praise him in the firmament of his power.
Praise him for his mighty acts;
praise him for his excellent greatness.
Praise him with the blast of the ram’s horn;
Praise him with lyre and harp.
Praise him with timbrel and dance;
Praise him with strings and pipe.
Praise him with resounding cymbals;
Praise him with loud-clanging cymbals.
Let everything that has breath
Praise the Lord. Hallelujah!
(Psalm 150, Book of Common Prayer translation)
There is a classic formula for Christian prayer whose acronym in ACTS: Adoration, Confession,
Thanksgiving, Supplication. (Some versions include a separate category for Intercession, which
Is otherwise included as part of Supplication–or as I prefer to call it, Petition.)
I have never really understood the need for Adoration. “Why does God need our praise?” I
wondered. Surely such a thing is superfluous. Which, of course, only illustrates how easy it is
(for me) to know something without bringing (my) knowledge to bear.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised. (Ps. 145:3)
Earlier this week, while preparing for intercessory prayer with the Franciscan Crown Rosary (a
practice I wrote about in my last entry) I decided that my usual modes of address at the
beginning of a prayer were becoming more than a little pat. So I cast around for some other ways
to address the Eternal: All-Pervading Energy, Ground of Being, Source of the Universe, Fountain
of All Being…there were many more, but I can’t remember them now because I very quickly
entered an exalted state as my efforts to put God’s reality into words brought me a fresh, vivid
sense of the unfathomable vastness of that reality. Praising God–which any meaningful form of
address to the Divine will almost necessarily be–brought home to me the hitherto purely
intellectual knowledge that “in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)
Here’s an example: I used to require students–non-music-majors–to attend a live musical
performance and describe what they heard. Most often, whet I got instead of descriptions were
labels: heavy metal, techno and the like. When I’d insist on actual descriptions of musical
parameters like volume, rhythm, melody and timbre, they’d object that, as non-music-majors,
they weren’t able to talk about music in that way. This, I maintained, is untrue; you needn’t have
access to specialized jargon–just use your own words.
She had me there, so I applied myself to describing what I tasted without recourse to jargon.
“Well…on top, it kind of tastes like flowers.”
Holy Moly, I thought: Distinct floral notes!
“But underneath, I can taste herbs.”
Hey—would that be “herbal undertones”?
Two remarkable things were happening as I tried to describe what I tasted: 1) I paid closer
attention to what I was drinking, and 2) the argot of professional wine critics began to make
sense for the first time. Phrases that had previously washed over me like some foreign language
suddenly yielded up their meaning as I verified their accuracy by experience.
That’s what praising God does: sharpens our attention to the Divine, and elucidates the
descriptions used by those who have gone before us. "The old words of grace are worn smooth
as poker chips,” wrote novelist Walker Percy, “and a certain devaluation has occurred, like a
poker chip after it has been cashed in." Groping for our own words restores the texture of the
I used to wonder why we should praise God, because I had forgotten a cardinal rule of prayer, as expressed by C.S. Lewis: “It doesn't change God- it changes me.” The more we dwell on God, the more surely we come to share in the Divine nature. “What we think,” said the Buddha, “we become.” And surely this is why Paul exhorted the Christians at Phillipi, saying:
…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. (Phillippians 4:8)