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23 January 2015

On Silence and Stillness

One day Abba Theophilus, who was an archbishop, came to Scetis, a desert wasteland and spiritual paradise, where a great number of monks lived and worked.  Archbishop Theophilus made his way to the cell of Abba Pambo, a man recognized and acclaimed for his humility and wisdom.  The brethren who accompanied Theophilus said to Abba Pambo, “Say something to the archbishop, so that he may be edified.”  Abba Pambo replied: “If he is not edified by my silence, he will not be edified by my speech.”

As I return to Psalm 62, I want to reflect on silence and stillness.

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. (Psalm 62:1, NRSV).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, in a 1929 sermon on this verse,  "Not many people have even an inkling what this silence of the soul means, fewer still are those who know something of the silence of the soul waiting for God. Yoked to the day’s work, people hardly have time to catch their breath before society – so-called entertainment – seizes them and sucks what energy is left over from work."

Our soul can get lost in the midst of everyday chaos and noise. And yet, silence frightens most of us. Pema Chödrön, a Buddhist nun and writer, describes her experience of not talking for one year:

"The first thing that happens is you climb the walls. This is personal with me. It doesn't happen anymore. You know, it's like sensory deprivation. But, gradually, what begins to happen is that you sink so deeply into what life has been distracting you from. Because it's a definition of no distractions. That's the purpose of the retreat, no distractions.

You quickly learn that distractions are not just phone calls and emails and outer phenomena. Our own mind, and our longings, and our cravings, and our fantasies and everything are also major distractions. And, as time goes on, and you're feeding it less because there's no talking. You begin to sink deeper into the undistracted state. And then you begin to realize that life is always pulling you away from being fully present."

Silence is frightening. It is frightening not just because we fear the loss of the stuff and the gadgets we use to run from what matters. It's also frightening because it frees us to be truly present, to ourselves and to God.

Then, as Elijah did famously, we are ready to encounter God in the "sound of sheer silence".

Han Shan, a 9th century legendary poet associated with a collection of poems from the Chinese Tang Dynasty in the Taoist and Chan tradition, beautifully talked of how freeing it is to overcome the obstacles created by our ever-busy minds ... when we reach that "undistracted state" Pema Chödrön talks about.

"I've watched smoke spiral into the void of space.
In that bright mirror, I've seen a myriad things.
But last night a dragon gulped the shining moon
and in the blackness, I saw what I had missed.

Birth and Death. Day and Night.
Running water, stagnant pool.
Bud and fading flower.
Can I find the point at which they change
From one into the other?
Can my nostrils turn upwards?

When the mind keeps tumbling
How can vision be anything but blurred?
Stop the mind even for a moment
And all becomes transparently clear!
The moving mind is polishing mud bricks.
In stillness find the mirror!"

Contemplative writers often make a distinction between silence and stillness. Stillness adds intentionality to mere silence.

When your soul is still, it is more than at rest. It gets ready for an encounter with God; it becomes open to receive.

Before we get to true stillness, we must acknowledge the snow globe of our human mind (whirling with thoughts, images, memories, and vague feelings) and the self-serving actions of our human ego (constantly dividing our experiences into good and bad, and trying to make us believe that life on this plain is all there is). 

As you breathe deeply, let the snow globe of your mind settle. Send your ego on a vacation. 

Surrender. Submit. Let go. Admit to yourself that you are longing for this encounter. Then listen deeply. 

In the stillness, you will be ready for your meeting with God.

20 January 2015

Making Room for God (Third Sunday after Epiphany)

In a now-famous 1973 experiment at Princeton Theological Seminary, students were recruited for a study on religious education. First they completed personality questionnaires about their religion. Later they began experimental procedures in one building and then told to go to another building to continue. On the way they would encounter a man slumped in an alleyway (the victim's condition: hurt, sick, mentally ill, drunk? was to remain unknown to the subjects).

The researchers varied the amount of urgency they told the subjects before sending them to the other building, and the task they would perform when they got there. One task was to prepare a talk about seminary jobs, and the other about the story of the Good Samaritan. In one condition they the subjects were told that they were late for the next task, in the other that they had a few minutes but that they should head on over anyway.

In the alleyway the students were forced to pass a man sitting slumped in a doorway, who moaned and coughed twice as they walked by. After arrival at the second building, the researchers had the subjects give the talk and then answer a helping behavior questionnaire.

