Psalm 19: God’s Perfect Law

Thursday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 2, 2020


Previous Prayer on Today’s Readings
June 30, 2016: Today, in Mercy, we pray in praise of God’s laws which hold the sun and moon in place, and make night and day turn softly into each other. We pray to love God’s law in our own hearts, respecting life in all its stages and expressions. May we see our own life as a marvelous manifestation of God’s divine balance, and may we so honor its risings and settings.


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 19. The entire psalm opens with a familiar hymn to the Beauty of God’s Creation. and closes with a meditation on the beauty of God’s Law. Today’s verses focus on the psalm’s second half, lauding God’s flawless law. 

In both cadence and meaning, Psalm 19 is a song of balance. It dances back and forth between the immutable elegance of God’s Law and the perfection it offers to those who pursue it.

The concept of “law” might not immediately engender spiritual enthusiasm in our hearts. In our modern culture, the word “law” has become removed from the biblical sense of “justice”. 

In modern parlance, “law” is a set proclamations we may or may not agree with. The validity of this “law” depends on the morality of those who make it.

But law and justice in scripture are meant to be reflections of God’s perfection . They are the means to attaining right-balance in our lives, and in all Creation, according the God’s desire for us.

In fact, living a true biblical dimension of law and justice may require us, at times, to live outside a cultural sense of these words.  This happens when we protest “unjust laws” – a phrase whose seeming contradiction shows us just how difficult living justly might be.



How do we stay sharply and accurately aware of those contradictions so that we may discern a life of true Godly justice and right-balance in a culture that has become confused and calloused?

Psalm 19 is a good guide. Trusting its advice, we will find the virtues that lead to joy and peace.

Any “law” which does not lead to these blessings needs to be examined in the light of this beautiful psalm.


Poetry: God’s Grandeur– In Gerard Manley Hopkins’s exquisite poem, we see the magnificence of nature juxtaposed with human fragility.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.


And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Music: More Precious Than Gold – Acappella


They are more precious than gold 
Sweeter than the honey 
They are more precious than gold 
And the honey comb 

The laws of the Lord are perfect 
Reviving the soul, reviving the soul 
Reviving the soul 

They are more precious than gold 
Sweeter than the honey 
They are more precious than gold 
And the honey comb 

They make wise the simple 
They give joy to the heart 
Light to the eyes 
Enduring forever 
Righteous altogether 
They bring great reward 

The laws of the Lord are perfect 
Reviving the soul, reviving the soul 
Reviving the soul 

May the words of my mouth 
And the meditation of my heart 
Be pleasing in your sight 
O Lord my rock 
My rock and my redeemer 
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer 

The laws of the Lord are perfect 
Reviving the soul, reviving the soul 
Reviving the soul 
They are more precious than gold Sweeter than the honey 
They are more precious than gold 
And the honey comb

Psalm 50: God Doesn’t Do “Fake”

Wednesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 1, 2020

I don’t have a past reflection on today’s readings. But here is a good one from Joe Zaborowski at Creighton University.

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 50 which is set up like a court proceeding in which God is both prosecutor and judge of the Israelite community.

Hear, my people, and I will speak;
Israel, I will testify against you;
God, your God, am I.

Today’s section, one of two orations, explains God’s dissatisfaction with the display of sacrifices empty of any real commitment to God’s service. In other words, God tells the people that all their fiery and bloody rituals are fake and useless to him.

One might picture the high priests standing dumbfounded at this announcement. 


What! I worked hard on this sacrifice… made sure it was perfect. All the bells and whistles! And You’re still not satisfied??? What do You want from me then?


It reminds me of a married couple. One cooks a beautiful meal for the other but the love between them has faded. As they eat, there is no caring conversation and no joy in each other. They finish perfunctorily in a fog of empty words. They retreat to their separate distractions, waiting to repeat the charade the next day.

In Psalm 50, God says he doesn’t want to be loved like that.
So what does God want then?

