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Mercy Surrounds Us

dark mercy

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.

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Psalm 119: DiliGENTLY

Saturday of the First Week of Lent

February 27, 2021


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with our familiar Psalm 119. Because it is the longest of the Psalms, there is plenty of material for its frequent use.


But sometimes, when things are frequent and familiar, they can also become “humdrum”. Our prayers, especially repeated vocal prayers such as those we say at Mass, can become veiled in monotony.


Thinking of this, I read Psalm 119 with new eyes today, looking for a dynamic word to pop out and speak to me. And here it was:

You have commanded that your precepts
    be diligently kept.
Oh, that I might be firm in the ways
    of keeping your statutes!

Psalm 119: 4-5

Diligently” – it is a wonderful word that suggests a range of attitudes we should hold in the Presence of God.

The word is derived from the Latin diligere: “to single out, value highly, esteem, prize, love; aspire to, be content with, appreciate”.

The psalmist suggests that God wants us to esteem and love God’s Word in a singular manner – that we should pay sharp attention, prize, and develop a deep appreciation for God’s precepts.


Our careful engagement of the Word of God must be delicate and gentle, as the root of “diligently” implies. We might imagine careful fingers peeling ripe fruit so delicately that nothing is lost of its pulp or juice.

In our daily prayer, we then savor that sweetness over and over, releasing its eternal meaning into the circumstances of our lives, feeding our spirits with its graces.

I will give you thanks with an upright heart,
    when I have learned your just ordinances.

Psalm 119:7

Poetic Advice: Taken from “The Journey of the Mind to God” by St. Bonaventure (1221–1274)

Do not assume that mere
Reading will suffice without fervor,
Speculation without devotion,
Investigation without admiration,
Observation without exaltation,
Industry without piety,
Knowledge without love,
Understanding without humility,
Study without divine grace.

Music: Wonderful Words of Life – Philip Bliss, 1874.
This is a lesser known hymn by the prolific Bliss who also composed the music for the more popular “It Is Well with My Soul”.

Psalm 130: The Depths

Friday of the First Week of Lent

February 26, 2021


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 130, the De Profundis. This is a transformative prayer whose power we may not fully realize.

Have you ever been disappointed with God? Have you ever let God know it in your prayer? 

Psalm 130 is the psalmist’s complaint to God that things are as bad as they can get and God doesn’t appear to care. It is a plea – even a demand- for God to pay attention and do something. (See my poem, sent a little later, called “These Things”.)

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;
    LORD, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
    to my voice in supplication.


But Psalm 130 is not just a private complaint. As well as being a penitential psalm, 130 is marked as a “Psalm of Ascent”. This means that it was sung by the community as they went to the Temple to worship.

Psalm 130 carries the tone of a national or global lament. It has the feeling of a deeply bruised people bearing a desperate hope mixed with some bewilderment. It is a feeling we all recognize.

Remembrance of Lives Lost to Covid 19

Yesterday in my neighborhood, we had our first hint of spring weather. On a short walk, I met a few people whose winter-weary eyes, above their masks, held a spark of resurrection hope.

With distribution of COVID vaccines, hope for deliverance from the pandemic surfaces like a tentative bud. We are starting the slow ascent from the depths we have all shared. We are on our way to the temple of thanksgiving and praise.


But Psalm 130 reminds that, on that ascent, fully voicing our lament is imperative for true healing. In reference to the pandemic, and to any other devastation we face in life, we must be honest with God about our fear, confusion, sadness, hopelessness, and shaken faith … about our disappointment in God, our splintered expectations which need healing.

If you, O LORD, mark iniquities,
    LORD, who can stand?

It is only by asking God how these things – whatever they might be – could be allowed to happen to us, or to any of God’s beloved, that we will open ourselves to the Divine answer – a mystery too deep for words.

I trust you, LORD;
    my soul trusts in your word.
My soul waits for you
    more than sentinels wait for the dawn.
    Let me wait for the LORD.

Such prayer heals, leading us to a deeper, truer relationship with God.

For with the LORD is kindness
    and plenteous redemption;
And the Lord will redeem Israel
    from all their suffering and sin.

Poetry: Spring – Mary Oliver

Somewhere
a black bear
has just risen from sleep
and is staring

down the mountain.
All night
in the brisk and shallow restlessness
of early spring

I think of her,
her four black fists
flicking the gravel,
her tongue

like a red fire
touching the grass,
the cold water.
There is only one question:

how to love this world.
I think of her 
rising
like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against 
the silence
of the trees.
Whatever else

my life is
with its poems
and its music
and its cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness
coming 
down the mountain,
breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her –
her white teeth,
her wordlessness, 
her perfect love.