The results were revealing. The amount of "hurriedness" induced in the subject had a major effect on helping behavior, but the task variable did not (even when the talk was about the Good Samaritan).

Overall 40% offered some help to the victim. In "low hurry"situations, 63% helped; in "medium hurry"45%; in "high hurry" only 10%. There was no correlation between "religious types" and helping behavior.

Ironically, a person in a hurry is less likely to help people, even if he is going to speak on the parable of the Good Samaritan. Some subjects literally stepped over the victim on their way to the next building!

The results seem to show that thinking about norms does not imply that one will act on them. Could it be true that "ethics become a luxury as the speed of our daily lives increases"?

One way to apply the results of the Good Samaritan Experiment to the People of God is to say that someone studying the Word of God and going to church doesn't necessarily end up with a life that is lived by faith. The experiment suggests that one ingredient is vital for a person to live a life that truly reflects their faith:  time.

Taking time for God and ourselves is important. Another way to say that is that unless we make space for prayer and meditation, our lives will be nothing but an endless calendar filled with appointment after appointment.

Enter Psalm 62, the psalm assigned to next Sunday.

1 For God alone I patiently wait; he is the one who delivers me. 2 He alone is my protector and deliverer. He is my refuge; I will not be upended. 

3 How long will you threaten a man? All of you are murderers, as dangerous as a leaning wall or an unstable fence. 4 They spend all their time planning how to bring him down. They love to use deceit; they pronounce blessings with their mouths, but inwardly they utter curses. (Selah)

5 Patiently wait for God alone, my soul! For he is the one who gives me confidence. 6 He alone is my protector and deliverer. He is my refuge; I will not be upended. 7 God delivers me and exalts me; God is my strong protector and my shelter. 8 Trust in him at all times, you people! Pour out your hearts before him! God is our shelter! (Selah)

9 Men are nothing but a mere breath; human beings are unreliable. When they are weighed in the scales, all of them together are lighter than air. 10 Do not trust in what you can gain by oppression! Do not put false confidence in what you can gain by robbery! If wealth increases, do not become attached to it! 11 God has declared one principle; two principles I have heard: God is strong, 12 and you, O Lord, demonstrate loyal love. For you repay men for what they do. 

Psalm 62 is what psalm scholars call a "trust psalm". When we make room in our lives for God, we do that in order to build a relationship of trust.

But there is more. The psalmist urges us to trust God, and no one but God. "For God alone I patiently wait; he is the one who delivers me."

A small Hebrew word, אַךְ (’ak), shows up 24 times in the entire Psalter ... and six of those times are in Psalm 62! The word אַךְ has both an absolute meaning ("only" or "alone") and an affirmative  meaning ("truly" or "indeed"). It seems as though the author had fun with the double entendre.

Here are the places where אַךְ occurs in our psalm:

verse 1  
For God alone ('ak) I wait quietly before God . . .
verse 2    
He alone ('ak) is my rock and my salvation . . .
verse 4    
Their only ('ak) plan is to topple me from my high position . . .
verse 5    
For God alone ('ak) all that I am wait quietly before God ...
verse 6    
He alone ('ak) is my rock and my salvation . . .
verse 9    
Common people are as worthless as ('ak) a puff of wind ...

The two meanings of the little word make the idea crystal clear:

God alone.
God indeed.

An itty-bitty two letter Hebrew word wants to teach us a big lesson for our faith. To trust in the Lord should mean to trust in the Lord alone.

Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann writes, "The radical confession of God as refuge in Psalm 62 is a stunning minority report for most history epochs in human history; few have followed the route of the psalm."

That route is not an easy one. It is quite often a rocky one, and those who indeed follow it, are often beset with doubts and ridiculed by scoffers: "All of you are murderers, as dangerous as a leaning wall or an unstable fence. They spend all their time planning how to bring him down. They love to use deceit; they pronounce blessings with their mouths, but inwardly they utter curses."

But rocky as that route may be, it is the only reliable one. God alone! God indeed!

Another chant from Taizé utilizes material from our psalm:

Mon âme se repose en paix sur Dieu seul:
de lui vient mon salut.
Oui, sur Dieu seul mon âme se repose,
se repose en paix.

In God alone my soul can find rest and peace
In God my peace and joy
Only in God my soul can find its rest.
Find its rest and peace.

So. Make room for God. God alone. God indeed. It will keep you on that road that leads to Life.