Our reading from Amos today offers the thread of an answer which is woven through the rest of Psalm 50:

But if you would offer me burnt offerings,
then let justice surge like water,
and goodness like an unfailing stream.

God wants our sincere love expressed in goodness and actions for justice.

Just like that beautiful dinner, rituals have meaning only as celebrations of faithful and demonstrated love. Sounds like 1 Corinthians 13, doesn’t it?

The parallels to our own lives are obvious and don’t need my elucidation. Let’s just think about how God might answer us if we ask in prayer, “What is it that You really want from me?”.

Poetry: Rabindranath Tagore, from Gitanjali

I am only waiting for Love 
to give myself up at last into his hands.

That is why it is so late 
and why I have been guilty of such omissions.
They come with their laws and their codes to bind me fast; 
but I evade them ever, 

for I am only waiting for Love 
to give myself up at last into his hands.

People blame me and call me heedless; 
I doubt not they are right in their blame.
The market day is over 
and work is all done for the busy. 
Those who came to call me in vain 
have gone back in anger. 

I am only waiting for Love 
to give myself up at last into his hands.

Music: Proof of Your Love – King and Country

Psalm 89: Hopeful Complaining

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 28, 2020

I realized that I have never written a reflection on this Sunday’s readings. Here is a link to a wonderful weekly reflection by a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondolet from the National Catholic Reporter.


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 89, as we did last week, but this time with earlier verses.

Psalm 89 is long and complex. It is significant to an overall understanding of the Book of Psalms because within 89 the entire cycle of Israel’s prayer life is reflected.


How we pray depends on how we see God. In our lives, as in Israel’s, external circumstances can shape that perception of God. 

How we feel physically, mentally; how we love and are loved; whether we are afraid or secure; how we succeed or fail – these and so many other realities put a face on God for us.


Psalm 89 reflects a time of oppression and confusion in Israel’s life. They had been flying high when David built the Temple. Its presence confirmed for them the truth of God’s promise to Abraham. But now, the Temple lay in ruins and the people enslaved in a foreign land. What did all that say about God and God’s Promise? What had happened to the loving face of God?

Contrary to expectation, the psalmist does not begin to pray from a position of lament or complaint. Instead, Psalm 89 begins by remembering and blessing “the good times”.

The promises of the LORD I will sing forever,
through all generations my mouth shall proclaim your faithfulness.

For you have said, “My kindness is established forever;”
in heaven you have confirmed your faithfulness.


Woman at the Well by Angelika Kauffman

It’s like Israel is sitting down beside God and saying, “You know, times are rough right now. But You’ve always been good to me, and I won’t forget that no matter what. So show me where You are taking me in these present circumstances.”

Reminds me of Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well.

What a great way to begin a sorrowful prayer! Such an attitude opens our heart to God’s ever-present Mercy which will come to us — disguised even in our sorrow.


The saints among us never give up on God – and we are all called to be saints. Psalm 89 helps us understand how God is with us and we can be with God even when our specific “prayers” seemed ignored or rejected.

For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
Blessed the people who know the joyful shout;
in the light of your Face, O LORD, they walk.


Poetry: A Psalm of Life – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

For me, the poem voices Longfellow’s philosophy for dealing with adversity which is primarily self-reliance and bravado. I think prayer is a good deal more effective!😃

“A Psalm of Life” became a popular and oft-quoted poem, such that Longfellow biographer Charles Calhoun noted it had risen beyond being a poem and into a cultural artifact…
Calhoun also notes that “A Psalm of Life” has become one of the most frequently memorized and most ridiculed of English poems, with an ending reflecting “Victorian cheeriness at its worst”. Modern critics have dismissed its “sugar-coated pill” promoting a false sense of security…
Nevertheless, Longfellow scholar Robert L. Gale referred to “A Psalm of Life” as “the most popular poem ever written in English”.
Wikipedia
And, besides, I like it.🤓 Hope you all do.

————————————————————-

A Psalm of Life
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

What the Heart of the Young Man Said to the Psalmist

Tell me not in mournful numbers  
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers  
And things are not what they seem.
 
