Mercy Surrounds Us

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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On That Day & This One

Many things live, not just the plants, animals and humans that grace our world.  Memories and promises live.  Vows live. So do grudges and prejudices. Unlike our physical life, these less tangible realities become stronger with time.  Tales of valor and achievement live, often becoming epic with the passing of the years.

Simple kindness lives too, blessing not only the current receiver, but the unseen generations to whom it is passed. Every morning, old fears and new hopes wake up within us all.  They vie with each other to become the engines of our lives.  The happy ones among us have learned to let hope win.

mother Patricia with flower
Mother Patricia near her death in 1915

On this date in 1861, a small group of just such happy, hopeful people came to Philadelphia. On that hot August afternoon, the first Philadelphia Sisters of Mercy, led by 26-year old Patricia Waldron, arrived at Broad Street Station in North Philadelphia. They carried no worldly possessions. They came with only a dream for Mercy.  It was a dream so alive in them that it still inspires us today, over 150 years later.

 

Can’t you see them standing on the busy platform, the hissing steam trains encircling them in mist?  They must have felt “be-misted” themselves, these mostly Irish country girls engulfed in a big city.

Union troops heading south crowded the platform.  Busy Broad Street crackled with news of the burgeoning national strife.  Lincoln himself would visit the city in the coming weeks.

And hidden within the seams of this bustling city’s garment lay the poor – the ones for whom they had come.  How to reach them?  How to help them change their lives?

Ranging from sixteen to twenty-seven years old, these brave young women had been charged with establishing a kind of “new nation” themselves – not of politics, but of mercy.  I am sure they, like the young stout-hearted soldiers surrounding them, were also a little weak-kneed. They too had their battles to face. They too would see starvation, illness, attack and death – but they would endure for the sake of the Mercy dream, God’s dream for the poor.

cemetery
Today we honor our beloved foremothers who led the way in faith and commitment.

Enduring dreams begin with small first steps.  So, hailing a horse-drawn carriage, Mother Patricia Waldron led her young band to their new lives.  Thus she began the grace-filled saga many of us know so well and of which we are a part today.  Their dream lives in us who love Mercy:

  • in our continued effort to find those who are poor and sick in a world that ignores them
  • in our choice to be compassionate in a world that often chooses violence
  • in our commitment to care in a world of treacherous indifference

On that sultry August day 1861,  and on this one 2019, people have choices to make.  They have vows to keep. Some choices live forever.  In the name of Mercy, what will you choose today?

Vow

Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

August 22, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, the Book of Judges offers us the story of Jephthat and his daughter – and it is a doozy!

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The Daughter of Jephthat – Edgar Degas

Again, in a nutshell, Jephthat is recruited to lead an army against the Ammonites. He makes an obviously unconsidered vow that, if he is victorious, he will make a burnt offering to God of “whatever comes first out of his door” upon his return. Unfortunately, the first thing out his door is his only daughter. After giving his daughter the time she requests to “mourn her virginity”, Jephthat fulfills his vow.

Treatises have been written about how to interpret this troublesome passage – from St. John Chrysostom, to St. Ambrose, to modern Biblical scholars. No clear, single answer emerges. And for the purpose of prayer, it needn’t.

One thing the passage does make clear is that vows are critically important and have consequences.

Danielle-signing-vows
Sisters of Mercy – Perpetual Profession of Vows

We make all kinds of “vows” in our lives. Some are foolish ones, like Jephthat’s, where we promise God something simply to get our way. We glorify such promises by calling them vows. They are really one-sided bargains we make to fuel our self-interested goals.

A true vow is the tying of our heart and soul to a Love, Truth, and Hope beyond ourselves.  It is the binding of our life and future to a power we will understand only with the long fidelity of time and shared experience. It is a giving that, even if rescinded, still will change our character forever. It is a giving that, if sustained, will transform us into the very Love, Truth, and Hope which first embraced us.

Our Gospel makes clear that God takes our vows seriously.  They are our invitations to the banquet, whether they come in the form of Baptismal vows, marriage vows, religious vows, or others forms of commitment to love and service.  Once we have engaged these vows, we need to respond and to enflesh the Spirit of God within them. If we don’t, if we ignore the holy invitation within our life circumstances, we will end up in a “darkness” outside of God’s hope for us.

But if, as God hopes, we fully embrace the spirit and depth of God’s invitation, we become whole in God, “the chosen”, the beloved.