18 January 2015

Darkness: Is It All Bad?

When I was an adolescent, I participated in a church music workshop held at the Katherinenkirche, one of Hamburg's old churches. Always eager to learn a new song, I was intrigued because we were taught new chants from Taizé, a community in Southern France that I had visited with our youth group. The chants of Taizé are always short and memorable, and they are meant to be sung over and over, so that a state of meditation is reached.

One of the chants we learned that day was this one, based on two verses from Psalm 139:

La ténèbre n'est point ténèbre devant toi:
la nuit comme le jour est lumière.
(Our darkness is never darkness in your sight:
The deepest night is clear as the daylight.)

Yes, I'd heard these lines from the psalm before, but they took on a life of their own as I was singing them over and over. As I was singing, I was meditating on the wisdom of Psalm 139 in a way I never had before.

Then I said to myself, "Oh, he even sees me in the dark! / At night I'm immersed in the light!"

It's a fact: darkness isn't dark to you / night and day, darkness and light, they're all the same to you. (Psalm 139, Verses 11-12, Message Translation)

What our English translations render as "darkness" is the Hebrew word חוֹשֶׁך (kho-shek'), which can mean the dark or darkness, but also, more figuratively, misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, and wickedness.

The same word kho-shek' is used in the first few lines of the Bible:

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. (Gen 1:2)

Misery, destruction, ignorance, sorrow and death ... these meanings of חוֹשֶׁך are not exactly cheerful.  So ... is darkness all bad? Our psalm doesn't seem to bear that out; in fact, it belongs to just a handful of texts that don't portray darkness as evil and scary, but as neutral or even positive.

Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest and well-known preacher, released a new book last year, entitled "Learning to Walk in The Dark". The point of her book is, very simplified, that we Christians have always badmouthed and vilified darkness, and that unfortunately we have found plenty of backing in Scripture.

Rev. Brown Taylor says this attitude has alienated many people from church and faith, people like herself, who cannot follow a "solar spirituality" (in which church folk always "walk in the light of God" and address darkness only to scold other people), but prefer what she calls a "lunar spirituality" (in which people's experience of the light of God waxes and vanes just like the moon).

She goes on to say that the people who have gone through hard times often find it hard that the churches they attend have little tolerance for anyone who doesn't go along with the "program" of relentless light. She suggests that churches rethink this approach. In an interview regarding her book she said this: "If you are able to trust God all the way into the dark, you may be surprised."

La ténèbre n'est point ténèbre devant toi:
la nuit comme le jour est lumière.

At the time I learned this Taizé chant, I was often depressed. I remember learning the tenor line, which ends in a glorious musical phrase that paints the word "lumière". I was singing with tears in my eyes because it was incredibly freeing for me to hear that God was even present in the moments when I was feeling down and at my wit's end.  If God could attend those moments to which I had been taught to assign the label "darkness", this was truly good news to me.

I am closing with Brian Wren, one of my favorite hymn writers, who wrote these lines a few years ago:

Joyful is the dark, holy, hidden God,
rolling cloud of night beyond all naming:
Majesty in darkness, Energy of love,
Word-in-Flesh, the mystery proclaiming.

Joyful is the dark Spirit of the deep,
winging wildly o'er the world's creation,
silken sheen of midnight plumage black and bright,
swooping with the beauty of a raven.

Joyful is the dark, shadowed stable floor;
angels flicker, God on earth confessing,
as with exultation, Mary, giving birth,
hails the infant cry of need and blessing.

Joyful is the dark coolness of the tomb,
waiting for the wonder of the morning;
never was that midnight touched by dread and gloom:
darkness was the cradle of the dawning.

Joyful is the dark depth of love divine,
roaring, looming thundercloud of glory,
holy, haunting beauty, living, loving God.
Hallelujah! Sing and tell the story!

15 January 2015

Longing to Be Known (Second Sunday after Epiphany)

One of my psychotherapy colleagues shared the story of a woman who’d gone to several medical doctors because she was having trouble breathing. Since a medical cause couldn't be found, she found herself in the therapist's office. As they spoke, the colleague noticed the camp numbers tattooed on the patient’s forearm. The woman coughed a great deal while telling her story.

