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Praising the Grayness of Life



As a guest speaker traveling around the country, I am often asked for a description and title for my message. People want to know what the heck they are going to hear! And I can’t blame them. Many times, those coming to listen to me don’t know me at all.

The challenge I run into periodically is that the speaking date is so far out, even I don’t know what I’m going to say. My talks and speeches are most frequently driven by what’s alive in me currently, as well as what’s alive in the world. If you want my best, I have to feed that aliveness, passion, and realness – then you get authenticity, vulnerability and charisma. Heck, I don’t even know what I’m thinking until I write it down, never mind knowing a topic, title and core message of a Sunday talk 3-6 months out! 🙂

This was one of those times when I was stuck. I just had no juice around any one thing, not enough to feel confidence and joy about what I would say, never mind a topic, title and a several sentence description. I just can’t get up and wing it, nor would I want to. As a homiletics instructor, and in honor of my dear friend Robert Fish, it goes against my DNA.

But like all things – life finds a way. I took my ennui and fogginess, I watched what was going on around the world, and decided the complete “grayness” I was feeling was to be my focus. But I was tired of feeling gray – you know that disheartened, powerless, helpless, frozen kind of feeling? It’s not quite black, but you’re not quite feeling light or super hopeful either. Who wants to hear more about how gray the world is? “ME,” said no one ever.

So, the grayness of life was it. It didn’t matter what anyone else needed to hear, I needed to hear about the gray, actually what I needed to hear about was being present to all of life, including the grayness of it, instead of ignoring or pushing it away. How often do we hear that message? “Be present to life.” “Practice mindfulness and awareness.” Frankly, I can get a little TOO aware and would like to be done self-reflecting.

Very quickly though, my heart said, let’s “praise the grayness of life.” I smiled, and knew a title and topic was born. I told you, sometimes I don’t know what I’m thinking until I write it down. However, I wasn’t quite sure what it meant.

I teach, write and preach about looking at suffering, being real, seeing life where life seems to be empty. And sometimes I get accused of being negative or foolish, hell, I’ve even been “ghosted” by friends. The truth is that my contemplative practice, the ability to be aware, to see behind what looks obvious – under the grayness, struggle, pain and numbness – to the soul of life imbued with God, glowing with eternity, goodness, generosity and benevolence, or whatever you call it, is my ultimate sanity. To put it another way, I realize what I am doing is praising the grayness of life.

And it’s never more needed or true than right now…

Praising the grayness is realizing that everything in life has for its purpose the kindling of God-life, our spirit or soul of life within us. The grayness is to point me to my inherent goodness, to quicken it, wake it up and BE it in the world. Be IT as an agent of PRAISE! It’s often not that hard or take much time. As Shrek would say, “Really, really.”

How do we access that Original Presence waiting in each moment? How do we make good use of our awareness to keep us living in the sacred of each moment, just under the gray? How do I praise the grayness of life? There are a myriad of ways I imagine, but a few of my favorite come from the Hebrew Bible.

Originally these words are generally focused on praising God, which we can do, AND I like to extend them out to praising Earth, to praising each other. Plus, I think we’d get on a little better in life if we learned to praise each other – and I don’t mean compliments – I mean lift each other up, adore each other.

A Few Ways to Praise


“Hallelujah” comes from this base word. This might be one of the most fun forms of praise because it asks us to step outside our box. It means “to be clear, to shine, to boast, show, to rave, celebrate, to be clamorously foolish.” It means “Praise the Lord” but even more literally it means to “BE CLAMOROUSLY FOOLISH.” When was the last time you were “clamorously foolish?” Never? You have some work to do! It means to dance, sing, shout, laugh… it’s about being a force behind demonstrative praise, whether for God or another human.


Are you ready to get loud? Shabach means to address in a loud tone. It’s typically associated with freedom or triumph. It’s similar to HALAL, just a little more commanding or triumphant feeling. But it’s more than just a loud shout, it’s the idea of putting everything you have into it. An attitude of wholehearted, whole body praise. Think sporting event and yelling fans cheering or starting a wave.

What is something right now you are super stoked about, something you’d want to shout about? Stand up and shout! Whoop it up! Yes, even if you are alone in your kitchen in your jammies, or in a crowded restaurant. Just do it, you’ll feel that kindling of life become a flame.


This flavor of praise is one that we commonly see around altars. It means to kneel down, to bless, as an act of adoration and reverence. It carries with it the idea of humbling yourself to a place that is lower than the recipient of your praise. I get it. Who’s going to literally kneel down in front of a person to praise them? So do it metaphorically, be humble, “bow” to express your awareness of the other person’s sacredness, try adoring them. And if you believe in God and want to praise God, then outwardly kneel as an expression of acknowledging the mystery in life.

Be humble, “bow” to express your awareness of the other person’s sacredness, try adoring them.

It’s not about kneeling to be subservient – we know how our culture has great allergies to this word because we think it means someone is “less than” the other. It’s ok once in a while to acknowledge another’s greatness and goodness. Your good does not take away from my good, in fact it enhances it. Generosity is generative.


This type of praise is singing that bubbles up from your heart. Tehillah is derived from the word halal and means “the singing of HALALS, to sing or to laud hymns of the Spirit. It’s a spontaneous type of singing. While its origins are hymns or songs of praise to God, again, let’s extend the practice out.

Ever be in your car or the shower and all of a sudden you are singing a the top of your lungs with every fiber of your being? Yup, that praising. It’s the spontaneity that makes this so important. Just like HALAL, it too asks us to move outside our comfort zone. Next time you’re out with friends and a song pops in your head, or you hear one overhead in the store or restaurant, start singing along, get your friends to join you. It’s ok, they’ll get over it. Remember, this is a whole body experience, don’t think about it, otherwise you’ll talk yourself out of praising.

So what in life is troubling you right now? Be present to it, and when you feel as though you’re too aware, remember it is the grayness of life.

At any given moment on any given day, pick one, practice it and notice your shift. We must acknowledge our suffering, go into it to heal our wounds, but we don’t want to pitch a tent there. We also must see life as it really is under all the struggle and pain: imbued with God, glowing with eternity, full of energy, and so overflowing with good.

Remember I said everything in life has for its purpose the kindling of the God-life, the spirit or soul of life that we are? When you see the grayness, it is pointing you to your inherent goodness, calling you to turn that kindling into flame, praise it and BE it in the world.

Can I get an AMEN?

Can you stand up and shout it as some praise and hallelujah?


Visit Kelly Isola’s website here.

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