john davies
notes from a small curate


    Blue Coat School 18/6/2003

    Psalm 136

    When was the last time someone praised you?
    When was the last time you praised someone else?

    There are different sorts of praise. If you're playing sport you might praise the opposition for scoring a spectacular try or goal. You yourself might get praised from platforms like this on Prizegiving occasions, for some excellent work you have done or progress you have made.

    These are genuine responses but they're measured. They are complimentary, but restrained, with reservations. It would have been better if we had scored that goal. You've done well but don't let it go to your head, you've got a long way to go to do better still. And so on.

    How do you think you'd feel if you perceived that you were only being praised by someone because they saw it as their duty to praise you?

    In church we praise God saying: "it is our duty and our joy... to give you thanks and praise"

    Duty is a very restrained word; I question how anyone can genuinely praise God out of a sense of duty. That's where joy comes in. Joy suggests a sort of praise that seems to come not from here (touch head), but from here (touch heart).

    The way the 136th Psalm describes it, praising God is another kettle of fish altogether. It is about as measured as a volcanic eruption.

    To the person who composed the psalm we just heard, praise comes easy because it's a heartfelt response to God's great love for the world.

    The whole of creation is on the receiving end of God's love - the sun and moon, the sea, fire and snow, all sorts of creatures, old men in zimmer frames and children who still haven't taken their first step.

    They don't praise God by saying anything, necessarily, because most of creation doesn't deal in words. Instead the sun shines, the moon beams gently, the sea washes in and out to the rythym of time. Old men and children just behave as they are, and that's praise enough. Their praise comes from deep inside. It's to do with who they are.

    We learn to praise God not by paying compliments but by paying attention. Watch how the trees celebrate when the wind is in them. Observe the sleek muscular perfection of the horse. Listen to the sound of the rain. Appreciate something special about yourself or someone else.

    By paying attention to the wonder of the world around us we can appreciate the joy of praise by doing it not from here (touch head), but from here (touch heart).

    Adapted from Frederick Buechner: Wishful Thinking, a Seeker's ABC