Genesis – Get Out of My Garden!

Saturday, February 16, 2019

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in every age

Today, in Mercy, Adam and Eve get to “pay the piper”. Now, they have to answer to God for the delicious, forbidden bite!

And God is tough on them! No hint of that “lavish mercy”! Of course, the writer(s) of Genesis had to fold a lot of explanations into this story such as:

  • why we feel body shame
  • why we are estranged from nature
  • why women suffer labor
  • why men work hard to no avail
  • why we die

We know that these explanations were written originally to meet the questions of an ancient culture. They were told and retold in the form of a story with all that structure’s inherent possibilities and handicaps.

Some of us are inclined to accept “story” only as history, demanding that the events recount specific concrete people and interactions. In other words, we demand that Adam and Eve were real people with a historical identity.

Some of us accept the “story” only as myth, not necessarily integral to the foundation of our modern faith.

The great biblical scholar Walter Bruggemann says neither stance is accurate. He says that these sacred stories are “mystery” which continue to unfold through the ages in the faith-life and sharing of the living community.

As we pray with these passages, we may deepen our faith by looking for the revelations within them:

  • God created us in God’s own image
  • God formed a covenant of love with us
  • We are called to be responsive to that loving covenant 
  • We sometimes fail and reap the fruits of that failure
  • But God did not dissolve Creation nor the Covenant
  • And so, in every age, we place our hope in Jesus Christ, the New Creation and New Covenant

Music: In Every Age ~ Janet Sullivan Whitaker

Valentine’s Poems

pexels-photo-220483

Consummation

You have been present to me, God
like light to flame,
like heat to flame
like fluid movement
and energy of shape to flame.

The wax of my life
is consumed in such Presence.
Shall I simply be content
that it burn,
or shall I seek the Transparency
to which it disappears?

 

ocean

Kairos

All the ages that have loved You
sometimes rush into me
like the white falls of a river,
and Your engagement of the earth
from all antiquity
is caught in a great gasp
by the walls of my soul.

In every creature that has ever been
or ever will be, You and I
have been loving each other.
All that treasure swells
in me for a moment
before it thins again into the Chronos
where I seek You in its shadows.

For a second, split in light
I may have held your still
eternal soul within my own.

Music: Bach: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring

Original Innocence

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Genesis gives us a picture of our “Original Innocence“. It is a beautiful story, the earth freshly sprung from nothingness, our Ancient Ancestor cradled to life in the palm of God’s hand.

Gen2_7 breath

See God gazing at this work of his fingers, bending over it in love. See God draw up his own eternal breath and gently whisper it into this yet lifeless image of God’s own Divinity.

Adam bursts forth, the dazzling image of God Who, liking what He has made, draws a second, even more lovely creature from its side.

All was given to these two glorious creatures – all but the right to consume the knowledge of good and evil. It almost seems that God feared their innocence could not sustain such knowledge. And it ensues that God is right (of course!)

The elegantly profound poet Ranier Maria Rilke captures the drama with this poem:

I read it here in your very Word

I read it here in your very Word,
From the story of the gestures
With which your hands cupped themselves
Around our becoming, warm and wise.

 You said, live loudly and die softly,
And over and over again you said: be.

But before the first death came Murder.

At this, a rift tore
through your ripened spheres,
And a crying-out,
And tore away the voices
That had just begun to gather
To speak you
To carry you,
Over the chasm of everything–

 And what they’ve since then stammered
Are fragments
Of your ancient name.

I’ll leave you with this poem, and with your own prayerful thoughts on the divine image of your soul, its original innocence, and the reclamation of that innocence in the gift of Jesus Christ.

Music: For the Music of Creation ~ Shirley Elena Murray & Daniel Nelson
(Lyrics below)

For the music of creation,
for the song your Spirit sings,
for your sound’s divine expression,
burst of joy in living things:

       God, our God, the world’s composer,
hear us, echoes of your voice —
music is your art, your glory,
let the human heart rejoice!

Psalms and symphonies exalt you,
drum and trumpet, string and reed,
simple melodies acclaim you,
tunes that rise from deepest need,

       hymns of longing and belonging,
carols from a cheerful throat,
lilt of lullaby and lovesong
catching heaven in a note.

All the voices of the ages
in transcendent chorus meet,
worship lifting up the senses,
hands that praise, and dancing feet;

       over discord and division
music speaks your joy and peace,
harmony of earth and heaven,
song of God that cannot cease.

Incline My Heart

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we launch into about two weeks of readings from Genesis and from Mark.

Adam and Eve

 

The story of Genesis is one of the first Bible stories we learn as children. Because of this, some of us, myself included, tend to read Genesis on a simplistic level, picturing the now unattainable Garden, the first animals, and the humans ultimately dressed in their grassy outfits. 


These two weeks offer us a great opportunity to take our understanding of this beautiful book up a notch.

Imagine what the Genesis story meant to the first community to hear it! Their faith had been invested in an array of gods, both friendly and inimical, who seemed to control their daily experiences. Many times, these gods were in competition among themselves with disastrous results for humans!

