Praising God

The question of praising and worshiping God came up the other night in the Interspirituality Discussion Group I have been facilitating over the last five weeks. A couple of people, more inclined toward a Buddhist practice, expressed discomfort with the idea that we “had to” praise or worship God.

It is true that worship or adoration is one of the basic types of Christian prayer. And St. Ignatius says in his Principle and Foundation that we are created to “praise, reverence, and serve God.”

But I think the discomfort some people have with the idea of praise or worship of God is seeing it as a “requirement,” as something we have to do to to appease God. As though God had an ego and would be annoyed with us if we didn’t stroke that ego sufficiently by telling him how great he is.

I don’t share a discomfort with praising or worshiping God because I think genuine praise and worship is the spontaneous response to God’s love and creation.

I shared with the group the other night something my daughter said to me one night when she was six or seven. When I was reminding Elena to say her prayers before bedtime one evening, she said, “You know, Mom, I don’t only pray at night. I pray at other times, too.” Intrigued, I asked her to give me an example. She replied: “Sometimes I ask Dad to drop me off at the end of our street so I can walk home the rest of the way. The other day he dropped me off and as I was walking I was noticing the sun and the trees and everything. The sun was shining and it was such a beautiful day that I just had to compliment God.”

I feel the same impetus my daughter described, sometimes when I stand at the edge of the ocean or in a forest or on a mountain, sometimes when I am driving to work and see a beautiful cloud formation, sometimes when I return to my seat in church afer receiving communion. The urge to praise, “to compliment God” – sometimes in words, sometimes in silence.

It is not about checking off a box to fulfill a requirement. It is not about soothing God’s ego. Just an expression of wonder, awe, and gratitude.


Canticle of the Creatures

Today is the feast day of a saint who is very special to me – St. Francis of Assisi. I’ve shared before how important Francis was to me during the time when I was moving back toward God and Catholicism from Buddhism.

Francis suffered greatly during the last two years of his life. He was sick and in pain, blind, and spent much of that time living in a small hut that was infested with mice. Yet, he managed to see through his pain and suffering and became aware of God’s presence surrounding him. And he came to understand that all he experienced, and everything in our world, is a reflection of God.

It was during this period that Francis composed his Canticle of the Creatures, more commonly referred to as the Canticle of Brother Son. Albert Hasse, OFM, called the canticle “Francis’ resurrection song in the face of his own Good Friday. In the saint’s gracious surrender to the cross and his act of fervent trust in God, agony became adoration, pain became praise, and suffering quite literally became song.”

Today, in honor of God’s humble servant Francis, let with pray with him:

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.

To you, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which you give your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you; through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace, for by you,
Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no living person can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy those she finds doing your most holy will. The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve him with great humility.

Glory Be to God

I love this time of year. We had the mildest winter since we’ve moved here this year, but still, spring is welcome. Dave has planted the herb and vegetables, flowers have been making their appearance, breezes no longer bring a chill. It is impossible not to smile on days like this.

I’ve mentioned before my love for the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. One of the poem of his that comes to mind on days like this, which I have hanging in my law school office, is Pied Beauty. I offer it as a sweet song of praise this morning.

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Praise God! And blessings on your day!

Praising God

The other day my friend Mark Osler raised with me the question of prayer that takes the form of praising God. Much Christian prayer, particularly among evangelicals, he observed is prayer of praise. For what purpose, he wondered? God certainly has no need of our praise, so what function does it serve?

I had one answer for Mark that morning and another one came to me during my morning prayer several days after our conversation.

What I said during our conversation is that I think praising God, disposes us toward God. That is, prayers of praise create an openness in us that helps us to hear God more clearly. So, although God is the object of our prayer, it is we, not God, who are the beneficiaries.

Another response struck me during my prayer one morning. I had been reflecting on something that caused me to spontaneously utter a prayer of praise to God. I was so… I actually don’t have a single word to insert int he blank space after “I was so ___” – because what prompted the spontaneous outburst of praise was not one thing but a combination of gratitude, joy and awe. And when something happens that generates that feeling of gratitude/joy/awe, there is no other response but praise. I didn’t sit down to pray a prayer of praise; it just came out.

I think that is what was going on in many of the psalms. I don’t think anyone said to the psalmist, “Hey, we need to praise God so could you come up with something.” Rather, the psalms of praise were spontaneously outpourings of a people experiencing something like the the range of emotions I experienced.

Does God need that praise? No. But does God delight in what is going on between us and God that gives rise to the prayer of praise? I’m willing to bet the answer to that is yes.