We exist in the infinite embrace of God’s mercy. In mercy, we all were created. In mercy, we all live. In mercy, we all have the hope of eternal life.
The lavish mercy of God pours over us in every sunrise and sunset, in every noon and midnight. With every breath, we draw on mercy. With every thought, we capture its spirit and turn it to our hope. The gift of such divine power in us calls us to lavish mercy with our own lives, to be agents of mercy in all things.
This journal is offered as an act of thanksgiving and celebration for that lavish mercy. It is a gathering of reflections and prayers which sift through our ordinary experience to seek the breath-giving grace of God awaiting us there.
My name is Renee Yann. I am a Sister of Mercy. I love to chase God through the bright blessing of words. I love to discover words in the dark blessing of silence. It is a joy to share with you the humble fruit of those mutual blessings.
Our entire theological tradition is expressed in terms of Mercy, which I define as the willingness to enter into the chaos of others. James F. Keenan, S.J.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 147 coming after the consoling passage from Isaiah:
O my people, no more will you weep; I will be gracious to you when you cry out, as soon as I hear you, I will answer.
Our readings today assure us that God sees and cares about our suffering. Like a mother who sings to a crying child, God wants to comfort us.
God heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. God tells the number of the stars; calling each by name.
Psalm 147: 3-4
God’s lullaby is Jesus Christ. In Jesus, our Creator sings over us the melody of Infinite Love and Mercy. All we need do is calm ourselves and listen.
At the sight of the crowds, Jesus’s heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned.
All of us, at some time in our lives, stand amidst the troubled crowd. Our friends and family members too stand there at times.
Today, as we pray Psalm 147, let us place all our troubles, and theirs, in the loving embrace of God who sings the lullaby of Jesus over us.
Poetry: from Rumi
Every midwife knows
that not until a mother's womb
softens from the pain of labour
will a way unfold
and the infant find that opening to be born.
There is treasure in your heart,
it is heavy with child.
All the awakened ones,
like trusted midwives are saying,
'welcome this pain.'
It opens the dark passage of Grace.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 27 with its glorious opening salvo:
Psalm 27 reminds us that, amidst all the fluster of life, there is only one thing that matters:
One thing I ask of the LORD; this I seek: To dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, That I may gaze on the loveliness of the LORD and contemplate his temple.
The hard part, as the psalmist tells us, is to wait – not just to wait for heaven at the end of it all – but to wait to discover God in each moment.
I find waiting to be pretty challenging, especially when I’m waiting for something over which I have no control.
Sometimes God seems pretty buried in our lives and in the clamor of the world. It’s tough to wait with hope when we just can’t see the Beloved.
But our psalm charges us to practice hopeful waiting for the grace that comes to us in every moment.
May we wait with courage, hope, and confidence for the gift God eternally gives us.
Poem: from Awed to Heaven, Rooted to Earth by Walter Brueggemann
In our secret yearnings
we wait for your coming,
and in our grinding despair
we doubt that you will.
And in this privileged place
we are surrounded by witnesses who yearn more than do we
and by those who despair more deeply than do we.
Look upon your church and its pastors
in this season of hope
which runs so quickly to fatigue
and this season of yearning
which becomes so easily quarrelsome.
Give us the grace and the impatience
to wait for your coming to the bottom of our toes,
to the edge of our finger tips.
We do not want our several worlds to end.
Come in your power
and come in your weakness
in any case and make all things new.
Our opening passage from Isaiah exults in this Divine Strength, asking to be embraced within its sacred space:
A strong city have we; the Lord sets up walls and ramparts to protect us. Open up the gates to let in a nation that is just, one that keeps faith.
Isaiah 26: 1-2
Jesus, in our Gospel, tells us that inclusion in the sanctuary must be merited by those who understand that God’s Will is for justice over all Creation:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.
Matthew 7: 21
Thus we, longing to be among the included, we pray this Advent psalm:
Open to me the gates of justice; I will enter them and give thanks to the LORD. This gate is the LORD’s; the just shall enter it. I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me and have been my savior.
Psalm 118: 19-21
As I meditate on these thoughts, our Motherhouse property offers many “icons” to reflect upon the concept of the “gate”. The entire campus is enclosed by various types of fencing or walls. There are four gates through which one may pass into the complex.
I imagine that, when first installed, these great gates offered a more formidable enclosure than they do today. Only the wrought iron hinges remain of the main gate’s double swing panels. Yet these, driven into imposing stone pillars, still suggest the firm purpose to create a sacred space.
Inside the property, another wrought iron enclosure surrounds the community cemetery. This fence’s two gates are usually open, demonstrating that their purpose too is not security but rather sacred designation.
