Where Should I Look When I’m Singing the Doxology?

By Stephen Bates
Peeking around the corner on Sunday mornings, I have the privilege of witnessing something beautiful: the saints at Emmanuel greeting each other after prayer. The extroverts buzz from person to person. The introverts bravely face the daunting prospect of shaking the hand of someone they don’t know. There are some who cannot muster any greeting because of the heaviness in their lives which cannot be adequately communicated in this space. There are introductions, spilt coffee, embraces, hushed medical updates, baby shrieks, awkwardness, joy, and—every once and a while—tears.  

And then we start to sing: “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow…” Eventually, we all join in the ancient doxology. Now for a telling question: Where do you look when you sing the doxology? Maybe you choose to look at the projected words on the wall or maybe you choose to close your eyes. I have a suggestion, but we’ll get to that in a bit. These are the two doxologies we sing regularly at Emmanuel:

The Common Doxology

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him, all creatures here below. Praise Him above, ye heavenly hosts Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Gloria Patri
Glory be to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. World without end, Amen.

Both clearly take the lead from doxology found in scripture. We can see parallels in Rom. 11:36,“For from him and through him and to him are all things…to him be the glory forever” or in 2 Cor. 13:14, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” While the “common” doxology was written by Thomas Ken in 1674, the history of the Gloria Patri traces back to the infancy of the early church. It can be traced to disputes over the divinity of Jesus, culminating in the Council of Nicaea (325). The ending “as it was in the beginning…” has no clear genesis but most likely emerged as a common response to readings from the psalms or baptisms. It was refined and solidified in the weekly rhythms of the church across the centuries.

I’m particularly struck by the phrase in the common doxology: “Praise Him, all creatures here below.” It’s a moment every Sunday where we sing to one another. We summon one another to praise the one who made the heavens and the earth, who rose defeating death and sin, and whose presence dwells within us. We summon one another—young and old, sure and doubtful, heavy-laden and lightly-burdened— again to awe. We sing doxology on behalf of those who find it too difficult to sing.

So back to the question: where do I look when I’m singing the doxology? Eyes closed? At the lyrics (even though we certainly know them by now?) At the goofy looking worship leader? These are all perfectly fine, but I’d like to humbly submit one direction to look if you haven’t tried it. As we sing “praise him, all creatures here below,” let’s spare at least a glance at one another. Notice once again the folks Jesus has died, risen, and will return for. Remember the beautiful, broken, redeemer community that he has placed you in as you sing the praise of the eternal God, three in one. Andrew Peterson writes: “That’s community. They look you in the eye and remind you who you are in Christ.” Singing doxology is a participation in the backward reverberation of a song sung by a thunderous choir at the last resurrection. For one day we will all sing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever.” (Rev. 5:13) Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

1Nicholas Ayo, Gloria Patri, 2007. 28.
2Andrew Peterson, Adorning the Dark, 2019, 159.

Worship | Community | Doxology
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