I have always loved this poem by Alice Meynell, “ The Neophyte”. It fills me with a holy awe and exuberant joy at the mysterious power of being in love with God

The Neophyte – Alice Meynell

Who knows what days I answer for to-day?
   Giving the bud I give the flower. I bow
   This yet unfaded and a faded brow;
Bending these knees and feeble knees, I pray.

 Thoughts yet unripe in me I bend one way,
   Give one repose to pain I know not now,
   One check to joy that comes, I guess not how.
I dedicate my fields when Spring is grey.

 O rash! (I smile) to pledge my hidden wheat.
   I fold to-day at altars far apart
Hands trembling with what toils? In their retreat
   I seal my love to-be, my folded art.
I light the tapers at my head and feet,
   And lay the crucifix on this silent heart.


(Appropriately, as we talk about faithfulness to vows, this date marks the anniversary of the arrival of the Sisters of Mercy in Philadelphia in 1861 – our Philadelphia Foundation Day. In a later post today, I will share a brief reflection of thanksgiving and challenge for this anniversary.)

Music: Center of My Life – Paul Inwood

Wide Mercy

Memorial of Saint Pius X, Pope

August 21, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  in our reading from Judges, we meet two guys who are polar opposites of each other: Jotham and Abimelech.

Jotham was the youngest of the 70 sons of Gideon (yes, 70 – not a typo. Makes one think of The King and I.) Abimelech is his half-brother, son of Gideon’s Shechemite concubine.

To put the story in a nutshell, Jotham is the goodie and Abimelech is the baddie. Abimelech, lusting to be king, engages his Shechemite family to kill the 70 sons of Gideon. Only Jotham survives. So in our reading, Jotham  prophesies by parable, warning the people that they have made a serious mistake in allowing Abimelech to grasp the kingship.

Praying with this reading, we may realize that some things never change. Human beings still jockey for political power and economic domination. Nations still slaughter and suppress other nations in that pursuit. Some leaders still commandeer control by deception and pretense. The voting populace still allows itself to be hoodwinked by tyrants in disguise.

Jotham doesn’t accept the old adage that religion and politics don’t mix (or however they may have phrased it in his day). He says true leadership must grow from the good faith of both leaders and followers. He says, in parable form, that leaders must be willing to set their own pursuits aside for the good of the people. Otherwise, an avaricious fire burns up the heart of the people.

The landowner in Matthew’s Gospel is a leader in the pattern of God. He administers his charge in such a way that all find benefit. His methods are contradictory and irrational to anyone who fails to see the universal creaturehood of the human family. He reigns from mercy not merit, because he knows that all have full merit in God.

wide mercy

Certainly, my prayer leads me to consider how these principles affect my own leadership responsibilities whether within family, community, workplace, or world.

I am also led to consider how I must respond, just as Jotham did, to any leader or administration that stands in contradiction to these principles.

Faith and morality not only mix with politics, they are its core. Bereft of these, politics becomes nothing but a power game in which the poorest and weakest are the chips.

But, in this Gospel parable, Jesus says his “game” is just the opposite. At his table, the first shall be last and the last first.

These readings have much to offer us as we daily try to right our hearts with the God of infinite mercy.

Music: There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy – written by Frederick Faber in 1862
Rendered here by Nate Macy

https://youtu.be/l5LN1ZvwWfs

Better Look Under Your Terebinth!

Memorial of Saint Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

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Today in Mercy, on this feast of St. Bernard, the liturgy offers us a little bit more of the Books of Judges. The reading for today is about Gideon, warrior judge, who delivered the Israelites from the oppression of the Midianites.

Judges6_11 terebinth
What the heck is a “terebinth” anyway? – a small southern European tree of the cashew family that was formerly a source of turpentine.

For me, these passages about wars and deliverers create conflict. Believing in Christ’s message of peace and mutual love, we have a spiritual abhorrence for war and a resistance to taking sides in confusing civil conflicts.

covers

But as our wonderful retreat guide last week (Clare D’Auria, OSF) told us, with the Scriptures, as with writings from cultures not our own, we have to “get under the language” to find the deeper spiritual meanings.

 


Here’s what I find “under the language” of Gideon’s story.

  • A person unafraid of transparency with God:

The angel of the LORD came and sat under the terebinth.
Gideon said to the Lord, “My Lord, if the LORD is with us,
why has all this happened to us?

