Praising God Always
March 21, 2010
It is a promise that is heard throughout the Biblical narrative. It is the promise of a new thing. The words of the prophet Isaiah that say, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?“ (Isaiah 43.19a) is an excellent example. What makes this interesting is that this new thing is also an old thing, as old as time itself for since the very beginning when God made something out of nothing the creative power of God has been bent on salvation. This passage is particularly interesting because in just a few well chosen words the prophet says to forget the things of old even as he is himself remembering them. It is as if he were saying that the salvation of old is not the salvation of now. We cannot forever count on what happened in the past but must be ever ready for what is happening now. Salvation is not nostalgia, it is active and life-changing in every generation. Every generation must be delivered again.
The problem with the new thing; with becoming new, is that we have to change and we don’t do change well. Change is uncomfortable and frightening and unknown and yet it is inevitable. The only thing that never changes is that things are always changing. We can resist but it will be futile. Better to open ourselves to the new thing that we are becoming. How ironic is it that God always wants to save us and we always resist. Salvation is not an easy road either, it seems. It will take us through not only the inevitability and upheaval of change but through the wilderness, the ever present wilderness of our life on earth. Therefore the promise includes specific assurances that there will be a way through. It is written: “Í will make a way through the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43.19b) The way to the new thing, to our salvation will be accompanied by God’s presence. It will be a struggle but it will also be where life is. And all of this for what? So “that they may declare my praise.” (Isaiah 43.21b)
This may sound selfish at first as if God made us and life as it is, suffering and all, so that we would learn to praise God. I see it a little differently. I believe that when we can praise God always we have arrived at the only place of peace really available to us, we have reached an understanding finally of what this whole thing is all about. The ability and desire to praise God is a gift from God to liberate us, to set us free from anger and despair and regret, to open our hearts and souls emptying ourselves of all that we hold inside that resists God and also, at the same time, opening us to the light that can now enter because we are open and free. To be able to praise God always in the good times and the bad is to realize that all of it is for us to come to know God and in knowing God to know ourselves and to get the connection, to see what matters after all, to see that there is more than we know, more than we expected. The great creative force that is love, that is God, will deliver us again, not from Egypt to the Promised Land, but from the wilderness of this earthly life to the light of a new thing.
The praise of God is not forced or contrived, it is what wells up from the very center of our soul at the realization of who we are and what is going on here. All the petty details are like so much dust. We understand that it is love, the love of God that saves us, and the love that we may ourselves create that is what makes the world go round, a world for all of its misery and heartbreak, violence and terror that is no match for the love that carries on, that finds a way through the battleground, that drinks from the river of life that runs through the desert of our days on earth.
This is what Mary saw I believe in Jesus. She knew who he was, the new thing, the salvation of humankind, God’s intervening again into a broken world with love and healing grace. She could no more save this precious perfume from pouring out than she could stop her own tears from falling. Judas still believed that he could save the world his way and that they could use what she wasted in praise to do it, but she knew only God could do that, that humans were not going to save themselves, and that for her what was left was praise and it was praise that poured out onto the feet of Jesus. This is not logical or practical or sensible or well thought out. It is spontaneous and irresistible. Even in the presence of what was surely a great sadness, the knowledge of the suffering and dying to come there was also a great joy, a love that would not die, that would pour itself out in praise, praising God always.
What are to make of all this? Well, we have a God who is doing a new thing and a Christ who makes all things new. Becoming new requires change and change can be painful even as it is life-giving for this is where the richness of life is found in the growing and becoming what God wants us to be. We could despair of our failure to be the world that God wants for indeed, we will always have the poor and there will always be wars and rumors of wars, and sin will corrupt us all. We could despair for good reason except for this God who is doing a new thing in us even as we resist God’s salvation. There is no place to hide. God’s love is everywhere and the grace that was revealed in the life and death of Jesus will not leave us alone and our struggles are not ours alone.
This is the promise. God is with us and seeking our salvation with the same power that God made the world and all that lives in it in the first place. At some point, if we do not give up on ourselves and on the hope that grace bestows upon our hearts like gentle rain, and if we dare to keep seeking God even where God seems never to be found, we are blessed to understand what is happening to us and to the whole world and we will be set free from fear and doubt and despair about these things and we will stop holding on and begin, like Mary, letting go, and we will praise God with every breath and with every beat of the heart because now we know that life is full of the saving love of God and every breath and every beat of the heart is the breath and beating heart of God and we are safe no matter what comes, safe to change, safe to be made new, safe in God’s perfect and beautiful embrace forever.
All of this is the gift of faith and faith is what we have when we practice faith. It is written: “Seek, and ye shall find.” (Matthew 7.7b) If ye seek God, ye shall surely find God. Practice faith until you have faith praising God always.
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