Tuesday, June 29, 2021 (Day 29)
Katie Snipes Lancaster
Psalm 29 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
The Lord’s voice is over the waters.
The God of glory thunders.
The Lord is over the mighty waters.
The Lord’s voice in power,
the Lord’s voice in majesty,
the Lord’s voice breaking cedars,
the Lord shatters the Lebanon cedars,
and makes Lebanon dance like a calf,
Sirion like a young wild ox.
An Opening Word
Psalm 29 imagines God’s voice, glory, power, and majesty over water and land: God’s voice booms, essentially across all that is. Above I included the passage from Psalm 29 about the cedars of Lebanon, often symbolic of the lofty, but geographically Lebanon also serves as the northern border of Israel. A few verses later the Psalmist mentions the Wilderness of Kadesh down on the southern border of Israel (eastern Sinai). So we first geolocate God’s voice over water and land and then geographically (and geopolitically) at the northern and southernmost border of ancient Israel. Just as we instinctively know the wide expansive metaphoric scope of Woody Guthrie’s “from the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream Waters,” the ancient near eastern readers of Psalm 29 would have envisioned their whole world under God’s voice upon hearing mention of the cedars of Lebanon and the Wilderness of Kadesh. How would you write a psalm like this today? From Lake Avenue to the Botanic Garden? From Lake Michigan to the Mississippi? From the rainforest to the ice caps? From the Milky Way to the Andromeda Galaxy?
Mystic Thomas á Kempis on the other hand, inverts the paradigm and instead of focusing on the expansiveness of God, he turns inward looking for God within, with the ultimate goal of union with Jesus Christ. Born in what is now Germany in 1379, Thomas á Kempis became a brethren of the Common Life, a monastic order focused on education and care for the poor. He did not dedicate his life however, to the physical care of the poor, but instead found deep spiritual impact in the work of copying manuscripts for the widespread system of libraries and choirs. Such introspective work with texts took him further inward, and he wrote a highly influential text called “The Imitation of Christ,” which uses simple language to express a spiritual Christ-centered life. Intensely personal, he advocates against materialism and consumerism, and champions humble, simple devotion to Christ (as his book title suggests, he pioneers this idea of imitating Christ). Below is not so much a prayer, but a way of understanding love, but such love can draw us deep into the presence of God.
Prayer from the Mystics: Thomas à Kempis (1379–1471)
By itself, love makes everything that is heavy, light;
and it bears evenly all that is uneven.
It carries a burden which is no burden,
and makes everything that is bitter, sweet and tasteful.