Upside-Down, Inside-Out

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter
May 4, 2023

Today’s Readings:

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our two readings take us on a journey. We sail through Israel’s long and spectacular salvation history from Moses through David and forward to Jesus. And in the sailing, we get turned head over heels.

In our first reading, Paul encapsulates twelve hundred years in a few elegant verses. (Nice job, Paul!)

The touchpoints of his homily are these:

  • the sojourn in the land of Egypt. 
  • forty years in the desert.
  • destruction of Canaan,
  • judges up to Samuel the prophet.
  • King Saul, for forty years. 
  • King David whose descendants gave Israel …
  • then a little mention of John the Baptist

Paul’s succinct preaching allows us to see God’s powerful arm reaching through the long sleeve of Isreal’s history, finally handing the Chosen People the ultimate gift — Jesus Christ the Messiah.

Ah, but then we have our Gospel – which does today what it always does so well. It turns everything upside down and inside-out.

Through the twelve hundred years of Israel’s pre-Christian history, we see an agonizingly slow rise to power and glory culminating in David’s reign. How deeply later Israelites longed for a future Savior who would shine like the royal David had – who would restore the glory of Israel. That was their cherished expectation.

But Jesus turns that long sleeve of salvation history inside out. He preaches an inverse power fueled by service, a glory dressed in humble acts of mercy and forgiveness.

His longing is not for a worldly restoration, but for a whole New Creation born of sacrificial love. His hope is not for a secular kingdom but for a transformational community enlivened in the Triune God.

When Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet, he said to them:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master
nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him.
If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.

John 12:16-20

As we read and pray the scriptures, we get better at seeing the sacred understory of grace sustaining us. Upside-down, inside-out, our daily life is filled with divine mystery and revelation. We just have to look at the flip side to catch hold of the sail.

I was a teenager during the golden age of the 33 and 45 rpm records. I had a slew of Elvis, Fats Domino, Roy Orbison, The Everley Brothers, Ray Charles, The Supremes and many others. Each record had a hit on one side, and I rarely bothered to look at the other side. One day I flipped one of my “Top 10s” (The Wildcat Blues) to take a look at the other side, only to find what would become one of my favorite songs of all time: Petite Fleur. After the 1950s, it faded from the top ten list, but it has stayed on my list for 60 years.

When I hear that song, it sinks into my spirit creating a feeling that resists words. Like much good music, it reorders something in my spirit so that I see the world a little differently. And I would never have found it if I hadn’t turned things upside down to listen to the understory.

If we allow ourselves to dive deep under the scriptures – to go to the “flip side” – as Jesus invites us to do in today’s Gospel, we will find our own “petite fleurs” of insight and grace.

If you understand this,
blessed are you if you do it.

John 13:17

Prose: from Seeing by Annie Dillard

The secret of seeing is, then, the pearl of great price. 
If I thought he could teach me to find it and keep it forever 
I would stagger barefoot across a hundred deserts 
after any lunatic at all. 

But although the pearl may be found,
it may not be sought. 
The literature of illumination reveals this above all: 
although it comes to those who wait for it, 
it is always, even to the most practiced and adept, 
a gift and a total surprise… 

I cannot cause light; 
the most I can do is try to put myself 
in the path of its beam. 
It is possible, in deep space, to sail on solar wind. 
Light, be it particle or wave, has force: 
you rig a giant sail and go. 

The secret of seeing is to sail on solar wind.
Hone and spread your spirit till you yourself are a sail, 
whetted, translucent, broadside to the merest puff.

Music: Petite Fleur – Chris Barber


Feast of Saints Philip and James, Apostles
May 3, 2023

Today’s Readings:

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our Gospel invites us to pray with the Apostle Philip on this his and James’ feast day.

St. James and St. Philip by Peter Paul Rubens

Philip is mentioned several times in John’s Gospel

  • In John 6:6, Jesus engages Philip regarding the feeding of the 5,000.
  • In John 12:21, Philip appears speaks for the Greek community, informing Andrew that they want to be introduced to Jesus.
  • In today’s Gospel, Philip asks Jesus to be shown the Father. Jesus responds with a simple and perfect instruction on one of the most profound mysteries of our faith – the nature of the Trinity.

“Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time
and you still do not know me, Philip?
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?
The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own.
The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. 

John 14:9-10

Jesus seems surprised at Philip’s question. Maybe he didn’t think it was that hard to understand the Blessed Trinity! But writers ever since have found it pretty complex. Most notably, St. Augustine took over 15 years to write his masterpiece De Trinitate (On the Trinity). An excellent current English translation by Edmund Hill, OP contains fifteen books in over five hundred pages!

But Jesus makes it pretty simple for Philip. Here’s my interpretation:

Philip, You see me, you see the Creator.
We are perfectly One.
Perfect Love does that.
My words are the Creator’s Words.
My works are completing the Creator’s works Who dwells in me.
It’s not a problem, Philip. You don’t need an answer.
It’s a beautiful Mystery. Just believe and be with it.

The noted 20th century Christian existentialist Gabriel Marcel wrote about the difference between a mystery and a problem.

Marcel worried that a technical ethos was reshaping how we see the world and ourselves. He especially worried about a tendency to reduce mysteries to problems. A problem, for Marcel, is something external to us that can be determinatively understood and solved with a generalizable technique. A mystery, on the other hand, is something in which we are inextricably involved. It has roots deep within us, but it also reaches beyond us. While a problem can be definitively solved, a mystery can only be navigated in light of the concrete situation and the people involved.

Gabriel Marcel: Mystery in an Age of Problems – Steven Knepper

True faith requires that we trust the Mystery of God. Like Philip, we may want answers to the great challenges of life and religion. But these things are not like math problems or scientific equations which can reach human resolution.

Life and faith are more like poetry or music – both of which enter into us and change something deep inside of us. It is a change that cannot be put into words but is nevertheless real. It is mystery.

Knowing and loving our Triune God is the same kind of mystery. We are made of God and God dwells within us. Each of our life experiences offers a small revelation of this overarching Mystery which is far too infinite to ever be packaged in a “solution” such as Philip requests in our Gospel.

Sometimes we may hear ourselves trying to turn the mystery of God into a solvable problem. Do you ever think or voice questions like these:

  • Why does God allow good people to suffer?
  • Why didn’t God just create everybody to be good, to erase evil from the world?
  • Why is God letting THIS (whatever it is) happen to me!

At different times in our spiritual lives, we all suffer from the Big WHY. Some people never get over it, turning atheist or agnostic in their approach to life when they can’t reach an answer. Some, by the grace of God, abide in the questions and come to a place of undefinable peace in the Mystery of God.

Let’s pray to St. Philip today to be granted a measure of the grace he obviously received as he went on to carry the Gospel to Greece, Syria, and Phrygia.

And, although we have concentrated on Philip today, here’s a word about St. James who was obviously very special to Jesus. James, along with his brother John and Peter, formed an informal triumvirate among the Twelve Apostles. Jesus allowed them to be the only apostles present at three quintessential events:

  • Mark 5:37: the Raising of Jairus’ daughter
  • Matthew 17:1: the Transfiguration of Jesus
  • Matthew 26:37: the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane

Poetry: If Only – Rainer Maria Rilke from The Book of Hours

If only there were stillness, full, complete.
If all the random and approximate
were muted, with neighbors’ laughter, for your sake,
and if the clamor that my senses make
did not confound the vigil I would keep —
Then in a thousandfold thought I could think
you out, even to your utmost brink,
and (while a smile endures) possess you, giving
you away, as though I were but giving thanks,
to all the living.

Music: Lux Beata Trinitas – the hymn, ascribed to St. Ambrose in the 4th century, is sung here by Harry Christophers and the Sixteen whose mission is “… a performing arts charity which exists to take beautiful and inspiring choral music, from the Renaissance to today, to as wide and diverse an audience as possible.” (English translation of hymn below)

O TRINITY of blessed Light,
O Unity of sovereign might,
as now the fiery sun departs,
shed Thou Thy beams within our hearts.
To Thee our morning song of praise,
to Thee our evening prayer we raise;
Thee may our glory evermore
in lowly reverence adore.
All laud to God the Father be;
all praise, Eternal Son, to Thee;
all glory, as is ever meet,
to God the Holy Paraclete.