  • A person open to God’s Presence in his ordinary daily circumstances:

The angel of the LORD came and sat under the terebinth
… where Gideon was beating out wheat
 

  • A person who is unaware of God’s astounding power within him:

The LORD turned to him and said, “Go with the strength you have
and save Israel from the power of Midian.
It is I who send you.”
But Gideon answered him, “Please, my lord, how can I save Israel?

  • A person whose faith continued to be shaky even in the presence of God:

Gideon answered the Lord, “If I find favor with you,
give me a sign that you are speaking with me.

  • A person awestruck by God’s willingness to be personally present to him:

“Alas, Lord GOD,
that I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face!”

  • A person who responds to God in loving worship and visible witness:

The LORD answered him,
“Be calm, do not fear. You shall not die.”
So Gideon built there an altar to the LORD
and called it Yahweh-shalom.

God visits each one of us in our daily experiences. We want to be transparent with God in both our joys and sorrows, our needs and our abundance. We want to give over to God our hesitancies and fears as we respond wholeheartedly to God’s invitation to grace. By the witness of our faith and good works, we want to give God praise for being in our lives – under our terebinth.

Under the language, I found a lot of Gideon in myself. You?

Music: In honor of the great St. Bernard of Clairvaux, please enjoy this beautiful him attributed to him – Jesu, Dulcis Memoria (translation below)

The sweet memory of Jesus
Giving true joy to the heart:
But more than honey and all things
His sweet presence.

Nothing more delightful is sung,
Nothing more pleasing heard,
Nothing sweeter thought,
Than Jesus, the Son of God.

O Jesus, hope of the penitent,
How gracious you are to those who ask
How good to those who seek you;
But what [are you] to those who find?

No tongue may tell,
No letter express;
He who has experience of it can believe
What it is to love Jesus.

O Jesus, may you be our joy,
You who are our future reward.
May our glory be in you
Throughout all eternity.
Amen

 

Do or Do Not

Monday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

August 19, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are about possessions – in every sense of that word.

In today’s reading from Judges, the first of a few this week, we see Israel in the years between entering the Promised Land to the rise of Saul as king. During these four hundred years, a series of judges tries to keep Israel on track with God. It is a frustrating assignment!

As today’s passage describes, the Israelites get caught in an endlessly repeating cycle:

  • worship false gods
  • get zapped by true God
  • feel really bad, say sorry
  • be forgiven
  • repeat cycle

Hmm! I’ve seen this pattern somewhere before. Oh, yeah! It’s just like the one describing all my good intentions that never quite materialized!

do or do not

Many of us can identify with the rich young man in the Gospel. We want to take our relationship with God up a notch. We would like to be better, holier people. But we may also, like the young man, like the ancient Israelites, be caught in a cycle of behaviors and choices which inhibit us.

Mt19_22many possessions

Jesus tells this young man to get rid of his possessions, freeing him to really follow Jesus.

What possesses us, holding us back from that radical following? 

It is not always material goods. They are easy to identify and dispatch. It is our tightly held and hidden illusions, resentments, prejudices, assumptions, entitlements, fears, jealousies, disappointments, angers. These are the heavy chains that cling to us as we try to move deeper into God.

May we be inspired by Matthew’s young man to recognize and break through the cycles that bind us by hearing God’s invitation to wholeness – an invitation always deep within our life circumstances.

Music: Out of the Deep – Julie Bernstein

Stuck in the Mud?

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sunday, August 18, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings encourage us, despite obstacles, to deepen our spiritual life.

But sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes we get stuck in habits, illusions, fears, doubts and all kinds of things that paralyze us. And it’s not for lack of trying, but we just can’t seem to break free of what immobilizes us.

On a beautiful summer day years ago, I went clamming with some friends. I had backed the car to the bay’s edge to unload our equipment. I didn’t notice as the tide came in that it was softening the sand around my rear wheels. Later, when I tried to pull out, the wheels just spun. The more I revved, the more they sank. Fortunately, my hearty friends were able to push the car enough to coax it out. But we all learned a lifelong lesson.

Luckily, Jeremiah also had some friends who freed him from the mud. He may have prayed his thanksgiving with the Responsorial Psalm we are given today:

I waited patiently for the Lord;

    he turned to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the slimy pit,

    out of the mud and mire;

he set my feet on a rock

    and gave me a firm place to stand.

He put a new song in my mouth,

    a hymn of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear the Lord

    and put their trust in him.

In a similar way, Paul evokes the “great cloud of witnesses” surrounding us – friends, both living and dead who model courageous faith for us. Jesus, in particular, “seeing the joy that lay before him” offered such witness by his Life, Death and Resurrection.