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal; 
Dust thou art to dust returnest  
Was not spoken of the soul.
 
Not enjoyment and not sorrow  
Is our destined end or way;
But to act that each to-morrow 
Find us farther than to-day.
 
Art is long and Time is fleeting  
And our hearts though stout and brave  
Still like muffled drums are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
 
In the world's broad field of battle  
In the bivouac of Life  
Be not like dumb driven cattle! 
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future howe'er pleasant! 
Let the dead Past bury its dead! 
Act, — act in the living Present! 
Heart within and God o'erhead! 

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime  
And departing leave behind us 
Footprints on the sands of time; 

Footprints that perhaps another  
Sailing o'er life's solemn main
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother  
Seeing shall take heart again.
 
Let us then be up and doing  
With a heart for any fate; 
Still achieving still pursuing
Learn to labor and to wait.
 

Music: Show Me Your Face – Don Potter

Psalm 137:Silent Harps

Friday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

June 26, 2020

(I have not written a past reflection on Matthew 8:1-4 because other feasts have occurred on its past dates. But the story is the same as Luke 5 so that reflection is available here.)

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 137, one of the most tender and yet violent of the psalms. Set during the Babylonian Captivity, the verses express the longing of the Jewish people for their homeland and their freedom.

The composer, thought to be Jeremiah the prophet, captures the poignant desperation of those who have lost everything. In literature and music, the psalm’s ardent emotions have been applied to the shameful enslavements throughout subsequent history — of Jews, Africans, and other devastated peoples. It resounds in the lives of refugee families incarcerated at our borders. Its mournful simplicity echoes a cosmic suffering.


But the prayer can also be a very personal one. It has brought release for the pain of individuals experiencing unwanted separation from someone or something not only beloved, but core to their identity.

By the streams of Babylon
we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the aspens of that land
we hung up our harps…

How could we sing a song of the LORD
in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand be forgotten!


Over thirty years ago, I was blessed to spend four months accompanying my mother in the final stages of her terminal illness. It was a time of unexpected benediction and joy for both of us. But it was also a time of deep sadness to the point that I was unable to listen to my precious morning music with which I have always prayed. To do so caused the sadness to rip through me in tears- tears which would have broken my mother’s heart had she seen them. So I hid them by abstaining from music. I hung up my harp. Even after Mom’s death, it took a while for me to tiptoe back into those melodic waters. After it all, I understood more clearly what it meant when the psalmist said, “How can we sing our song in a foreign land?”


Christine Robinson’s transliteration is so perfect to capture this kind of pain, shot with unbearable light.

We were at the end of our rope—
tired, bereaved, despairing.
And they wanted us to sing!
How could we?
How can we sing God’s song in a strange land?
But we will never forget.
We will hold fiercely to our good memories of love.
And we will prevail!

Today, let this magnificent psalm bring you your own global awarenesses and personal memories of how even devastation, when received in faith, can teach and transform us.

Music: Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from the opera Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi

The opera follows the plight of the Jews as they are assaulted, conquered and subsequently exiled from their homeland by theBabylonian king Nabucco ( Nebuchadnezzar II). The historical events are used as background for a romantic and political plot. The best-known number from the opera is the “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves”, “Va, pensiero, sull’all dorate”/ lFly, thought, on golden wings”, a chorus that is regularly given an encore in opera houses when performed today.

Psalm 79: Song Sung Blue

Thursday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

June 25, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 79, a Lament Psalm so sorrowful that Brueggemann calls it one of the ”Sad Songs of Zion”.

So what’s going on in Psalm 79? 

Israel is heartbroken. They had thought they were uniquely special to God, that preference being symbolized by their magnificent Temple in Jerusalem. When the Temple was ravaged, as described in today’s first reading from Kings, the community is bereft.

The psalm demonstrates the prayer’s transformation from initial angry sadness to restored faith in God. Israel has allowed its perception of God to become institutionalized in a symbol, a building. But faithful reflection moves them to realize that God is beyond institutionalization. Through their lament, they return their hearts to the true Name of God – “I am Who am”.

