"LET's just praise God," read the slogan on the parish-made
altar frontal; and the church had a worship group to match: "Let's
just praise the Lord," said the man standing centre-stage at the
front, plucking dreamily at his guitar. He is convinced of the
validity of all this, and has no doubts at all - but what is God's
I remember a story told by the late, great Fr Anthony de Mello.
It concerned a beautiful lily on a pond, which would attempt to
draw people to it, saying: "Come and look at me; I'm really
beautiful. You'll never have seen as beautiful a lily as me."
It didn't work, of course, because there is something repulsive
about beauty when it insists on drawing attention to itself, or
demands praise. There is something equally flawed in humans who
Everyone likes to be affirmed occasionally; it can lift a tired
spirit. But the demand for constant praise is not seen as healthy
in a human. A friend who needs constant affirmation will be an
exhausting companion. A boss who demands constant praise will be
reckoned insecure - and a poor leader as well, too needy to be able
to hold his or her staff. A child who always needs praise probably
has some attachment issues, which in time will need attention. So
how healthy is a God who demands it?
Praise arises naturally as we make our way through life, whether
praise for a child, a dog, a colleague, our self, or God; and it is
best and truest as something spontaneous, arising from the moment.
A contemplative church is happy with this; it is happy not to
organise something that is best not organised.
But a church that is focused on, and built around, praise,
organises to the nth degree; we are here to praise because
that is what God wants. (I am assuming that this is part of the
equation.) God wants to be praised, and it is our duty and our joy
at all times to meet this divine desire. But, again: does God want
to be praised?
Generally, I do not wish to be praised, and, if I do, I am
having a weaker moment, when my ego needs bolstering a little. But
I struggle to link this need to God. And, sometimes, when people
praise me, I don't celebrate, because it serves only to create
unreal distance between us: "You're wonderful, much better than me
- I could never be like you. When's the next book coming out?"
Here, praise is an abdication of responsibility, an escape from
an unresolved life into some imaginary perfection of another. It is
as though they want to be anywhere else but the present, and with
anyone else but themselves.
Micah suggested that we act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly
with our God, which appears a better basis for a relationship than
some compulsive transaction that may be benefiting neither