It takes a lot for me to praise the Lord. I grew up Roman Catholic in Chicago.
It was other people who went around praising the Lord. It was other people who couldn’t stop talking about God. It was other people who ascribed the good in their lives to the workings of the Holy. Me, I was a little more reticent.
Yes, I had a passionate inward conviction that my life was overflowing with blessings. Yes, I had a regular devotional life that I could not quite explain. Yes, I could sense the presence of God when there was more love or life in my hours than I could have ever expected. But to dress up such holy things with a big show or fuss seemed, well, unseemly. Maybe it was a cultural thing. The ones who seemed to so promiscuously praise the Lord were those who sometimes seemed less than charitable to the people I cared about, and the values I held. Like praising the Lord was something that only people, unlike me and mine, would do. I began to study traditional Jewish literature at a very young age, where I found a refreshing abundance of praise in traditional Siddurs & Hassidic writings.
It was in Divinity School that I learned of an ancestor with the same wariness of emotional expression. During the Great Awakening, when Jonathan Edwards had whipped up the east coast with thoughts of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, it was Charles Chauncy, at First Church in Boston, who sought to dampen the fever a bit with his pamphlet, “Seasonable Thoughts on the State of Religion in New England: A Treatise in Five Parts.” I’ve read it. It’s not exactly a barn-burner, not a page-turner. But that was some of Chauncy’s point. Emotionalism in religion might excite the senses, but it was not the same as working out a thoughtful commitment to the Divine. I held onto that bifurcated view of things for quite some time, thinking that evangelicals and the like were emotional and that Catholics were thoughtful.
But then I started getting to know more evangelicals and hearing the quality and depth of thoughtfulness that challenged my assumptions. And I started asking questions of Catholics to hear what was behind our convictions and certainties, and sometimes didn’t hear much there. So much for my old assumptions!
I’m glad that evangelicals often have some solid thinking behind their emotional expression. Over the years, I’ve even found more common ground than I would have expected with them. But, as Catholic, I was more concerned with whether or not our faith can be expressed whole-heartedly, with joy and abandon!
Me, I’m working on being less private about my relationship with God. I’m working on showing outwardly the relationship that has been so important, inwardly, for so long. To praise God with joy, not with a well-reasoned argument. Or, perhaps, along with a well-reasoned argument!
The Psalm in today’s lectionary reading is an example of the kind of shouting a person could try.
How about you? Can you praise God as loud as you’d want to? If you did, what would change? What would you expect, in response from others?
For me, it’s not a matter of everyone turning into extroverts. I am profoundly introverted & frankly don’t wish for people to know all of my business, which leads to a closed loop of debate, endless speculation & jealousy. I also need contemplation & quieter expressions of faith. But I’m thinking these days about praising God out loud. And curious to hear what you think about that, for yourself.
God, whatever may be true for us,
May our lips and our actions
Match our thoughts and feelings.
May our lives know the integrity
Of our inward and outward experiences of faith
Resonating with each other,
Just as we pray for union among siblings and neighbors,
May we know union within ourselves,
And claim that union with joy,
Understanding as yet one more form
Of your presence in us.
Praise the Lord!
From the Psalms
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty firmament!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his surpassing greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with clanging cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
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Rick Davis lives in the Chicago area, USA. He is married to Marianne. Marianne has five children, and twenty-four grand & great-grandchildren. They have a loved cat & dog. Rick graduated from Northeastern Illinois University, and several graduate schools. He’s has worked in market research and other positions. He has worked as a volunteer pastoral counselor at Blind Service Association in Chicago, and at the University of Illinois Hospital at Chicago. He is an ordained minister and interfaith Rabbi.