My little brother Joey has, since he’s prayed out loud, prefaced his prayers with the words “Praise God” as follows: “Praise God, thank you for this day,” and so on.
I have a theory about how the habit developed. I think he must have learned “praise” before “pray,” and then heard it (or what he thought was it) applied over and over again night after night to call our family to bedtime prayers. What were we doing? We were going to praise. Later, when the phrase “Praise God” started showing up in his collection of usable phrases, it made perfect sense to apply it during the beginning of his prayers.
Or something like that. I don’t suppose it matters all that much. Now it’s stuck, and at eleven years old, it’s stuck with him longer than I expected it to. The pleasant thing is that it’s stuck even as his prayers have tended toward more and more varied and original content. I like it.
Of course, it has its fair share of inconvenient linguistic ambiguities. Is it its own clause (Praise God! Thank you for this day…)? Is it a direct address (Praise-God, etc.)? Is it a single-word sentence leading into an address (Praise! God, etc.)?
The first and third options have the inconvenience of being directed toward multiple audiences (unless he’s asking God to praise). The second is, well, a less-than-common title.
But after reflection (with an admitted bias toward coming to like my brother’s preface in the end), I’ve come to think that either of those inconveniences are quite acceptable. Satisfying, even.
If it’s directed toward multiple audiences (toward both himself and God at the very least), it serves as a sort of proclamation of the community in the communion that is prayer. We’re in this together –God, me, and everyone else who’s listening– so I’m going to go ahead and talk to all of us. (Why don’t we talk to each other more often when we pray together? You know, like in a conversation with more than two people?)
If it’s an unique address, well, all the more exciting! If it’s appropriate to the God it signifies, then it could be helpful. And when I start thinking of what it would mean to start addressing Him as Praise-God, I come up with all sorts of pleasant ideas. It could signify that he is the God to whom all praise is directed, as the source and goal of all good gifts. It could remind me that he is necessarily and eternally surrounded with praise, as the God who images Himself to Himself. It could refer to the fact that the true fulfillment and goal of any thing is the praise of its Creator, like Lewis talks about in The Weight of Glory.
Alright, so it’s a bit awkward, Praise-God, but the exercise, at least, was fun.
Whatever the most proper meaning of Joey’s prayerful preamble (I can’t wait ’till he has a good grasp of grammar, so I can see him write it out with punctuation), it has served me at least this much: it has presented me with a regular, rhythmic call to praise. Good habits are hard to come by, so regular reminders like this one are an absolute must.
Oh, that before every prayer I prayed, I might remember my vocation as perfectly as that preface declares it.