Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Pontifex of Praise

To be a Christian is to be a “pontifex of praise.”

Actually, we need to be this just to be human.

“Pontifex” means “bridge-builder” (from the Latin pons and facere). One role of humans in the universe is to build the bridge, make the connection, between creation and God.

God made everything that is. But nothing in existence knows this except humans (and angels, of course). So it’s up to humans to complete “the circle of creation” – from heaven to earth to heaven; from God to creatures to God again.

We do it through praise.

The components of praise are recognition, admiration, expression – all of which are the realization of relationship. (To “realize” means both to “be aware of” and to “make real”).

Animals know how to use things, but they don’t know what they are. Cows eat grass, but they don’t know it as grass. They can “see and eat,” but they cannot “see and name.”

So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name (Genesis 2:19).

To give something a “name” is to realize what it is for. We “call a spade a spade” when we conclude someone shaped it this way for digging. To do this is to experience kinship with the one who shaped it: we know why he made it like it is. We see what he wanted and how he thought. That he is someone rational, like us. We can “read his mind.”

When we recognize the design and intentionality in the things we give names to as “beings,” we experience kinship with God. We are like him. We can read his mind.

Recognition becomes admiration when we see how ingeniously things are structured. Or appreciate their beauty. (Beauty is “the harmony between unity, truth, and goodness.” Duns Scotus, 1266-1308).

Admiration becomes fully conscious when expressed in praise. It is a principle of experience that what we do not praise we will not appreciate. The more we praise, the more we will appreciate.

To recognize, admire and praise the One who designed the universe is to realize our relationship with God – in both senses of “realize”: we become aware of it and, by expressing it, we “make it real.”

Praise is a realization of relationship through the expression of admiration.

Both experience and relationship are realized in expression. This is rooted in the existence of God himself. The relationship between the Father and the Son “became real” (although it always was) when the Father, knowing himself, expressed what he knew in the “Word” that is the reality of God the Son, the “Word of God” made flesh in Jesus.

Our relationship with others does not become fully conscious or real until we express it in words and actions. The same is true of our relationship with God.

The first authentic expression of relationship with God is praise. If we appreciate who God is, we will praise him. If we do not praise him, we will not appreciate who he is.

The word “praise” appears 111 times in the Psalms alone. Or 136 if we count “praises” and “praising.” The Psalms are the common core of Jewish and Christian prayer.

Why not begin to pray them?

Be human. Be the bridge. Make the connection between creation and God. Be a “pontifex of praise.”

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