Music: Pié Jesu – Michael Hoppé

Psalm 138: Favors Received

Thursday of the First Week of Lent

February 25, 2021


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 138, an ardent thanksgiving for favors received.

Lord, on the day I called for help,
you answered me.

Psalm 138:3
Queen Esther by Andrea del Castagno – 15th C.

The psalm today reflects back to our first reading from the Book of Esther. The “favor received” in that story is a monumental one: saving the Jewish people from extinction. This deliverance is commemorated on the Jewish Feast of Purim which, coincidental to our liturgical reading, is celebrated this year on February 25th.


 Reflecting on “favors received”, we might be moved to thank God for the blessings in our lives. Some blessings are evident from the get-go. But some come initially wrapped in challenge, worry, even anguish:

Queen Esther, seized with mortal anguish,
had recourse to the LORD.
She lay prostrate upon the ground, together with her handmaids, 
from morning until evening, and said:
“God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, blessed are you. 
Help me, who am alone and have no help but you,
for I am taking my life in my hand.

Esther C: 12-16

What is it that changes these darknesses into Light? Psalm 138 offers us this clue:

When I called, you answered me;
    you built up strength within me.
    Your right hand saves me.
The LORD will complete what he has done for me;
    your kindness, O LORD, endures forever;
    forsake not the work of your hands.

Psalm 138: 3,7-8

Certainly a positive outcome to our prayer, like Esther’s, allows us to see a blessing. But what about the times when the outcome disappoints or even devastates us?

The answer has something to do with spiritual “strength”, with a long faith like Esther’s. She puts her hope in the Lord and waits for the answer to unfold even at the risk of her life.

Trusting God like this means that we believe in God’s bigger picture for us and for all that we love. 

  • It means that, by faith, we live partly in the eternal world we cannot yet see. 
  • It means that the quintessential things of our heart and soul exist beyond time, in the unbounded love of God.
  • It means that we trust God to complete all things in lavish mercy.

The LORD is with me to the end.
LORD, your Mercy endures forever.
Never forsake the work of your hands!

Psalm 138: 7-8

That kind of faith won’t just pop up when we are in trouble. It has to be ingrained – the very fabric of our lives, knitted there by the prayerful surrender of our daily lives to God’s amazing Grace.


Poetry: Rock of My Salvation BY MORDECAI BEN ISAAC
TRANSLATED BY SOLOMON SOLIS-COHEN

Mighty, praised beyond compare,
Rock of my salvation,
Build again my house of prayer,
For Thy habitation!
Offering and libation, shall a ransomed nation
Joyful bring
There, and sing
Psalms of Dedication!

Woe was mine in Egypt-land,
(Tyrant kings enslaved me);
Till Thy mighty, out-stretched Hand
From oppression saved me.
Pharaoh, rash pursuing, vowed my swift undoing—
Soon, his host
That proud boast
’Neath the waves was rueing!

To Thy Holy Hill, the way
Madest Thou clear before me;
With false gods I went astray—
Foes to exile bore me.
Torn from all I cherished, almost had I perished—
Babylon fell,
   Ze-ru-ba-bel
Badest Thou to restore me!

Then the vengeful Haman wrought
Subtly, to betray me;
In his snare himself he caught—
He that plann’d to slay me.
(Hauled from Esther’s palace; hanged on his own gallows!)
Seal and ring
Persia’s king
Gave Thy servant zealous.

When the brave Asmonéans broke
Javan’s chain in sunder,
Through the holy oil, Thy folk
Didst Thou show a wonder—
Ever full remained the vessel unprofanèd;
These eight days,
Lights and praise,
Therefore were ordainèd.

Lord, Thy Holy Arm make bare,
Speed my restoration;
Be my martyr’s blood Thy care—
Judge each guilty nation.
Long is my probation; sore my tribulation—
Bid, from Heaven,
Thy shepherds seven
Haste to my salvation!

Music: Rock of My Salvation – Maranatha Music

Psalm 51: Washed in a Whale’s Belly!

Wednesday of the First Week of Lent

February 24, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 51. The psalm is accompanied by readings so rich in sacred symbolism that just an isolated word or image, focused on and repeated, can be a source of deep prayer.


