Palm Sunday: We begin the journey

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

April 5, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we begin a familiar journey.

palm sunday

In these times that feel so unfamiliar, so surreal, the rites of Holy Week offer us a reassuring pattern for our prayer. As we begin these rituals, we already know where we will joyfully finish. It is a feeling so opposite from our current global concerns which leave us questioning how this nightmare will ever end.

Through the solemnities of Holy Week, we are reminded that there is nothing we experience not already patterned in the Paschal Mystery. There is nothing we suffer or hope for not already etched on the heart of Jesus Christ.

These liturgies are an invitation to enter into that Sacred Heart, to place our experiences beside those of Jesus. No matter where we find ourselves on the journey, Jesus is with us:

  • In the confusion of Palm Sunday, tossed between loyalty and betrayal 
  • In the suggestive silence of Holy Monday and Tuesday, when plotters whisper and friends weaken
  • In the discomfort of Spy Wednesday, when we realize suffering is inevitable 
  • In the profound communion of Holy Thursday
  • In the loneliness of a decisive Garden and the angst of a resisted outcome
  • In the inexorable solitude of dying and death
  • In the other-worldly contemplation of a silent Saturday 
  • In the sunrise of a promise, longed for and believed in

Even though we cannot attend services in community, let us not allow this pandemic to isolate us from the blessings of this sacred week. Let’s be intentional about the time and practices we will give to these mysteries.

We are invited into the Life and Passion of Jesus Who, in turn, wants to be with us in our experience of this journey. Each day, let us listen – let us become “obedient” (which means “listening”) – for the very personal whisper of grace in our souls. And even though we may pray alone, let us pray for the whole world suffering and rising with our beloved Savior.

phil cantic

I think today’s reading from Philippians is the most beautiful and pregnant passage in all of scripture. May it guide our prayer during this unique Holy Week when we all so hunger for God’s presence and healing.

Music: Philippians Hymn – John Michael Talbot
(Lyrics below)

And if there be therefore any consolation
And if there be therefore any comfort in his love
And if there be therefore any fellowship in spirit
If any tender mercies and compassion

We will fulfill His joy
And we will be like-minded
We will fulfill His joy
We can dwell in one accord
And nothing will be done
Through striving or vainglory
We will esteem all others better than ourselves

This is the mind of Jesus
This is the mind of Our Lord
And if we follow Him
Then we must be like-minded
In all humility
We will offer up our love

Though in the form of God
He required no reputation
Though in the form of God
He required nothing but to serve
And in the form of God
He required only to be human
And worthy to receive
Required only to give

This is the mind of Jesus
This is the mind of Our Lord
And if we follow Him
Then we must be like-minded
In all humility
We will offer up our love
In all humility
We will offer up our love

Worlds Falling Apart

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent

April 4, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, worlds are splitting apart, but the Word of God comes to heal them.

In our first reading, we share in the experience of the prophet Ezekiel.

Ezekiel and his wife lived during the Babylonian Captivity on banks of the Chenab River which is in modern day Iraq. He lived during the siege of Jerusalem in 589 BC. In Ezekiel’s day the northern kingdom had been conquered and destroyed 150 years earlier.

In other words, Ezekiel, like his contemporary Jeremiah, had his heart torn apart along with the homeland they cherished as God’s promise to them. 

dry bones
The Valley of the Dry Bones – artist unknown

In today’s reading, which comes immediately after his vision of the Dry Bones, Ezekiel prophesies a message of hope and restoration to a fragmented and devastated nation.


In our Gospel, Jesus is the new Ezekiel. He stands in the midst of the bigger “nation” of all God’s Creation which has been fragmented by the failure to love. Like Ezekiel, Jesus offers a message of hope and restoration to sinners.

In this Gospel, Jesus himself is the “Temple” about to destroyed. The prophecy of its destruction is unwittingly delivered by the high priest Caiaphas:

Caiaphas,
who was high priest that year,
said to the Pharisees and Sanhedrin,
“You know nothing,
nor do you consider that it is better for you
that one man should die instead of the people,
so that the whole nation may not perish.”
He did not say this on his own,
but since he was high priest for that year,
he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation,
and not only for the nation,
but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.

