritual principle: me, my life, and my circumstances, are of little regard to Creation. The Great Story constantly reminds me to keep my life in perspective:
“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall” 1 Peter 1:24
“What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” James 4:14
Smoke, nothing but smoke. [That’s what the Quester says.] There’s nothing to anything—it’s all smoke. One generation goes its way, the next one arrives, but nothing changes—it’s business as usual for old planet earth. The sun comes up and the sun goes down, then does it again, and again—the same old round. The wind blows south, the wind blows north. Around and around and around it blows, blowing this way, then that—the whirling, erratic wind. All the rivers flow into the sea, but the sea never fills up. The rivers keep flowing to the same old place, and then start all over and do it again. What was will be again, what happened will happen again. There’s nothing new on this earth. Year after year it’s the same old thing. Does someone call out, “Hey, this is new”? Don’t get excited—it’s the same old story. Nobody remembers what happened yesterday. And the things that will happen tomorrow? Nobody’ll remember them either. Don’t count on being remembered. Ecclesiastes 1 (MSG)
Without faith, these are kind of depressing thoughts. With faith, it becomes essential spiritual perspective. The fields yielded their fruit again with the autumn harvest, things will die in winter and new life will emerge once again in the spring. Just like it did for the The earth continues to spin, the seasons continue to cycle, the planets continue their dance around the sun. The sun continues its dance around the galaxy. The galaxy continues its trek in the universe.
The coronavirus is nothing in the grand scheme of eternity, and neither is a presidential election. I grumble and complain, yet if I incline my ear to the whispers on the wind of history I hear voices, millions of voices, calling out.
200 million voices of those who died in the Black Death in Europe and Asia in the Middle Ages.
56 million voices who died of Smallpox in the 1500s.
40 million voices who died of the Spanish Flu between 1918-1920.
30 million voices who died in the plague of Justinian. In 541, it is estimated that there were 10,000 deaths per day and there were so many bodies they couldn’t keep up with burials so bodies were piled up and stuffed in buildings and left out in the open.
And still, the whole of creation continued its dance. The earth danced around the sun every 365 days or so. The seasons came and went like clockwork. The crops sprouted each spring, they grew each summer, they yielded their fruit each fall before the death of winter prepared for another annual resurrection.
In the quiet this morning, I’m listening to those voices on the whispering wind. My heart grumbles, but it never grumbles with essential spiritual perspective in mind. Grumbling only happens when my momentary circumstances deceive me into putting on my blinders of self-importance.
Thanksgiving is in 10 days. When I finish this post and podcast I’m headed into town for coffee with a friend. I’ll drive past the fields that have, once again, yielded their abundance. Those same fields fed families and provided for those who suffered through three years of the ravages of Spanish Flu. They will still be feeding generations who will have long forgotten my existence when the next pandemic makes its way through humanity.
Essential spiritual perspective that Jesus used the fields he and his followers were sitting in to make this same point.
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance. Psalm 65:11 (NIV)
I sincerely wonder if there’s an individual in America who isn’t ready to put 2020 behind us. It continues to be the strangest, most turbulent year the world has experienced during the stretch of my life journey. And, it’s not over, as we all know well. Which made this morning’s chapter, Psalm 65, feel almost incongruent.
The editors of the compilation of Hebrew song lyrics we call the book of Psalms put psalms 65-68 together. They are all psalms of “thanksgiving” and how ironic that this chapter-a-day journey has me wandering my way through them in the weeks leading up to our Thanksgiving holiday in America this year.
I have a confession to make this morning. As I read through the lyrics of Psalm 65, I found that my weariness of current events make my heart cynical. My spirit is grumbling.
“The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders.”
My heart cried, “yeah, like the production of viruses.”
You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance.
My heart cried, “just not on the ledger sheet of my business this year.”
“The hills are clothed with gladness.”
My heart cried, “While I’m clothed with a mask.”
Along this life journey, I’ve learned that it’s critical for me to be conscious of the silent conversation my heart, soul, and mind are having with Life. That private inner dialogue is a leading indicator of the state of my spirit.
It isn’t doing so well this morning, and perhaps I needed Psalm 65 to both reveal my need, and provide me with the antidote.
One of the things I’ve done a little reading up on in the last year or so is that of resonance and frequency. I’ve learned that all matter constantly vibrates and emits sound waves at different frequencies. When two objects have a matching frequency they resonate.
