Surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders, there are angels on high lifted far above the turning of day and darkness. They are not singing softly through the night, but in full voice in a realm beyond all knowing, gathered in a host numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands. In the presence of God they are singing: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12). The song is sung on earth as it is in heaven. “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea and all that is in them singing” of blessing and honor and glory forever and ever (Rev. 5:13). The whole chain of being is a voice of praise to the One who sits upon the throne and the Lamb.
And yet such praise is a manner of receiving for those who give full voice. For the measure you give will be the measure you get. When a creature gives praise by being what it properly is before the presence of God, it receives its very being, its redeeming, its sanctity, its glory. Creation is because of God’s good will and praise is the voice and heart of a creature that drinks the cool water of grace moment by moment.
Wondering at the beauty and mystery of praise, St. Augustine says: “A human being wants to praise You.” He wonders at an ontological difference and distance, saying of God: “You are great and truly laudable; your power is great and your wisdom beyond reckoning”; and then saying of humanity, “some portion of your creation bearing about its mortality, carrying the testimony of its sin and the testimony that you resist the proud, this humanity, a portion of your creation, wants to praise You” (Confessions, 1,1). “Some portion” (the human being) is so small, so weakened by sin, that, although created for praise, and even desiring to praise, he will not go forth in wonder until prompted by divine grace. Before the moment of this call, the human being falls back into himself and feels the pressure of providence as a threat.
When all goes wrong, a human being wants to despise You. We must face this. Saul is breathing threats and murder. Self-possessed, strong, and confident, he “went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:2). Saul must be undone by the work of grace. “You, O God, [must] excite so that he wants to praise You” (Confessions, 1,1). Suddenly a flash of light threw Saul to the ground. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). “I am Jesus” (Acts 9:5). “Get up and enter the city” (Acts 9:6). Blinded and deprived of food and drink, Saul was being put to death. Then, by the laying on of hands, scales fell from his eyes; he was baptized, and then sent as an instrument of Christ. Undone and given to Christ, Saul is a New Being. And the New Being wants to praise You.
Praise is a sort of dance, a movement in which God leads (Ps. 30:11-12). Sensitive to divine promptings, we fit ourselves to grace, bear ourselves with joy, and go where we do not wish to go and yet want to go (John 21:18). Dying into Christ, we live. And to live is to praise.
Look It Up: Read the first lines of Augustine’s Confessions.
Think About It: The soul may praise you and be silent (Ps. 30:12; Ps. 46:10).