On All Soul’s Day each year, we remember those who have departed this earth before us – those upon whose shoulders we stand.
Their existence is the very reason that we are able to journey just a little bit further from where we started – whether in the fields of science, mathematics, philosophy, music, or theology.
Without their courageous exploration, their sense of curiosity, their scientific experimentation, their life-affirming passion, our lives today would be very different. Perhaps, even, non-existent.
Today is also a day that we take a few moments to acknowledge and praise the One who loved us – and our departed – into existence.
Everything that we see, touch, experience, and love flows directly from one source – the same source our ancestors drew upon.
And so we recall the 23rd Psalm, perhaps the most beloved of all of the Psalms:
The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside still waters;
He restores my soul. He leads me in right paths For His Name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil;
For you are with me;
Your rod and Your staff – they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies,
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life.
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord My whole life long.
Our prayers sometimes feel as if they bounce off the ceiling. Perhaps it’s because they all too often become an exercise in asking for things – whether of the material or the physical kind. An ever-growing wish list of the things that we desperately want.
We may have forgotten what our dear departed perhaps better understood: praise and adoration can provide the wings upon which our words take flight.
Thomas Merton touched upon some of these very thoughts in his book Praying the Psalms:
Praise is cheap today. Everything is praised. Soap, beer, toothpaste, clothing, mouthwash, movie stars all the latest gadgets which are supposed to make life more comfortable – everything is constantly being ‘praised.’ Praise is now so overdone that everybody is sick of it, and since everything is ‘praised’ with the official hollow enthusiasm of the radio announcer, it turns out in the end that nothing is praised. Praise has become empty. Nobody really wants to use it.
Are there any superlatives left for God? They have all been wasted on foods and quack medicines. There is no word left to express our adoration of Him who alone is Holy, who alone is Lord.
So we go to Him to ask help and to get out of being punished, and to mumble that we need a better job, more money, more of the things that are praised by the advertisements. And we wonder why our prayer is so often dead – gaining its only life, borrowing its only urgency from the fact that we need these things so badly.
But we do not really think we need God. Least of all do we think we need to praise him.
It is quite possible that our lack of interest in the Psalms conceals a secret lack of interest in God. For if we have no real interest in praising Him, it shows that we have never realized who He is.
For when one becomes conscious of who God really is, and when one realized that He who is Almighty, and infinitely Holy, has ‘done great things to us,’ the only possible reaction is the cry of half-articulate exultation that bursts from the depths of our being in amazement at the tremendous, inexplicable goodness of God to men.
Thoughtful words, truly. Do we really know who God is? From deep within our very souls?
I know that I have a long way to go. I’ve noticed that I pray for my needs always. I pray for my desires often. I pray for my will to be in line with God’s will sometimes. But I pray shouting thanks and praise almost never.
Perhaps it’s time for a new outlook – a fresh start.
Today just may be the perfect day for me to try.
Acknowledgement for the Merton material used here: Philip Rushton