The Practice of Praise

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You praise the heartbreaking beauty of Jessye Norman singing the Vier Letzte Lieder of Richard Strauss. You praise the new puppy for making its offering on the lawn for once instead of on the living-room rug. Maybe you yourself are praised for some generous thing you have done. In each case, the praise that is handed out is a measured response. It is a matter of saying something to one degree or another complimentary, with the implication that if Jessye Norman’s voice had sprung a leak or the puppy hadn’t made it outside in time or your generous deed turned out to be secretly self-serving, a different sort of response altogether would have been called for.

flowers on hill 4 copyThe way Psalm 148 describes it, praising God is another kettle of fish altogether. It is about as measured as a volcanic eruption, and there is no implication that under any conceivable circumstances it could be anything other than what it is. The whole of creation is  on the act—the sun and moon, the sea, fire and snow, Holstein cows and white-throated sparrows, old men in walkers and children who still haven’t taken their first step. Their praise is not chiefly a matter of saying anything, because most of creation doesn’t deal in words. Instead, the snow whirls, the fire roars, the Holstein bellows, the old man watches the moon rise. Their praise is not something that at their most complimentary they say, but something that at their truest they are.

We learn to praise God not by paying compliments, but by paying attention. Watch how the trees exult when the wind is in them. Mark the utter stillness of the great blue heron in the swamp. Listen to the sound of the rain. Learn how to say “Hallelujah” from the ones who say it right.

–Frederick Buechner

 

 

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