“When did you start having trouble breathing?” the therapist asked. “When my friend died two years ago,” the survivor admitted. “When she was alive,” the patient said, “we could talk about anything. Although she had not been in the camps, she understood. She truly knew me, and it was so good to have her around." She began crying as she continued, "But now there is no one to tell. And I can't sleep. The nightmares haunt me. I can’t sleep alone in the house. I know that if I want to live, I have to find another friend.”

The story illustrates how  important it is to have someone who will hear our story, how much we long to be known. The psalm assigned for next Sunday, Psalm 139, speaks to this universal human need, our longing to be known.

1 O Lord, you examine me and know.  2 You know when I sit down and when I get up; even from far away you understand my motives. 3 You carefully observe me when I travel or when I lie down to rest; you are aware of everything I do. 4 Certainly my tongue does not frame a word without you, O Lord, being thoroughly aware of it. 5 You squeeze me in from behind and in front; you place your hand on me. 6 Your knowledge is beyond my comprehension; it is so far beyond me, I am unable to fathom it. 

7 Where can I go to escape your spirit? Where can I flee to escape your presence? 8 If I were to ascend to heaven, you would be there. If I were to sprawl out in Sheol, there you would be. 9 If I were to fly away on the wings of the dawn, and settle down on the other side of the sea, 10 even there your hand would guide me, your right hand would grab hold of me. 11 If I were to say, “Certainly the darkness will cover me, and the light will turn to night all around me,” 12 even the darkness is not too dark for you to see, and the night is as bright as day; darkness and light are the same to you. 

13 Certainly you made my mind and heart; you wove me together in my mother's womb. 14 I will give you thanks because your deeds are awesome and amazing. You knew me thoroughly; 15 my bones were not hidden from you, when I was made in secret and sewed together in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw me when I was inside the womb. All the days ordained for me were recorded in your scroll before one of them came into existence. 17 How difficult it is for me to fathom your thoughts about me, O God! How vast is their sum total! 18 If I tried to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. Even if I finished counting them, I would still have to contend with you.

19 If only you would kill the wicked, O God! Get away from me, you violent men! 20 They rebel against you and act deceitfully; your enemies lie. 21 O Lord, do I not hate those who hate you, and despise those who oppose you? 22 I absolutely hate them, they have become my enemies!

23 Examine me, and probe my thoughts! Test me, and know my concerns! 24 See if there is any idolatrous tendency in me, and lead me in the reliable ancient path!

Seven times the Hebrew root ידע (to know) occurs in our psalm (V. 1, 2, 4, 6, 14, and twice in 23). Yada' is a rich word in biblical Hebrew, covering a whole range of meanings - from simple recognition to intimate sexual relationship. In Genesis 4, we read that Adam "knew (yada') his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain". Some form of this word occurs sixty times in the Psalter, emphasizing that to know and to be known is a critical element of a meaningful relationship.

In his "Tales of the Hasidim", Martin Buber, Jewish philosopher, offered these words concerning the relationship between God and humankind:

Where I wander - You!
Where I ponder - You!
Only You, You again, always You!
You! You! You!
When I am gladdened - You!
When I am saddened - You!
Only You, You again, always You!
You! You! You!
Sky is You, Earth is You!
You above! You below!
In every trend, at every end,
Only You, You again, always You!
You! You! You!

The five stanzas of the psalm trace the story of intimacy between the writer and God:

Stanza 1. VV. 1-6:
Wonder and Marvel. "You are aware of everything I do."
Stanza 2. VV. 7-12:
Bewilderment and Fear. "Where can I go to escape your spirit?"
Stanza 3. VV. 13-18:
Surprise and Amazement. "You wove me together in my mother's womb."
Stanza 4. VV. 19-22:
Fury and Rage. "If only you would kill the wicked."
Stanza 5. VV. 23-24:
Happiness and Contentment. "Examine and probe my thoughts. Test me and know my concerns."

Our lectionary often edits the psalms with a heavy hand, and thus only assigns VV 1-6 and 13-18 to this Sunday, completely cutting stanza 4, but also 2. But such editing (to protect us from seeing our whole human nature?) is misguided and silly, especially when it comes to knowing and longing to be known. Certainly the writer of our psalm seems to find it liberating that God knows all that he feels, including his fear of being crowded, and his rage toward those who mock him and his God.

As scary as the process is, we all have this yearning for connection, this desire to be known in full. To have our shame and rage, fear and disgust, even hate, known and still be embraced, this is the yearning that drives us to the One who knows the hearts and minds of all humankind. Our longing to be truly known, warts and all, drives us to the One who knows us in full, and still extends a gracious embrace.

