Wonder, Love, and Praise in the Midst of Devastation

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by Maria Kane


1 Sing to the LORD a new song, *
for he has done marvelous things.
2 With his right hand and his holy arm *
has he won for himself the victory.
3 The LORD has made known his victory; *
his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.
4 He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel, *
and all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
5 Shout with joy to the LORD, all you lands; *
lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.
6 Sing to the LORD with the harp, *
with the harp and the voice of song.
7 With trumpets and the sound of the horn *
shout with joy before the King, the LORD.
8 Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it, *
the lands and those who dwell therein.
9 Let the rivers clap their hands, *
and let the hills ring out with joy before the LORD,
when he comes to judge the earth.
10 In righteousness shall he judge the world *
and the peoples with equity.
                                                                   -Psalm 98

When I taught at a boarding school one of the most popular hymns among the students was “Earth and all stars.” I suspect the students connected with it because its verses spoke to some of their experiences:

Classrooms and labs
loud boiling test tubes
sing the Lord a new song!
Athlete and band
loud cheering people, 
sing to the Lord a new song! 

I, too, love the hymn for it calls to mind the myriad ways our lives are testaments of praise. It also opens my reconsider the seemingly ordinary with greater depth and possibility. I concede, however, that when things are not going well, or I am overwhelmed by a busy schedule or worries, my praise can be rote. Other times, it’s laced with frustration and resentment. “Don’t you see all that’s going on, Lord? How can I sing songs of praise?” With the loss of life and devastation in Baltimore, Garland (TX), Nepal, and Kenya, praise seems feels like a conditional indulgence.

When Psalm 98 was composed, life was not blissful for the psalmist and his community either. They faced war, despair, and the threat of competing gods. Still, they found ways to lose themselves in “wonder, love, and praise.” Their words remind us that praise is an invitation to see the work and mercy of God in places we might not have otherwise considered. Praise does not mean singing the same words over and over. Instead, it’s an invitation to sing a “new one,” one that testifies to God’s timelessness in the midst of our changing circumstances. Praise does not mean life is always good; praise means that God is always good even when life is not.

“Earth and all stars” was chosen as the morning hymn for the last day of classes. For the graduating seniors, this would be the final time they’d sing this hymn as students with this community. As they did so, their voices grew louder and their smiles became broader; their four years in this community were coming full circle. Though the words had never changed, life had given them many songs to sing.

Whether you are 18 or 68, joyful or in sorrow, your soul has a song to sing, for God is making all things new.

Keep on listening and keep on singing!

Think about the events and conversations of the past few days and write a poem of praise. Remember that there is no correct formula. The best praise is the authentic to the broken, yet redeemable realities of our lives. It is there that we see the creative faithfulness and love of our God.

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