“But at your rebuke the waters fled,
at the sound of your thunder they took to flight;
they flowed over the mountains,
they went down into the valleys,
to the place you assigned for them.” Psalm 104:7
To record all of this, there would have to be a helicopter running for centuries on solar power, I suppose. It could be positioned almost anywhere; but I would choose some place on the eastern edge of the Rockies, where I’d position that whirlybird a mile high or more and start the camera rolling in time-lapse mode.
One can only imagine. An endless sea shakes out waves rhythmically, when suddenly, unperceptively at first, a mountain begins to emerge, jagged, triangular. Years pass, and that single peak is surrounded by a host of younger siblings, all of them rising until that sea forms waterways that rush with tidal-like power.
We’re a long way from the Plains, from the flat land, but if that camera pans east, it catches the way the water bellies down over a region where there are no silhouettes—or none so startling as the peaks beneath us, now hugely revealed.
We don’t have that huge of a camera, so the helicopter sallies off in that direction, where the water levels out and recedes from land, then falls into crevices, cracks, and fissures, and ten thousand lakes in a place someone will call, an age or three from now, Minnesota. A vast network—a spider web—of rivers push the land into valleys and settle in, as permanently as anything can in nature.
It’s time-lapse photography, but the phenomenon is stupefying. All that water settles into routine, that mass of chaos into order.
That’s what the psalmist sees. There, to the east, the Mississippi widens, while beneath us the Missouri, the Mud, spatters on south. Everywhere from this height, myriad meandering tributaries have formed, lifelines on your hands. And it all works. Land has been called into being from a vast sea, and that immense space is veined with life, with rivers.
I know scientists who would laugh at the film we just shot because the whole process didn’t happen in the manner we’ve just now caught on tape. There were vast seas all right—and there were frozen, vast seas. There was an ice age or two, and immense bulldozing glaciers. And there was mystery.
I don’t think the poet has it right, scientifically. The psalmist knew very little geology, had no clue about glaciers or aquifers. But when he sat in his helicopter and recorded what he saw, the images arranged themselves in such a way as to form the face of the Creator right before his eyes. That much he caught dead-on.
When the first Dutch folks wandered up to northwest Iowa, they determined what would be their land by setting in the requisite stakes. But once it was all official, they brought their families, one of the first things they did was cut back the tall prairie grass to the rivers because the only way they'd know where they were in that sea of grass was by way the rivers.
Because the heavens declare the glory of God, all nations hear the sermons. Psalm 104 is how the psalmist thinks about the preaching God does in land and sea all around.
And I, for one, am blessed by what he sees of God’s own world around him, and thankful for his gift, in part because I know what’s in his heart and soul—because I've seen rivers too, and I've listened too to what he hears and sees of the Creator.