Practising the silence of praise

“Praise the Lord.” My mother often said that phrase aloud. “Praise the Lord” was part of Mom’s everyday vocabulary. You might hear her say it in the produce aisle at Kroger, “Oh, praise the Lord, would you look at those peaches?” Mom’s hallelujahs were not phony, plotted, or planned. She jumped up once to celebrate her team’s victory with loud hosannas only to apologize to the lone Buckeye fan in the room. She knew the Lord loved Ohio State, too! Mom’s spontaneous ‘Praise the Lord’ habit embarrassed me when I was in middle school. However, it did no good to complain since she would press on being herself and maybe even meet your scowl with a defiant sticking out of her tongue. ‘Praise the Lord’ for Granny Due. 

When do you ascribe praise? How do we practice thanksgiving? Do we take notice of what is gentle, joyful, true, holy, just, pure, peace-giving, loving, and excellent? What daily practices help us hold onto moments that are worthy of praise? (Philippians 4) 

In this blizzard of a global pandemic, incidendry politics, reduced hugs, 46 million Americans without health insurance, and long ignored systemic racism, a call to praise God may feel pollyannic or even out of step. In the angriest Psalm, the captives asked, “How could we possibly sing the Lord’s song on foreign soil?” (Psalm 137) In time they would. They would rediscover and redefine the practice of faith during the Exile. Just as a personal health scare may awaken us to a healthier diet and more exercise, perhaps our longings beckon us to adopt habits of prayer and praise in this deeply challenging season. 

How do we tune our hearts to praise? One of my spiritual mothers is Mother Teresa, a person deeply acquainted with the suffering of the poorest of the poor. “A true interior life makes the active life burn with fervor. This enables us to meet God in the darkest corners of the slums, in the saddest misery of the poor.  It puts us in contact with the naked God-man on the cross; sad, despised by all, a person of sorrows. In silence we find energy and true unity. Silence gives us a new outlook. Listen in silence because if your heart is full of other things you cannot hear the voice of God. To make possible inner silence- Practise:

  • Practice the silence of the eyes by always seeking the beauty and goodness of God everywhere, closing them to the faults of others.
  • Practice the silence of the ears by always listening to the voice of God and the cries of the poor and the needy, closing them to other fallen voices… gossip, tale-spinning or uncharitable words.
  • Practice the silence of the tongue by praising God and speaking the life-giving Word of God that enlightens and inspires, brings peace, hope and joy, and by refraining from self-defense and every word that brings turmoil, pain, and death.
  • Practice the silence of the mind by opening it to truth and knowledge of God in prayer and contemplation, like Mary who pondered the marvels of the Lord in her heart, by closing it all untruths, distractions, destructive thoughts, rash judgements, false suspicions of others, revengeful thoughts, and desires.
  • Practice the silence of the heart, loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and one another as God loves us, and avoiding all selfishness, hatred, envy, jealousy and greed.” (Mother Teresa, Essential Writing)

Teresa’s practice of silence tunes out distractions and trains the soul to praise God. Consider removing the earbuds when we walk, work out, or drive. Or sing along- “lustily and with good cheer”!(Wesley’s Rules on Singing in UMC Hymnal) Practice daily Sabbath. Listen for bird songs. Notice that leaves are transforming. Paint, plant, play, dance, rap, and journal. Write. Dream. Mail a simple thank you note or get-well card. Give something away. Pick up an Upper Room or a prayer journal. Set a time for daily prayer and praise. Turn in your commitment card. Weave praise and thanksgiving into each day. Let us cultivate habits to help us step away from the consumptive and competitive pressures that so easily consume and commodify our living. Allow worship to interrupt our days with moments of discovery, wonder, or praise! Praise the Lord for the peaches. 

Moments of awe sustain us. Jesus said that unless we become like children we will not be able to enter the kin-dom of God. (Matthew 18) Faith and awe are twins. Discovery, learning, and transformation birth awe. Awe is mysterious. Awe touches the unknown. Awe does not need a sure answer. When we see a Burning Bush or the Risen Lord, we like Moses and the disciples may ask questions that are only answered by the experience.. 