Help us, O God our savior,
because of the glory of your name;
Deliver us and pardon our sins
for your name’s sake.


I think we, too, try to domesticate God into bricks and mortar, customs, national symbols, people, rules, and all kinds of other potential idols. When those things crack or crumble, as all things might, we experience a devastation like that found in Psalm 79.

  • Some of us felt that way when the clerical sex abuse scandal was revealed.
  • Some of us felt that way on 9/11, or because of the pandemic
  • Some of us experience this lament when systems we trusted turn corrupt: law enforcement, medicine, religion, government.

Because we can’t see God face-to-face, we often paint that face on representations of power in our lives. That’s what Israel did with the Temple.

When those symbols prove untrustworthy, we might use it as an excuse to stop seeking God’s true and loving Face. Let’s learn from the Psalms how to persist in faith until we finally do see God face-to-face.


Early 17th century poet George Herbert captures the idea, I think.

Music: Shackles – by the group Mary, Mary – the song is kind of a modern Psalm 79, a movement from lament, through painful experience, to praise. Suggestion: Get up and move with it!

Psalm 139: God of Our Secrets

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

June 24; 2020

Psalm 139 (stained glass window by Ted Felen)

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, on the great feast of John the Baptist, we pray with Psalm 139, the prayer of awed gratitude.

June 24th is a pivotal date in my life. It became so in 1966 on the day I was first professed as a Sister of Mercy. Our then Mother General, who chose our Profession date, had deep devotion to John, and often spoke to us wide-eyed novices about his holiness.


In one such lecture, she solemnly pronounced the core of his sanctity – how he considered himself in relation to his cousin Jesus:

He must increase and I must decrease. 

Mother Bernard told us that this was the key to the spiritual life: let God grow in you as self recedes.


It was a beautiful lesson but a hard one to swallow. We were a gaggle of 20-somethings fired up to find our adulthoods. We were all about growing – making our statement in the world! 

Learning to discover, rely on, and magnify the hidden omnipresence of God within would – at least for some of us – takes a lifetime, just as it probably should.


Psalm 139 is a prayer that can lead us to God’s powerful secrets in our hearts, ready to be unfolded as the years pass. These treasures include:

  • that we are made of earth and stars and must find vigor in harmony with them
  • that we are woven of both the dances and the dyings of our mothers, fathers, and ancestors – each a mysterious blessing
  • that as we live our lives, it is God living within us
  • that God knows, loves, and redeems everything about us

June 24, 1966 came clothed in noontime sun and trumpet blasts all those years ago – shouting youth, hope, and a good deal of ambition.

The date’s passing iterations have gently mellowed the song God sings to me. Now it goes something like this:


Autumn Colors – Zamfir

Today, the date’s rising carries the sustained melody of a gentle pan flute. Within its breathy music, I cherish the gift of years, how intimately accompanied and tenderly cared for I have been … even from my mother’s womb until now.

May each of us today – in whatever season and sound of the journey – pray with our hidden, ever-present God who cherishes our being.


Called to Become
From Edwina Gateley, There Was No Path So I Trod One (1996, 2013)

You are called to become
A perfect creation.
No one is called to become
Who you are called to be.
It does not matter
How short or tall
Or thick-set or slow
You may be.
It does not matter
Whether you sparkle with life
Or are as silent as a still pool.
Whether you sing your song aloud
Or weep alone in darkness.
It does not matter
Whether you feel loved and admired
Or unloved and alone
For you are called to become
A perfect creation.
No one's shadow
Should cloud your becoming.
No one's light
Should dispel your spark.
For the Lord delights in you.
Jealously looks upon you
And encourages with gentle joy
Every movement of the Spirit
Within you.
Unique and loved you stand.
Beautiful or stunted in your growth
But never without hope and life.
For you are called to become
A perfect creation.
This becoming may be
Gentle or harsh.
Subtle or violent.
But it never ceases.
Never pauses or hesitates.
Only is—
Creative force—
Calling you
Calling you to become
A perfect creation.

