by Alastair Sterne
October 12, 2012
5 min read
One of my favourite prayers from the Book of Common Prayer is the Te Deum Laudamus, which is Latin for “Thee, O God, we praise.” It is a prayer that teaches us how to praise God, and while there is much to commend about each phrase of it I want to focus on just a few:
To thee all Angels cry aloud, the Heavens and all the Powers therein
To thee Cherubim and Seraphim continually do cry,
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts;
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty of thy glory.
The glorious company of the Apostles praise thee;
The goodly fellowship of the Prophets praise thee;
The noble army of Martyrs praise thee;
The holy Church throughout all the world doth acknowledge thee
All Angels, the Heavens, all the Powers, Cherubim, Seraphim, the Apostles, the Prophets, the Martyrs, are all continually praising God—non-stop all the time. This is a fantastic image of what is happening before God’s throne above, it is infused with imagery from Revelation. God is continually being worshiped in heaven, and throughout the earth as somewhere, at some time the holy Church is actively worshiping God as well.
If we hold this reality in our minds how would we go about talking to God?
Would we be like the confident teenager who is attempting to make faith his own, and approaches God by saying “sup Bro (God)”, or the sentimentally driven person who says “Abba, Daddy”. Is the God who is surrounded by beings we can’t even conceive, who is enthroned above all creation who is being continually worshiped approachable like this? Is this how you approach a king, or at the Te Deum later says “The king of glory”?
Actually, yes. This is exactly how you approach the king of glory. To the teenager learning to find his own way of speaking to God, I am sure God responds by pounding his own chest with a clenched fist saying “sup bro” in return (and yes, in a anthropomorphic sort of way). Or to the sentiment of being called “Daddy” he responds “sweetie” or “darling” or “my dear child.”
Now does this approach do God justice, does it show the reverence due to him? Maybe, maybe not. It is hard to know. But I am convinced if we actually get a true glimpse of what is happening around God’s throne, the twenty-four-seven worship dance party, whenever we approach him in prayer we would lack words—we would be like St. John who falls down on his face, unable to speak.
What words could actually suffice? Any sincere encounter of God should leave us speechless.
Yet we are still called to speak to God, to pray to him, to sing to him, to praise him, to give thanks. We are called to use whatever words we can put together, and although they will lack the poetic ability to truly capture what God deserves in our words, they simply will do.
God always, always, always condescends for us. Not in a belittling sort of way, but a compassionate way. He makes himself small, so that we can grasp him. He speaks within our constrained languages, so that the finite can reach the infinite. As Isaac Hunter has said “Because the finite could not become infinite, the infinite became finite.” How do we know this? Because God the Son clothed himself in humanity, through the incarnation, and walked among us as Jesus.
If God is willing to become like us to communicate with us, then a “sup bro” or “hey God” or “Daddy” will do. And let’s be honest, if God is going to speak a language it’s not like any form of English is going to be the best pick. Even if our language becomes more reverent, and even more accurate, its not as if “Almighty” or “Holy” or “Heavenly Father” and the like are actually fully capturing God’s majesty.
Yet I am also convinced that if we can keep the images of the Te Deum in mind (which are really the images of Scripture) it will change the way we talk to God, the way we think of God. If strive to see his face, if we make every effort to keep them in mind, then the way we speak to God will always change, evolve, and become more honest, more reverent, but still never enough. But our lack in this instance is not a bad thing, its an invitation into a limitless creativity of expression. The expression of what? Love, boundless love.
What’s the point of all of this? Don’t get caught up on your words. Stop trying so hard to figure out what the “right” thing to say to God is. Speak to God based on what you know of him and yourself. In the words of my mentor “All I know of me, to all I know of Jesus”. Hopefully those two realities are increasing each day. As our expression is always deepening, at the end of it all we can rest assured because it is the blood of Jesus that speaks louder and more clearly than any of our words. It is because of him that we can approach the throne of God with boldness and confidence, knowing that it isn’t a throne of judgment or condemnation but of grace. A throne that may echo a voice back at us that says “sup bro”.