The Bloody Lintel

Friday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 19, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we begin a series of texts about the Passover. These readings are so richly symbolic, not only for our personal prayer, but also for our sacramental understanding. Today’s passage addresses the acquisition and sacrifice of the Passover lamb.

plague
Scenes from Exodus. Full-page miniature, upper register: the tenth plague: the death of the first-born including Pharaoh’s son, lower register: the Israelites leaving Egypt. From the Haggadah for Passover (14thC.)

Maybe for you, as for me, this is one of first Bible stories you recall from childhood. I remember how the drama built as my teacher read this story – all these wide-eyed kindergarteners hanging on her every word.

God was done with Pharaoh who had already ignored nine – yes NINE – plagues! Now the Egyptians’ first-born would be taken from them in a heavenly massacre! It was terrible to imagine. But even worse to consider was how the innocent Israelites would be spared from the dreaded visitation!

Even as a little pre-schooler, I already knew that we sometimes get in situations that only God can get us out of.  What I have begun to learn in my maturity is that – rather than get us out of such circumstances –  God chooses to pass through these life experiences WITH us.

An image we might consider in our prayer today:  these lintels were marked in BLOOD. The visiting angel could have as easily read a charcoal mark on the door, or a colored slab of paint. But the deliverance was secured by blood.

lintel

When devastating loss, sorrow or confusion comes to our door, how does our faith deliver us to the Promise of joy and peace? 

It cannot be by some hastily obtained symbol or sign, or borrowed prayer. Our faith must already be rooted deep down in our veins, our arteries, our heart, our blood. That rooting shall not be moved, no matter the circumstance. That rooting ties us to the God of Life. That rooting allows us to discover God even in our chaos.

As we pray today, under the lintel post of our faith, let us be mindful that these magnificent passages prefigure the Holy Lamb of God, Jesus, who saves us from every kind of death. May we ask for the grace to deepen our Eucharistic and Paschal faith so that we may fully trust God in our own Passovers.

Music: Agnis Dei – Michael Hoppé

The Name

Thursday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 18, 2010

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Today, in Mercy, God reveals God’s Name to Moses.

Ex3_14

Names are so important, aren’t they? Parents among you will remember how you labored over a name for each of your unborn children. Names carry roots to our history and hopes for our future. They suggest a shape for us to grow into and a way for us to be in the world.

In relationships, the giving of our name is a gift and an invitation. It is the first step in a mutual journey that may stop at the end of the encounter, or grow and blossom for years to come.

When God gives God’s name to Moses, it is all these things plus a Promise to abide forever in relationship. God hands Moses the key to call on God’s faithfulness forever. And God risks the hope that Moses will respond with fidelity and courage.

In prayer, and in our acts of mercy over a lifetime, God ever more deeply reveals the Holy Name to us. God promises to abide through our life with us and asks us to abide with Him. God risks that we will love, reverence, and respond to that amazing invitation with each successive moment and into eternity.

Today, in prayer, let us just rest in the Names we love to call God. Let us listen to the Love with which God names us.

Music:  Names of God – Laurell Hubick

The Burning Bush

Wednesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 17, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we read about a “theophany” – a visible manifestation to humankind of God. Not your everyday occurrence, right? Well, let’s think about that.

Ex3_4 bush

In today’s passage from Exodus, Moses, self-exiled from Egypt because he murdered an abusive slave master, is shepherding his father-in-law’s flock through the desert. (Good practice for what will face him for the next forty years!) He’s basically out in the middle of nowhere, mindlessly daydreaming as the sheep dogs do most of the work.

All of a sudden, in the still, quiet spaciousness, a lonely bush combusts right in front of him! Theophany! God wants his attention.


For most of us, there are no burning bushes.
So what does God do when God wants our attention?


Just this morning, another Sister and I were praying in our quiet living room. In the stillness, I heard her very softly say, “Praise God”. She had noticed the clear, blue sky and gently swaying leaves outside our window. She had become instantly aware of how blessed she was by such beauty and life.

A theophany? I think so. And there are scores of them flowing past us daily if we can just open the inner heart to see them; if we can just pause to be grateful within their presence; if we can just acknowledge them by a simple prayer and wait to hear their message.

