Psalm 29, 10 Jan 21

The voice of God is a constant and powerful theme in this psalm — thundering over the mighty waters, shaking the wilderness, breaking cedars or flashing forth in flames.

The psalmist (said to be David) assures us that through all the elemental turbulence of life, the divine spirit reigns supreme.

Voices are distinctive. A familiar voice from someone out of sight is usually easy to recognise and identify. There is no need to analyse the pattern of frequencies, the combination of harmonics, or the different degrees of resonance. The subconscious sifts.

The psalms, poetic and mystical though they may be, are full of voices. The fact that we do not always immediately identify them may be something to do with familiarity but also because they are indeed poetical and mystical, not physical or spoken. In the business of daily life we seldom pull up short and say: ‘That’s a heavenly voice speaking.’

These days, voices frequently heard are those of political arrogance, religious friction, the rich getting richer, vigorous and exclusive nationalism and faint calls for assistance to the suppressed. While such evidence seems to support the ‘God is dead’ theory, much of it is the bad news, unbalanced if not fake, served up by commercial interests to a readership hungry for the sensational.

Where is the voice of God in all this? At the personal, local and community level, optimism and inspiration are still alive, as many readers will attest. The psalmist, in this Psalm 29 said to be David, is in no doubt that a sovereign creator, a dominant eternal divine influence, watches supreme and glorious across the world. In the previous psalm, David lamented the press of wickedness that we hear about abundantly today. Here, however, God’s powerful voice speaks through a vibrant, energetic, beautiful environment.

John Greenleaf Whittier‘s prayer “Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire, O still, small voice of calm” suggests the need to be attuned to the environment — natural, social and cultural, as well as the flow of our internal thoughts. Then, the psalmist seeks more than just hearing. The final verse of Psalm 29 is a prayer:

May God give strength to the people! May God bless them with peace!

🎵

Voces 8 have a fine recording of Unsere Väter hofften auf dich by Johannes Brahms. Nice as it is, it’s really a motet built on a verse or two from Psalms 22 and verse 11 from Psalm 29; so hardly representative of the full text.

Spanish singers will enjoy Psalms for All Seasons 29B. For for the rest of us 29D, a responsorial setting, is the best choice. It also offers two different refrain texts and tunes.

Finally, Together in Song 17 is a chant with double tone from Christopher Willcock, the refrain quoting the final verse quoted above.

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