How, we wonder, can a person who feels utterly alone cry out glory to God?
The Liturgy of the Hours has a distinct rhythm that becomes familiar over time. The Our Father comes at the end every morning and evening, antiphons are repeated after each psalm, the Gospel canticle is always marked with the Sign of the Cross, and when in doubt, pray the doxology.
“Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,” we pray, tripping up those who are more familiar with the slight variation that’s used in the rosary. “As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.”
We pray it to begin each hour, pray it after every Psalm, pray it to end each canticle, both Old and New Testament. The doxology punctuates the responsory, too, running the risk of becoming background noise, words we skim over while turning the page or fixing our hair, heedless of the cry of praise the Church calls us to offer again and again in the Divine Office.
It’s almost incessant, this murmur of glory to God, and yet it’s anything but repetitive. Because sometimes it marks our gentle request that God aid us in our prayer, but other times it cries out the joy of a people redeemed. Each doxology speaks differently, sometimes elated, other times determinedly spoken through clenched teeth.
Because sometimes it follows psalms that don’t leave us crying gloria. Sometimes it comes at the end of psalms of lament, following bitter words or lines that come close to despair.
“My guilt towers higher than my head; it is a weight too heavy to bear. Glory to the Father …” “Those who seek my ruin speak of harm, planning treachery all the day long. Glory to the Father …” “Friend and neighbor you have taken away; my one companion is darkness. Glory to the Father …”
At first glance, this juxtaposition seems more cruelly ironic than prayerful. How, we wonder, can a person who feels utterly alone cry out glory to God? So I suspect that most of us pray the doxology more as an unrelated conclusion, a longer Sign of the Cross, than as a prayer directly related to what has come before it.
But there’s a reason this is the prayer we repeat, a reason that the Church calls us to pray it at the end of the miserable psalms as well as the delightful ones: because God is sovereign even in our misery. Even in our loneliness and despair, even in our confusion and sorrow, God is sovereign. God is still good, however ugly our circumstances, and he is working in our suffering, perhaps even more when we can’t see him.
We give glory to God for his goodness and generosity; that’s not particularly difficult. But we give glory to God when he seems distant, too, when we feel abandoned and hopeless. God is not worthy of praise because of what he’s done but because of who he is; in the Liturgy of the Hours we remind ourselves of that (when we pay attention). We pray words of fear and shame but still give glory to God. We offer prayers that go unanswered but still give glory to God.
We give God glory because of who he is. But when we pray this doxology again and again—or, rather, when we start once more to pay attention to it—we begin to see that perhaps God is doing something good in and through the agonizing feelings that seem to cut him off from our view. Perhaps my loneliness is somehow a gift. Perhaps my confusion is an opportunity to give glory to God, not something to ignore lest it diminish my praise.
It strikes me that this pattern of prayer is an excellent approach to the examen, looking through events of a given day and seeking to give God glory for every triumph and defeat, every joy and struggle. Or it could be another way of offering up suffering, if we respond to frustrations and difficulties with this doxology instead of anger or self-pity.
Psalm 136 describes the history of Israel, insisting that every moment of it came to pass because God’s merciful love endures forever. Might we do the same with our own stories? Could we reflect on every joy and pain of our lives and pray these words, asking God for the grace to praise him for his love at work in the good and the bad?
There will be some events, some horrific moments of trauma that we can’t yet bring ourselves to praise God for. But the more we pay God lip service, speaking words of glory, the more we will find ourselves truly able to praise him for his work in our lives, both seen and unseen. I’ve spent years speeding through this prayer two dozen times a day—maybe it’s time to take a step back and start praying it rather than just saying it.