Some “theophanies” come gently like my friend’s this morning. Some come in an unexpected, and perhaps unwanted, explosion that disrupts our lives. But in each of their guises, they carry a God Who wants to speak with us. May we listen.

Music: jazzing it up today
Echoes from the Burning Bush – The Cathedral Singers

Moses stood on holy ground
Far from God descended down
Set the roadside bush on fire (bush on fire)

Then the Lord did there explain
Through His servant should remain
All the echoes from the bush on fire (the bush on fire)

Oh the echoes from the bush (I hear those lovely echoes from the burning bush)
How they thrill my soul (how they thrill my soul)
Oh the echoes from the bush (I hear those thrilling echoes from the burning bush)
Point me to the Lord (point me to the Lord)

I no more am doubting, but with joy I’m shouting
With no thought of shame to blush (no shame to blush)
This my song shall ever be, words that are so sweet to me
Echoes from the burning bush (the burning bush)

God sent down His only Son
Just to ransom everyone
By the echoes from the fire (from the fire)

God of every earthly land
Would not pick nor choose a man
For His blood will save us from the fire (eternal fire)

Wounded by Mercy

Tuesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 9, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we continue to learn from the amazing saga of Jacob.

This passage tells a story we may have heard: 

Jacob, after years in isolation, is returning to seek reconciliation with his aggrieved brother Esau. Jacob is stressed, penitent, and maybe a good bit nervous about the first encounter.

He tries to get a decent night’s sleep before the highly anticipated meeting. But that was not to be.

Jacob and AngelJPG
Jacob Wrestling with the Angel by Eugène Delacroix

Jacob wrestles through night with an unnamed stranger. The stranger – perhaps an angel, perhaps God – wounds him, renames him, and ultimately blesses him.

The passage is so worth a reflective read! In that reflection, we may see glimpses of our own relationship with God. God comes to us too, unexpectedly, in both our lights and our darknesses. God wrestles us to look him in the face, in the heart – to turn our attention from all the luring distractions and shallowness that keep us from him.

At best we, like Jacob, might come to a sort of truce with God: we do not fully know God’s Name but we, nevertheless, receive God’s blessing. That blessing changes us, renames us. And, in a visible way, it marks us – just as Jacob was marked by a “limp”. We become vulnerable to the things of God, to God’s hope for the world, to the Mercy of God for all Creation. We become marked by a Love which, though it seems to weaken, is our ultimate and indefatigable strength.

Today’s final thought: Will we let ourselves be changed by the grace offered us in life’s struggles? Will we let ourselves be renamed and marked as God’s own?

Frederick Buechner, in his sermon The Magnificent Defeat talks about such surrender:

Power, success, happiness, as the world knows them, are his who will fight for them hard enough; but peace, love, joy, are only from God. And God is the enemy whom Jacob fought there by the river, of course, and whom in one way or another we all of us fight-God, the beloved enemy. Our enemy because, before giving us everything, he demands of us everything; before giving us life, he demands our lives – our selves, our wills, our treasure.

Will we give them, you and I? I do not know. Only remember the last glimpse that we have of Jacob, limping home against the great conflagration of the dawn. Remember Jesus of Nazareth, staggering on broken feet out of the tomb toward the Resurrection, bearing on his body the proud insignia of the defeat which is victory, the magnificent defeat of the human soul at the hands of God.

Music: Jacob Wrestles with the Angel – Leo Kraft

With You, All the Way!

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 8, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we come to the heart of the Jacob story. Through prayer, it may reveal the heart of our story too.

Think of this. Is there anything better than a true friend who, even in your worst isolation, says:

  • I’ve got your back.
  • I’m right here at your side.
  • I’m with you through it all.

This is who God promises to be for Jacob in today’s wonderful first reading.

Gen28_12Ladder

Trickster Jacob, banished and fleeing from His enraged brother, falls asleep on the vast plain, with only a rock for his pillow. He is on a journey between two lives – the old one of extreme conflict, and a new one, as yet unrevealed. When he falls asleep on this desolate night, he thinks he journeys alone.