12 January 2015

Combating Post-Christmas Grumpiness (Jan 11, 2015)

From my sermon on John 5:1-18.

I want to talk to you about what I call Post-Christmas Grumpiness. When last Sunday I urged you to shine and celebrate God's unending love out there in the world, I saw some skeptical faces among you. You may have quietly wondered what happens when life gets tough. You may have been in a tough spot then, or may be in a tough spot right now. How can we joyously shine our light into the world when we are not joyous at all?

… Jesus heals this man even though we have no indication of his faith. We don't know who he is exactly, but with less benevolent eyes we could say that he is something of a bum! He had no gratitude, no faith, no humility, no guts – at least none of that is reported; this absence of good traits in the man prompted one of my preacher colleagues to conclude that he doesn't deserve to be healed. But be that as it may, this is the one Jesus healed.

This is the one, the one who had been on the welfare rolls for 38 years. Who is he? He's one of those people right here in the United States that have been called "the undeserving poor." We all know his kind. Think of him or her; you know who I mean. They come by the church regularly to get a handout. Every time we see them, they have a different story about why they need a little money. They refuse and waste every opportunity to help themselves. They're no longer welcome in most churches. They're no longer welcome around private and government agencies designed to help poor folks like them. They just won't play by the rules. My friends, we all know his kind.

When he healed that nameless paralytic by the poolside, Jesus healed one of those "undeserving poor" we know so well. Why would he do such a thing?

The answer to that question is the message of this text. Jesus healed this man not because of who the man was, not because of who he was as a person and a human being, but because of who Jesus was. Our story is a story of God's grace, the undeserved, unmerited love of God. That's a radical idea, and it's right at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It's the reason God became flesh and lived among us in the first place.

Come to think of it, you and I, we are not all that different from that paralytic man Jesus healed at Bethesda. Every one of our life stories has moments when we say with Charlie Brown: Life has knocked me down and walked all over me ... we all carry a bit of that paralytic in us. Moreover, each and everyone of us has things we hide from others and ourselves that are just plain wrong. Not just physical illnesses, but spiritual and emotional ones as well. Some folks stay in a sick marriage because they are afraid; some of us live in families in which some people haven't talked for 20 years because of words they had way back when. Some of us have felt stuck in our lives, unhappy and miserable without ever admitting it, not even to ourselves. We all know what it's like to stay sick even though we know better; there is an odd security to sticking what you know. Creatures of habit, we stay the same even though we know better.

We are so hard on ourselves that we are convinced that we deserve to be called ingrates and bums, and because we are so afraid of judgment, our own and that of others, we stay mum and hide what plagues and pains us every waking minute. You know as I do the thought that if anyone ever saw the real me, they'd run for their lives. You know as I do the thought that if God would see my most inner heart, he'd be shocked because I feel so bad inside; you know as I do the thought that if God really sees everything, he'd be tempted to burn me to a crisp.

Nonetheless, my friends, God is not using our harsh standards. Here comes Jesus, quietly and attentively, and he gazes at you and me, and he asks the simple question: ”Do you want to be made well?" The quiet question Jesus asks of us may startle us and make us feel threatened. Yet he is not accusing. He is the one who can make us well, and he has discovered us by name.

My friends, Jesus is asking you today,”Do you want to be made well?" He has discovered you and calls you by your very name, and like a good doctor he is uncovering the illness you hoped would remain a secret. He has come to your Bethesda to redeem you from your suffering. He doesn't need angels or even water from a pool considered holy. His Word is enough. His Word is life-giving water; his word is the power of life. He wants that power of life to make you flower in those parts of your life where you have shriveled and dried up.

… So, how do we combat Post-Christmas Grumpiness? We have no control over how many times life will indeed "knock us down and walk all over us", but we have control over how we cope. When you are in that place when life knocks you down, get back up by calling on Jesus. Jesus is always there, offering his healing Word, like he did to the paralytic. … You can be free of your secret dis-eases and maladies today! Let God tend to you in his Only Son, Jesus.

10 January 2015

Doing the Work of Christmas (First Sunday after Epiphany)

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.

These words, written by Howard Thurman (1899-1981), author, philosopher, theologian, educator and civil rights leader, do not just fit into the season; they also seem a good way to introduce Romans 12:1-3, one of the texts assigned to the First Sunday after Epiphany in the six year German lectionary.