Within Christ’s new law of love, these “children of God” go far beyond the Jewish nation. They are you and me, and every other creature with whom we share this time and universe. The fragmentations which separate and alienate us are dissolved in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.


holy week

Holy Week will begin tomorrow when all believers will intensify their desire to join Christ in his final journey to Resurrection, to understand our own lives anew in the power of Paschal Grace.

This is a somber and surreal time for all of us, and we will miss our ability to join one another in our beloved Holy Week Services. But there are some helpful alternatives. I’ve listed some of my favorites below. Click on any of these three links below to explore.

Resources for observing Holy Week at home from Liturgical Press

The Holy Week services at the Vatican will also be available on line. This link explains how to join them in prayer.

EWTN television station also has a full schedule of Holy Week prayer opportunities.

Music:  Make Us One – featuring James Lorne’s. Written by Sally DeFord
(Lyrics below)

Lyrics

How shall we stand amid uncertainty?
Where is our comfort in travail?
How shall we walk amid infirmity,
When feeble limbs are worn and frail?
And as we pass through mortal sorrow,
How shall our hearts abide the day?
Where is the strength the soul may borrow?
Teach us thy way.

Chorus:
Make us one, that our burdens may be light
Make us one as we seek eternal life
Unite our hands to serve thy children well
Unite us in obedience to thy will.
Make us one! teach us, Lord, to be
Of one faith, of one heart
One in thee.
Then shall our souls be filled with charity,
Then shall all hate and anger cease
And though we strive amid adversity,
Yet shall we find thy perfect peace
So shall we stand despite our weakness,
So shall our strength be strength enough
We bring our hearts to thee in meekness;
Lord, wilt thou bind them in thy love?

(Repeat chorus)

Take from me this heart of stone,
And make it flesh even as thine own
Take from me unfeeling pride;
Teach me compassion; cast my fear aside.
Give us one heart, give us one mind
Lord, make us thine
Oh, make us thine!
(Repeat chorus)

A Love in Troubled Times

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

April 3, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, as we inch closer to Holy Week, we meet both a very troubled Jeremiah and Jesus.

V0034343 The prophet Jeremiah wailing alone on a hill. Engraving.
The Prophet Jeremiah Weeping Alone on a Hill (from the Wellcome Trust)

Jeremiah, the Old Testament mirror of Jesus’s sufferings, bewails the treachery even of his friends:

I hear the whisperings of many:
“Terror on every side!
Denounce! let us denounce him!”
All those who were my friends
are on the watch for any misstep of mine.

That’s really raw, because you can get through almost anything in the company of true friends.


 

Jesus weeps
Jesus Weeping Over Jerusalem by Ary Scheffer (1795-1858)

Jesus came as a Friend and hoped to find Friends of God by his ministry. And he did find many. But not all.

It takes some work to be a true friend of Jesus. Some didn’t have the courage, or generosity, or passion, or hopeful imagination to reach past their self-protective boundaries – to step into eternal life even as they walked the time-bound earth.

In today’s Gospel this band of resisters project their fears and doubts to the crowds around them. The evil sparks light the ready tinder of human selfishness. The mob turns on Jesus, spiritual misers scoffing at the generous challenge to believe.

Jesus pleads with them to realize what they are doing:

If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me;
but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me,
believe the works, so that you may realize and understand
that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.

But Jesus and Jeremiah, though troubled, are grounded in God. Our Responsorial Psalm captures what might have been their silent prayer:

Psalm18 distress

The following transliteration of Psalm 18, composed by Christine Robinson, might help us to be with Jesus in his moment, and in our own moments of fear, anxiety, or doubt.

I open my heart to you, O God
for you are my strength, my fortress,
the rock on whom I build my life.

I have been lost in my fears and my angers
caught up in falseness, fearful, and furious
I cried to you in my anguish.
You have brought me to an open space.
You saved me because you took delight in me.
I try to be good, to be just, to be generous
to walk in your ways.
I fail, but you are my lamp.
You make my darkness bright
With your help, I continue to scale the walls
and break down the barriers that fragment me.
I would be whole, and happy, and wise
and know your love
Always.

