Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel instructs us that “Praise precedes faith.” 

Praising sacred creation. Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

To practice faith—any faith tradition—we need to bring the experience of praise to the table.  That is what this great religious teacher is telling us.

In these daily meditations, we have talked frequently of how we are called to do both our inner work and our outer work.  The inner work surely includes praise, for praise is born of an encounter with the beauty of the world.  Praise is the noise that joy makes.  Praise is intrinsic to the Via Positiva.

Poet Rainer Maria Rilke links the Via Positiva to the Via Transformativa, our mystical calling to our prophetic calling, when he says:  We “do justice only where we praise.”

Justice and Joy go together.  We need the joy and praise to sustain us in difficult times when we struggle against big forces in order to heal, do compassion and make justice happen.  But joy is also the goal of justice to render the Via Positiva more possible for more peoples and beings.  Joy is a kind of culmination of equality—it invites more people a chance to participate in the “festival” (Thomas Merton’s word) that life is meant to be—not for a privileged few but for all. 

And not just for a privileged species, but for all beings who share this earth.  As Buddhists pray, “may all beings be happy; may all beings be free of suffering; may all beings smile.”

The chant of Metta: prayers for the health and happiness of all that exists, sung by Imee Ooi. Video by Buddha
Bhoomi Foundation, Kalyan, Mumbai.

Compassion, because it is about interdependence, is a reminder that we share suffering with all beings but joy as well.  As Meister Eckhart says, “what happens to another, whether it be a joy or a sorrow, happens to me.”  Celebration or joy is integral to compassion therefore.

With this in mind, I choose to dwell in upcoming meditations on invitations to praise. 

Another expression for praise, it seems to me, is to not take for granted.  It is so easy to take for granted.  I have often defined mysticism as learning to not take for granted.  This may be why Mary Oliver, who calls herself a “praise poet,” time and again urges us to pay attention and defines prayer as paying attention.  Paying attention is not taking for granted.

See Matthew Fox, Original Blessing, pp. 42-56, 143f.

And Fox, Creation Spirituality: Liberating Gifts for the Peoples of the Earth, pp. 1-4, 18f.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: “My Black Friends Matter.” Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

What does it mean to you to hear that “praise precedes faith?”  Where do you think we need to most not take for granted?

Recommended Reading

Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality

Matthew Fox lays out a whole new direction for Christianity—a direction that is in fact very ancient and very grounded in Jewish thinking (the fact that Jesus was a Jew is often neglected by Christian theology): the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality, the Vias Positiva, Negativa, Creativa and Transformativa in an extended and deeply developed way.
Original Blessing makes available to the Christian world and to the human community a radical cure for all dark and derogatory views of the natural world wherever these may have originated.” –Thomas Berry, author, The Dream of the Earth; The Great Work; co-author, The Universe Story

Creation Spirituality: Liberating Gifts for the Peoples of the Earth

Fox’s spirituality weds the healing and liberation found in North American Creation Spirituality and in South American Liberation Theology. Creation Spirituality challenges readers of every religious and political persuasion to unite in a new vision through which we learn to honor the earth and the people who inhabit it as the gift of a good and just Creator.
“A watershed theological work that offers a common ground for religious seekers and activists of all stripes.” — Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality and Practice.

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9 thoughts on “In Praise of Praise”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Today you begin with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who instructs us that “Praise precedes faith.” To practice any faith tradition—you need to be in an attitude of praise, for if you can’t praise someone, you won’t be able to have faith in them either. Eckhart said these famous words: “If the only prayer you say in your entire life is ‘Thank you,’ that would suffice.” Saying “Thank you” thus is a form of praise–and this too is the Via Positiva. And the poet Rainer Maria Rilke links the Via Positiva to the Via Transformativa when he says: We “do justice only where we praise.” So Justice and Joy go together, as well as praise and thanksgiving. And so it is clear here why the Via Transformativa is the path of justice, compassion and celebration–because celebration is about joy, praise and thanksgiving. And it is also these things which make life the “festival” it should be, in the words spoken by Thomas Merton. Mary Oliver, who calls herself a “praise poet,” time and again urges us to pay attention and even defines prayer as paying attention–and if we are paying attention, we will not take anything for granted! And thus we will be thankful, joyful, and will praise God along with all those who join in the festival of life with us!

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    Gratitude, praise, thankfulness, attentiveness all speak about the same thing. If we slow down and pay attention and share our awe of the marvels around us, we will all be joyful for as long as we can hold our appreciation.

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    The mystics teach us to be open/aware of the sacredness of the Present Moment within and around us to experience and grow in our hearts to Divine Love~Wisdom~Peace~Justice~Healing~Creativity~Beauty~Joy~Compassion… in All beings and things in our daily lives because our Loving Creator is Eternally Present and All in All in Loving Diverse Oneness in our ongoing evolving co-Creation~Cosmos… Being~becoming….

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    It seemed quite ironic that the little white girl holding the sign
    which said: “my black friends matter” had a
    little white boy standing next to her rather than a black friend.
    Just sayin’
    Sally L.

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    We need most not to take for granted our very breath, our life and all that we can see, hear, taste, feel–our ability to think and be conscious–to pay attention, not to just “big” things but to ordinary things, as Mary Oliver portrays so beautifully in her poems. To start from a place of gratefulness each day opens us up to all possibilities for joy as well as sorrow and joins us to one another and the whole creation.

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    How not to think of Dorothy Day with today’s iteration! Living with the poor in NYC’s worst ‘hoods, she maintained her sense of wonder at the beauty which surrounded her. She believed, in her own words, ‘the world will be saved by beauty.’ Thierry

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    Thank you, Matthew, for tying together Rilke and Oliver. I see the connection too. Two years ago, I finished writing a play based on Mary Oliver’s poetry. I named it “This One Wild and Precious Life” which is a line from her poem “The Summer Day.” Surely we can, like her, praise even the simplest of things.

    “Who made the world? Who made the swan, and the black bear? Who made the grasshopper? This grasshopper, I mean the one who has flung herself out of the grass, the one who is eating sugar out of my hand, who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down, who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes. Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face. Now she snaps her wings open and floats away. I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields …. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

    In the program notes, I quoted Rilke: ““Walk your walk of lament on a path of praise.” True words indeed.

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