As we pray Psalm 51, we might think of Jonah. How like him we can be – ignoring God’s nudges until we are thrown into some whale’s belly of trouble! There – tossed, turned, shaken up, and thoroughly washed – we might come out with a new perspective on our lives, just a Jonah did. 🐳😊

Let’s still our spirits in any tumbling water we might find ourselves as we pray today. What is it that God might be nudging us to right now in our lives? What circumstance might we place in the waters to be thoroughly cleaned so that we may see it anew?


Poetry: Leviathan by Clare Pollard

1 Sometimes I feel like Jonah
fleeing Nineveh.
Who wants to hear what is evil?
Every day we make this earth less
alive, various or legal.
What is this diminishment
but sin against god
which is a program
to generate complexity?
I should go to Nineveh
and cry against wickedness
which halts love
which wants
the other’s different self
to stay itself.

2 They say if you’re fair
or moneyed
or live on a mountain
you won the lottery,
everyone else, apologies — 
storms aren’t going away
so play the game nicely.
Lots are cast, blame allotted,
men tossed to the ocean’s
torsion, seaweed’s cage,
foreclosing
depths and then the blue whale’s
curdled belly
digesting
everything we’ve done.

3 I visited a branch of Sea Life
in an ex-county hall.
Mops in corridors, half-empty
vending machines.
They took photos of us
pretending to look scared
in front of green screens.
Rays took tidbits
from stinking cups.
The sharks were
gilled glide,
ravenous for outside.
We were dumped onto dry land
by the Coca-Cola
London Eye.

4 I must warn Nineveh.
But who wants to hear me say
what is evil?
It is dominion.
It is the law
that makes goodness impossible,
fasting in sackcloth
the only option.
But God will not say must
only relent or sorrow
as the whale does
when her calf is taken — 
a harrowed sound
that does not bear
description.

Music: Wash Me Clean – Maggie Dawn

Psalm 34: Together

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

February 23, 2021


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 34, thought to be a young David’s thanksgiving prayer after God saved him from one of his many dangerous escapades.

In telling his deliverance story, David invites his friends to celebrate with him and to learn the faith-lesson he has learned:

Glorify the LORD with me,
    let us together extol his name.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me
    and delivered me from all my fears. 


I picture myself sitting in David’s audience, absorbing the words of his prayer. This line strikes me:

The LORD has eyes for the just,
    and ears for their cry.

Ah, the Lord has eyes for me….for ME! It conjures up sounds of The Flamingos, doesn’t it? (Sorry for the transcriber’s misspelling 😀)

Most of us want to think that we are individually special to God. This desire is at the core of the Protestant Evangelical model, “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ”. But for some, this model has become confused with a prosperity gospel that is quite misleading.

The only prosperity we should seek from God is the gift of grace because:

Yahweh’s peculiar inclinations are with the broken-hearted and the ones with crushed spirit. That is, Yahweh’s solidarity is not with the ones who go from success to success, but the ones denied success.

Walter Brueggemann The Message of the Psalms A Theological Commentary Ausberg Publishing House 1984

Still, such a personal relationship is not alien to a full and complete faith:

Faith is above all a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus, and to experience his closeness, his friendship, his love; only in this way does one learn to know him ever more, and to love and follow him ever more. May this happen to each one of us.

Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, 2009

(Look for an extra prayer about “The Eye of God” in another post today.)


However, our psalm alerts us that this deeply personal dimension is only part of relationship with God.

When the just cry out, the LORD hears them,
    and from all their distress he rescues them.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;
   and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.

To be seen and heard by God, one must be part of the just community. To be close to God, one must feel the brokenheartedness of the poor. We come to the psalmist’s exuberant praise only by walking with suffering, either in our own lives, or beside others who bear distress.

From all their distress
God rescues the just.

Psalm 34 teaches us that our personal relationship with God is interdependent with our relationship with the whole community. David calls his community to share in his praise-song because they- together -recognize God’s mercy and share it in concern for one another.

The LORD has eyes for the just,
    and ears for their cry.


Our Gospel today confirms that a personal love for God thrives only within a communal love. The prayer Jesus shares is not “My Father”. It is “Our Father”. We come to the depths of God’s merciful heart with our sisters and brothers.


Poetry: An Inclusive Lord’s Prayer – Author unknown

Loving God, 
in whom is heaven, 
may Your name be honored everywhere.
May Your Mercy reign.
May the desire of Your heart for the world 
be done, 
in us, by us and through us.
Give us each and all
the bread we need for the day.
Forgive us.
Free us to forgive others.
Keep us from all anxiety, fear, and selfishness.
For You reign in the power that comes from love 
which is Your glory
forever and ever.
Amen.

