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The Lord our Light: Praying together with the Psalms 9

Written by Graham Ward, posted on Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Edmund NeweyIn these extraordinary times, as our nation and our world face the unprecedented challenge of the Coronavirus epidemic, our first task is naturally to support and enable the efforts of frontline staff tackling the disease and supporting those who have fallen ill. As we engage in every way we can with their work, we as Christians turn for guidance to God, in whom we have our origin and our end.

Here at Christ Church the book of Psalms – the prayer book of the Bible, as it is sometimes called – sustains our daily worship, now as always. Public worship is no longer an option, but the cathedral clergy here are maintaining the daily round of prayer and warmly encourage you to share in the spiritual communion that prayer makes possible across all boundaries of time and space.

At the core of this work of prayer the psalms voice the cry of our hearts to God. With this in mind the ministry team here is sharing one psalm each day with an accompanying reflection. Recalling the University of Oxford’s motto, Dominus illuminatio mea – ‘The Lord is my light’ – we pray that, together, we may know God’s strength, encouragement and blessing in this time of need.

‘The Lord is my light, and my salvation; whom then shall I fear: the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?’ (Psalm 27:1)

Canon Edmund Newey, Sub Dean

Psalm 29 

Bring unto the Lord, O ye mighty, bring young rams unto the Lord * 
 ascribe unto the Lord worship and strength. 
Give the Lord the honour due unto his Name * 
 worship the Lord with holy worship. 
It is the Lord, that commandeth the waters * 
 it is the glorious God, that maketh the thunder. 
It is the Lord, that ruleth the sea; the voice of the Lord is mighty in operation * 
 the voice of the Lord is a glorious voice. 
The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedar-trees * 
 yea, the Lord breaketh the cedars of Libanus. 
He maketh them also to skip like a calf * 
 Libanus also, and Sirion, like a young unicorn. 
The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire; the voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness * 
 yea, the Lord shaketh the wilderness of Cades. 
The voice of the Lord maketh the hinds to bring forth young, and discovereth the thick bushes * 
 in his temple doth every man speak of his honour. 
The Lord sitteth above the water-flood * 
 and the Lord remaineth a King for ever. 
The Lord shall give strength unto his people * 
 the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace. 

Cloudy skyScholars tell us this is probably the most ancient of the psalms. It is based on, or perhaps a priestly response to, a hymn to the storm god, Baal, composed in Ugaritic. But as a psalm it celebrates God as the creator of all things, echoing the opening of Genesis: ‘The voice of the Lord is upon the waters (v.3).’ 

This is not a remote God outlying the universe, but a living God working within what is created to nurture and tend (‘The voice of the Lord maketh the hinds to calve’); imbuing each of the elements with the breath of life – water and fire, the air we breathe and earth we stand on. 

Repeatedly, the agency of divine creativity (again like the word in Genesis that calls creation forth from nothing) is the voice. The call of God and from God is returned back to God in worship (v.2) and praise (v.9). The call is, then, not only written into every order of creation (from mountains and rivers, to trees and animal life), it is also within us.

Unlike Baal, the despotic overlord, our God is intimate; more intimate than we are to ourselves. We are part of the call, voicing the voice. The psalm itself is a voicing of the voice, and it speaks of the ‘beauty of holiness’ and the glory of God’s presence with us that fills those in the temple (and the temple itself). Worship is not just our response to the gift of creation, it is also a participation in God, speaking to God through God about God. In that worship lies all our strength, blessing and peace (v.11).  

Graham Ward