Music: Overcome – Psalm 18 by James Block

God’s Starry Calendar

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent

April 2, 2020

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Abraham
Abraham Looks to the Heavens from Bible Pictures by Charles Foster (1897)

Today, in Mercy, Yahweh is very clear with Abram that he is now in a life-changing situation:

My covenant with you is this:
you are to become the father of a host of nations.
No longer shall you be called Abram;
your name shall be Abraham,
for I am making you the father of a host of nations.


pregnantHaving witnessed how young fathers are upended by the news of impending fatherhood, I can’t even imagine what Abraham felt like when he heard this:

I will render you exceedingly fertile;
I will make nations of you;
kings shall stem from you.

But aside from the practical ramifications of God’s promise, what Abraham is invited to is a whole new outlook on the world.  God lays out before him a vision of the ages, infinitely beyond the confines of Abraham’s current understanding.

dangles

It is an existence beyond time and human definition. It is the infinite place of God’s timelessness, where we all exist, but forget when we are born. Our lifetime is a spiritual journey back to remembrance.


In our Gospel, Jesus uses a rather cryptic phrase as he challenges his listeners to look beyond their circumscribed perspectives:

Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever keeps my word will never see death….
Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day;
he saw it and was glad.

Jn8_56 Abraham

By fully embracing his covenant with God, Abraham saw beyond death.  The vision of heaven was opened to him and he lived his life by its power. He lived then within the Day of the Lord, not within any small confined reality.

Jesus offers us the same invitation. We can choose to see with God’s eyes, or with only our own. We can choose to live within God’s infinity, or in only our own earthbound borders.

In our current global situation, when time has lost its shape and days silently morph into one another, it may be a good time to remember the eternal character of our heart.  It may be time to have a sit-down with God about our covenant, like the conversation God had with Abraham.

Music: In the Day of the Lord  – M.D. Ridge

What God Will You Give Your Life To?

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

April 1, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we see faith tested by fire.

7SRCYZFA2A

In our first reading, three young men stand convinced of God. Even the threat of a fiery death cannot shake them from that conviction.

And their faith is not a quid pro quo – a case where they say to God, “I’ll believe if you do ‘X’ for me.” No, their commitment is unqualified and complete:

If our God, whom we serve,
can save us from the white-hot furnace
and from your hands, O king, may he save us!
But even if he will not, know, O king,
that we will not serve your god
or worship the golden statue.

When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are cast into the furnace, a fourth figure appears with them, an angel of God who delivers them safely through their trial.

fire


In our Gospel, even “the Jews who believed” in Jesus begin to quibble with him. They stand with him at the threshold of his Passion and Death, the great fire that will test them all. Like the three young men at the furnace, they face the ultimate choice:

Who do you really believe in?

What God will you give your life to?

Jesus challenges them to follow him into the fire that faces him:

Jesus answered them, “Amen, amen, I say to you …
… if the Son frees you, then you will truly be free.
I know that you are descendants of Abraham.
But you are trying to kill me,
because my word has no room among you.
I tell you what I have seen in the Father’s presence;
then do what you have heard from the Father.

Throughout our lives, our faith will be tested many times. That’s why it’s called “faith” and not “certainty ”. Our life circumstances will ask us, again and again, if our faith is strong enough to stand in the fire, to walk the Calvary road with Jesus.

Let the testimony of the ages inspire us with courage. We know the fire hid an angel. We know the road continued past the bloody hill and on to the Resurrection. We know that every storm will pass and leave us washed anew in grace if we make that ultimate choice to be faithful.

Music: Praise You in This Storm – Casting Crowns

Where Are We, Anyway?

March 31, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we end the month of March in a very different place from where we began it.  On March 1st, I didn’t expect to be in midst of the Corona Desert did you?

Neither did the Israelites in today’s first reading expect to be in their particular desert. They had left the oppressions of Egypt with no certainties, but nonetheless with expectations. Now, after decades wandering the desert, those expectations turned into some typical complaints:

Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert,
where there is no food or water?
We are disgusted with this wretched food!