In our Gospel, Jesus reaffirms how hard such witnessing can be:

Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?

I have come to set the earth on fire,

and how I wish it were already blazing!

St. Catherine of Siena heard this challenge of Jesus and restated it like this:


Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.


That’s what today’s scripture readings are encouraging us to do. Blessings on our will and effort.

Music: Breakthrough- Chris McClarney

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Decide Today

Saturday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Saturday, August 17, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, it is Joshua’s turn for a farewell speech. He counsels the Israelites:

If it does not please you to serve the LORD,

decide today whom you will serve,

the gods your fathers served beyond the River

or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are dwelling.

Clearly, Joshua and his community have not yet rejected the concept of multiple gods. That might sound extremely primitive to us after millennia of Judea-Christian monotheism.

But then again, I wonder. Might we still not say today that people honor multiple gods? We just call them by different names: money, glamour, power, addictive dependencies, prejudices, self-promoting caste systems……. Really, where the rubber meets the road, whom/what do we serve?

So let’s listen to Joshua’s admonition to DECIDE which “god” we serve, because that is the one by which we will live and die.

May we have the spiritual insight and courage to always sing, as Joshua did:

“As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

Music: As for Me and My House – John Waller

Lyrics below

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I’m done
Building my own kingdom
No more
Seeking worthless idols
Like sheep we have all gone astray
We must choose this day
Whom we will serve
As for me and my house
We will serve the Lord
We will serve the Lord
Idols raised, tear them down
Cause we will serve the Lord
We will serve the Lord
To one king we bow down
As for me and my house
We will only serve the Lord
I’m done
With powerless religion
No more
Living in deception
Like sheep we have all gone astray
We must choose this day
Whom we will serve
As for me and my house
We will serve the Lord
We will serve the Lord
Idols raised, tear them down
We will serve the Lord
We will serve the Lord
To one king we bow down
As for me and my house
We will serve the Lord
We will cross over Jordan
We will claim what you promised
We will cross over Jordan
We will claim what you promised
As for me and my house
We will serve the Lord
We will serve the Lord
Idols raised, tear them down
Cause we will serve the Lord
We will serve the Lord
And we will not give our hearts to another
Will not give our hearts to another
We belong to the Lord
We will not give our hearts to another
Will not give our hearts to another
We will only serve the Lord
As for me and my house

Hard Oranges

Friday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

August 16, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings remind me of hard oranges, difficult to squeeze juice from!

We have in this passage from Deuteronomy part of Joshua’s farewell speech before he dies. He has accomplished what Moses could not – Joshua has brought the people into the Promised Land. In these verses, he recounts God’s faithful presence to Israel through all the years of struggle.

The spiritual message of the segment is clear: God loves us specially and faithfully, and we should love God in the same way.

What makes the passage difficult are the enduring political and justice issues inherent in it. The Israelites gain this land by war and the displacement of resident people. They consider that success a sign of God’s favor.

Many passages in the Bible, particularly the Hebrew Scriptures, reflect a similar process. The community looks back over its successes and failures, interpreting them in the light of God’s faithfulness.

In our spiritual journey, we too are called to be reflective and grateful as we look back at our lives. But we are also called to a further essential step not clearly reflected in today’s reading.

We are called to change our hearts, to become merciful, to welcome strangers, to lay down the “sword” of conflict. Jesus calls us to a whole new understanding of God’s fidelity and favor.

This dichotomy comes to its full expression with Jesus. He was expected to be the regal and militant deliverer. Instead, he comes as a Lamb – meek and humble of heart – who dies for our sins.

As redeemed Christians, then, when we look at our lives for God’s Presence, we should find it in circumstances such as those Jesus gave us in the Beatitudes: humility, compassion, meekness, right relationship, mercy, holy sincerity, peace, courageous fidelity, Christian witness.

Music: Mass in B minor, Agnes Dei – Bach

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Understanding the Assumption: Maturing in Faith

Readings: Click here for Reading

Rev 12_1 Assumption

 (Republishing last year’s reading. I’m on retreat and trying to keep my time empty. Praying for all my dear followers.)

Many of us grew up in households where we were surrounded by a strong devotional faith. I am happy to be one of those people. These simple, sacramental practices awakened and engaged my young faith and offered me a visible means to respond to its stirrings. These practices also gave my parents and grandparents the tools to teach me to love and trust God, Mary, the saints, and my Guardian Angel.