These venerable gates, rather than castle-like ramparts, are more like torii, those traditional Japanese gates found at the entrance or within a Shinto shrine where they symbolically mark the transition from the mundane to the sacred.
During Advent, we slowly pass through such a sacred symbolic gate, once again entering the holy mystery who is Jesus Christ. We pray to be transformed, not simply by the retelling of his story, but by the Living Grace he is for us in our own lives.
With today’s powerful readings, we pray to enter more deeply into that Mystery.
Poetry: Endless Time – Tagore
Time is endless in thy hands, my lord.
There is none to count thy minutes.
Days and nights pass and ages bloom and fade like flowers.
Thou knowest how to wait.
Thy centuries follow each other perfecting a small wild flower.
We have no time to lose,
and having no time we must scramble for a chance.
We are too poor to be late.
And thus it is that time goes by
while I give it to every querulous person who claims it,
and thine altar is empty of all offerings to the last.
At the end of the day I hasten in fear lest thy gate be shut;
but I find that yet there is time.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 23. On this first Wednesday of Advent, our psalm is set between two eloquent readings about the full satisfaction of our soul’s hungers.
Isaiah blesses us with his metaphor for Heaven’s abundance, when our souls will be filled to a divine capacity of grace.
In a world already redeemed, Isaiah’s vision has been fulfilled. We live our lives already seated at the banquet he describes.
But do we realize it? Do we partake every moment in the outpouring of grace given us by our Baptism into Christ?
In our Gospel, Jesus sees the deeper hungers of the fatigued crowd. His miracle feeds their bodies but, more importantly, awakens their souls to see him as the fulfillment of God’s promise. Isaiah’s prophecy is accomplished in Jesus:
On that day it will be said: Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us! This is the LORD for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!” For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain.
As we read Psalm 23 today, let’s allow its consoling verses to become our prayer of trust and gratitude for God’s “already presence” in our lives. Like the crowd awakened by Jesus’s miracle, let us open our eyes to the infinite grace spread before us, though wrapped sometimes in the mundane circumstances of our lives.
Poetry: Joy Harjo – Perhaps the World Ends Here
The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 72 which sings with Advent expectation and hope. How beautiful to hear its tones once again and to realize that God has carried us through another year.
With Psalm 72, God tells us it is time to begin again – and this time, because of all the past year has taught us, to more fully abandon our hearts to the fidelity God promises.
O God, with your judgment endow the king, and with your justice, the king’s son; He shall govern your people with justice and your afflicted ones with judgment.
Psalm 72: 1-2
Our psalm invites us to see Creation as God sees it, an eternal relationship which endures in peace even beyond the moon’s final setting. That eternal promise brings profound peace. God, who is Infinite Mercy, loves us beyond boundaries, beyond circumstance, beyond time.
Justice shall flower in his days, and profound peace, till the moon be no more. May he rule from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
Psalm 72: 7-8
Jesus is the Promise Fulfilled. In him, Infinite Mercy enfleshes justice for the humble and poor.
He shall rescue the poor one who cries out, and the afflicted when there is no one to help. He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor; the lives of the poor he shall save.
Psalm 72: 12-13
Advent patiently teaches us to recognize such salvation and peace. It is not revealed in miracles, but rather in the enduring power of hope, trust and gratitude. Jesus is our salvation and peace. The cyclic retelling of his life, death and resurrection invites us to deepen our own journey once again this Advent.
May his name be blessed forever; as long as the sun his name shall remain. In him shall all the tribes of the earth be blessed; all the nations shall proclaim his happiness.
Psalm 72: 17
Poetry: Advent Calendar by Rowan Williams, a Welsh Anglican bishop, theologian and poet. He was the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, a position he held from December 2002 to December 2012.
He will come like last leaf’s fall. One night when the November wind has flayed the trees to bone, and earth wakes choking on the mould, the soft shroud’s folding. He will come like frost. One morning when the shrinking earth opens on mist, to find itself arrested in the net of alien, sword-set beauty. He will come like dark. One evening when the bursting red December sun draws up the sheet and penny-masks its eye to yield the star-snowed fields of sky. He will come, will come, will come like crying in the night, like blood, like breaking, as the earth writhes to toss him free. He will come like child.
Music: O Come, Divine Messiah Words: Abbé Simon J. Pellegrin, 1663-1745 English Translation of French Carol “Venez Divin Messie” Translator: Sister Mary of St. Philip, SND Melody: 16th Century French Carol
The English translation of “Venez, divin Messie” beginning “O come, divine Messiah” is by Sister Mary of St. Philip, SND, the name in religion of Mary Frances Lescher (1825-1904). She was one of the first English members of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur when they established their training college at Mount Pleasant in Liverpool, England, in about 1850. She and at least one other SND sister wrote both translations and original hymns and songs over the course of their long professional lives.
from John Uhrig’s letter to Douglas D. Anderson, Founder of the website “The Hymns and Carols of Christmas”
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 19 which, according to the famous Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon, is “the study of God’s two great books—nature and Scripture”.