They even go so far as to blame a coincidental snake infestation on God, demanding that Moses get God to fix it.

desert

What’s going on here with our wandering ancestors? I think that, in our current circumstances, it might be worthwhile to consider that question. Our Gospel reading points us toward an answer.

Jesus has invited his community to a journey too – a journey away from the oppressions of injustice, selfishness, and lovelessness; to a place where “law” is not used as an excuse for domination; to a new community where all Creation shares equally in the Bread of Life.

But the Pharisees don’t get it. They are lost in a desert of their own illusions, needs, and fears. They can’t see past the sandstorms of their own construction.

That’s why Jesus tells them:

I am going away and you will look for me,
but you will die in your sin.
Where I am going you cannot come.

…. because you just can’t trust enough, let go enough to see that the journey is so much deeper than your present concerns. It is a journey of the soul from oppression to freedom, from selfishness to love, from blindness to light.

Jesus invites us too, even as we negotiate our desert journeys, to release our hearts to a world beyond appearances.

You belong to what is below,
I belong to what is above.
You belong to this world,
but I do not belong to this world.

Indeed, we must pay attention to the exigencies of our earthly journey, but today’s readings remind us that the true journey is infinitely deeper. That faith should inspire our hope, choices, and attitudes in what certainly seems like an awfully big desert.

Deserts can make us desperate, if we let them. Or they can shear us of everything that blocks our soul’s sight.

We may not see clearly beyond this momentary desert, but we are the children of an eternal and merciful God. May we trust our journey to that Immutable Loving Presence and allow ourselves to be made new.

Music: Everything is Holy Now – Peter Mayer

(Thanks to Sister Michele Gorman for sharing this beautiful song on Facebook)

Being Led to Light

Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent
March 30, 2020

 

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Today in Mercy, we encounter the stories of Suzanna and the woman taken in adultery. Both these stories always make me mad. Even though their ultimate lesson is the justice and mercy of God, I can’t help nettling every time I read them.

Here’s why. Still today, in so many instances, women continue to endure the same kind of assault, objectification, suspicion and blame — and still at the hands of judges, clerics, business and political leaders. Just let the newsreels of the past few years run through your mind. You’ll be as angry as I am.

So to save you from a continuing diatribe, I have gone back to a piece I wrote for the Catholic Health Association several years ago.  It looks at the themes of this week in Lent. It helps us to break through the stories to their point of redemption, to go through death to life, sin to forgiveness, judgement to mercy, darkness to light.


Reflection for the Fifth Week of Lent

 I will keep my covenant with you …
to be your God
and the God of your descendants after you.
~Genesis 17:7

roses
photo by Chi Pham

The golden June morning had broken bright and warm through the hospital windows. With its breaking, the attending physician and chaplain had received a page. Dorothy had taken an unexpected turn. She was struggling both to live and to die.

As they attended and comforted her, Dorothy managed to whisper ” … wait for Henry.” Henry, her husband of fifty-eight years, had arrived promptly at 7:00 AM daily for all the weeks of Dorothy’s hospitalization. Glancing at her watch, the chaplain saw that it was just 6:50 AM.

When, after ten eternal minutes, Henry appeared at the door, he carried a small bouquet of yellow roses from their beloved garden. Quickly apprehending the changed situation, he laid the roses aside and hurried to hold Dorothy for the last few minutes of her life. In the loving, covenanted presence Dorothy had waited for, she finally embraced a peaceful death.

It had not been easy for Dorothy to die nor, from then on, had it been easy for Henry to live. Still, through many bereavement visits, the chaplain watched their long, honest love arise to heal Henry. Through prayer and the benediction of memories, Henry realized that their love, like the roses still blooming in their garden, was both fragile and perpetual.

In this week’s readings, God again calls us to such a love. As God brought Lazarus, Suzanna and Shadrack out of darkness and death, so God promises to bring us. “I will keep my covenant with you,” God says. “Whoever keeps my word will never die.”

Accompanying Jesus, as he nears Jerusalem, let us trust and cherish these promises in our own darknesses and bereavements. Let us ask God to deliver us from both our sins and our judgements of others.

Music: No Shame – by Tenth Avenue North

The Raising of Lazarus

 

647px-Giotto_-_Scrovegni_-_-25-_-_Raising_of_Lazarus
The Raising of Lazarus – fresco by Giotto diBondone

The Raising of Lazarus
by Franz Wright
from a fragment by Rainer Maria Rilke

Evidently, this was needed
because people need
to be screamed at with proof.

But Jesus knew his friends. Before they were,
he knew them; and they knew
that he would never leave them
desolate here. So he let his exhausted eyes close
at first glimpse of the village.
And immediately he seemed
to be standing in their midst.

 Here was Martha, the dead boy’s sister.
He knew he would always find her
at his right hand, and beside her
Mary. They were all here.
Yet opening his eyes it was not so.
He was standing apart,
even the two women
slowly backing away,
as if from concern for their good name.

 Then he began to hear voices
muttering under their breath
quite distinctly; or thinking,
Lord, if you had been hereour friend might not have died.

(At that, he seemed to reach out
to touch someone’s face
with infinite gentleness,
and silently wept.) He asked them the way
to the grave. And he followed
behind them, preparing
to do what is not done
to that green silent place
where life and death are one.

 Merely to walk down this road
had started to feel like a test,
or a poorly prepared-for performance
with actors unsure of their lines,
or which play they were supposed to be in;
a feverish outrage rising inside him
at the glib ease with which words like “living”
and “being dead” rolled off their tongues.
And awe flooded his body
when he hoarsely cried,
“Move the stone!”

 “By now he must stink,”
somebody helpfully shouted.
(And it was true, the body
had been lying in the tomb
four days.) But he was far away,
too far away inside himself
to hear it, beginning
to fill with that gesture
which rose through him:
no hand this heavy
had ever been raised, no human hand
had ever reached this height
shining an instant in air, then
all at once clenching into itself
at the thought all the dead might return
from that tomb where
the enormous cocoon
of the corpse was beginning to stir.

In the end, though, nobody stood
there at its entrance
but the young man
who had freed his right arm
and was pulling at his face,
at small strips of grave wrappings.
Peter looked across at Jesus
with an expression that seemed to say
You did it, or What have you done? And all
saw how their vague and inaccurate
life made room for him once more.

 

 

Come Forth!

Fifth Sunday of Lent

March 29, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our first reading from the Ezekiel seems so pertinent to our times:

Thus says the Lord GOD:
O my people, I will open your graves
and have you rise from them,
and bring you back to the land you love…

Indeed, our times do carry a funereal feeing —  a sense of loss, confinement, and death.  The way one does with sudden death, we ask ourselves what happened! We long to see the light of God’s promise breaking over the stormy horizon.

sunrise
photo by Yousef Espanioly

Our readings this Fifth Sunday of Lent are about just such transformation.  They are about passing through the valley of bereavement to new life.

In this unprecedented time, each one of us and all of us are being called forth from old graves to a new understanding of life… called from a universal blindness to a new light. Our Gospel story of the raising of Lazarus invites us to think about our own tombs, our own darknesses from which the Lord summons us to “Come forth!”

Lazarus

Our rising is not easy, because this deadly blindness is deceptive. It is like someone walking through the Louvre, staring into a mirror. It is the blindness of self-absorption despite a surrounding sea of miracles.

mirror

When we exist within such blindness, we are as good as dead. We are Lazarus lost in a tomb. We become buried in all the manifestations of such egotism: greed, denial worry, obsession, anxiety, self-righteousness, regret and their myriad companions.

These are illusions we nurture that the world exists only as we choose to see it; that we are the universal center; that all depends on our preferences; that should we fail, the world ends.

When we operate under these illusions, all life’s energy turns inward where it fizzles in a cyclonic vacuum. The world of “me” is a tomb sealed off from the world of “us”. Ultimately, it is we who bind ourselves in its sepulchral wrappings.

But Jesus calls, “Come out!” He tells us to leave the mirror in the tomb as we walk into the true light. We are called to new life together in Him. We are released now to see the world through God’s eyes.

Having known a deadly darkness, how precious the light of new life was to Lazarus! How profound his appreciation, given a renewed vision!