Music: If I Take the Wings of Morning – John Rutter

Psalm 48: You Are a Holy City

Tuesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

June 23, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 48 which is tied to today’s first reading from the Book of Kings. You may wish to refer to that reading, or the story is recounted in our poem today. In both these accounts, we read a war diary in which God miraculously intervenes for the beloved Holy City Jerusalem.

While, indeed, Jerusalem is the Holy City of the Old Testament, there are other ways to pray with this symbol as we consider Psalm 48.


Paul, in writing to the Hebrews, uses the “Holy City” symbol to describe the majesty of their new-found faith. The passage can remind us too of the glorious gift of being part of the Body of Christ.

You have come to Mount Zion, to the Holy City of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Hebrews 12:22-24


That “City” is made holy by the presence of God in the Temple. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul says that God abides in us and makes us a holy temple, a city where the Spirit dwells.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
1 Corinthians 3: 16-17


Today, let us rejoice with the psalmist that the Spirit of God dwells among us and within us.  Let us pray for one another in this communion of saints which is the Holy City. With the psalmist, may we ponder, praise, and reach for that just and merciful hand – for the sake of our beautiful suffering cities and world.

O God, we ponder your mercy
within your temple.
As your name, O God, so also your praise
reaches to the ends of the earth.
Of justice your right hand is full.


Poetry: The poem for today is the story Sennacherib’s attempt to destroy Jerusalem. You can work hard and find some spiritual meaning in it. But I put it here because it’s just a wonderfully cadenced poem that retells today’s first EXCITING reading. Notice the fabulous sense of color Lord Byron had!

The Destruction of Sennacherib
by Lord Byron

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!

And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.

And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!

Music:  The Holy City – written by Michael Maybrick, and sung by the magnificent tenor Stanford Olsen with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I have always loved this gloriously uplifting hymn. The song has an interesting history which you might enjoy reading as well.

Last night I lay asleeping
There came a dream so fair
I stood in old Jerusalem
Beside the temple there.
I heard the children singing
And ever as they sang,
Methought the voice of Angels
From Heaven in answer rang.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem!
Lift up your gates and sing,
Hosanna in the highest.
Hosanna to your King!”

And then methought my dream was chang’d
The streets no longer rang
Hushed were the glad Hosannas
The little children sang.
The sun grew dark with mystery
The morn was cold and chill
As the shadow of a cross arose
Upon a lonely hill.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem!
Hark! How the Angels sing,
Hosanna in the highest,
Hosanna to your King!”

And once again the scene was changed
New earth there seemed to be
I saw the Holy City
Beside the tideless sea
The light of God was on its streets
The gates were open wide
And all who would might enter
And no one was denied.

No need of moon or stars by night
Or sun to shine by day
It was the new Jerusalem
That would not pass away

“Jerusalem! Jerusalem
Sing for the night is o’er
Hosanna in the highest
Hosanna for evermore!”

Psalm 60: Punch Drunk with Troubles

Monday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

June 22, 2020


It has been suggested that I make it easier to find previous reflections on the readings for the day, just in case you would like to pray with the First Reading or Gospel. I’ll try to remember to do that.


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 60, and it’s a doozy. It is a hard Psalm to pray with because it contains many layers of meaning. But, in the end, I think it is worth the effort.

The Psalm emerges from a time filled with violence. David struggles to keep control both within and outside his kingdom. His own son and nephew turn against him. His nephew wreaks unspeakable mayhem in Israel’s name. Everything in David’s world is in violent disarray. He actually whines to God about the mess:

  • O God, you have rejected us and broken our defenses …
  • You have rocked the country and split it open …
  • You have made your people feel hardships …
  • You have given us stupefying wine…

Like many of you, I read these verses in the wake of another divisive political rally, in a country riven by fearful hatred, racism, biased brutality, political corruption, and poisonous propaganda. I am so tempted to immediately tie Psalm 60 to these current realities.