By contrast, the God of Genesis is One God, All-Powerful and All-Knowing – the Author of all Creation. Human beings are created in the image of this One God with Whom they are in unique and special covenant. 

Roger Nam, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland, Oregon, summarizes this special character of Genesis. I found his description helpful to my prayer:

As you consider the wondrous nature of creation, it is important to recognize the radical, remarkable, and revolutionary nature of the Genesis creation in its original context. This presentation of God comes as a wonderful relief and assurance to the family of ancient Israel.

The God of Genesis 1-2:4a provides assurance to those who work to raise crops against their numerous natural challenges. The God of Genesis 1-2:4 brings peace to the nation struggling for survival against the numerous encroaching enemies from all sides. God is one. God is powerful. And God created us in his image. This opening passage of our Bible constitutes the essence of good news.

As we pray today, we might ask God to conform our hearts to the perfect order of Creation, the Law and Covenant of Mutual Love. We pray with today’s responsorial psalm:

Ps119 incline my heart

Instead of music today, a reflective reading from Genesis: 

Prayer to Honor a Beautiful Sunset

(Because the sunset was so magnificent tonight,
I thought I might share this prayer I wrote many, many years ago.)

sunsetJPG

Degreeing Prayer
(To Yield Graciously to Life by Degrees – Like the Sun)

O God, my Beginning and my End,
I do not choose to “rage into the night”.
I choose to bleed into it,
graciously, as
Jesus bled…

by willing peace in face of curdled power,
by willing love in face
of irrational hate,
by willing acquiescence in the face of
time’s inexorable demand.

I want to be that strong…
to be so gentle, because
I think that
Jesus looked into the Dark
and saw Your Face
to learn antithesis of violence.

You are the Yielding One,
eschewing power for the sake of love.

You are Creator, granting
freedom in the will of those to whom
You bind Yourself by love.

You are the Contradiction
of control.

You are the Silent Source
of all
ennobled dying,
by those grafted to your Mystery
in the constant dark.

Absorb me,
as I near the forward edge of night.

Grade me,
like the colors of a yielding spectrum,
to softly welcome Your deepest darkness.

Music: Beyond the Sunset

Everyday Miracles

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

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Today, in Mercy, Isaiah continues to describe the perfection of redeemed Creation.

Dec 5

Matthew’s accompanying Gospel shows us Jesus making this perfection apparent through the miracle of the loaves and fishes.

Many of us long for the coming of this future kingdom. But, through the grace of the Resurrection, this redeemed and perfect kingdom is already available to us who choose to believe in and foster it.

If we really live as redeemed people, the miracle happens around us! Our graces are multiplied, just like the seven loaves and few fish. 

Music: What Is Your Loaves & Two Fishes?

Christ the King

Sunday, November 25, 2018

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate The Solemnity of Christ the King.

Rev1_7JPG

For some, the lofty, politically-tinged title might obscure the rich devotion offered by this feast. The title “king” carries with it suggestions of exaggerated power, wealth and dominance not compatible with our Gospel perception of Jesus.

We may be more comfortable with images of Christ as infant, brother, shepherd, lamb, vine, gate, way, truth, life…

But what all these images point out is that our ability to comprehend the fullness of Christ is severely limited by our humanity. We usually choose a specific image based on our circumstances and spiritual needs.

Pope Pius XI promoted the concept of Christ the King in his 1925 encyclical Quas Primas, in response to growing international secularism and nationalism. His intent was not to compare Christ to the challenged world leaders of the time. It was to raise the perceptions of all people to the lessons of Divine Leadership: mercy, justice, inclusivity, and peace.

Oh, how we could benefit from the same understanding today! 

In this age with its culture of continual war, the human pain it causes, refugee crises, climate devastation, wealth distortion and indifference to the poor, how our hearts long for just, wise and loving leadership!

In his encyclical, Pius XI wrote:

Christ the King reigns “in the human hearts,” both by reason of the keenness of his intellect and the extent of his knowledge, and also because he is very truth, and it is from him that truth must be obediently received by all humanity. He reigns, too, in our wills, for in him the human will was perfectly and entirely obedient to the Holy Will of God, and further by his grace and inspiration he so subjects our free-will as to incite us to the most noble endeavors. He is King of hearts, too, by reason of his “charity which exceedeth all knowledge.”

— Quas primas, §7[4]

Let’s pray for these virtues for all who are charged with any form of power or leadership:

  • keen spiritual intellect
  • deep heart’s knowledge
  • uncompromising truth
  • obedience to grace
  • holy inspiration 
  • noble character
  • and surpassing charity for all Creation

May Christ the King truly live and reign among us. May we behold the “sweet light in His eyes”!

Music: We Shall Behold Him – offered in American Sign Language by Kayla Seymour; sung by Sandi Patty

We Shall Behold Him

Thursday, October 4, 2018

                    Reading:  http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/100418.cfm

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, a man who through his deep understanding and love of poverty, worshipped God in all Creation.

we shall behold hinm

In many ways, our reading from Job echoes what we know of Francis. Francis, by choice, and Job, by circumstance, are left with nothing. Each one  experiences that emptiness as an open pathway to God.