What would it be like for us to live our lives with this second sight? How might we love people differently, as Lazarus must have newly treasured his sisters? How might the fabricated walls between us disappear within the grace of a second understanding? How might we see creation anew, apprehend time in eternal dimensions, embrace ourselves and others as Divine children?

Caught in our mirrors, we disregard the sacred dust around us, failing to recognize it as the stuff of stars. May we turn toward the brilliant call of Jesus. “Look”, he says. “Look at what I have given you!” May we seek the Lazarus moment in every experience – even the stunning shock of pandemic.  May the grace of Jesus’s summons unbind us with resurrected joy!

Music:  Lazarus, Come Forth – The Bishops (Lyrics below)

Please see second post today for a poem I like about this story.

Heartbroken, tears falling
Martha found Jesus
She questioned why Lazarus had died.
When she had thus spoken, her doubts were then silenced.
He walked toward the body and cried.

Lazarus, come forth.
Awake like the morning.
Arise with new hope, a new life is born.
Lazarus, come forth.
From death now awaken.
For Jesus has spoken.
Death’s chains have been broken.
Lazarus, come forth.

The tomb now was empty.
Martha stopped crying.
Her brother now stood by her side.
The Pharisee’s wondered about what had happened.
How could one now live who had died?

The reason this story gives hope to so many
Is although we know we must die.
Our bodies won’t stay there
In cold and dark silence.
We’ll hear Jesus cry from on high.

Children come forth
Awake like the morning.
Arise with new hope, a new life is born.
Children come forth.
From death now awaken.
For Jesus has spoken.
Death’s chains have been broken.
Children come forth.

For Jesus has spoken.
Death’s chains have been broken.
My Children come forth.
Children come forth.
Children, come forth.

 

 

 

Hard-Hearted?

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent

March 28, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, danger continues to escalate for Jesus.

Our first reading from Jeremiah foreshadows Jesus’s situation. Some powerful people didn’t want to hear what Jeremiah preached. And we can understand why: Jeremiah prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem because of Israel’s unfaithfulness. It’s a message that was hard to swallow.

jeremiah

 

The core of Jeremiah’s teaching was this:
You people have to change. This is not the way God created the world to be.

But the people couldn’t listen. They had let the skewed reality of their lives become normal and needed. They couldn’t accept the world of mutual love and justice that God imagined for them.

 


Jesus meets the same kind of stonewalling.

In today’s passage, the hard-hearted rationalize their resistance:

“The Christ will not come from Galilee, will he?
Does not Scripture say that the Christ will be of David’s family
and come from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?”

But their antagonism isn’t really about geography and lineage. It’s about blind comfort in a world balanced toward their advantage. It’s about the fear of grace-inspired change.

 

Lk8_generous heart
Isn’t it the truth that we’ll use almost any argument to resist what demands our conversion? I understand why these guys “each went to his own house”, as the Gospel says in closing. They took refuge from grace in the little pretense of their own control.

They didn’t have the courage to open their hearts to Jesus. Do we?

Music:  Spirit, Open My Heart –  Alfred V. Fedak

(P.S. For those who grew up with classic rock and roll, check out the second song below.)

Second Song:
While I was drawing today’s picture, I was listening to my 50s playlist. Please don’t think me irreverent, but I was struck how this song (written by Hank Williams and sung by Jerry Lee Lewis) could really be God singing to cold-hearted humanity. I also thought some of you might need a little rock and roll as much as I do right now 🙂 Lyrics below.

Cold Cold Heart
I tried so hard my dear to show that you’re my every dream.
Yet you’re afraid each thing I do is just some evil scheme
A memory from your lonesome past keeps us so far apart
Why can’t I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold cold heart

Another love before my time made your heart sad and blue
And so my heart is paying now for things I didn’t do
In anger unkind words are said that make the teardrops start
Why can’t I free your doubtful mind, and melt your cold cold heart
You’ll never know how much it hurts to see you sit and cry
You know you need and want my love yet you’re afraid to try
Why do you run and hide from life, to try it just ain’t smart
Why can’t I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold cold heart
There was a time when I believed that you belonged to me
But now I know your heart is shackled to a memory
The more I learn to care for you, the more we drift apart
Why can’t I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold cold heart