But I think that, when we pray the psalms, we must let them first teach us about ourselves. Once that conversion or enlightenment occurs, it may then be possible to apply their wisdom to our world.


King David by Matthias Stom

What is it that makes Psalm 60 a prayer and not a political manifesto? We find the answer in verse 7:

Help us with your right hand, O Lord, and answer us.

David realizes that he is completely out of whack. He has just put all the responsibility for his chaos in God’s lap when it is really David’s own self-serving choices that have caused the problem. 

David’s selfish, short-sighted, and sinful decisions have blinded him like “stupefying wine”. One might say he has drunk his own kool-aid. He needs God’s justice to detoxify him … that divine “right hand” which created a perfectly balanced world.

Each of David’s previously mentioned “whines” is completed with a sincere and contrite plea:

  • rally us!
  • repair the cracks in the country
  • give us aid against the foe

Once we realize, like David:

  • that the “country” is our own heart,
  • that the “foe” is any residue there of injustice, 
  • and that the “rally” must be of our own merciful love,

… only then might we be ready to pray for our fractured country and our broken, weeping world.


Poetry: Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front – Wendell Berry’s inspired poem about conversion and recovery of the soul in a soul-killing culture.

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready-made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head. 
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
 
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you 
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something 
that won't compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor. 
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias. 
Say that your main crop is the forest 
that you did not plant, 
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns. 
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees 
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion — put your ear 
close, and hear the faint chattering 
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful 
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child? 
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 

Go with your love to the fields. 
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn't go.

Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction. 
Practice resurrection.

Music: Be Still My Soul – Exultate Singers

Psalm 69: Snapping Out on God

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 21, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 69 which Brueggemann describes as

“a script for unburdening negation in God’s presence. It is a script for rehabilitation to the community of praise and thanks.”

Walter Bruggemann: From Whom No Secrets Are Hid

This Sunday’s reading are not happy ones. Jeremiah is plagued by his persecutors. Romans describes the reign of sin and death before Christ’s act of redemption. And, in our Gospel, Jesus tells his followers not to be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul!

Guess what! Despite the Gospel’s advice, I am afraid of that kind of stuff — persecution, sin, evil, murder…. and all the other terrible consequences in the larger reading of all of Psalm 69.

And guess what else. The psalmist is not only afraid. He is angry… and I mean infuriated, outraged and massively ticked off.

No one wants to listen to him about his grievances either so who gets an earful? Yes, you got it — God. 


In verses 22-28, the writer spews a line of curses for his enemies. And they’re masterpieces — very satisfying ideations if you ever find yourself in similar straits.

But that’s the whole beauty of this psalm. All the negativity remains in the prayer’s imagination. It is not acted out. Once vehemently expressed to God, the catharsis slowly evolves to healing. This happens because the complaining psalmist all of a sudden realizes to Whom he is complaining — the Merciful One, the Patient One, the Forgiving One who has given all these generosities repeatedly to him.

I pray to you, O LORD,
for the time of your favor, O God!
In your great kindness answer me
with your constant help.
Answer me, O LORD, for bounteous is your kindness;
in your great mercy turn toward me.


Seeing God’s Face turn toward him in prayer, the psalmist regains balance. The final verse of the psalm rests on the hope and confidence God has promised in the covenantal relationship.

For God will rescue Zion,
and rebuild the cities of Judah.
They will dwell there and possess it
the descendants of God’s servants will inherit it;
those who love God’s name will dwell in it.


Anger visits all of us, sometimes in response to persecution, misunderstanding or disrespect. We feel it for personal grievances and for meanness in the world toward the helpless.  Praying with Psalm 69 may help us, too, find our balance, as did the psalmist, so that the anger leads to wholeness rather than destruction.


Poetry: Time’s Lesson – Emily Dickinson

Mine enemy is growing old, —
I have at last revenge.
The palate of the hate departs;
If any would avenge, —

Let him be quick, the viand flits,
It is a faded meat.
Anger as soon as fed is dead;
'T is starving makes it fat.