Music: Our Father – Joe Wise

Psalm 23: The Shepherd

Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, Apostle

February 22, 2021


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, on this Feast of St. Peter we pray with Psalm 23 – the Good Shepherd.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    In verdant pastures I am given repose;
Beside restful waters the Lord leads me;
    refreshing my soul.

Psalm 23

The history and devotion intrinsic to this feast can inspire us to pray especially today for our dear Pope Francis who carries Peter’s grace and burden in our time. He carries, in Primacy, the charge reflected in our first reading:

Tend the flock of God in your midst,
overseeing not by constraint but willingly,
as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly.
Do not lord it over those assigned to you,
but be examples to the flock.
And when the chief Shepherd is revealed,
you will receive the unfading crown of glory.


Pope Francis faces resistances just as Peter did. There are always forces within a community who pull its energy in contradictory directions. When rooted in love and reverent dialogue, that counteraction can generate growth. But when born of selfishness and obstinance, such opposition poisons the whole Body.

Francis needs our prayer. The Church needs our prayer. According to Teresa of Avila, Saint and Doctor of the Church, that prayer should be scriptural:

All the troubles of the Church,
all the evils in the world,
flow from this source:
that human beings do not
by clear and sound knowledge
and serious consideration
penetrate into the truths
of Sacred Scripture.

St. Teresa of Avila

Today, Psalm 23 inspires our prayer for our Pope:

Even in the dark valley
    may you fear no evil; for you are at God’s side
Whose rod and staff
    give you courage.
May God spread graces before you
    in the sight of your troubles;
and anoint your head with oil;
    your cup overflowing.
May goodness and kindness follow you
    all the days of your life;
May you dwell in the LORD’s sanctuary
    for all your days.


Poetry: When I was a boy … (Da ich ein Knabe war …) – Friedrich Hölderlin

Pope Francis’s favorite poet is said to be the German writer Friedrich Hölderlin. Perhaps Francis, composer of the lyrical Laudato Sí and Fratelli Tutti, loves this rhapsodic poem.

When I was a boy
Often a god would save me
From the shouts and blows of men;
I played safely and well
With the flowers of the fields
And the winds of heaven
Played with me.

As you make happy
The hearts of plants
When they extend to you
Their delicate tendrils,
So you make my heart happy,
Father Sun, and like Endymion
I was your favorite,
Holy Moon!

All true and neighborly gods!
If only you knew
How much I loved you then!
True, at that time, I didn’t
Know your names, and you
Never bothered to name me, like men
Who only pretend to know one another.

Yet I know you better
Than I’ve ever known anyone,
I understood the silence of the upper air,
But I’ve never understood the words of men.
I was raised by the sounds
Of the rustling grove
And learned to love
Among the flowers.
I grew up in the arms of the gods.

Music: Psalm 23 with Bach’s Sheep May Safely Graze

A Beautiful Shelley Poem

Hymn to Intellectual Beauty 
Percy Bysshe Shelley
 
The awful shadow of some unseen Power
      Floats though unseen among us; visiting
      This various world with as inconstant wing
As summer winds that creep from flower to flower;
Like moonbeams that behind some piney mountain shower,
           It visits with inconstant glance
           Each human heart and countenance;
Like hues and harmonies of evening,
           Like clouds in starlight widely spread,
           Like memory of music fled,
           Like aught that for its grace may be
Dear, and yet dearer for its mystery.


Spirit of BEAUTY, that dost consecrate
      With thine own hues all thou dost shine upon
      Of human thought or form, where art thou gone?
Why dost thou pass away and leave our state,
This dim vast vale of tears, vacant and desolate?
           Ask why the sunlight not for ever
           Weaves rainbows o'er yon mountain-river,
Why aught should fail and fade that once is shown,
           Why fear and dream and death and birth
           Cast on the daylight of this earth
           Such gloom, why man has such a scope
For love and hate, despondency and hope?


No voice from some sublimer world hath ever
      To sage or poet these responses given:
      Therefore the names of Demon, Ghost, and Heaven,
Remain the records of their vain endeavor:
Frail spells whose utter'd charm might not avail to sever,
           From all we hear and all we see,
           Doubt, chance and mutability.
Thy light alone like mist o'er mountains driven,
           Or music by the night-wind sent
           Through strings of some still instrument,
           Or moonlight on a midnight stream,
Gives grace and truth to life's unquiet dream.


