The Blessed One does not stand in need of our praise;
nor sits impatiently, impudently, awaiting our
genuflection; nor strides restively, demandingly,
threateningly, toward our cowering pose.
No, none of this. There is no protection to be warranted by
proper groveling, calculated flattery, sustained applause,
pleading curtsies or bargaining bows.
It is, rather, we who need to praise. By it we transcend
self-serving ways. By it beggarly egos loosen their grip;
anxious trembling and toil, stilled and rested; fury, calmed;
moans, soothed; regrets, unknotted.
The Holy One of Heaven doesn’t do booster clubs or
sign autographs or make grand entrances at charity balls—
or acknowledge the sky-pointed, victory-claiming index
fingers of star athletes at moments of triumph.
God is not Number One. God is not an integer. God can
no more be counted than the eye can see its optic nerve.
It is by ebullient praise that we become transparent. By it
we send our presumptuousness packing. From it we readily
marshal every asset and place them under the command of
Another—Another, we discover, who is not alien to us, is
not other-than, but is in us, through us, above, under and
around us, who is with us as breath-to-lungs, blood-to-heart.
What feels at first like submission, we come to recognize,
finally, as being at home, where we are welcomed and
prized progeny to be feted, feasted, and royally attired.
In that union all that was broken is mended, all that was
stained is cleansed, all that was doubted rests confident,
all that was down-hearted finds its hallelujah. We become
as lovers to the Beloved. The weighty worries that previously
occupied us, even terrorized us, are disclosed as so much falderal.
Personally, praise is like Pilates for the soul, countering the
constriction of tendons and rusty joints, allowing freedom of
movement and off-road adventures.
Publicly, praise is prelude to undoing
every slaver’s chain,
every gallow’s threat,
every monopoly’s reign.
The work of praise in the tent of meeting—worship, where
questions of worth are determined and competing claims of power
decided—begins in the labor of lament.
How long, O Lord (the psalmist’s persistent introit),
will soul and soil be anguished and troubled?
the wicked prosper?
injustice stalk its prey?!
Glory to God, announced the angels, and on earth, peace.
Mother Mary then magnified the Lord for scattering the
proud and lifting the lowly.
All praise is due to Allah,
says the ancient crier (peace and blessings be upon him),
who delivered us from the unjust people.
Praise to Heaven portending peace for the earth.
Praise is equally personal and public. It grows rote and rank
when privatized for self-stimulation or adherence to pious rigor.
It grows toxic when utilized as a tool for social coherence.
Fully-blossomed, it loses all instrumental intent and rises
“as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.”*
The work of praise is both promise and provocation. By it we
are simultaneously lifted to the ecstasy of beatific vision and
launched into a world which fears doxology above all else.
Sing praise, all ye people.
Clap your hands, ye meadows,
mountains, forests and fountains.
Magnify, ye birds and bees,
creatures of seas, every lion and lamb—
even you, Uncle Sam.
©Ken Sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org.
*Phrase from Kahlil Gibran, “On Giving”