Athanasius in Spring

Memorial of Saint Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
May 2, 2023

Today’s Readings:

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we celebrate the feast of St. Athanasius, and since our readings repeat themes we have prayed with for a few days, I thought we might focus our prayer today on Athanasius.

Living in 4th century Egypt, Athanasius was a Church Father – one of the ancient and influential Christian theologians and writers who established the intellectual and doctrinal foundations of Christianity. (For insight into the often uncelebrated Church Mothers, see this excellent article: )

During his lifetime, the Church struggled with the heresy of Arianism which questioned whether Jesus was really God. Athanasius was named a Doctor of the Church for his steadfast defense of the doctrine of the divinity of Christ. Some of Athanasius’s writings are suggestive of the theology of our great modern theologians, and so necessary for our spirituality today.

The Self-revealing of the Word
is in every dimension –
above, in creation;
below, in the Incarnation;
in the depth, in Hades;
in the breadth, throughout the world.
All things have been filled
with the knowledge of God.

St. Athanasius

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the revered Jesuit theologian of the early 20th century, writes in a tone suggestive of Athanasius:

If we live at a distance from God, the universe remains neutral or hostile to us. But if believe in God, immediately all around us the elements, even the irksome, organize themselves into a friendly whole, ordered to the ultimate success of life.

Pierre de Chardin, SJ in Christianity and Evolution

More recently, beloved Pope Francis teaches with the same sacred appreciation of the “mystical” depths of Creation:

The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things.

Pope Francis in Laudato Sí, 84)

As we pray in these early days of May, still drenched in the glory of Easter, may we hear God speaking to us in the infinitely new and ever-evolving power and beauty of all Creation.

The occurrence of chance in the world in its own finite way reflects the infinite creativity of the living God, endless source of fresh possibilities. The indwelling Creator Spirit grounds not only life’s regularities but also the novel occurrences that open up the status quo, igniting what is unexpected, interruptive, genuinely uncontrolled, and unimaginably possible. As boundless love at work in the universe, the Spirit embraces the chanciness of random mutations, being the source not only of order but also of the unexpected breaks in order that ensure freshness. Divine creativity is much more closely allied to the outbreak of novelty than our older order-oriented theology ever imagined

Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ – Distinguished Professor of Theology at Fordham University in her book, Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love

Poetry: Spring – Mary Oliver

a black bear
has just risen from sleep
and is staring
down the mountain.
All night
in the brisk and shallow restlessness
of early spring
I think of her,
her four black fists
flicking the gravel,
her tongue
like a red fire
touching the grass,
the cold water.
There is only one question:
how to love this world.
I think of her
like a black and leafy ledge
to sharpen her claws against
the silence
of the trees.
Whatever else
my life is
with its poems
and its music
and its glass cities,
it is also this dazzling darkness
down the mountain,
breathing and tasting;
all day I think of her -—
her white teeth,
her wordlessness,
her perfect love.

Music: Spring from The Four Seasons – Antonio Vivaldi

Water and Pork Chops

Saturday of the Second Week of Easter
April 22, 2023

Today’s Readings:

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, little “disruptions” pop up in the center of both our readings.

In Acts, some of the Greek Christians think they are getting the short end of the stick when it comes to food distribution.

Believe me, I can picture the situation using personal experience. When I was an 18 year old postulant, I was a tall, skinny athlete — and I ate a lot of food. I wasn’t used to living in community, and I hadn’t noticed how my voracious appetite might be affecting those around me at the table.

In those “olden days”, the fifty-two of us freshly minted mini-nuns sat “in rank”, i.e according to age. The food was passed down the table from oldest to youngest. When I came to supper one night, the sister below me in rank had moved up a seat to be before me. I thought she just got mixed up about where her chair was so I asked her about it.

She told me she moved up in order to get a pork chop before I took them all!

Well, that’s what the Hellenists are doing in today’s reading which illustrates that living in community is a practical exercise as well as a spiritual one. That practicality calls upon us to make prudent arrangements for the community such as the disciples did in appointing more presbyters led by Stephen.