Poverty of spirit is that freedom from dependencies, material and otherwise, which could block us from full relationship with God. The parable of Job shows us a man who possessed such poverty in the extreme experiences of his life.

Francis of Assisi’s story is not a parable. He was real, like you and me. His passionate desire for God burned with the intensity of this verse from Job:

But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that he will at last stand forth upon the dust;
Whom I myself shall see:
my own eyes, not another’s, shall behold him,
And from my flesh I shall see God;
my inmost being is consumed with longing.

We, too, good friends, shall someday behold Him. May the great holiness of Francis inspire us to unblock our hearts to recognize and adore God, even in this life of challenges and blessings.

Music: We Shall Behold Him – The Woodlands Church UMC Choir

Former American Idol finalist LaKisha Jones sings the solo during an Easter Morning anthem.

Savor the exultant words first. I especially love the lines: 

The sweet light in His eyes, shall enhance those awaiting
And we shall behold him, then face to face

We Shall Behold Him
The sky shall unfold
Preparing His entrance
The stars shall applaud Him
With thunders of praise
The sweet light in His eyes, shall enhance those awaiting
And we shall behold Him, then face to face
O we shall behold Him, we shall behold Him
Face to face in all of His glory
O we shall behold Him, yes we shall behold Him
Face to face, our Savior and Lord
The angel will sound, the shout of His coming
And the sleeping shall rise, from their slumbering place
And those remaining, shall be changed in a moment
And we shall behold him, then face to face
We shall behold Him, o yes we shall behold Him
Face to face in all of His glory
We shall behold Him, face to face
Our Savior and Lord
We shall behold Him, our Savior and Lord
Savior and Lord!

Remember Your Angels

Saturday, September 29, 2018
Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/092918.cfm

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.

Ps 138_Angel

I have always had a special love for St. Michael, having grown up in a parish named for him. Like many people, I was fascinated by the concept of angels – dynamic, immortal beings who provided hidden protection to my young soul. Although popular culture minimizes angels into fat little Valentine cherubs, the idea of a strong, noble supernatural sibling has remained with me throughout life. 

And although tradition has designated these angels with beautiful male names, angels are without gender. They could just as easily be imagined as mighty, glorious Sisters safeguarding us for God.

Praying with the angels can teach us more about their nature, and more about our own. Each of us, creatures of The Eternal One, reflect particular aspects of God’s nature. Just as children might resemble one of their parents, we humans and angels look like God. 

We humans, with all natural Creation, reflect God’s mercy, love, inclusivity.

Angels mirror God’s power, transcendence and glory. They exist in the perfection of adoration and service to God. They invite us to that same perfection when our earthly journey ends.

What a blessing and help for us to live more consciously in the presence of these invisible beings who desire and foster our good! What a spiritual support to realize that the communion of angels and saints perpetually and lovingly surrounds us!

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this:

From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by the angels’ watchful care and intercession. Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading that person to life. Here on earth the Christian life already shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and saints united in God.

Perhaps today, we might pray to know these holy companions a little better, and to gratefully allow them to bolster our spirits for the day’s journey.

Music: The Hymn of the Cherubim of the Byzantine Liturgy is one of the most beautiful hymns of all the Catholic Liturgies. The hymn was added to the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom by the Emperor Justinian. The lyrics are:     

We, who mystically represent the Cherubim,
And chant the thrice-holy hymn to the Life-giving Trinity,
Let us set aside the cares of life
That we may receive the King of all,
Who comes invisibly escorted by the Divine Hosts.

A Faith that Delights God

Monday, September 17, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/091718.cfm

Today, in Mercy, Jesus, in amazement, praises the faith of the centurion. What was it about this man’s faith that could astound even God?  How would my faith make Jesus feel?

faith

We are taught that faith is a gift. We can’t earn it or acquire it on our own. We can though – once we have been given it – exercise it, polish it, cherish it and share it in order to make it stronger.

What is faith exactly?

Well, first off, we get faith mixed up with a lot of things that it is not. 

Faith is not the same as religion or religious denomination. Faith transcends Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism or Islam. These are the only frameworks in which we sometimes practice our faith.

 Faith isn’t devotions, or prayers, or the formulas we pull out when we are in trouble. It is not the Prayer to St. Anthony when we can’t find our car keys. It is not the novena we say to receive a special favor. These are only practices which allow us to express our faith in human terms.

And most importantly, faith is not an ideology by which we exceptionalize and elevate ourselves, suggesting that others are less because of their choice of religious practice.

If we take a clue from today’s Gospel, we could describe faith like this:

  • It is the unshakable understanding that all Creation belongs to God, including every aspect of my life.
  • It is the trust that God wills our good in all things. 
  • It is the sure confidence that God abides with us in all circumstances.
  • It is the giving of my heart to this abiding God in a relationship of mutual love.
  • It is a life that bespeaks these confidences.

The centurion must have had this kind of faith and it delighted Jesus. Let’s pray for a faith that can do that for God!

Music: Be Still – David Kauffman