Worship in the Storm: Psalm 29

22 09 2009

BK01Lately, I have lapsed in my Lectio Divina readings.  However, I recently discovered that my fifteen-minute break at work is the perfect amount of time to read a chapter from David Crowder’s book Praise Habit.  Then, I can meditate on the psalm as I return to my shirt-folding. Yesterday was my first day to implement this plan, and I read Psalm 29, appropriately enough during one of the worst floods in Atlanta’s history.

God‘s thunder sets the oak trees dancing
A wild dance, whirling; the pelting rain strips their branches.
We fall to our knees—we call out, “Glory!”

Above the floodwaters is God‘s throne
from which his power flows,
from which he rules the world

On Sunday, I attended a new church and through a series of events, ended up talking with one of the pastors for about half an hour before the service began.  She had just returned from a mission trip to Gulfport, Miss., where her group had done relief work for Katrina (yes, it’s still going on.  And apparently, UMCOR is the only remaining NGO in that particular area that is still receiving money to provide services)  She told me about a Catholic church they had visited in Waveland, Miss., whose gorgeous sanctuary had been demolished during the hurricane.

St. Clare's Catholic Church - before and after

St. Clare's Catholic Church - before and after

How eerie.  The first thing you notice, of course, is the difference in the church building.  But look again at the tree, and the way it has been twisted completely around.

The NIV translation of Psalm 29 reads, “The voice of the LORD twists the oaks.”

But what of the Message translation?  How can this transformation possibly be described with the word “dancing?”  That wording conjures up the image of a sardonic puppeteer-God who forces us to dance while we are, in fact, contorting in pain.  What kind of God is that?

To me, the Message translation highlights the tension inherent in worship.  Yes, we worship in freedom and with joy.  But true worship also requires that we recognize the omnipotence of God, and that fact can be rather frightening.  This is why Scripture tells us to “fear God:” not because we need to cower  in terror at his presence, but because we should humble ourselves and kneel before our God!

In the context of this particular Psalm, we (humans) are not the ones doing the dancing.  We are simply watching God at work, and responding by recognizing his power within the events of the world.  We are exhorted to “ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name.”

Here, too, I think we can learn from the example of Saint Clare’s.  Following the storm, they put up a sign that testified, with one simple sentence, the power of God as they had experienced it: