Monday, July 20, 2009

Learning Our Lines

. . . a song of praise is fitting (Psalm 147:1)

During the summer months it seems like a new movies hit the theaters every week. In recent days I’ve seen two of them: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince followed a couple of days later by Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

In most ways, these two movies couldn’t be more different.

Though not requiring it, the Harry Potter movie assumes a literate audience in that the movie is based on a series of novels. There is an implied history to the movie and one’s capacity to follow and enjoy the drama is enhanced by knowing about the earlier books and / or films.

Transformers, by contrast, merely requires that the audience have a pulse. Yes, this recent installment is a sequel, but plot takes a back seat to stunning high-tech special effects and frequent explosions. One’s capacity to enjoy the drama is predetermined to some extent by the amount of testosterone coursing through one’s body. Watching a tractor trailer truck “unfold” into an enormous robot is great fun, especially when you’re at the movies with your son who thinks you’re just as cool as Optimus Prime for taking him to the show, leaving the women in the family to find some other form of entertainment.

As different as these two movies were, there is one thing they share in common. Both of these movies are about a very ordinary person caught up in an epic story of conflict between the forces of good and the forces of evil, between light and dark, between life and death, between blessing and curse. Harry moves closer to an inevitable confrontation with the Dark Lord. Sam is once again the human ally of Optimus and the hunted foe of Megatron and his ilk.

These huge sweeping stories are what draw us to the movies to begin with. And while it may be a stretch, that kind of thing may be what draws us to the Psalms. The Psalms give us language for entering into the epic drama of what God is doing in the world. Beneath the specific petitions and laments and praises of each individual Psalm there is one abiding conviction that undergirds every one of these 150 poems. God is present and active in the world and we are involved in what God is doing.

When it comes to perceiving the drama of God’s work around us, we are too often crusty-eyed and thick-lidded. Failing to see the action, we live from day without the slightest sense of our role in what’s taking place. We feel plain. Our days are defined by expectations and obligations. We may not dislike the story we’re living, but it hardly seems epic and large; nothing of great significance hangs in the balance. And it hardly qualifies as sacred.

Perhaps one of the most basic ways we find our place in the large story of God’s activity in our world is by learning our lines. This makes sense for those who have a role in a drama. The lines we speak are what the Psalms call “praise.” As we enter into this final week of the Tour de Psalms, praise will be our focus. We’re going to work on learning our lines.

Praise is what we do when we become aware of God around us. It’s what we speak and sing and tell as we get a feel for the divine drama unfolding around us. More than that, it’s how we live into that story. We see that we are in fact caught up in something huge, something far more than obligations and habits. To praise God is to play our part, to speak our lines, to take our place in the epic story.

What do you think it means to “praise God?”

I want to find my place in your story, O God. As the drama unfolds around me today, help me to see it – and help me to answer you, to speak back as you do your work in this world. Teach me how to praise you with my life today. Amen.

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