I stood in the grocery line and wondered why the cashier was ignoring the customer…
Open my lips oh Lord, and my mouth shall declare your praise. – Psalm 51:17
My older sister died when I was in college, and I occasionally have dreams of her in heaven. Recently in one such instance, I asked her if all she did was sing with the angels in praise. Then I saw her in a field with mountains behind her, and she said, almost with a giggle, “here, our very being praises God, because we are whole, and healed, and rightly ordered. Praise rightly orders.”
It was a brief conversation, but it struck me for two reasons. The first is that when we are rightly ordered, as those in heaven are as they are wholly themselves, we praise God just by our existence and what we do. This strikes me as true. “The world was made for the glory of God.” (CCC 293). Humans are the crown of that creation and we are meant to glorify and praise Him. (CCC, 293-294)
The second is that praise rightly orders. It struck me that she did not say “if you’re rightly ordered you will praise.” In and of itself, praise rightly orders. Upon reflection, this too sounds true. When we praise God, we turn our hearts toward our Creator, our Father, and the One Who first loved us. We look outside of ourselves and turn our hearts toward the Person for Whom our heart is made and for Whom it longs, our Beloved. Praise helps to remind us Who God is, and who we are in relation to Him, and thus helps to rightly order our hearts and minds.
Praising God can be hard in the midst of the daily battles of life. There are times when the feelings of praise are simply not there. Many Saints tell us of the value of praising and praying despite our feelings and suffering. St. Paul describes the importance of offering a “continual sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:15) and the Psalms reference a “sacrifice of thanksgiving” (Psalm 116:17). When life feels overwhelming or chaotic, it is precisely then that we should be training our minds and hearts to lift up in praise. It is difficult, and certainly not what most of us are naturally inclined to do. We are perhaps even encouraged to do the opposite by the culture and those around us.
Praising God, even in the midst of struggle, is something that we can train our hearts to do, much like forming any other habit. One way to do so is through an exercise a friend recently asked me to do as an “experiment” for her as she prepared for a talk. The exercise took precisely six minutes, but it completely shifted my day. She asked me to set a timer and spend one full minute in praise of God, using whatever phrases come to mind. I was then to spend another full minute in quiet, asking God what He wanted to say to me. Then I repeated this exercise two more times. While I was not in a moment of distress, I was in the middle of my work day, and my mind was not particularly focused on praising the Lord. The words I uttered over and over were simple ~ “You are Good; You are worthy; You are Holy; Thank You.” When I stopped to listen to God, I was floored by His words of love for me. Each minute of praise seemed to move faster, and was more heartfelt. The shift in my day, and how I approached the rest of it, was noticeable! Although I was not having a particularly bad day before the experiment, I was more joyful, grateful, and open to the promptings of the Spirit after.
My interior self was rightly ordered. I remembered, through praise, to Whom I should be ordered. It then followed that my relationships with others were more in sync, because I brought to each interaction a more whole self in right relationship with God.
When the psalmist is begging God for a renewed heart, he says “Open my lips oh Lord, and my mouth shall declare Your praise.” If you too long for a renewed heart, if this day or season feels hard, open your lips in praise, and let the Spirit of God make you new.
Copyright 2020, Monica Markovich