Praise and Thanksgiving

There is a morning devotional that begins, “O Lord, open my lips and my mouth will proclaim your praise” (Psalm 51: 15), to which the response comes, “Thank you, God.”  The practice made me think about the difference between praise and thanksgiving.

When I asked a friend about the difference, her immediate reply was a felt sense or body awareness:  “With praise, my hands are raised, my head is up, and my mouth is open.  With thanksgiving, my head is bowed and my hands are in a prayer position at my heart.”

Thanksgiving is a wonderful practice.  A woman I know begins the day with her partner—sipping a cup of coffee, eating a bowl of oatmeal, and naming things for which they are grateful.  I have benefited from ending my day looking back over it to see the things for which I am thankful.  Often they are things that I would have forgotten about without that reflection time.  And I’m convinced that reflecting like that before I go to sleep makes me more likely to wake up cheerful the next day.

Giving thanks makes us aware that all that comes our way is not of our own making.  There is someone or something bigger.  Praise lets us focus on that source of goodness and grace.  Praise involves acknowledging and rejoicing in what underlies all things.  It arises out of faith and trust, not comprehension.  Praise takes us out of ourselves and into oneness.  For me, praise can be helpful even when I am doubting or discouraged, because it takes me into something beyond myself.  When we praise God, we find our true proportion.

Queries:

How do you understand thanksgiving and praise?  If one is harder or less comfortable than the other, what is the difference for you?

How do you want to express thankfulness or praise at this time?

Prayer:

“Praise and thanksgiving let everyone sing.  To our Creator for every good thing.  Alleluia, joyfully sing.”

For further reflection:

“O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. . . . For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.”  (See Psalm 96.)

“I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.” (See Psalm 146.)

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Revelation Continues

Quakers believe that God continues to speak to us, guide and direct us in a way that is available and discernible without an intermediary.  I personally find that the Bible is often a vehicle for that revelation—for unexpected openings and experiences of Presence.

I have read the Bible enough that much of it is quite familiar.  And yet there are times when I read a passage I know well and suddenly some new insight opens up.  The insight is not just an interesting new idea.  It is rather something that shifts me inwardly.  I may or may not have words to describe what happened.   I am drawn closer to the divine, I am guided, my condition is spoken to.  I remember a time when I was reading one Psalm every day for a week.  Almost every day a different part of the Psalm caught my attention and taught me.

Since before the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, I have been part of a group of blacks and whites eager to hear what the Bible has to say.  Recently we have been studying the second half of the book of Isaiah.  In Isaiah 51 we had heard strong and powerful words, “Awake,awake; listen; rouse yourself!”  I was preparing Isaiah 52.  In the first two verses I heard the strong words again, “Awake, awake…; shake yourself from the dust…; loose the bonds…”

I put my pen to paper, and these words rolled out:

“Awake, awake, white people.

Take off your blinders.

Shake yourself out of your illusions.

Turn to God who loves us all equally and rejects injustice.

Loose the bonds of those you have oppressed that your bonds might also be

loosed.”

When I shared the words with the group, intending to have them listen for words for themselves, the group instead was silent and we were dropped deep.

I know my words are not the meaning of the text itself.  God is speaking to the oppressed people of Israel exiled in Babylon, not to a powerful group.  And yet I believe that the Bible passage was a vehicle for an experience of continuing revelation.

Queries:

What do you believe about revelation?  Does God continue to speak to us and guide us?

What is your relationship with the Bible?

Prayer:

Our Guide and our Hope, help us to hear your voice in the Scriptures, in each other, and in the signs of the times.  [based on intercession in Give Us This Day, November 15, 2016, Evening]

For further reflection:

“Open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18).

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching . . .  so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  (See 2 Timothy 3: 16-17.)

Loving Those on the Other Side

During the election season in the United States leading up to November 8, we were divided into camps that sometimes seemed like the good guys against the enemy.  Now that the election is over, how do we learn to love our “enemies,” to let it be possible for us to become one people?  What does it take to be enabled to love those with whom we disagree so strongly?

When I turned to the passages in the gospels of Matthew and Luke in which Jesus tells us to love our enemies, I got some ideas.  In Luke the instruction is given to those “who listen,” which means to hear the words and live them.  I find myself needing to acknowledge my feelings, let them go to God, and then to attune myself to God, to let myself become clay in God’s hands.  The temptation is to carry a political or secular agenda, but the invitation is to love.  It’s hard.

In Luke, Jesus tells us to love our enemies, but then adds, “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”  What I hear in these words is that we are to transcend all the hateful things that others do to us, to rise above all that would diminish us.  The religious practices of the Gullah people on the Sea Islands of Georgia and South Carolina emphasized this ability to transcend, and people who encountered them were amazed at their lack of negativity toward white people, who had brought them there in slavery.  It’s possible.

In Matthew, Jesus reminds us that we are all children of God—“for God makes God’s sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”  I hear a warning here not to think of ourselves or others as the evil ones or the good ones, the superior or inferior.  The judging is God’s job.  Ours is, as Friend Johan Mauer writes, “to live in hope and work to bless the community, . . . not letting anyone get marginalized.”  May it be so.

Queries:

What are your feelings about the election?  How might they become part of your prayer?

How can you attune yourself first to God rather than to the secular world?  How are you called to live in love?

Prayer:  

Holy Lord, in you is love in its fullness. Letting go of all fear, of all anger, of all pride, we entrust ourselves to the light of your love.  Remove every obstacle, Lord, which keeps us from the daunting task you have called all of us to perform: to love each other unconditionally, as you love us.  (Jan Brown, Interim Coordinator, Community for Peace and Nonviolence)

For further reference:

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (See Matthew 22: 34-40.)

“Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” (See Romans 13: 8-10.)