Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 56, an unusual mix of lamentation and praise, of light and dark emotions. Many consider the psalm to be a prayer of David in the midst of his problems with Solomon.
Our prayer can be this kind of mix at times. We might feel stressed by the exigencies of life, calling on God to ease our angst and protect us. At the same time, we have a underlying confidence that God is with us, even in difficulty. Such a prayer is not unlike the one Jesus prayed in Gethsemane.
I cherish a verse from Psalm 56 not included in today’s reading. In beautiful simile, the line captures suffering still imbued with trust. I especially like the old translation from the King James Version:
Today’s verses reflect the confidence born of such honest and steadfast prayer. There comes a surety in God’s abiding, a shift from self-centered fear, a welling up of praise for the One who saves us, not only from our troubles, but from our anxious selves.
Now I know that God is with me. In God, in whose promise I glory, in God I trust without fear; what can flesh do against me?
Poetry: Mount of Olives by Irene Zimmerman, OSF
He falls, crying, “Help me, Father.” Though his acquiescence rings true as a well-tuned violin, the searing bow brings tears of blood as it plays across the taut strings of his human dread of dying.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 17, a confident prayer calling on God’s intervention.
The psalmist tenders a plea:
Hear, O LORD, a just suit; attend to my outcry; hearken to my prayer from lips without deceit.
But before reiterating that plea, the pray-er convinces God that she is worthy of an answer:
You have tested my heart, searched it in the night. You have tried me by fire, but find no malice in me. My mouth has not transgressed as others often do. As your lips have instructed me, I have kept from the way of the lawless.
Psalm 17: 3-4
It sounds a little boastful but it really isn’t. The one who prays this psalm is very familiar with God and God with her. There are no secrets between them. She knows that she is infinitely loved and protected, not despite her vulnerability but because of it.
The psalmist, from long experience, is confident asking for help, as we would be asking a friend to turn and listen to us:
I call upon you; answer me, O God. Turn your ear to me; hear my speech.
Psalm 17: 7
Have you ever been asked for prayers because you are “a good prayer”? It happens to nuns all the time.
But no prayer is more powerful than another. We say “Of course” to such requests because it is our intention to join our prayer with that of the requester.
Show your wonderful mercy, you who deliver with your right arm those who seek refuge from their foes. Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings
Psalm 17: 8-9
Each of us is God’s “eye-apple”. Each of us, when we give ourselves to a long familiarity with God, will be wrapped in the confidence of one who is always answered.
( In a second posting, I’ll be sending on an extra meditation on The Eye of God by Macrina Wiederkehr – beautifully profound.)
Poetry: As Kingfishers Catch Fire – Gerard Manley Hopkins
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; As tumbled over rim in roundy wells Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name; Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
I say móre: the just man justices; Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces; Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is — Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places, Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
Music: The Apple of My Eye by Umb-5 and Sam Carter
Sometimes a non-spiritual song captures a spiritual meaning in a beautiful way. Let God sing to you with this lovely song.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 100, the “Jubilate Deo” – “Rejoice in the Lord”. These verses, on the feast of our Sorrowful Mother, might seem a bit contradictory:
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands; serve the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful song.
But I think the seeming contradiction reveals a deep truth.
For those who live in God, no sorrow can eradicate their resolute joy.
Certainly, like Mary, the faithful heart feels sorrow for both personal pain and the pain of all Creation. But the pain and sorrow is not the end of their feeling. There is a joyful hope because God abides with us in any suffering, promising that no evil can defeat the one who believes.
Mary believed that with all her heart and lived it. She invites us to the same courageous faith. As Psalm 100 assures us:
Know that the LORD is God; Who made us, whose we are; God’s people, the flock God tends.
For the Lord is good, whose kindness endures forever, and whose faithfulness is to all generations.
Poem: Today’s poetic passage is from one of the great classics of Christian literature, A Woman Wrapped in Silence by Father John W. Lynch.