Ever feel like that? In life, we make many small and big journeys from the old to the new, the comfortable to the challenging, the past to the future, the known to the unknown. Sometimes we make choices to leave a “life” behind. Sometimes, life makes the choice in spite of us. In many of these chosen or unchosen transitions, we may feel very alone, even abandoned.

The good news of today’s reading is that God thinks otherwise.

Know that I am with you;
I will protect you wherever you go,
and bring you back to (wholeness).
I will never leave you
until I have done what I promised you.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus realizes this same ancient promise in the lives of two people on painful journeys. 

He heals the hemorrhaging woman through just her trusting fingertip along his garment’s hem. Such is the awesome power of faith and promise!

He raises new life in a dying child by the reach of her father’s faith into the heart of God’s mercy.

God is with each one of us too – unequivocally. God’s Mercy is everywhere and always.

Jacob responds to God’s promise with faith and hope. So do the Gospel’s centurion and suffering woman. Each of them, in their particular journey, shows us how to welcome God’s promise, “I am with you.” All we need do is to be with God too.

Music: You Are Mine – David Haas

Joy

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 7, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are knit together by the theme of joy – a quality whose description and possession are elusive.

Lk10_20 joy

As I sought a way to write about joy, I thought immediately of the author C.S. Lewis. If you don’t know him, I suggest it would be worth your while to discover him.

C.S. Lewis was a British writer, academic and theologian. He is best known for his works of fiction, especially The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, and The Space Trilogy. Among my favorite of his non-fiction works are Surprised by Joy and A Grief Observed.

Lewis clearly understood and lived a spirituality like the one offered in today’s readings. He came to understand the amazing difference between joy and happiness. He experienced joy as a longing for the Infinite which is suggested by life’s beauty, but never fully accessed by our human sensibility.

Isaiah, Paul, and Jesus preach this kind of joy in our readings. It is a joy that, even in the midst of trial, gives us peace and hope. It is rooted in our immutable trust in God’s abiding love for us. As today’s Psalm says:

Hear now, all you who fear God,
while I declare
what he has done for me.
Blessed be God who refused me not
my prayer or his kindness!

You might enjoy these quotes about joy from C.S.Lewis. Movie lovers among you might like the wonderful 1993 film about the relationship between Lewis and American poet Joy Davidman, her death from cancer, and how this challenged Lewis’s Christian faith.


All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’.”
C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

“Joy—that sharp, wonderful Stab of Longing—has a lithe, muscular lightness to it. It’s deft. It produces longing that weighs heavy on the heart, but it does so with precision and coordination…It dashes in with the agility of a hummingbird claiming its nectar from the flower, and then zips away. It pricks, then vanishes, leaving a wake of mystery and longing behind it.”
(from Shadowlands and Song of Light by Kevin Ott – a journey into the thoughts of C.S.Lewis)

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Music: Shadowlands – Rebecca St.James

Believe

Feast of Saint Thomas, Apostle

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings lead us to pray for faith.

John20_27 Thomas

Faith is not a commodity or an achievement.
Faith is a relationship and a journey.

It is a gift and an exercise of grace.
Never stretched, it withers like an broken ligament.

It ebbs and tides with our personal and communal dramas.
It deepens with prayer, silent reaching, and a listening obedience to our lives.
It shallows with our demands, like Thomas, only to see and to touch.

It is fed by the Lavish Mercy of God Who never cuts its flow to our souls
if we but take down the seawall around our heart.

On this day when we celebrate the power of tested and proven faith,
may we bring our needs into the circle gathered in that Upper Room.

Standing beside Thomas today in our prayer,
may we place our trust in the glorified wounds of Christ.

A video today for your prayer: Blessed Are They That Have Not Seen

After the Tumult

Tuesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 2, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we stand with Abraham as he reflects over the demolished plains surrounding Sodom and Gomorrah. He has been through a traumatic upheaval with God. Now he lets the reality of its teaching sink into his soul.

Genesis19_28 sodomJPG

The smoldering land over which Abraham meditates has been flattened by earthquake and ensuing fire. It is a striking symbol for us of those events or circumstances in our lives that have crushed our hope and joy. At some time, we have all stood at the edge of such a scorched plain, one to be traced not on a paper map but on the map of our soul.