I am hearing impaired because certain parts of my auditory system have died. When sound waves vibrating at particular frequencies reach my ears, they no longer resonate with me. I can’t hear those sound waves. Because the consonants in human speech (the hard sounds like a “t”, “g”, “b”, “s”) often vibrate at the frequencies my ears can’t hear, my brain scrambles to try and connect the combination of vowel sounds it heard (the “a”, “e”, “i”, “o,” and “u” which are frequencies my ears can hear) and figure out all the possibilities of the words you might have just said to me.
Welcome to Wendy’s world. By the way, if you’re wearing a mask it’s very likely I won’t understand 90-95% of your words. But, I will smile and nod and pretend I totally got it. I’m a trained actor.
My point is this. When David writes that the fields, the hills, and the valleys of creation shout and sing for joy, and when Jesus told his critics that the rocks would cry out and sing praise, they were correct. Creation is constantly vibrating, shouting out their frequencies in songs we simply don’t hear with our human ears. All of God’s creation continually sings its praise. And here’s the thing…
The coronavirus doesn’t stop the song. Masks don’t stop the song. Political rhetoric won’t stop the song. Social media can’t stop the song. My personal circumstances have no effect on the song.
Creation has no choice but to sing the creators praise. Only I have that freedom of will.
In a few weeks, Vander Well manor will welcome family for Thanksgiving dinner. The majority of family members present have already survived their bouts with COVID. We will feast, we will love, and we will give thanks. A few weeks later, I will hug my grandson for the first time in a year. God willing, our daughters and sons will be home together from the distant locations they call home. It will be the first time everyone will have been in our home together since Garrett joined our family and became our son. My heart will vibrate with joy. My mouth will offer praise and thanks.
I have written before about the Chain Reaction of Praise. In the quiet this morning I realized something important. I, as a follower of Jesus, am told to “give thanks in all circumstances.” I think I’ve allowed 2020 to mute my thanks and muffle my praise like one big, thick spiritual surgical mask.
I hear you fields. I’m listening rocks. You don’t have a choice.
Hey God? Praise you. I’m so thankful you can hear me through my mask.
Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. Psalm 8:5 NRSVCE
One of the things I have come to love about living in Iowa is the fact that the landscape is always changing as the fields are cultivated, sown, fertilized, tended, harvested, and left to rest. This time of the year is one of my favorites. The dark green corn plants that pack the quilt-like patchwork of fields are fully grown to eight feet or more in height, and each stalk is topped by a golden tassel. From a distance, as I drive by, the tasseled corn creates a gorgeous visual effect of iridescence. A shimmering blanket of gold atop the deep, dark green covers the softly rolling hills as far as the eye can see. Photographs don’t do it justice to seeing it in person.
I have seen a lot of gorgeous things on this earth. I love the northern lights. I loved watching the sunrise over the pacific in Kauai, the full moon shining down on the Caribbean on a cloudless night. The Rocky Mountains are a majestic sight, as are the rugged Appalachians and the Badlands of South Dakota, especially for someone who lives on the plains of the Heartland. The Milky Way viewed from big sky country away from the ambient light of human population centers is breathtaking, as is Niagara Falls in her relentless display of aquatic force.
Today’s chapter is another song of David in which his lyrics express his own appreciation for the works of creation that surrounded him on earth and in the heavens. The song is bookended with a repeated refrain ascribing praise to God as Creator. It also repeats a theme from the Creation story, in which humanity is given “dominion” over the Earth which includes the responsibility to tend it and care for it. This is a great one to read when I find myself standing awestruck before nature.
I couldn’t help but notice that David’s lyric speak of humanity being given “honor” by God. In fact, both Hebrew words translated “glory” and “honor” in the verse I quoted at the top of the post have been translated as the English word “honor.” My favorite definition of the word honor is “to attach worth.”
God attached so much worth to we human beings that it was for us that God sent His Son to experience life as one of us, to die as one of us, and to open the way of eternity for us. Today’s psalm delves into another layer of honor God bestowed on us. In all of creation, humanity alone (that we know of) was given the “honor” of dominion and responsibility for God, the great artist’s, creative works. From the very beginning, in the Garden of Eden, God made humans curators and caretakers of His creation.
In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about honor. We honor soldiers, police, firefighters, health care workers who serve and sacrifice themselves to care for the rest of us. We attach worth to them as we recognize that they are responsible for us. They attend selflessly to the care, protection, and provision of others. In the same way, God’s honor of us includes the responsibility He’s given us, and I’ve observed that it’s largely forgotten or ignored by many.