The book is a masterpiece best appreciated in reflective contemplation. I have chosen a sliver of its beauty today, one of many that captures Mary’s joy born of faith-filled suffering. This selection imagines what it was like when Mary remained in the Upper Room as the others, not knowing what to expect, went to the tomb early on Easter morning. The Resurrected Jesus comes to Mary first, before any other appearance.
it true or thought of her she found no need
To search? And better said that she had known
Within, they’d not discover him again
Among the dead? That he would not be there
Entombed, and she had known, and only watched
Them now as they were whispering of him,
And let them go, and listened afterward
To footsteps that were fading in the dark.
To wait him here. Alone. Alone. A woman
Lonely in the silence and the trust
Of silence in her heart that did not seek,
Or cry, or search, but only waited him.
We have no word of this sweet certainty
That hides in her. There is not granted line
Writ meager in the scripture that will tell
By even some poor, unavailing tag
Of language what she keeps within the silence.
This is hers. We are not told of this,
This quaking instant, this return, this Light
Beyond the tryst of dawn when she first lifted
Up her eyes, and quiet, unamazed,
Saw He was near.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 45 which scripture scholars interpret as a Davidic wedding song. Many believe it refers to the marriage of a king to the daughter of a royal foreign house.
The psalm is set today between two powerful readings.
In our first reading, Paul gives an extended opinion piece on celibacy and marriage, a reading which has spawned countless academic interpretations. Our Gospel, pivotal to our understanding of holiness, also has generated abundant scholarly commentary.
We may finish today’s readings wondering who must I be to become the person God wants me to be? Celibate? Poor? Hungry? Sorrowful? Persecuted? Like Francis Thompson in his famous poem, The Hound of Heaven, we may feel pursued by a God we might rather ignore!
For, though I knew His love Who followèd, Yet was I sore adread Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside
Indeed, the answer is not simple. Each person’s path to God’s heart is different. The readings don’t give us a foolproof map. Instead, they give us prompts about where we might go off the path.
In other words, the readings spread the stars across our heavens. But we must find our own bearings in life to allow us to continually deepen our relationship with God. If our current circumstances and choices prevent that in any way, we must reorient ourselves.
For me the lesson is this. God desires our complete love and worship. God wants to be the center of our lives. That’s why we exist. All the rest is incidental.
Our psalm captures it in this way:
Hear, my child, and see; turn your ear, forget those things to which you are accustomed. So shall the Lord desire your full commitment; the Lord Whom you must worship with your life.
Our Gospel is uncompromising in its warning that obsession with material goods, personal comfort, and selfish success blocks our awareness of how distant we can grow from God:
But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.
We are blessed if we are free of these woes, but it is hard in a culture spiritually crippled by these obsessions.
Psalm 45 calls us to “bend our ear” toward God’s invitation. By sincere prayer and loving vigilance, we can hear the Divine whisper within our circumstances, leading us to fullness of life with God. We will recognize it by this: it always calls us to justice, mercy, and charity.
You love justice and hate wrongdoing; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your peers.
Poetry: Excerpt from The Hound of Heaven by Francis Thompson
( It’s a little “frilly” with early 20th century Romanticism, but – oh my! – some of its lines get burned into the memory!)
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears I hid from Him, and under running laughter. Up vistaed hopes I sped; And shot, precipitated, Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears, From those strong Feet that followed, followed after. But with unhurrying chase, And unperturbèd pace, Deliberate speed, majestic instancy, They beat—and a Voice beat More instant than the Feet— ‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, on our Blessed Mother’s birthday, we pray with the beautiful final verses of Psalm 13.
These verses embody an immense shift in form from the psalm’s early lines. Early on, the psalmist cries out four times, “How long, O Lord?”.
Will you forget me?
Will you hide your face from me?
Must I carry sorrow in my soul?
Will my enemy triumph over me?
Referring to these early verses reminds us that Mary’s life was full of sorrow as well as joy. On a feast like today, we think of Mary in her heavenly glory. But in her lifetime, Mary suffered many sorrows. She was an unwed mother, a refugee, and a widow. She was the mother of an executed “criminal” and a leader of his persecuted band.