The verses chosen for today’s Responsorial focus on the Law as we receive it in the words of Scripture.
The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul; The decree of the LORD is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple.
St. Andrew, whose feast we celebrate today, was a simple fisherman made wise by the Living Word of God. He received the Gospel as it was first uttered in the life and preaching of his dear friend Jesus.
Andrew decided to retell that precious Word in his own life and preaching.
He joyfully accepted the call to radical discipleship, allowing his inner vision to be enlightened by the Christ’s vision for the world.
The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The command of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eye.
Psalm 19: 9
Andrew’s whole life and death gave witness to his total investment in God’s Word. That apostolic commitment sweetened not only Andrew’s life, but the life of the whole faith community to whom he transmitted the Living Word… including us.
Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life. They are more precious than gold, than a heap of purest gold; Sweeter also than syrup or honey from the comb.
Psalm 19: 10;11
Prayer: from daily-prayers.org
O Glorious St. Andrew, you were the first to recognize and follow the Son of God. With your friend, St. John, you remained with Jesus, for your entire life, and now throughout eternity. Just as you led your brother, St Peter, to Christ and many others after him, draw us also to Him. Teach us how to lead them, solely out of love for Jesus and dedication to His service. Help us to learn the lesson of the Cross and carry our daily crosses without complaint, so that they may carry us to God the Almighty Father. Amen.
Music: from Bach – Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes, BWV 76
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 80, an urgent call to a God from whom the psalmist has turned away.
How do we get to the point that we are turned away from God? And how do we correct that? Well, that’s what Advent is all about, and our psalm today gives us some hints about a remedy.
Sometimes with God, as with any relationship, we simply get disconnected. It’s as if the the phone lines go down and we don’t bother to fix them.
We pray less – well, you know, because we’re busy, right?
We lose the “holy intention” in our lives to always be with God and for God, even in our choices and actions.
Advent helps us remember that such “holy intention” can only be charged by our connection to God. Advent turns us to call that Power into our lives.
O shepherd of Israel, hearken, from your throne upon the cherubim, shine forth. Rouse your power, and come to save us.
Other times, we are confused about our soul’s intimate relationship with God. We haven’t forgotten it. Actually, we work very hard to be what we think God wants. We, like a satisfied Pharisee, think our “holiness” is the fruit of our own efforts. But our life in God withers, like a once beautiful plant that languishes, overwatered and scorched. For all our efforts, our souls feel empty.
Advent helps us realize that it is God who enlivens the vine and gives the blossom, not us. Advent turns us to a humble, hopeful waiting for grace as God desires to give it.
Once again, O LORD of hosts, look down from heaven, and see; take care of this vine, and protect what your right hand has planted the son of man whom you yourself made strong.
Our psalm recognizes that, at times, we withdraw from God. Perhaps we tire of working at our spiritual life. Or we weary when our works of mercy go unappreciated. Or we fail to find God’s Presence in a prayer that seems unanswered.
Advent helps us see that God is never the one who withdraws from the work of love. We do.
Advent turns us to new life by the simple calling of the Name that never fails to answer.
May your help be with the creature of your right hand, with the beloved whom you yourself made strong. Then we will no more withdraw from you; give us new life, and we will call upon your name.
Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.
Poetry:Tagore – THE INFINITY OF YOUR LOVE
Stand before my eyes,
and let Your glance touch my songs into a flame.
Stand among Your stars,
and let me find kindled in their lights my own fire of worship.
The earth is waiting at the world’s wayside.
Stand upon the green mantle she has flung upon Your path,
and let me in her grass and meadow flowers spread my own salutation.
Stand in my lonely evening where my heart watches alone;
fill her cup of solitude,
and let me turn my heart toward the infinity of Your love.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 95. As we pray its laudatory verses, we are invited to stand on the very threshold of Advent.
Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD; let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation. Let us come into the Lord’s presence with thanksgiving; let us joyfully sing psalms to our God.
Even though the pre-dawn sky seems essentially unchanged, we can sense the First Light waiting to spring over the horizon. And, oh, how we long for it! How we need it to illuminate the shadows of this pandemic year, to warm the long cold of separation and loss, to fill the stunned silence of our hearts with a new rising song!
For the LORD is a great God, and a great king above all gods; God holds the depths of the earth, and the tops of the mountains like jewels in a loving hand. God made and owns the sea and the dry land, forming them from the Divine Imagination!
