Saturday, March 5, 2016

Merton and Praise

I like this essay by Thomas Merton in hisConjectures of a Guilty Bystander (New York: Doubleday & Co, 1966), 121-122. His reference to authors I and my classmates once had to read caught my eye, then I appreciated his evocation of praise.

"The greatness of the Old Testament is beginning to be fully evident in some of the fine Old Testament theologies written by Protestant scholars like Von Rad, Eichrodt, and others. The universe of the Old Testament is a praising universe, of which [humanity] is a living and essential part, standing shoulder to shoulder with the angelic hosts who praise Yahweh: and praise is the surest manifestation of true life. The characteristic of Scheol, the realm of the dead, is that there is no praise in it. The Psalms then are the purest expression of the essence of life in this universe: Yahweh is present to His people when the Psalms are sung with triumphant vigor and jubilation... This presence and communion, this coming into being in the act of praise, is the heart of Old Testament worship as it is also of monastic choral praise. Living praise is the fullness of man's being with God and 'the mystery of the spirit' (Von Rad). But it also has a historical dimension: faith in the power of Yahweh and in His great works of mercy as well as in His promises makes history present to the singer as a theological reality and fact (again Von Rad). The theological realization of these great acts of the Lord is felt and experienced in their beauty; the magnificent power of the radiance of the Lord revealed in His saving acts takes hold entirely on the worshiper. Hence the 'transported' quality of the Psalms which we priests miss entirely when we simply mumble our way through the breviary, with no taste left for words like cantate, jubilate, exultate... Jubilate: it is a joy one cannot contain. Where is that in our liturgy today? This is the true liturgical shout of triumph, the triumph we know when divine and angelic beauty possess our whole being, in the joy of the risen Christ!...

"The beauty of God is best praised by the [ones] who reach and realize their limit knowing that their praise cannot attain to God..."

A Jewish author might say that Merton overlooks the importance of Torah and mitzvot, even purer a reflection of life's essence and purpose. Merton writes as a Roman Catholic author involved daily in worship and liturgy as well as work and reflection.

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