January 31, 2019

Tessellated Praise

Praise the Lord! Praise the Name of the Lord; give praise, O servants of the Lord, you that stand in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God.
Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing to his Name, for he is gracious.
For the Lord has chosen Jacob for himself, Israel as his own possession.
Ps. 135:1-4 

Psalm 135 is a lovely psalm, but it has no title. It is a mosaic—tessellated praise, consisting of quotations from other songs. Because of this, it has not been regarded as highly as many other psalms. But what greater praise can any of us aspire to, really, than to lift up to God the great songs that those before us have sung? How can we improve upon what has already be said?

Certainly God wants my song to be unique and for me to put my faith in my own words. My experience of God is unique among all the people on earth—every disciple's is. But if I would learn the language of prayer, and if I would articulate my experience of God with any fluency, it is a good thing that I learn "Psalterese"—the language of praise and hope and despair and triumph that God's people have used for millennia. Praying the psalms also allows me to pray hopefully when I feel hopeless, or to identify with the despairing when I am untroubled.


It is okay, then, to sincerely pray using words that have been used before. And it is even better when I pray my own prayers that they be influenced by the prayer book of the Bible.

Make my prayers to you a mosaic, Lord, of all the other beautiful prayers that I have read and sung over the years. But give me the grace as well to sing to you a new song, a song of my own making with words unique to my experience of your forgiving love; in his Name who taught me to pray...

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