By Ken Sehested
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 magnifies 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.