The writer Annie Lamott observed that there are three basic prayers: “Help!” Thanks!” and “Wow.” She wrote a book about it.
Scripture attests to that as well, especially in the psalter. But it reorders Annie’s list a bit. “Help!” certainly comes first in most people’s experiences, and “Thanks!” certainly follows. But “Wow,” as an expression of wonder, seems most appropriate and necessary as the middle. We pray for God’s help; God rides in clothed in might and yet hearing our humble, often unsteady plea, assuring us that no need is too small for God’s notice; and after that brush of divine presence, then we give thanks.
This morning, we hear of the glory and wonder of God in Psalm 29. If you step back, and look at Psalm 28, you find a plea for help. In Psalm 30, you find thanksgiving for help. Psalm 29, one of the oldest psalms, declares God’s power and glory.
The first surprise to most listeners is that this psalm mentions other gods, sometimes translated as “heavenly beings” or “mighty ones.” It’s plausible. But what if, as Calvin translated, “gods” instead means mighty rulers here on Earth, those who think they are god-like? Then this psalm could be looked at as a call for humility in the face of divine power, to “know our place” within the created order.
We are compelled here, to recover the “wow!” within our lives, especially our spiritual lives, a welcome reminder. Many people, both within and without communities of faith, have lost a sense of wonder and awe in the world around us. Especially as adults, we too often are prone to try to explain away or domesticate mystery in our lives, to brush it off in an attempt to declare ourselves the masters of our surroundings.
Even in our spiritual lives.
Too often, we try to put God into a nice tiny little box—maybe only polishing God up and bringing God out on Sundays or special occasions. If we do think about God’s power, it’s often only when we are in trouble, and want God to “save” us. Yet even there, we try to erect fences around our relationship with God. Save us—give us help– but please don’t demand anything of too unguarded of us as we go about our busy, world-focused lives.
Yet God will have none of it, as we are reminded of God’s power in Psalm 29. God’s mere voice is emphasized again and again as a physical force that reordered nature—which is only logical for the One who spoke creation into being from disorder. Psalm 29 tells us God’s voice is one of splendor and explosive force. We hear the repeated descriptions of the power of that voice, nine times over in these few direct verses.
How does one respond to such an awesome reminder of God’s wondrous might? The psalm reminds us that our proper response to God is “Wow!” Listen, for in verse 9: “And in the temple of the Lord, all are crying, ‘Glory!’” And then the psalm concludes by predicting the saving help of God, leading to the deliverance gratefully received in Psalm 30.
We sometime do not know how to pray, or the words we think we need. Psalm 29 reminds us not to worry about that. Just recover the sense of awe and wonder that is in the middle of all our encounters with the Holy One, who loves us enough to call us again and again, and that is more than enough.
Help! Wow! Thanks!
The center of prayer is the embrace of wonder and awe.
The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire is a writer, musician, and a priest in the Diocese of Missouri. She is rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Ellisville, MO. She posts daily prayers, meditations, and sermons at her blog Abiding In Hope, and collects spiritual writings and images at Poems, Psalms, and Prayers.