“Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.”
I was talking with one of our vestry members this week about his prayers. He told me that each day he tries to set aside some time to review what has happened to him. He’s looking for the good things, the unexpected blessings, the little joys that might otherwise go unnoticed: a child’s smile, a conversation that went surprisingly well, a moment of tenderness. “I see them, and thank God for them. They show me He’s always working in my life.”
It can be easy to lose track of just how gracious God is to us. We never forget to turn to Him when we’re in pain or afraid of dangers ahead of us. We quickly remind Him when we’re disappointed. But we often take His kindness for granted. Even when we notice a blessing, how many times to we remember to offer our thanks? How often do we praise God for the ways in which a particular good thing reveals to us His wisdom and love?
We are made to sing God’s praises. He opens our lips, the Psalmist says, so that we can respond to Him with joy. Our minds are designed to catalog His mercies, our creative gifts to communicate His beauty to others in music, art and movement. Our final purpose, the destiny for which God is equipping us now, is to join with saints and angels in the great Alleluia around His throne in heaven.
Praise sometimes comes naturally to us. We stare up at a majestic mountain, watch the light stream through a cathedral’s window or catch a baby’s eye and a word of adoration comes quickly to our lips: “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His mercy endures forever.” (Ps. 136:1).
But praise is a spiritual discipline as well. It equips us to be patient and content in a world where constant advertising schools us in dissatisfaction. Praise in dark and anxious times can be a kind of confession of faith, a declaration that we trust in God’s providence when the evidence to the contrary seems strong. “Though the fig tree does not blossom,” sang Habbakuk in time of chaos, “nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. (3:17-18).
There are many wonderful resources for this. The Bible’s longest and best loved book, the Psalter, is primarily a book of praises, and many of the most beautiful and compelling texts from elsewhere in the Bible are canticles of praise. Dr. Whited would remind us that our Hymnal’s longest section is the hymns of praise. Most Sundays, we begin the Eucharist with the Gloria in Excelsis, the Church’s ancient and solemn hymn of praise: “We worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory.”
For me, the Daily Office, the Church’s liturgical forms for Morning and Evening Prayer, have been especially useful in learning to recognize and proclaim God’s goodness. The Office is predominately praise: Psalms and Scripture canticles. Like many priests, I’ve said the Office daily since my seminary years, and it’s the backbone of my spiritual life. It helps me to trace God’s goodness in all things, and it urges me to entrust my entire life to God, to be a living sacrifice to His glory.
This is, I know, a challenging time for some of you. You continue to grieve the departure of beloved leaders. We face a number of common challenges that demand careful thinking and hard work. We can be tempted to let anxiety overwhelm us, or to concentrate so deeply on process and procedure that we lose track of what God really wants to do among us.
There is no better time for us to praise God together, to seek the signs of His goodness and to renew our common life through regular worship. Since I arrived here, I have prayed Morning and Evening Prayer in the church at the beginning and end of most every workday. And now, that my kids’ pick-up and drop-off schedules are a little firmer, I can post times and hope that some of you will join me: on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8:45 and on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5. The services are simple and last about twenty minutes, and after a time of two, I promise you’ll know just what to do.
I know that the times won’t work for many of you, and I was very heartened that one parishioner who says the Office every day but doesn’t drive any longer, promised to time her recitation to match the services in the Church. There are also a number of apps if you need to pray with the help of your smartphone on the Metro instead—just google “St. Bede’s Breviary.”
Maybe you will find it easier to praise God in daily reflection, like the vestry member, or to sing a hymn of praise at the beginning and end of each day. Whatever method seems best, please do join me and many others here at Saint Timothy’s in praising God together. This is just the time for recognizing God’s goodness afresh and offering ourselves anew.