“Praise the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God,
you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty.”
We stumbled through Chicago, via its interstate system. We thought to avoid rush hour traffic by coming through the city mid-morning—and on a weekend. No matter. Those of us not accustomed to spending wholesome chunks of our day in traffic find unending traffic snarls infuriating. All the way through—from the Indiana border to the Wisconsin state line—we were locked in.
Just a stone’s throw off those angry highways, people were laughing and singing, watching soccer games and eating fresh, crisp salads. I know that. Dogs were chasing frisbees, and park pools were teeming with happy kids. But on the road, those highways were anything but super. The rush—which wasn’t--actually made me want to sing “Home on the Range,” top of my voice, in shameful self-righteousness.
If Psalm 104 didn’t include so much about the sea, I’d like to think of it as a tune belonging to a cowboy because in its range and vision this panorama of a psalm suggests a writer sitting beneath a big sky, the kind one can’t see from bottle-necked traffic, nor from city life itself (or so it seems to this country boy). Which is not to say that all many farmers hum Psalm 104 in their air-conditioned cabs while they pull half-million dollar combines.
But I can visualize the splendor and majesty of the God of verse one best in nature. I suppose I could find him on a busy city street too, in the sheer breathlessness of immense human activity. But, like the Psalmist, I prefer a broad and open world. Give me a partly cloudy dawn from a chunk of highland prairie, and I’ll point out a landscape that defines his splendor and glory.
But not long ago I heard a Lakota healer talk about addiction, particularly alcoholism. He said that the indigenous way of dealing with significant problems was, basically, to honor them, because anything that carries the wallop of alcohol should not be hidden away but given a spiritual existence by acknowledging it, honoring it, even making it a relative. In the words of the healer, “you ask it to be your teacher.” When he himself did that, he said, alcohol became, in his view, the greatest teacher he ever had.
At that point in his description, it seemed clear that this man’s Lakota ways had morphed into verifiable human truth, his culture had become all cultures. The Chinese character for crisis, I’m told, contains both danger and opportunity. If our curses can become blessings, then it’s completely understandable how the horrors of alcoholism could become, for him and for all of us, deep and abiding inspiration.
It seems clear to me that the person who is not sorry for the things he or she has done wrong will never understand forgiveness—and thus, more significantly, grace. But this morning, listening to that Lakota healer talk about his alcoholism, I was given a different kind of vision of God’s glory and radiance, his splendor and majesty, for in him alone can we find dancing even within our mourning—and that’s majestic. He uses our sin, the very worst of what we are, to teach us his grace.
In his splendor, even those loathful traffic jams can morph into emerald landscapes and unending azure skies.
As the Psalmist says in the opening line of this memorable psalm of praise, you are, Lord, very, very great.