Monday, April 27, 2015

Something Bigger Than Whiskers

I will bless the Lord at all times; 
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
 My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad.
 Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!
 I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.

Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.
 This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him 
and saved him out of all his troubles.

The angel of the Lord encamps 
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
 Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! 
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

 Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack!
 The young lions suffer want and hunger; 
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
 Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
 What man is there who desires life 
and loves many days, that he may see good?..

 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, 
but the Lord delivers him out of them all.
 He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken..
 The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.
Psalm 34

Reflection – OK, I’m back. And back with one of my favourite psalms of all, one of (in my view) the most beautiful and poignant pieces of biblical poetry and prayer there is. I often assign this psalm as a penance in confession, and return to it often in my personal prayer.

This psalm captures the essential spiritual attitude that must be at the heart of our life, and that spiritual attitude is praise and thanksgiving. This is always important, but all the more important when life in the world or in our own personal lives is hard and painful.

The world is full of troubles right now. Be it simple tragedies like the earthquake in Nepal, or the genuinely horrific evil of terrorism and brutal violence in the Middle East and Africa, or the various complex and painful social ills and evils confronting us here in North America, there is little ‘good news’ in the news we read these days. As well, we all have our personal problems and sorrows, big and little, which can darken our minds and hearts at any time.

To praise God in the face of all this may seem a bit polyanna-ish, a bit ‘whistle a happy tune’ or ‘these are a few of my favourite things’—a flight from reality into positive thinking, some kind of head trip to fool oneself into feeling better. To say that, when one’s own personal problems and sorrows are mounting especially high, praise should be particularly intense in one’s own life, seems almost perverse—like the more pain you are in, the more you should try to smile and laugh.

If it were just a matter of positive thinking, of raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, the objection would hold. But that is not what praising God is, really. To praise God in the face of evils and sorrows of all kinds is to make a deep act of faith and trust in the reality of God, that God is real, is here, is acting, that there is a whole bigger and broader field of being (admittedly almost entirely concealed from us) in which there is great good, cause for hope, reason to rejoice.

Pain and suffering focus the mind on themselves and on their immediate cause. When we stub our toe, our whole world becomes, for a brief moment, The Toe, and the stupid thing we just stubbed it on (Drat it! Drat it to heck!). All suffering, and certainly the very big and calamitous sorrows of life and of the world, has that effect on us—the entire world is defined by my grief, by this evil, by that sorrow.

Aside from personal sufferings and sorrows, those who are involved in various types of social activism have to be vigilant about this. Yes, there are great evils happening in the world, like abortion (for example). But… the whole world is not defined by this evil. Countless men and women welcome their children into life, even in difficult circumstances, and even in the most tragic wrong choices women make to have an abortion, the mercy of God is poured forth in unstinting measure.

There is always a bigger reality, in other words. And it is praise and thanksgiving, rapturous ecstatic praise that opens the door, at least, to that bigger reality, allows us to stand in whatever pain and evil we find ourselves in and not be overwhelmed by it. Allows us to see that God is—that God is bigger, that God is acting, that God is in the end victorious over it all. Praise is our looking to him and growing radiant, our tasting and seeing the goodness of the Lord, our faith in his deliverance of the poor. It is utterly and essentially central to a healthy, whole spiritual life.

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