(Thinking about Lent 2B)
The psalm for this week begins “You who fear the Lord, praise him!” It’s a refrain heard frequently in the psalms, the fear of the Lord being seen as a good thing.
I’m reminded of the way Vizzini, in “The Princess Bride,” kept claiming that certain things were “Inconceivable!” until finally Inigo Montoya says, “I do not think you understand what that word means.”
What does fear mean to us? To me it means anxiety and terror, a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. It’s not a sensation that gets me into a praise-giving frame of mind or heart. If anything, fear separates me from what I understand God to be, when I am in my sane mind.
And so I have an edgy little fear reaction whenever the word fear comes up in the psalms.
I want to use a different word for the perception that inspires me to praise God. Awe, or maybe wonder. If you look in the thesaurus, you’ll find a connection between all these words, so it’s possible I’m being unfair to fear. Maybe it’s a perfectly lovely word that describes the — well, the awe we might feel in the presence of a force so powerful it created the universe. Certainly a right-minded person could feel fear, or even terror, in the face of the Creator, just from knowing what kind of power such a — here our words fall inadequate again — what kind of power such a POWER actually would have.
Paul Tillich called God the Ground of All Being, and that sounds so organic, so holistic, so universal; it inspires my awe and my wonder, but not my fear.
On a trip out west in 2001, I moved into a new world, seeing places I knew only from photographs and films. The air felt different, the sky seemed bigger, my lungs struggled to adapt. And in that place, that might as well have been Mars, I felt intense awe and deep wonder at the magnificence of the created world and the “hand” that brought about its making. I grew faint at Arches as my body adjusted to intense dry heat and elevations new to me. I stood at the rim of the Grand Canyon, speechless at the thought of the centuries, the millennia that must have passed in its making. I rode through Monument Valley contemplating the inland sea it may once have been, and had a crazy moment of feeling smothered by the waters, the mighty waters. The last stop was Bryce Canyon, where hikers become part of the rocky landscape, the wonder of aged beauty: pink, orange, coral, salmon, bisque and sand.
“You who wonder at Creation, praise God!”