We join the whole Church as we pray today’s psalm refrain:
We ask God to prepare Advent’s doors in our hearts and spirits. It is time to be renewed in faith, hope, and love. Over the coming season, God will guide us to that longed-for Light.
So for this last pre-Advent day:
Come, let us bow down in worship; let us kneel before the LORD who made us, who is our God, and we are the people Love shepherds, the flock Love guides.
Poetry: Advent Credo by Allan Boesak
It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss— This is true: For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life;
It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction— This is true: I have come that they may have life, and that abundantly.
It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last word, and that war and destruction rule forever— This is true: Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, his name shall be called wonderful councilor, mighty God, the Everlasting, the Prince of peace.
It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil who seek to rule the world— This is true: To me is given authority in heaven and on earth, and lo I am with you, even until the end of the world.
It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted, who are the prophets of the Church before we can be peacemakers— This is true: I will pour out my spirit on all flesh and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions and your old men shall have dreams.
It is not true that our hopes for liberation of humankind, of justice, of human dignity of peace are not meant for this earth and for this history— This is true: The hour comes, and it is now, that the true worshipers shall worship God in spirit and in truth.
So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope. Let us see visions of love and peace and justice. Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ—the life of the world.
From Walking on Thorns, by Allan Boesak, Eerdmans, 2004.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 84, a praise and pilgrimage hymn.
It is a perfect prayer for us if we have any small sense of alienation, loss, or confusion in our own pilgrimage.
And, honestly, who doesn’t!?
Even in the best of times, life can be a twist! And in pandemic times, politically charged times, economically shaky times??? Never a better time to say, “God help us!”
But Psalm 84 orients us. It announces what the journey is really about … the desire to find a resting place in God. Once we realize that, the road slowly straightens with the power of faith.
In Psalm 84, the pilgrim’s heart, hungry for God, sets out on the spiritual journey.
My soul yearns and pines for the courts of the LORD. My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
There can be a deep trust in our journeying heart because “even the sparrow” finds a home in God’s tender care.
Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest in which she puts her young– Your altars, O LORD of hosts, my king and my God!
The secret, though, is constancy.:
We pilgrims must stay with the essence of our journey – the deep desire for God.
We must listen to scripture’s “directions” about where God dwells – with the poor, humble, and merciful.
We must not let the flashy road signs of the “Me Culture” distract us.
“The Narcissism Epidemic,” by psychologists Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell studies the increase of narcissism or “me-ism” in our culture. Here’s an excerpt:
Although these seem like a random collection of current trends, all are rooted in a single underlying shift in the American psychology: the relentless rise of narcissism in our culture. Not only are there more narcissists than ever, but non-narcissistic people are seduced by the increasing emphasis on material wealth, physical appearance, celebrity worship, and attention seeking. Standards have shifted, sucking otherwise humble people into the vortex of granite countertops, tricked-out MySpace pages, and plastic surgery. A popular dance track repeats the words “money, success, fame, glamour” over and over, declaring that all other values have “either been discredited or destroyed.”
Let’s pray today for “staying power”. We have been given the grace to seek God in our lives. Let’s dwell in that seeking, moving from strength to strength in any twists life tosses in front of us.
Blessed they who dwell in your house! continually they praise you. Blessed are we whose strength you are! They go from strength to strength.
Poetry: The Journey – Tagore
The morning sea of silence broke into ripples of bird songs; and the flowers were all merry by the roadside; and the wealth of gold was scattered through the rift of the clouds while we busily went on our way and paid no heed.
We sang no glad songs nor played; we went not to the village for barter; we spoke not a word nor smiled; we lingered not on the way.
We quickened our pace more and more as the time sped by. The sun rose to the mid sky and doves cooed in the shade. Withered leaves danced and whirled in the hot air of noon.
The shepherd boy drowsed and dreamed in the shadow of the banyan tree, and I laid myself down by the water and stretched my tired limbs on the grass.
My companions laughed at me in scorn; they held their heads high and hurried on; they never looked back nor rested; they vanished in the distant blue haze. They crossed many meadows and hills, and passed through strange, far-away countries.
All honor to you, heroic host of the interminable path! Mockery and reproach pricked me to rise, but found no response in me.
I gave myself up for lost in the depth of a glad humiliation —in the shadow of a dim delight.
The repose of the sun-embroidered green gloom slowly spread over my heart. I forgot for what I had traveled, and I surrendered my mind without struggle to the maze of shadows and songs.
At last, when I woke from my slumber and opened my eyes, I saw thee standing by me, flooding my sleep with thy smile. How I had feared that the path was long and wearisome, and the struggle to reach thee was hard!
Music: How Lovely Is Your Dwelling Place – Jesuit Music