November 2, 2015

I've been recently reading through Samuel and Judges. I feel like I have to disclose that this is my first time really digging in to the Old Testament in a few years.

In 2 Samuel 6, David is leading a procession back to Jerusalem with the Ark of the Covenant. It is a knock-down, drag-out journey, complete with an old-fashioned smiting, proof that it was downright dangerous to manipulate something so holy as the Ark with human hands. David even halts the caravan for a while, seeming to question the worth of risking the rest of the journey to Jerusalem.

(At this time, he left the ark at the house of Obed-edom the Gittite, in case you were curious. Imagine waking up one morning, putting on some coffee, rubbing your eyes, and upon opening them, the image the most direct manifestation of the almighty God materializes through the window to your front yard...)

After deliberating, David finally pulls together his courage and, girt with a linen ephod and much pluckiness, finishes the over-land ox-cart voyage to Jersualem.

As the Fellowship of the Ark crests the final hill into the great city, they are greeted with an...unexpected sight: David, dancing "with abandon...with shouts of joy and sound of horn." His moves even gathered the scorn of his old mentor-turned-nemesis Saul's daughter, now one of his wives, who chastises him for "exposing himself to the view of the the slave girls" of Jersualem. The final verse of the chapter dismisses her as childless until her death. 

At times, I can't help but laugh at soap opera-like webs of relationships and the apparently mundane nature of curses and smitings in the Old Testament.

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Fast forward some 3000 years, to January 28th, 2014, when Pope Francis spoke of the importance of praise in his daily homily. The aforementioned story was the first reading in daily Mass, and important inspiration for Papa's sermon.

David danced because he was moved beyond all composure at the fulfillment of so deep a longing in his heart (which was so near to the Lord's; see Acts 13:22), and the heart of all the people of Judah. The Lord now resided in His temple, in His city in Israel, His promised land. David's sweet moves (I'm paraphrasing), said Francis, were "precisely a prayer of praise".

Proceeding deeper into the analogy, the Pope also puts us believers to the question: "How often do we [like Michal from David's story] despise good people in our hearts, good people who praise the Lord as it comes to them, so spontaneously, because they are not cultured, because they do not follow the formalities?” Inhibitions to praise and thanksgiving lead to sterility, as they did for Michal.

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I have seen firsthand the deep power of praise; in my case this type of prayer was incredibly fruitful with Saint Paul's Outreach (SPO), a campus ministry organization which I love deeply and with whom I served both in Minnesota and Florida. A culture of praise is deeply ingrained in the being of SPO. Music, expressive prayer, and other elements of the "charismatic catholicism" movement were in full force there, and I can attest to seeing numbers increase at our events, breakthroughs occurring with individual students, and deeper freedom and revitalization expressed by missionaries, specifically after events or meetings that involved an large element of praise and prayer.

Praise is often forgotten in our daily prayers: it's easy to see what's missing in our lives and ask for the Lord's power to humbly come down and touch even the most miniscule of our worries. And that's not wrong. But it's also very easy to forget to proclaim that God is God and we are not. Why should we praise, after all? God knows He is God, and He might very well no even better that we are not, despite our best attempts to convince him otherwise.

Praise is essential. It is the building block of prayer. How can we petition God for our individual needs without first asserting that he is, in fact, powerful and humble enough to hear them? Praise is freely given; it cannot ask for anything in return, for then it would cease to be praise. This selfless nature must only be sweeter to the Lord. Praise helps us see reality and situate ourselves. Proclaiming the power, the goodness, the faithfulness of God at times draws us out of ourselves to see his perfection and love, and at times brings about a certain examination of ourselves. As grade-school me would have called it, a "compare and contrast" essay.

And Praise gives life, because it is a conduit of God's goodness, which always bursts forth in new color, new movement, and renewal for our human world. Praise is practice for us to step outside of ourselves, to kill to our habits of self-reliance, and to remind ourselves that eternal glory has been promised to us, simply because God is good and God is love.

I encourage you to take maybe 10 minutes praising the Lord, using your own words, using the Psalms, in adoration, in song (especially good), and "dance with abandon" either externally or internally, in wonder of our God.

Praised be Jesus Christ

Frassati NY