1 Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice- alive, holy, and pleasing to God - which is your reasonable service. 2 Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God- what is good and well- pleasing and perfect. 3 For by the grace given to me I say to every one of you not to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but to think with sober discernment, as God has distributed to each of you a measure of faith.

The Apostle Paul presents us with a definition of worship most are not familiar with. According to this text, worship ought to take place everywhere we are, and at all times. As we stop letting ourselves be conformed to the ways of the world, as we surrender every moment of our everyday life to God, our entire life is being transformed into worship.

Worship in everyday life -- that's doing the Work of Christmas Howard Thurman talks about. But how can we make such big a step? Isn't that beyond our power?

Look back to the first verse. Paul speaks of mercies, God's compassion for our struggles. This is how J.B. Phillips translates V.1: "With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give Him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to Him and acceptable by Him."

One commentary suggests that the Greek word for mercies, οικτιρμός, literally means having the stomach to witness someone's suffering. God, my friends, has the stomach to witness our everyday struggles. We are called to serve God in everyday life, and we can do so because our eyes are "wide open to the mercies of God".

06 January 2015

The Voice of the Lord (The Baptism of Jesus)

A peasant lived in a hut. He was a hard worker, and worked on a farm all day long. When he got home to his hut at night, he needed sleep badly, but his sleep was often disturbed. A voice would wake him, calling loudly, "Shall I drop! Shall I drop!" The voice and its words terrified the peasant, and every time he heard it call, he answered, "No, no, please do not. Do not drop!"

After many years filled with sleepless nights, the peasant decided one day that he'd had it with the annoying voice. The next time he heard the voice call out, "Shall I drop! Shall I drop!", he answered, "Whatever it is you've got, drop it already!"

Gold coins, diamonds and jewels rained down on his head. To his surprise,  he learned that what he had heard was the voice of a ghost who guarded a great treasure and waited for someone deserving of it.

Psalm 29, the psalm assigned for next Sunday, The Baptism of the Lord, is not about the voice of a ghost, but about another voice that is rather insistent and yet is often misunderstood: the voice of the Lord.

1 Acknowledge the Lord, you heavenly beings, / Acknowledge the Lord's majesty and power!
2 Acknowledge the majesty of the Lord's reputation! / Worship the Lord in holy attire!

3 The Lord's shout is heard over the water; / The majestic God thunders, the Lord appears over the surging water.
4 The Lord's shout is powerful, / The Lord's shout is majestic.
5 The Lord's shout breaks the cedars, / The Lord shatters the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf / And Sirion like a young ox.
7 The Lord's shout strikes with flaming fire.
8 The Lord's shout shakes the wilderness, / The Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
9 The Lord's shout bends the large trees / And strips the leaves from the forests. Everyone in his temple says, “Majestic!”

10 The Lord sits enthroned over the engulfing waters, / The Lord sits enthroned as the eternal king.
11 The Lord gives his people strength; / The Lord grants his people security.

Cameron B.R. Howard writes: "Three powerful elements of creation -- waters, woods, and fire -- are pitted against the voice (or, translated more generically, 'sound') of the Lord. God is unmatched by the might of any of them. In Canaanite religion the god Baal was envisioned as a storm-god, a 'cloud-rider,' and this psalm is clearly indebted to that description. ...

In this psalm we are not, however, to see God as the cause of such destructive natural forces; rather, in order to understand the totality of God's power, we observe the world around us. When we have noted the most powerful forces we can see, we know: the voice of the LORD is all of this together, yet even more. God's power as manifested in the confrontations with elements of creation in verses 3-9 goes hand-in-hand with God's dominion. Not only is God as powerful as all of these; God controls all these. The 'voice of the LORD' stanzas provide evidence for why God should be praised. At the end of verse 9, then, having been presented with this evidence, there is nothing left but for all in God's temple to say, 'Majestic' (or 'Glory'), just as verses 1-2 have implored."

At Jesus' inauguration, celebrated this Sunday, the same Voice of the Lord is heard, confirming  Jesus as the Son of God.  By assigning Psalm 29, our lectionary helps us make the connection.

That insistent and often misunderstood voice is still speaking.  Whoever has ears, let them hear!

Still he comes within us;
Still his voice would win us
From the sins that hurt us,
Would to truth convert us
From our foolish errors
Ere he comes in terrors.

(Once He Came in Blessing St. 2)