The Lord is king! Let the earth rejoice;
let the many coastlands be glad!
Clouds and thick darkness are all around him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
Fire goes before him,
and consumes his adversaries on every side.
His lightnings light up the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
before the Lord of all the earth...
The heavens proclaim his righteousness;
and all the peoples behold his glory…
The Book of Psalms is the Bible’s hymnal. Compiled over hundreds of years, it is nearly impossible to discover the exact time and place of its writing. The psalms are timeless pieces of poetry, speaking of a people’s wonderment, worship, and struggle through the ages.
Psalm 97 is a celebratory one, and it just so happens to have been one of the psalms assigned for this Tuesday’s Daily Office. It speaks of a God who rests in “clouds and thick darkness,” and of how the whole created order—fire and lightning; mountains and heavens—reveal the glory behind the veil. It invites us to worship a God whose power and might are simply incomprehensible.
We have come far from the agrarian setting in which this psalm was likely written. Stand in the middle of the desert, however—say, on Mount Sinai, the place rumored to be the very spot where Moses received the Law—and you can get a sense of what moved these poets into fits of wonder and praise. Regardless of how our technological advances shield us from the elements, it doesn’t take much to remind us of the beauty and terror of creation.
This coming Sunday, we will celebrate a baptism. I like to remind people that water is an ambiguous symbol, as far as the sacraments go: just as it symbolizes life, it can also point to realities and powers beyond our control. (Think of what water can do during a hurricane, or take a look at what it has accomplished over millennia in the Grand Canyon.) We worship a God of great, and at-times frightening, power—and we trust that, at the end of the day, this God is indeed a God for us. A God who will stand by our side.
Thank God for that. A God hidden in cloud and darkness… and yet also one whose final word is always mercy.
—Fr. JavierTags: From the Clergy, Hope for the Journey