What was it that allowed Mary to transcend sorrow and claim joy? Our psalm verses today help us to understand. They show the psalmist turning to heartfelt prayer., trusting God’s abiding protection.
Look upon me, answer me, LORD, my God! Give light to my eyes lest I sleep in death, Lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed,” lest my foes rejoice at my downfall.
That deep trust ultimately yields not only peace, but joy. Mary, singer of the Magnificat, is the quintessence of that holy joy.
But I trust in your mercy. Grant my heart joy in your salvation, I will sing to the LORD, Who has dealt bountifully with me!
Today, in our prayer, we ask Mary to love and guide us through the challenges of our lives.
Poetry: Three Days – Madeleine L’Engle
When you agree to be the mother of God
you make no conditions, no stipulations.
You flinch before neither cruel thorn nor rod.
You accept the tears; you endure the tribulations.
But, my God, I didn't know it would be like this.
I didn't ask for a child so different from others.
I wanted only the ordinary bliss,
to be the most mundane of mothers.
When I first saw the mystery of the Word
made flesh I never thought that in his side
I'd see the callous wound of Roman sword
piercing my heart on the hill where he died.
How can the Word be silenced? Where has it gone?
Where are the angel voices that sang at his birth?
My frail heart falters. I need the light of the Son.
What is this darkness over the face of the earth?
Sunday: Dear God, He has come, the Word has come again. There is no terror left in silence, in clouds, in gloom. He has conquered the hate; he has overcome the pain. Where, days ago, was death lies only an empty tomb. The secret should have come to me with his birth, when glory shone through darkness, peace through strife. For every birth follows a kind of death, and only after pain comes life.
Music: Magnificat – Daughters of Mary
(To see Latin and English verses, click the little arrowhead just below the picture on the right.)
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 95, a favorite of liturgists, and one we have met several times before. What different light might it offer us today as we pray?
The psalm today serves as a bridge between powerful readings about neighborly love and fraternal correction. These readings tell us to listen for God’s heartbeat in our world and to enter its rhythm.
They also tell us to love our neighbor enough that, if she or he is out of synch with God’s rhythm, we help align them by our counsel and example.
Have you ever tried to do that? It’s really tough!
First of all, we have to be so vigilant about the purity of our own intentions. We can’t instruct our friends in righteousness out of our own confusion. So often, our desire for others to “improve” grows out of our opinionated self-interest. You might remember what Jesus said about extracting the plank from our own eye before removing the splinter from our neighbor’s!
Next we really have to love our sister or brother and sincerely want their good. We have to forgive them any hurt they have caused us. We have to be bigger than most of us, speaking for myself, are inclined to be.
As the psalm tells us, we can’t have hard hearts. As we approach our sister or brother, our hearts must be softened by listening, patience, understanding, humility and hope. We have to be sure the “voice” we’re sharing comes from God not self.
Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the desert, Where your fathers tempted me; they tested me though they had seen my works.
And the flip of all this, of course, is that when we are the one out of rhythm, we receive loving correction in the same spirit of openness.
Lots of Grace is needed on both sides of this dance! May we learn and receive it!
Poetry: The Gift by Li-Young Lee
To pull the metal splinter from my palm
my father recited a story in a low voice.
I watched his lovely face and not the blade.
Before the story ended, he’d removed
the iron sliver I thought I’d die from.
I can’t remember the tale,
but hear his voice still, a well
of dark water, a prayer.
And I recall his hands,
two measures of tenderness
he laid against my face,
the flames of discipline
he raised above my head.
Had you entered that afternoon
you would have thought you saw a man
planting something in a boy’s palm,
a silver tear, a tiny flame.
Had you followed that boy
you would have arrived here,
where I bend over my wife’s right hand.
Look how I shave her thumbnail down
so carefully she feels no pain.
Watch as I lift the splinter out.
I was seven when my father
took my hand like this,
and I did not hold that shard
between my fingers and think,
Metal that will bury me,
christen it Little Assassin,
Ore Going Deep for My Heart.
And I did not lift up my wound and cry,
Death visited here!
