You too have been stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit of the Promise, the pledge of our inheritance which brings freedom for those whom God has taken for his own, to make his glory praised.
Ephesians 1: 13-14
In the passage we read today from the Letter to the Ephesians, we hear twice-repeated that we have been chosen by God “to make his glory praised.” For the author of this letter, the end and purpose of human life is clearly for the praise of God’s glory. We exist for the glory of God.
Although there have been times in human history when this would basically be taken for granted, in our own very secular age it all sounds a bit quaint. Even among believers it may seem like a nice thing to say, but we don’t experience its meaning in the “common, ordinary, unspectacular flow” of our daily lives. There may be moments of praying the psalms or singing a hymn when we think of our lives as praising God, but most of us don’t see what we do with the vast majority of our lives as acts of praise. Today we are challenged to reflect on the convergence of the direction we give our life from moment to moment and the purpose of our very existence as the praise of God’s glory.
I, as many who are living out the latter years of their lives, find myself increasingly reflecting on and “re-membering” the events of my past. Among the most significant persons in that re-appropriation is my father. In ways I could not appreciate as a child and young person, I am coming to recognize increasingly the truly kind and attentive person that he was. Of course, I have not forgotten our conflicts and my many adolescent difficulties with him, yet, what becomes more and more figural for me is how often his attention and focus was on me and my needs. Often this manifested in the most simple and ordinary ways. He would often ask me if I “wanted something” to eat, or to be purchased at the grocery store. He would ask simply, despite my far too frequent silences, how I was doing. And, if I needed or wanted something, he would immediately act in response. What I realize decades later, that I could not at the time, was how much he was for me. It is primarily from him that I learned what it means to be for others and what that being for requires of us.
To praise God means to be at the service of God’s will. It requires that throughout our lives we become more and more detached from our own will and increasingly attached to God’s. We praise God by being a servant of God’s creation, by living a life in which our sense of I ever diminishes, so that we may live moment by moment and task by task more and more to serve the All. As a boy, I did not realize that when my father asked me if I wanted a pizza and then headed out immediately to get it, it was at times despite his own tiredness, or sadness, or loneliness which in part could well have been due to my distance and avoidance. When he readily drove with my uncle through a snowstorm to pick me up because I was frightened and sad at being away from home, he acted independently of the inconvenience or danger or how he himself was feeling.
We praise the glory of God with our lives when we awaken another to the love of God within them and around them. Our lives are a praise of God’s omnipotence, but they are also a praise of a love so great that it requires the assent and consent of weak human instruments to manifest itself. Becoming such instruments of love and praise, however, first requires of us that we die to our tendencies to self-centeredness, to putting ourselves first. As I reflect on my father, I realize that as a child, and even as an adolescent, I could not recognize and appreciate him as a person in his own right. I had no idea of what he was going through. So, I could not begin to realize the degree of love there was in how often he put himself, his needs, his feelings aside for me. His, among others’, love formed whatever capacities of heart that I have to be for others, but it was only as an adult, when I slowly began to realize the work involved in loving, that I began truly to appreciate him.
All of those impulses of our vital lives and ambitions of our functional lives that tend to close us in upon ourselves remove us from the life of love and praise that is our true home and destiny. So, we live for the praise of God’s glory in every simple and ordinary act by which we deny ourselves for the sake of another. To choose love when it costs us something of ourselves is to “make the glory of God praised.” To live our purpose in this way is also our true joy. For it is in spending ourselves that we discover the freedom and life that is of the Spirit. For, as the widow of Zarephath learned when she gave what she thought was the last of her food in order to make a meal for Elijah: “. . . the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry. . .”(1 Kings 17: 16).
We live an “undichotomized life of Martha and Mary,” when we act from the depths of that self whose very being is the praise of God. Everyday life forms us toward realizing and incarnating that place of restful action by breaking down our narcissistic tendencies. It is by the practice of “being for” others that we come to learn what our lives are for. In thanksgiving for those who have taught us something of unselfish love, may we offer ourselves by being for others “in praise of God’s glory.”
Our existence as embodied beings is purely momentary; what are a hundred years in eternity? But if we shatter the chains of egotism, and melt into the ocean of humanity, we share its dignity. To feel that we are something is to set up a barrier between God and ourselves; to cease feeling that we are something is to become one with God. A drop in the ocean partakes of the greatness of its parent, although it is unconscious of it. But it is dried up as soon as it enters upon an existence independent of the ocean . . . .
As soon as we become one with the ocean in the shape of God, there is no more rest for us, nor indeed do we need rest any longer. Our very sleep is action. For we sleep with the thought of God in our hearts. This restlessness constitutes true rest. This never-ceasing agitation holds the key to peace ineffable. This supreme state of total surrender is difficult to describe, but not beyond the bounds of human experience. It has been attained by many dedicated souls, and may be attained by ourselves as well.
Mahatma Gandhi, From Yeravda Mandir: Ashram Observances