Just Plain Foolish

Just a chance for an old-fashioned, simple storyteller to say what needs to be said.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Peterson Toscano, over at his blog, has raised an interesting question about praise. He asks whether we spend so much time and energy on praising God that we don't have it left to work in the world, lifting up so much to God that we fail to spend any on our fellow human beings. This is sort of the enriched version of a comment I left there.

I've also been involved with many different faith practices involving praise. I have sung hymns of praise, stomped and shouted Hallelujah! in an ecstacy of praise, whispered a prayer while lighting a candle and a touch of incense, covered my eyes while lighting candles for the Sabbath, and praising God for giving commandments. I've even sat up on a ridgeline in the hills, smoking tobacco under the full moon, and simply feeling the praise wash in and out of me with every breath, clear air or tobacco scented.

Jews interpret the commandment against taking the Name in vain to mean that one must never offer up a prayer that isn't connected with actual practice.

For instance, the prayer over bread goes:

Blessed are you, oh God, ruler of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the ground.

You don't say this prayer unless there's a piece of bread in front of you that you intend to eat and eat soon, as in right after you finish saying Amen. One of the more interesting customs that springs from this is that one should sing a wordless tune between washing one's hands for dinner and saying the prayer over bread, so that the blessings over handwashing and bread aren't interrupted by other speech.

And yet, as I wrote this spring, I think that the sheheckianu:

Blessed are you, oh God, ruler of the Universe, who has kept us and sustained us until this moment.

(it's gorgeous chanted in the Hebrew) should not be so strictly kept for certain occasions as it is now. (for instance, on certain holidays, it is held that one should wear new clothes to "justify" saying that prayer in services.)

For me, I think that so often we make our "thank you"s into a ritual to distance ourselves from that genuine feeling of gratitude, that feeling that if indeed God has kept me until this moment, then I need to be looking at how I can work to make this world, this creation, even better. I can't tint the leaves in their seasons, but I can work for justice, I can treat people with lovingkindness, I can be the sort of person I was meant to be, listening to that still, small voice.

There are days when I am caught up in awe of the beauty of creation, and that awe helps me to reach out, to share that beauty with others, to give that piece of myself that is so caught up in awe, the piece that is watching the marvellous colors that have developed just outside my window - golds, browns, scarlett, yellow, pale green, wow. The piece that listened to the sax player in New Orleans one rainy day and was comforted, despite the fact that my grandfather lay dying of diabetes, and his eldest son, my father, couldn't get military leave. The piece that has gone dancing with the stars in the sky and the waves of the ocean. And over and over, it's come back to me, sometimes a little worn, but always a little deeper, a little more open.


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