I did what a child does
when he’s given something to keep.
I kissed my father.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 145, a consoling hymn of confidence in God’s Mercy.
And, my dears, all I really want to say to you is, “September 1st! God bless us! We have made it this far in these times (as one gifted friend calls them, “these quantum weird times”.)
And, certainly, we pray in profound companionship with all those who suffer because of this pandemic. But at the same time we are so grateful for all who have, so far, been delivered from its grasp!
So hooray for us, and hooray for God! Let’s pick up our hope, energy and faith by drinking in the beauty of Psalm 145. Together, in faith, we CAN make it to a vaccine time- a time to forget, AND to remember all that might transform and bless us from these days…
… because God is MERCY, and there is some gift for all of us even in shadow
The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness. The LORD is good to all and compassionate toward all his works.
Jesus meets the demon in today’s Gospel, a demon who is no match for Uncreated Grace. By the power of our Baptism, let us draw that Grace into our spirits, into our world today as we pray.
And let us be at once both astonished and confident in the power of God’s Word to heal even the immense darkness of our world.
Jesus went down to Capernaum, a town of Galilee. He taught them on the sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching because he spoke with authority.
Poetry: The Fountain – Denise Levertov
Don’t say, don’t say there is no water
to solace the dryness at our hearts.
I have seen
the fountain springing out of the rock wall
and you drinking there. And I too
before your eyes
found footholds and climbed
to drink the cool water.
The woman of that place, shading her eyes,
frowned as she watched—but not because
she grudged the water,
only because she was waiting
to see we drank our fill and were
Don’t say, don’t say there is no water.
That fountain is there among its scalloped
green and gray stones,
it is still there and always there
with its quiet song and strange power
to spring in us,
up and out through the rock.
A Second Poem for the month’s beginning: September by Deborah Landau Some of us might also find ourselves somewhere in this wistful poem. I just like it. Thought some of you might too. 🤗
Dazzling emptiness of the black green end of summer no one
running in the yard pulse pulse the absence.
Leave them not to the empty yards.
They resembled a family. Long quiet hours. Sometimes
one was angry sometimes someone called her "wife"
someone's hair receding.
An uptick in the hormone canopy embodied a restlessness
and oh what to do with it.
(How she arrived in a hush in a looking away and not looking.)
It had been some time since richness intangible
and then they made a whole coat of it.
Meanwhile August moved toward its impervious finale.
A mood by the river. Gone. One lucid rush carrying them along.
Borderless and open the days go on—
Music: I Will Praise Your Name – Marty Hagen and David Haas
Antiphon: | will praise your name, my King and my God. 1. I will give you glory, my God and King, and I will bless your name forever. Every day I will bless and praise your name forever. 2. The Lord is full of grace and mercy. He is kind and slow to anger. He is good in all His works and full of compassion. 3. Let all your works give you thanks, O Lord, and let all the faithful bless you. Let them speak of your might, O Lord, the glory of your kingdom. 4. The Lord is faithful in all His words, and always near. His name is holy.He lifts up all those who fall. He raises up the lowly.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with the magnificent Psalm 63 which captures the soul’s deep longing for God.
It is a longing that, once released in the heart, must be satisfied.
In our first reading, Jeremiah experiences it akin to an addiction, the power of it consuming his life:
I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.
Paul, in his letter to the Romans, says not to resist the longing, but to let ourselves be consumed by it like a sacrificial offering:
I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.
Jesus, in our Gospel, is the One who surrenders himself fully to that holy longing. He calls us to imitate him:
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
These are profound readings calling us a place that words cannot describe, a place where the Cross intersects with the truth of our lives. May we have the grace to hear and believe.
Poetry: The Longing – Rumi
There is a candle in your heart,
ready to be kindled.
There is a void in your soul,
ready to be filled.
You feel it, don't you?
You feel the separation
from the Beloved.
Invite Love to quench you,
embrace the fire.