I’m also thinking about creation, and my responsibility to exercise my dominion in caring for it, tending it, and serving it. Not because I worship it, but I worship the One who created it, and it’s a specific duty I’m honored to have been given.
FYI, I’m taking a little break and spending some time in creation today and tomorrow. I’ll be back on this chapter-a-day journey on Thursday.
When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. Exodus 34:30 (NRSVCE)
“Let there be light.”
That’s the first act of creation in the poetic description of the beginning of everything in the opening verses of Genesis. This simple beginning, however, is not so simple. In fact, it’s hard to contain its meaning. It is part of the mystery of God and the universe that both theology and science have endlessly been attempting to understand. I can’t explain it any better than the Encyclopedia Brittanica does:
No single answer to the question “What is light?” satisfies the many contexts in which light is experienced, explored, and exploited. The physicist is interested in the physical properties of light, the artist in an aesthetic appreciation of the visual world. Through the sense of sight, light is a primary tool for perceiving the world and communicating within it. Light from the Sun warms the Earth, drives global weather patterns, and initiates the life-sustaining process of photosynthesis. On the grandest scale, light’s interactions with matter have helped shape the structure of the universe. Indeed, light provides a window on the universe, from cosmological to atomic scales. Almost all of the information about the rest of the universe reaches Earth in the form of electromagnetic radiation. By interpreting that radiation, astronomers can glimpse the earliest epochs of the universe, measure the general expansion of the universe, and determine the chemical composition of stars and the interstellar medium. Just as the invention of the telescope dramatically broadened exploration of the universe, so too the invention of the microscope opened the intricate world of the cell. The analysis of the frequencies of light emitted and absorbed by atoms was a principal impetus for the development of quantum mechanics. Atomic and molecular spectroscopies continue to be primary tools for probing the structure of matter, providing ultrasensitive tests of atomic and molecular models and contributing to studies of fundamental photochemical reactions.
In the same way, light is fundamentally a part of the spiritually supernatural:
Light was the first order of creation on the first day of creation in the Genesis creation ( keep in mind the sun, stars, and moon weren’t created until the fourth day).
After healing a boy born blind, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”
In the sermon on the mount, Jesus told his followers, “You are the light of the world.”
Jesus took his inner-circle (Peter, James, and John) up on a mountain (just like Moses in today’s chapter) and was “transfigured” before them (e.g. Matthew records the He shone like the sun while Luke describes it as bright as a flash of lightning). And Moses appeared with Him.
Angelic beings are consistently described throughout the Great Story as shining radiantly.
At the very end of the Great Story in Revelation (spoiler alert: the end is a new beginning) “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.”
In today’s chapter, Moses returns to the top of the mountain and spends another 40 days with God. When he returns, the text says that his face was so radiant that it freaked out the Hebrews (for the record, Peter, James, and John were equally freaked when Jesus revealed the light of His glory).
Here’s a bit of additional mystery for you. The Hebrew word used here is actually translated “horns.” That’s why many artistic depictions of Moses (the most famous is Michaelangelo) show him having horns on his head:
So, what’s up with that?! I talked in my podcast, A Beginners Guide to the Great Story Part 1 about the fact that when thinking about the ancient stories we have to consider the context of the times in which they were living. The mystery of Moses’ horns is a great example. There is an ancient Babylonian text that uses the Sumer word si which is also the word for “horn” to describe a solar eclipse in which the sun’s light appears like “horns” (think “rays of light”) shooting out from behind the darkened moon. It’s quite possible that the word “horns” was layered with meaning and the ancients understood what we call “rays” of light to be “horns of light.”
In the quiet this morning, I find my brain buzzing with all sorts of thoughts about light and how it is part of the mystery of both the spiritual and the scientific. Humanity has so often made the two into binary, either-or, opposites and enemies. The further I get in my journey, the more I am convinced that, in the end, we will understand that they are two parts of the same mystery. It’s a “both, and.”
As a follower of Jesus, I can’t help but go back to Jesus’ call for His followers to be “light” to the world”:
“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” -Jesus (Matt 5:13-16 [MSG])
What does that mean for me? Am I a light-bearer? Do these posts and podcasts shine? More importantly, do my daily words and interaction with family, friends, neighbors, strangers, community, enemies, acquaintances, and foreigners radiate with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control? Am I being generous with my life? Is my house open? Am I opening up to others?
It’s what I’m endeavoring to do increasingly today, each day of this earthly journey. I want the words of my mouth, the meditations of my heart, the work of my hands, and my interactions with everyone to be positively “horny” with Light.