An Orchestra of Possibilities (Psalm 150)


Praise God in his holy house of worship,
    praise him under the open skies;
Praise him for his acts of power,
    praise him for his magnificent greatness;
Praise with a blast on the trumpet,
    praise by strumming soft strings;
Praise him with castanets and dance,
    praise him with banjo and flute;
Praise him with cymbals and a big bass drum,
    praise him with fiddles and mandolin.
Let every living, breathing creature praise God!

The Book of Psalms finishes with a flourish that fairly leaps from the page. It’s a comprehensive call to praise whoever you are, whenever and wherever you can, with whatever you can get hold of!

So we praise both “in his holy house of worship” AND “under the open skies.” Some would make a false distinction, over-emphasising the one in comparison to the other, but it cannot be so. If God is God, then the whole earth is His,and there can be no split between what we decide is “sacred” and what is “secular.” If everything is truly His, then praise is appropriate everywhere.

For “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19). No wonder we praise Him under the open skies! Phil Wickham wrote:

 “I see Your face in every sunrise
The colors of the morning are inside Your eyes
The world awakens in the light of the day
I look up to the sky and say
You’re beautiful.”

And these are “acts of power” and demonstrations of Hismagnificent greatness.” Everywhere I look, I see reasons to shake my head in wonder at the God of creation. We live overlooking a lovely river, and right now I’m sitting quietly here in the night, with no sound but the ticking of a clock, and the rushing gurgle of a river in flood. It’s glorious. And the truth is, that every part and prospect of God’s created order is exquisite.

So how do we respond? The psalm gives us an orchestra of possibilities, because the range of responses is as manifold as the range of “acts of power” and demonstrations of magnificent greatness” to which we are responding!  So we sometimes need “a blast on the trumpet,”  a strong declarative statement, like that chorus declaring “How great is our God!” And other times, we “praise by strumming soft strings.”  God sometimes speaks in a “still, small voice” only when all the drama and frenzy is done,  doesn’t He? 

There is a time for declaration and a time for meditation too.

And what about other expressions of praise?

“Praise him with… 
    praise him with…
Praise him with…
    praise him with… “

Perhaps the writer is saying: “The possibilities are endless! Use your imagination!” Our praise can be narrative, interpretive, physical, performance-art (“castanets and dance“).  It can be comedic or mellow (“banjo and flute“); dramatic and rhythmic (“cymbals and a big bass drum”). And “fiddles and mandolin”? It can even be a céilidh! Praise the Lord!

Think of all those musical terms (which I have, handily, in a book right here) which govern the mode in which the music is presented. And think of this river too, as a metaphor for the endless varieties of the way we praise…

“Always…the river itself, always flowing but always different, like the water flowing in the river, sometimes walking steadily along andante, sometimes surging over rapids furioso, sometimes meandering with hardly any visible movement tranquilo, lento, pianissimo, sometimes gurgling giacoso with pleasure, sometimes sparkling brillante in the sun, sometimes lacrimoso, sometimes appassionato, sometimes misterioso, sometimes pesante, sometimes legato, sometimes staccato, sometimes sospirando, sometimes vivace, and always, I hope, amoroso…”

That’s Aidan Chambers, in his book This is All. It’s a powerful expression of the orchestra of possibilities available when we answer the summons to praise God.

And who answers the summons? “Let every living, breathing creature praise God!”  Maybe the psalmist didn’t know about whalesong, but he would have known as well as we of the instinctive urge of God’s creatures to sing their hearts out. Listen to Colin Thieles, describing the humble magpie: “A magpie can be happy or sad: sometimes so happy that he sits on a high, high gum tree and rolls the sunrise around in his throat like beads of pink sunlight; and sometimes so sad that you would expect the tears to drip off his beak.”

As Cole Porter put it (in a somewhat different context): “Birds do it, bees do it. Even educated fleas do it. Let’s do it…”

“Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord!”

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