Music: Liberty and Justice for All – Brandon Williams

Psalm 51: A Contrite Spirit

Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

June 16, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 51, the Miserere. Perhaps the most recognized of the penitential psalms, it is said to have been written by David after his adulterous affair with Bathsheba. ( although it more likely was written separately and applied to David’s situation later.)

This psalm is so rich in deep spiritual psychology that it would be a shame to dismiss it simply as a “confessional”. The psalm truly teaches us how our soul’s vigor and wholeness may be restored in an environment of sin where we are often both consciously and unconsciously complicit.


Let me give an example of how I see this. Last night in my city, a group of protesters gathered around a statue of Christopher Columbus, supposedly, “to protect it” from dismantling by “them”. Many in the group carried clubs and bats; a few carried military-style weapons. All of the “defenders” were white, angry, and mostly men.

I ask myself what were they really there to do. What did they really feel they had to defend? Did their violent public intimidation scream out, “We love Christopher Columbus!”? Or did it shout, “We refuse to acknowledge that our heritage is laced with racism and sinful domination!”?


For me, this is the kind of sinful circumstance which Psalm 51 can help us redeem. We may not act out our culpable ignorance, violence, defensiveness, or racism like last night’s threatening mob. But we must examine what we retain of these sins in our choices, attitudes, speech, and complicit silence.

How does Psalm 51 guide us to that kind of redemption?

First, there is a broken-hearted recognition of failure in holding up our end of relationship with God. Because, as David acknowledges, it is God whom we ultimately offend in our crassness toward one another. It’s not about only one sinful act, like the list we made before our grade school confessions. It’s about a fissure in love, honesty, and loyalty to the One who gives us all life.


Second, there is confession – saying out loud the failure that has replaced love. My favorite Biblical scholar, Walter Brueggemann, describes it as Truth-telling:

Psalm 51 makes available the truth of our life before God. On the one hand, it resists arrogant autonomy that imagines (with David) that we can live without accountability or dependence on the will and purpose of God. On the other hand, it contradicts the practice of denial that is so seductive in a society that has no time, patience, or energy for the nurture of an interior life. It turns out that truth-telling before God is an indispensable condition for joyous existence. Such emancipation makes for exuberant singing and glad generosity. (Walter Brueggemann: From Whom No Secrets are Hid)

Third, and most important because it is woven through and sustains the other two, is the immovable confidence in God’s mercy and God’s desire to give it.

For you do not desire sacrifice or I would give it;
a burnt offering you would not accept.

My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn.

Psalm 51 is a big one. If you have time, read the whole thing reflectively. It’s good medicine once we have the courage to swallow it.


Poetry: To Live in the Mercy of God – Denise Levertov

To lie back under the tallest
oldest trees. How far the stems
rise, rise
               before ribs of shelter
                                           open!

To live in the mercy of God. The complete
sentence too adequate, has no give.
Awe, not comfort. Stone, elbows of
stony wood beneath lenient
moss bed.

And awe suddenly
passing beyond itself. Becomes
a form of comfort.
                      Becomes the steady
air you glide on, arms
stretched like the wings of flying foxes.
To hear the multiple silence
of trees, the rainy
forest depths of their listening.

To float, upheld,
                as salt water
                would hold you,
                                        once you dared.

 To live in the mercy of God.

To feel vibrate the enraptured
waterfall flinging itself
unabating down and down
                              to clenched fists of rock.

Swiftness of plunge,
hour after year after century,
                                                   O or Ah
uninterrupted, voice
many-stranded.
                              To breathe
spray. The smoke of it.
                              Arcs
of steelwhite foam, glissades
of fugitive jade barely perceptible. Such passion—
rage or joy?

                              Thus, not mild, not temperate,
God’s love for the world. Vast
flood of mercy
                      flung on resistance.

Music: Miserere Mei Deus – Gregorio Allegri