I remember with gratitude the many parameters of that deep devotion which accompanied our fundamental practice of a sacramental and liturgical life.

  • Our home had a crucifix in every room to remind us of God’s Presence
  • Over the main door was the statue of the Infant of Prague and the first Christmas card we had received depicting the Three Kings to bless us on our journeys.
  • All year, Dad’s fedora sported a tiny piece of straw tucked into its plaid band. He had plucked it from the parish Christmas crèche, near to St. Joseph who was his patron.
  • During a really violent thunderstorm, we might get a sprinkling from Mom’s holy water flask kept for especially taxing situations.

And, maybe because we live not too far from the east coast, we had one special summer practice. We went into the ocean on the Feast of the Assumption, believing that, through the water, Mary offered us special healing and graces on that day.

wedding-of-sea-mike

I can still picture young boys helping their elderly grandparents into the shallow surf. I remember mothers and fathers marking their children’s brows with a briny Sign of the Cross. There was a humble, human reverence and trust in these actions that blesses me still.

While that August 15th ritual, like similar devotions, might seem superstitious and even hokey to some today, the memory of it remains with me as a testament to the simple faith and deep love of God’s people for our Blessed Mother.

It was just such devotion and faith, expressed over centuries by the faithful, that moved Pius XII to declare the dogma of the Assumption:

“We pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”
(MUNIFICENTISSIMUS DEUS 44)

On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII defined the dogma of the Assumption in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus(The Most Bountiful God). The world at that time was still healing from the horrors of World War II. The Pope himself, no doubt, was wounded beyond description by what he had witnessed. One can hear his deep pain as he begins his letter by saying:

“Now, just like the present age, our pontificate is weighed down by ever so many cares, anxieties, and troubles, by reason of very severe calamities that have taken place and by reason of the fact that many have strayed away from truth and virtue. Nevertheless, we are greatly consoled to see that, while the Catholic faith is being professed publicly and vigorously, piety toward the Virgin Mother of God is flourishing and daily growing more fervent, and that almost everywhere on earth it is showing indications of a better and holier life.

This belief is complementary to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854. These two articles of faith embrace the totality of Mary’s life which was uniquely blessed among all humans. Mary gives us, in our humanity, both a model of and a supportive invitation to holiness.

Marie T. Farrell, RSM presents a scholarly and insightful essay on the Assumption here. Her work gives us a rich understanding of the theological layers within this teaching.

Click here for Sr. Marie’s article

Sister Marie closes her essay with these words:
Mary assumed into heaven and Spiritualised in her whole personhood is a prophetic symbol of hope for us all. In his Resurrection-Ascension, Jesus has shown the way to eternal life. In the mystery of Assumption, the Church sees Mary as the first disciple of many to be graced with a future already opened by Christ, one that defies comprehension for ‘…no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him…(1 Cor 2: 9)

Musical Reflection with Song below: Prayer of Pure Love ~ Letty Hammock and Sue K. Riley

 

 

 

 

A Big Fail?

Memorial of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we read the last episode in Moses’ life – and it’s powerful.

Nobody likes great stories to end, but they do. Some of you may be old enough to remember the most watched series finale of all time: MASH. The final episode drew nearly 106 million viewers, most of whom had mixed emotions as they said, “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen” (the episode title).

Moses may have had some mixed emotions too as God invited him to a much greater destination than the one Moses had focused on for forty years.

But perhaps after all that time, and all his interaction with God, Moses clearly understood that we have no real home here in this world. Here, we are only visitors. We were made for greater “mansions”.

When Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, the headland of Pisgah which faces Jericho”, God allowed Moses to look out over the long Promised Land.

Then, Deuteronomy tells us, God said:

“This is the land which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that I would give to their descendants. I have let you feast your eyes upon it, but you shall not cross over.”

Wow! Was that the “Big Fail”???? After forty years, you don’t get the prize, Moses? I don’t think so.

I think when we’ve done the best we can to live a decent life, to honor God and care for others, God doesn’t say, “You don’t get the prize!” I think God says, “I have a greater prize ready for you – a Promised Land you had not even imagined! Cross over into my Kingdom.”

It may be for some of us, particularly as we age, that we regret some of the things we either did or failed to do in our lifetime. We may feel a little like Moses climbing Horeb. Oh my, what a surprise God, Who is Lavish Mercy, has for us at the top of the hill.

Music: Eye Has Not Seen – Marty Haugen

Click here for music