Children find awe easier than adults do. A childlike faith can delight in many circumstances. When the boys were 3 and 5, we went to Disney, camping at Fort Wilderness. I got tickled as the boys sat outside the pop-up camper building forts and roads in the very fine loose gravel. They had little interest in staying clean or heading over to the Magic Kingdom. Why do we stop finding awe in crayons, puddles, or new ideas?

Our culture of criticism, competition, and consumption ends the redemptive pleasure of the arts and music for many people. We love to ascribe value, rank chairs, and keep score. We hold art competitions. We professionalize play. We regulate play into team sports, and then recreational leagues for college developmental teams. We take our joy in winning, not dwelling. We value grades over learning and status over character. We trade watching for doing. Playing brings moments ripe for awe. Childlike faith is curious, wandering, and wondering. There is no formula to find awe, only an open heart and good Sabbath habits. So:

  • Sing to the Lord a new song, just make one up
  • Toss out those inner music critics, liturgical police and religious experts
  • Judge not the preacher or choir and be not judged
  • Worship only requires the Spirit and truth 
  • Offer spoken word, rap, rock, Bach, and free verse 
  • Rejoice in that note held a little too long…or your starting off key
  • “Praise the Lord” for fresh salsa or excellent coffee
  • Lean over the cup praising God as the steam dances over your nose
  • Remember the farmer, the migrant harvesting, the water department 
  • Thank God for the right to vote, poll workers, and reporters
  • Praise God for paramedics, nurses, cleaning crews and doctors  
  • Give thanks for those voices who weep with you on the phone 
  • Sing praises for those who give their lifework to scientific research
  • Thank God for that flu shot and the hope for a vaccine
  • Give thanks for teachers, artist, and writers …send them a note of thanks 
  • Sing hallelujah as a leaf, pirouettes and somehow rises to ride the wind
  • Let company of heaven dance! Let the earth rejoice!
  • Let the sea roar! Listen to the waves crescendo and crash onto the shore
  • Hear the forest resound as the breeze strums her branches
  • Silence those angry voices, cast out the haters and dividers
  • Renounce those false gods of prosperity, power and privilege 
  •  Cast out those critical death-dealing spirits
  • Practise awe, learn to be present, linger in wonder, delight in discovery 
  • Bring your gifts: you cannot worship without offering yourself 
  • Bow, kneel, or stand finding a posture befiting splendor 
  • Cultivate worship each day…. 
  • Tremble (the Hebrew “writhe” or even “dance”)
  • Ascribe praise 
  • Live for something greater than ourselves

Let us rehearse, practicing again and again moments that are gentle, joyful, true, holy, just, pure, peace-giving, loving, excellent, and worthy of praise! Let us practice savoring whatever is worthy of praise.

  • Give gifts Tremble, wiggle or dance in awe
  • Let the holy splendor shake you up  
  • Tell the nations, “The Lord rules!
  • the world is firmly in place; it won’t be shaken. 
  • God will judge all people fairly.  
  • God is coming to establish justice on the earth!
  • God will establish justice for all people.”

The Psalm closes with a deep trust that God will set things right. The kin-dom of God will one day come. Does the kin-dom come as we practice silence and notice where God is already at work? Hope delights in new wine, new music, new neighbors, new discoveries, and old relationships renewed by forgiveness. Hope springs up in green shoots along the burned over forest floor or the crocus blooming after a snow. Hope’s habit says, “Praise the Lord for these peaches.” Hope silences the inner critic, leaves the competition, and enjoys playing the game or the violin! Hope comes as we read Dr. King, Mother Teresa, Howard Thurman, or Mary Olliver.. Trust comes as we commit to our hearts the Sermon on the Mount and hold in our minds whatever is gentle, joyful, true, holy, just, pure, peace-giving, loving, excellent, and worthy of praise. In this noisy angry world, let us practice the silence of praise and worship.  And then renewed by our inner life- may we find passion and hope to build God’s coming kin-dom.  Amen.

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