Praise? Now?

“[God] put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.” Ps 40:3

“Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!” Ps 150:6

“Life breaks everyone, but some are strong in the broken places.” — Ernest Hemingway

Some days it is harder to draw breath to praise than others. These last few days have brought a lot more finger-pointing and critique than praise across our society, in the wake of the most recent shootings.

And yet, my life tells me that it is when times are hard that praise does the most good. Praise — which for me is best spoken as gratitude — lifts me out of myself, shifts my focus from negativity (which is never the whole story, even when critique is justified), and helps me draw the next breath. Praising is a practice — I realize from the happy collision of words for today — that helps me be stronger in the broken places.

Let all that breathes, praise ...

So, from far away to nearer at hand … I am thankful:

For the joy people are feeling at the chance to vote in Sudan. For the presence of observers like Jimmy Carter, to see and report.

For the quick thinking of people in the moment of the shootings in Arizona, who helped in a terrible and frightening situation. Like the two men, Roger Salzgeber and Bill Badger, who wrestled Jared Loughner to the ground when his gun clip jammed. Like the congressional intern, Daniel Hernandez, who leapt to Ms. Gifford’s side and tendered the roughest first aid, helping her to survive those first moments, and comforting her through the minutes of waiting for paramedics to arrive.

I am thankful for all of us who are thinking twice — and, we can hope, ever deeper and longer — about our own contribution to our society’s rhetoric. Many of us are soberly considering the well of our own words, whence they arise and what they accomplish.

I am thankful for the first responders who leap into our frays, attempting to help us survive. And for the synagogues, churches, and mosques, where we gather to say the prayers we struggle through.

I am thankful for those who work day in and day out for not enough money, facing excessive caseloads, to help the weakest among us — those facing mental illness, physical disease and injury, addiction, poverty, homelessness, death. I am thankful for those reminding us not to demonize these struggles. I am thankful for those wondering today how we can help more people, and how we can help the helpers.

I am thankful for those who have helped me through difficult times and questions, through physical and spiritual unknowns: pastors, counselors, doctors, caring friends, my beloved.

I am thankful for the good health I experience today: my ability to see, think, move, write, work. I am thankful for good work to do, and the time and tools to do it.

I am thankful for dreams — the longing they inspire can be hard to live with, but I am never without energy, passion, commitment, and a hope to share and build and live into my dreams.

I am thankful for all those people out in front — people doing what I dream of, and things I’d never dream of, embracing possibilities and impossibilities and pushing out just a bit further what a life can be made of.

I am thankful for the great cloud of witnesses, messengers of love and justice whose stories challenge and set the bar.

I am thankful for the Love at the heart of all: beating through tragedy and joy, from the stillness of a bloodied head cradled, to the raucous dancing energy of a nation being born … every ending, every beginning, all of it, all of us, gathered in, held.

Let all that breathes, praise. And in praising, let us choose life. For ourselves, for us all.

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