Remind those who tell you otherwise that
comes to you of its own accord,
and the longing for it cannot be learned in any school.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray again with Psalm 33. Today’s verses console us with the reminder that God is watching over us, as individuals and as communities.
Blessed the nation whose God is the LORD, the people chosen for God’s own inheritance. From heaven the LORD looks down; seeing all humanity.
You know, sometimes I wonder! How can God see some of the things going on in the world and not intervene? How can God let innocence suffer? The psalm seems to promise that intervention, but does it really?
But see, the eyes of the LORD are upon those who fear God, upon those who hope for God’s kindness, To deliver them from death and preserve them in spite of famine.
That last line is the zinger. It doesn’t say there will be no famine. It simply says that the God-fearing will be preserved despite the famine.
Hasn’t your life taught you that? We’ve all been through lots of things that we asked God to take away – pain, sadness, fear, loss. Probably most, if not all, of those burdens remained with us until we worked through them.
By faith and God’s Grace, we came through the other side stronger, deeper, more faithful. If we can trust God, “wait on the Lord”, the way comes to us – a way that leads us more deeply into God’s freedom and joy.
Our soul waits for the LORD, who is our help and our shield, For in God our hearts rejoice; in God’s holy name we trust.
Let’s pray for that kind of faith and trust for ourselves and for our beloveds. Let’s pray for the courage to learn it by unfailing prayer and practice.
Poetry: In Memoriam A. H. H. OBIIT MDCCCXXXIII: 54 by Alfred Lord Tennyson
Oh, yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final end of ill,
To pangs of nature, sins of will,
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;
That nothing walks with aimless feet;
That not one life shall be destroy'd,
Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete;
That not a worm is cloven in vain;
That not a moth with vain desire
Is shrivell'd in a fruitless fire,
Or but subserves another's gain.
Behold, we know not anything;
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last—far off—at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.
So runs my dream: but what am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.
Music: The Passion of John – Johann Sebastian Bach
This piece is not about John the Baptist. It is an excerpt from two hour meditation of the Passion narrative in John the Evangelist’s Gospel.
However, this beautiful excerpt fits so well with today’s reflection.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 33, a song of praise calling the people to rejoice in God’s justice and kindness.
In its attitude of trust and freedom, the Psalm might remind us of Robert Browning’s verse:
God’s in his heaven. All’s right with the world.
But neither in the psalmist’s time, nor in Browning’s, was everything really “all right” with the world. Things are never really “all right” with the world. There is always war, crime, hunger, disease, natural disasters, and a slew of other troubles brewing somewhere.
So how can the psalmist or any other preacher invite us to trust, believe, and rejoice like this?
Exult, you just, in the LORD; praise from the upright is fitting. Give thanks to the LORD on the harp; with the ten-stringed lyre chant his praises.
Keywords in this verse give us a clue: those who are just and upright will see the pattern of God’s mercy which lies deeper than the troubles of this world. They will trust and be comforted by God’s transcendent faithfulness to us in all things. Their faith and joy in the face of suffering will confound the faithless.
Calling us to the full meaning of Christ’s sacrificial love, Paul reiterates this mysteriously contradictory truth in our first reading :
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
For Christians, the Cross is the ultimate symbol of this profound wisdom and strength. It is a mystery too deep for our understanding, but by faith we may slowly become immersed in its Truth.
The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
1 Corinthians 18
As we pray with Psalm 33 today, let us be aware of the cause of our joy – a holy joy deeply rooted in God, trusting God’s Will for our salvation in the pattern of Jesus Christ.
For upright is the word of the LORD, and all God’s works are trustworthy. The LORD loves justice and right; of the kindness of the Lord the earth is full.
Poetry: Primary Wonder – Denise Levertov
Days pass when I forget the mystery. Problems insoluble and problems offering their own ignored solutions jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing their colored clothes; cap and bells. And then once more the quiet mystery is present to me, the throng’s clamor recedes: the mystery that there is anything, anything at all, let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything, rather than void: and that, O Lord, Creator, Hallowed One, You still, hour by hour sustain it.
Music: Your Cross Changes Everything – Matt Redman