I am struck by the final image of this psalm – the image of waves crashing on the beach, waters crashing on rocks. I imagine the smell of the salt water, the feel of drops of water sprinkling my face, the roar like some ancient music calling me to peace. The Psalmist sees God as stronger, more powerful than this image.
For me this image is one of constancy and of peace, but for the Psalmist it is likely one of threat. The sea was the ever changing, the constant chaos which engulfed all things at the beginning of time and always stood at the ready to overflow all things if allowed. Upon its waters, mighty ship are shattered like kindling and in its depths even great heroes have drowned. Its ever changing, chaotic energy would not have necessarily been viewed as I view it as a source of life, the womb from which all life was birthed, but instead as the ultimate power of entropy, uncontainable, uncontrollable, and constant threat.
It is interesting to notice how one image can have such diametrically opposite meanings.
Yet to both the Psalmist and me this image of the roaring ocean waves is one before which we both feel small. It reminds us of our place in the universe – tiny sparks of life on a grain of dust circling but one twinkle of light in the great cosmos that is God’s night sky. One tiny strand in the great web of life. Small, and at times feeling quite powerless against the world.
Sometimes when I feel this way, like the Psalmist before the ocean waves I sit and am frightened. I remember when my wife had an event like a stroke and it caused both of us to change the whole course of our lives dramatically and all at once. It felt like mighty waves of change were buffeting me. It hurt to see her pain and not know if things would improve or get worse. Everything was changing so quickly. Her life held in the balance. My future seemed uncertain. I felt like the waves were knocking against us constantly without a chance to get a breath, let alone keep our heads above water.
It was at this time we started to attend the UCC in Chapel Hill that we do. I did not grow up with a church that treasures liturgy the way our UCC does, so at first the repeated prayers that were almost the same each week, the Gloria and Doxology we sang, seemed odd. But I remember one Sunday coming to worship, feeling particularly shaken and dragged by the waves of change when I came and found myself saying those repeated words of liturgy and feeling anchored, feeling as if I suddenly for a moment could have my soul be still. I was standing if but for the time I said those words upon a solid foundation. In that moment, I was reminded that though it feel like the waves of change and loss are all about me, even when I don’t see it or feel it there is One who is greater than those waves, who can speak and they be still, and who holds me even now.
I feel it is just such a reality the Psalmist is speaking to here as they say that God is greater than the storm and waves. God is the One who, against all logic, speaks and God’s Word holds the trembling worlds together.
And so when I face crisis of my health or the health of one I love, I can whisper “Praise God from whom all blessings flow,” and know that God will hold me through what comes. I can look at situations where work is uncertain, finances up in the air and say, “Praise God you creatures here below”, knowing the One who cares for the sparrow and the squirrel will not leave me abandoned in the cold. When I look and see discrimination against myself or others, oppression in our political and economic system, I can say “Praise God above you heavenly host,” knowing Christ shall set free. I can look with fear at the way in which we are wrecking our ecology, tearing asunder the very web of life that grants us breath, and whisper “Praise Creator, Son, and Holy Ghost”, knowing creation may groan in pains of childbirth, but it does so in hope.
Know whatever waves roar around you, you are held. You are loved. You are embraced.
Your progressive redneck preacher,