Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Write a Poem of the Wilderness

Of all the creatures both in sea and land


Only to Man thou has made known thy ways,


And put the pen alone into his hand,


And made him Secretary of thy praise.




-- George Herbert




C.S. Lewis once suggested that we might best imagine praise by thinking of our instinctive response to a great work of art or music or extraordinary beauty in any form. The natural response is to enjoy the beauty, and then go announce it to others. "Did you just see that shooting star? It lit up the sky!" "My newborn daughter is so beautiful." "The U2 concert was so moving, it gave me goosebumps."


When the ancient Hebrews encountered something beautiful or majestic, their natural response was not to contemplate the scene or to analyze it, but rather to praise God for it and maybe write a poem. Authors of the psalms, especially David, had an advantage over us in their praise because of their closer tie to the natural world. Reverence for the natural world shines through many of his poems (Psalms 8,
19,
23,
29,
33).
Psalms shows the world as a whole that fits together because a personal God is watching over it.

When I spent my time in the wilderness a few years ago, I was overcome with awe at the Creator's handiwork, overcome with God's grandeur and worthiness. It was something I experienced even as a kid, looking through picture books of the cosmos at beautiful galaxies, mysterious planets, and other celestial exotica. And there I was in the middle of cosmos, on a side of mountain at night, with a meteor shower all around. God put on a show before my senses, and I delighted in his presence.

Wilderness brings us to a level we'd prefer to forget: our creatureliness. It shouts to our senses the splendor of an invisible, untamable God. The world cannot contain the delight God inspires. "Shout for joy to the LORD , all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music" (98:4). Nature herself must join in: "Let the rivers clap their hands,
Let the mountains sing together for joy"(98:8).

In praise, the creature happily acknowledges that everything good and true and beautiful in the universe comes from the Creator. Dietrich Bonhoeffer suggests that the psalms are God's language course. Just as infants learn the mother tongue from their parents, Christians can learn the language of prayer, the language with which one speaks to God, from Psalms.

Worship is the strategy by which we interrupt our preoccupation with ourselves and attend to the presence of God.



-- Eugene Peterson



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