Joe Chaney Praise is an important practice in many religious traditions. It may even be essential to life, something we all basically need. Growing up as a Protestant, I didn’t understand it well. Praising God seemed obligatory, a rational recognition of the greatness of the Divine Presence (who often didn’t seem very present, but who was understood to be everywhere). We sang hymns. Pacing through the verses and the choruses, we’d reach something of a crescendo with an exclamation such as “How great Thou art!” Some people were moved, but these seemed like isolated events, partly about learning doctrine. Church was indoors, talky, and not in any clear way related to the natural world in which I really did at times feel a sense of wonder. In contemporary culture, we say to one another, “Enjoy!” We want our lives to be happy. We want our children to be capable of happiness, joy. We want them to live fulfilling lives. But so much of our focus is on achievements that depend on good luck, happy circumstances, social connections, native talents, and other contingencies. Daily life doesn’t feel like a gift. We’re told we have to work, we have to earn our rewards. In effect, we’re discouraged from thinking about what comes to us unbidden or what exceeds our grasp – blessings, as my grandmother might have said. But even she mixed up the two concepts – on the one hand, personal achievements and momentary good luck, and, on the other, an experience of wonder. The experience of wonder depends on an attitude of openness that is hard to realize, but it isn’t measurable or marketable. St. Paul said that we should “pray continuously.” I don’t think he meant that we should be constant worriers, or constantly asking God for particular things. He meant that we should live in the spirit of praise. Anyway, you can’t really know what to wish for, because you don’t know the future. You don’t know what you and others will need. If life is worth living, it’s because without any striving or achievement on our part, beautiful things come to us, experiences, friendships, visions, which present themselves as gifts and can only be received and appreciated and understood as gifts. A gift isn’t a possession. Like friendship or marriage, like a magnificent sunset, a gift exists between you and the other, you and the world. To possess it is to reject it as a gift. This is why we are wrong, in a more trivial context, when we accept a gift from someone, then immediately say, “Oh, I have to get something for you!” It’s always our temptation to turn the gift into an exchange, canceling one gift with another, as though it were a loan that could be paid off. But that sunset asks you for nothing. Still, how difficult it can be to accept with humility what we didn’t earn! Even our wildest luck can seem like something we had coming to us – or like something we aren’t allowed to enjoy, because we don’t deserve it. We don’t deserve our gifts. That’s the point. Open yourself to the entire world of wonders that you don’t deserve and can’t legitimately earn. That’s the beginning of miracles. That’s the beginning of praise. For Michiana Chronicles, I’m Joe Chaney.