The upheaval may have been spawned by a death, a broken vow, a trust revealed as false, a devastating illness of spirit, mind or body. Whatever the trauma, something of us did not survive – at least not in the way it was before the fire.

Abraham is full of such considerations on this now quiet morning. And he, as many of us in the aftermath of our storms, has learned a new depth of God. God has stayed with Abraham, listened to him, shown mercy to Lot and his family.

What we see in this reading is Abraham, our earliest ancestor in faith, growing in his understanding of the nature of God. Even the upheavals of life can bring us to the fullness of God’s mercy. Though life may unfold differently from what we would choose, it will always bring us grace if we stay in relationship with Abiding Love.

May God give us the faith to hold on to that Lavish Mercy in any upheaval we encounter. May we, like Abraham, stand quiet and trusting in the power of God – perhaps not to change things, but to change us.

Music: Though the Mountains May Fall – Dan Schutte 

Well, Will You?

Monday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 1, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we have the rather charming passage in Genesis where Abraham nickels and dimes God. We might dismiss it as childlike lore if we hadn’t tried it with God ourselves a hundred times. 😂

At least I know I bargain with God? Don’t you? When I really want life to go in a way I don’t expect it to, I might try to make a deal with God. It goes something like this:

Dear God, if you only please do “X”, I promise that I will do “Y”.

Or it might go like this:

Dear God, I know You can’t possibly want this suffering to be happening.
Won’t You please fix it? I promise to be grateful!

Even now, when faith has brought me to a deeper understanding of God’s presence in my life, these little bargains still creep through.

follow me

But, if I wait, Grace teaches. God is not the Omnipotent Fixer. God is rather the Omnipresent Mercy bearing our blessings and sorrows with us. God is the Infinite Revelation, leading us in both light and darkness into the depth of a Love we will never fully comprehend:

For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so surpassing is God’s mercy
toward those who live within its awe.

(today’s responsorial Pslam 103)

Sometimes when I feel, like Abraham, that God may have turned and walked away from my pleading prayer, I hear God’s fading footsteps calling me to follow into an unexpected depth.

It is a radical call, like the one in Matthew’s Gospel, to follow and know the Face of God hidden in life’s suffering.

“Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus answered him,
“Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests,
but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”
Another of his disciples said to him,
“Lord, let me go first and bury my father.”
But Jesus answered him, “Follow me,
and let the dead bury their dead.”

It is not easy to put the following of Christ above all our human considerations, but this is our invitation and call. May we be gifted with the grace to respond.

Music: Will You Come and Follow Me? – John Bell

The Yoke, Indeed, Is On Us!

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 30, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, the symbols of yokes and plows shout out across our readings. Again, we are dealing with metaphors not in everyday usage for most of us. But those listening to Elijah, Paul, and Jesus absorbed the symbolism easily.

Gal5_yoke

The yoke has connotations of subservience and toiling; in some ancient cultures it was traditional to force a vanquished enemy to pass beneath a symbolic yoke of Spears or swords.The yoke may be a metaphor for something oppressive or burdensome, such as feudalism or totalitarianism. (Wikipedia)

The writer of Kings has fiery Elijah engaged in one of his several highly dramatic episodes. What a scene, right? But what is the point for us?

The point is the same in all three readings: yoke=commitment. Each of our writers is talking about a further understanding of the word “yoke” —a freely chosen commitment made, by grace, for Love.

Sometimes, as in Kings, we need to break an enslavement in order to commit to something life-giving, such as Elisha’s call to follow Elijah.

Other times, as in Galatians, we must remind ourselves of the freedom and power we have chosen by breaking the old yokes that bound us.

In our Gospel, Jesus acknowledges the cost of a commitment to his Way. He has already told us in Matthew 11:

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.

Today, in Luke, Jesus doubles down on his invitation /challenge to follow him:

No one who sets a hand to the plow
and looks to what was left behind
is fit for the kingdom of God.

The question left for our prayer today? Is my heart fully yoked to the heart Christ? Is my hand firmly grasping the plow?

Music: My Yoke is Easy – Dennis Jernigan