Love, Hope, and Self-esteem, like clouds depart
      And come, for some uncertain moments lent.
      Man were immortal and omnipotent,
Didst thou, unknown and awful as thou art,
Keep with thy glorious train firm state within his heart.
           Thou messenger of sympathies,
           That wax and wane in lovers' eyes;
Thou, that to human thought art nourishment,
           Like darkness to a dying flame!
           Depart not as thy shadow came,
           Depart not--lest the grave should be,
Like life and fear, a dark reality.


While yet a boy I sought for ghosts, and sped
      Through many a listening chamber, cave and ruin,
      And starlight wood, with fearful steps pursuing
Hopes of high talk with the departed dead.
I call'd on poisonous names with which our youth is fed;
           I was not heard; I saw them not;
           When musing deeply on the lot
Of life, at that sweet time when winds are wooing
           All vital things that wake to bring
           News of birds and blossoming,
           Sudden, thy shadow fell on me;
  I shriek'd, and clasp'd my hands in ecstasy!


I vow'd that I would dedicate my powers
      To thee and thine: have I not kept the vow?
      With beating heart and streaming eyes, even now
I call the phantoms of a thousand hours
Each from his voiceless grave: they have in vision'd bowers
           Of studious zeal or love's delight
           Outwatch'd with me the envious night:
They know that never joy illum'd my brow
           Unlink'd with hope that thou wouldst free
           This world from its dark slavery,
           That thou, O awful LOVELINESS,
Wouldst give whate'er these words cannot express.


The day becomes more solemn and serene
      When noon is past; there is a harmony
      In autumn, and a lustre in its sky,
Which through the summer is not heard or seen,
As if it could not be, as if it had not been!
           Thus let thy power, which like the truth
           Of nature on my passive youth
Descended, to my onward life supply
           Its calm, to one who worships thee,
           And every form containing thee,
           Whom, SPIRIT fair, thy spells did bind
To fear himself, and love all human kind.

If you enjoy art and the Romantic poets, you might like this lovely site I discovered today. Make sure to click on “Grass bed” under “Portfolio” in the menu. Enjoy!

Psalm 25: Grace through Prisms

First Sunday of Lent

February 21, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 25, a prayer full of humility, thanksgiving, and hope.

Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
    teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are God my savior.

Psalm 25: 4-5

Genesis 9:12

On this First Sunday of Lent, the psalm is set between the wonderful Noah story, its interpretation by Peter, and the proclamation of Christ’s redemptive mission.

Like Noah, humankind has come through the storm of an ages-long messianic longing. Jesus is the Rainbow rising out of that darkness. His Light passes into us through the prismed waters of our Baptism. Indeed, as our Psalm declares:

Good and upright is the LORD,
    showing sinners the way.
God guides the humble to justice,
    and teaches the humble the godly way.

Psalm 25: 8-9

When our psalmist first begins to pray, the light within seems shadowed and the vibrancy of his soul perhaps fractured. At times, we have felt the same way. 

But the psalmist’s sincere and humble prayer catches God’s Light, allowing the passage from shadows to to the full rainbow of Mercy. May it be so for all of us as well as we journey with Jesus through Lent.

Poetry: on a separate post today due to its length — but so worth the time to read and savor.


Music: Rainbow by Robert Plant – Let God sing this song to you, perhaps the way God sang in Noah’s heart when he was delivered from the flood.

I found a lucky charm
I dressed it up with love
I crossed the Seven Seas to you
Will it be enough?

And I will be a rainbow
Oh, now your storm is gone
And I will bring the song for you
And I will carry on
Ooh Ooh Ooh
Ooh Ooh Ooh

I'm reachin' for the stars
In the sky above
Oh, I will bring their beauty home
The colors of my love

And I will be a rainbow
Now your storm is gone
And I will bring my song to you
And I will carry on
(Hummed interlude)

Love is enough
Though the world be a wind
And the woods have no voice but the voice of complaining

My hands shall not tremble, my feet shall not falter
The voyage shall not weary, the fish shall not alter
Hmm, It's rainbow, oh it's rainbow
Oh, can't you see the eyes are the eyes of a lover

Pocket full of hearts
A world that's filled with love
A love that carries all before
The passion and the flood

I lie beneath the rainbow
Now your tears have gone
And I will sing my song for you
And I will carry on
(Repeated interlude)