A Sunday Morning Meditation
“The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic.” Psalm 29:2
I was sitting right here, as I remember. If I wasn’t looking into a computer screen, I was seated just slightly left of where I am now, at my desk, writing something or other. My wife was at work. Our children, middle-school-age-ish, were upstairs just rubbing the sleepers out of their eyes. Nine a.m. It was summer. No school.
I don’t remember bad weather brewing, don’t remember hearing some terrifying forecast. I had no idea something was coming, didn’t see it out of my little basement window. When it hit, I ran outside, and I remember this clearly: it wasn’t raining. It must have been some rogue thundercloud looking to wreak havoc.
What I do remember is something brittle and crackling suddenly lacing the air, even though I was a block away. That bolt of lightning electrified everything the neighborhood, burned out the cable TV box in our backyard when it zapped the cottonwood in a neighbor’s yard a block away. Thunder shook the windows when it came, but I’ll never forget the way, suddenly, the hairs on the back of my neck actually rose with the flash. I may have lit up myself.
A moment later, everyone was outside, including my kids and me. The tree, for the most part, was gone. Cottonwoods grow like weeds, and their wood is hardly worth burning. They’re messy and soft; give me oak any day. But the buffalo loved them because their craggy bark gave a memorable massage. In the mid-nineteenth century, cottonwoods in ravines and river flats were often turtle-necked at the base by foot-deep buffalo fur. And homesteaders raised them prodigiously; they grew abundantly in the otherwise treeless ocean of grass. Cottonwoods have history on the Plains.
In a moment, however, in the twinkling of an eye, this one, a tall senior citizen of the neighborhood, was history. It blew up. Someone explained to me later that when that potent shard of electrical current fingered it, its sap cooked so quickly that the cottonwood literally exploded.
A chunk of branch got blown with such velocity that it went through the wall of a garage 200 feet away. Everywhere you looked there was debris, the street littered with shards of wood. When, later, someone came by with a chain saw, the only sizeable chunk left to slice was the nine-foot jagged stump. Most of the rest was soda crackers.
When, later, I returned to my basement study, I don’t remember writing a thing about that lightning blast. I don’t know that I ever have before right now. No one got hurt; the old cottonwood had already seen its better days, and the neighbors weren’t that sad about its passing. By afternoon TVs were back on and the streets were clean.
But something of the shock and awe of that blast of lightning will never leave me. I don’t ever remember feeling exactly what I did that morning, a block away, when it hit, that strange crackling current as palpable as wind, electrifying the whole basement. I don’t know that I remember much else of that long-ago summer.
Lightning and thunder, David tells his royal buddies in Psalm 29—those are things you can’t do. Not only that, if it doesn’t kill you, a good, heavy bolt of the stuff will scare the bejeebees out of you.
That, he reminds them, is the voice of the Lord, and don’t you ever forget it.