Penultimate Praise

New song? Nearly. Better
Hums through a kazoo than fancy fretwork
Strums to dazzle children.
Echoes in the shower, muffled bedroom
Cries: a two-edged sword:
It cuts the mute and those who should know better.
Writers without spirit
Cannot even praise the letter truly.

“Psalm 149”
Laurance Wieder
Chapters into Verse: Poetry in English Inspired by the Bible

I have long felt sorry for Psalm 149, one of the concluding, Pentateuch-imitating collection of five praise psalms that closes the canonical psalter. How often has its page been turned in haste—often by a musician—to get to the symphonic glories of Psalm 150? How difficult to be the penultimate entry of praise.

“Penultimate praise” is one way, perhaps, to describe all of life. Any hum or strum, every song or cry, each word enfleshed by those of us baptized into the Word-made-flesh will never truly be our final one. It can only be, at best, our next-to-last act of praise before we go to the place of eternal praise.

The rabbis taught that the very letters of the Torah, written down by the scribes, pulsed with the divinity of God’s living word. And we also know this: filled with the Spirit of Baptism’s waters, we do not praise mere letters, but we praise and proclaim and pulse with the very Wisdom who is their source.

Whenever I reach a moment in life that can be viewed as a conclusion, I turn to Psalm 149, the penultimate entry in Israel’s psalter. Now is such a moment, as this is my last regular contribution to the PrayTell blog. I hasten to state that this is in no way connected to the coming changes here; for nearly a year this has seemed like a necessary step. It began to feel as though I was in danger of becoming the “writer without spirit” who could not even truly praise a single graced letter.

I am grateful for the original invitation to write for this blog, grateful for the growth it has necessitated and inspired, grateful for what wisdom it will still bring us.

In this, as in all things, let us now move on together, pulsing with the divine, living word, toward our destiny of ultimate praise.

3 thoughts on “Penultimate Praise

  1. Alan, your contributions here have been lively and always interesting, asking hard questions but ever with an eye toward new and hopeful horizons. I am grateful to have had a chance to read you here, and wish you the best in whatever your next endeavors may be ~ you will be missed!

  2. Alan, your brilliant and thought-provoking regular contributions will be missed. I don’t think you could ever be a “writer without spirit,” but I hope that having one less thing in your schedule will give you time and space for rest, relaxation, and other fun and creative endeavors. You are a blessing!

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