“The Jordan ran backward.” (114:3)
As the city of Chicago grew in the late 1800’s, it relied heavily on Lake Michigan for drinking water. The pollution-laden Chicago river dumped its sewage into the lake, contributing to public health problems like cholera and typhoid fever. In 1900, an agency of the State of Illinois, using a series of canal locks from Lake Michigan to the Des Plaines river, increased the flow from Lake Michigan and reversed the flow of the Chicago river away from the lake. Ultimately, this water drained into the Mississippi River and into the Gulf of Mexico. One of the greatest engineering feats of its time ensured that Chicago would take a place among the great cities of the United States.
“A wind passes by and it is no more.” (103:16)
Matter cannot be destroyed, let the mightiest features of the earth will eventually be worn away by the action of the wind, water, and the movement of the tectonic plates. I remember flying in and out of New York City back in the 80’s and 90’s and taking in the stunning view of the skyscrapers of Manhattan. I used to fantasize about New York being allowed to go back to its natural state of forest and meadow, and wonder how many years it would take before the twin towers of the World Trade Center would be overtaken by vines and slowly collapse in decay, never dreaming that one day soon the evil of human beings would taken them down in a matter of hours.
“All the trees of the forest shall shout for joy!” (96:12)
Obviously, this verse is not literally true. Trees do not shout, trees do not experience joy. How, though, might we understand this as metaphorical truth? How do trees experience the presence of God? The Divine Presence, in the form of gentle rain, causes trees to grow and turn green. In the form of hurricanes, tornadoes, and severe thunderstorms, it snaps branches and pulls trees out of the ground. Severe heat and drought, understood as the absence of God’s presence, causes trees to turn brown. Trees depends on the natural world no less than we do to provide a livable ecosystem.
“The ocean sounds its thunder.” (93:3)
Those of us who spend our lives on dry land enjoy the sense of moving about on a surface which moves so slowly as to be imperceptible most of the time. It doesn’t take too much time on a small boat to realize that most of the surface of the planet is literally fluid, moving about in somewhat predictable but generally uncontrollable ways. It is a great metaphor for the human life. We want to live in stable, controlled environments, but every once in a while the ocean roars and overturns our carefully constructed lives. At that point, all we can do is hang on and ride the wave.
“How very deep are Your designs!” (92:6)
Ask anyone who has been treated for cancer or another serious illness — the design of the human body is complex and when something goes wrong, the treatment throws other parts of the body system out of balance. When all is working, the system is a coordinated ballet of organs and circulation doing their job in perfectly balanced harmony. The design of every replicating entity, from the tiniest virus to a single-celled organism to plant and animal life is beautiful and miraculous in its design.