For us in our various communities today, the reading reminds us to think about the “pork chops” – who needs what and are they getting what they need. This principle holds for both spiritual and material needs and goods. Like the new presbyters, we each have a part to play in achieving that equity within our communities – including families, neighborhoods, churches, workplaces, and the world we share with all Creation.

While our Gospel event is narrated in both Matthew and Mark, John gives us his own colorful version of the story of Jesus walking on the water. John highlights the conditions of the sea and atmosphere: darkness, the gusty wind, a turbulent ocean, and the absence of Jesus from the boat:

When it was evening, the disciples of Jesus went down to the sea,
embarked in a boat, and went across the sea to Capernaum.
It had already grown dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.
The sea was stirred up because a strong wind was blowing.

John 6:16-18

So John makes it clear that it was the customary “dark and scary night“. But the disciples, tossed in the tumult, never express fear until they see Jesus walking across the water toward them. It seems they are less afraid of nature’s power than they are of the power of God!

Jesus sees their fear and tells them not to be afraid. In a phrase reminiscent of God’s self-revelation to Moses ( I am Who am), Jesus simply says, “It is I” — I am God. I am with you. Do not be afraid.

The disciples are still a little nervous and seem to prefer a less omnipotent Jesus . They ask him to get into the boat (in other words, “Be normal – not a Water-Walker”). But Jesus ignores the invitation and simply transports the boat to shore. One might picture the Twelve, tossed up on the shore, mouths agape and beginning to realize that their whole world was being turned upside-down in Christ!

Maybe we’re a little bit like the disciples sometimes. Sometimes we like God in small doses – not in a brilliant revelation or an irresistible call. Jesus snoozing beside us in the boat is comfortable. A radiant God coming to us in our life’s storms is a little harder to adjust to.

Our readings today remind us that God is present in every aspect of our lives – the daily practicalities and the topsy-turvy revelations. God may sit beside us in the boat, or might drag us stunned into another graced shore. But we should not be afraid in any case. Just prayerfully listen for the assurance, “It is I!”

Poetry: Walking on Water – Mark Jarmon

       Always the same message out of Matthew.
The water Jesus walks on is life’s turbulence.
        He calms our trouble and lifts us up again.

To walk on water? That’s what’s puzzling—
        that feat of antimatter, defeat of physics,
those beautiful unshod feet of cosmic truth

        for whom the whole performance is child’s play.
And unless one becomes as a little child
        the kingdom’s inaccessible by any route.

That water, then, its broken surface tension,
        collision of fracturing waves, apparent chaos,
its fractals turning infinite and weaving

        the netted skin between worlds, that web
of light and gravity which underpins our faith,
        water, a substance, stormy or pacific,

we know a myriad ways to get across it.
        But simply walking on it? Literally?
How far do you think you’d go before you fell

        through that convergence between time and space?
The water Jesus walked on wasn’t water
        only. It was the storm that made it rock.

Music: Walk on Water – Elevation Rhythm

The Image of God

Christmas Weekday
January 3, 2023

Today’s Readings

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with John’s soul-stirring words:

1 jn 3_ 2

Beloved, we are God’s children …

When I pray these words I think of my mother. As a little child, I already bore a clear physical likeness to her. But as I grew into a young woman, and later an older woman, people remarked that we looked like twins. There were even occasions when we were confused with each other.

This visible resemblance gave me great pride. My mother was strong, courageous, funny, wise, and fiercely loving. I loved to hear the phrase, “Oh my, you are the image of your mother!” I wanted to be like her – made of the same stuff as she was.

In our reading today, John tells us that we are made of the very stuff of God – the essence of the Sacred. He suggests that when people look at us they should see God’s features written all over us.

See what love the Creator has bestowed on us
that we may be called the children of God.
Yet so we are.

1 John 2:30

John says that we should see this Divine familial likeness in one another – that we are each imprinted with our Creator’s image.

The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
Beloved, we are God’s children now;
what we shall be has not yet been revealed.

1 John 2:31

If we believe John’s words, what tenderness we would bear toward ourselves and others! How could we ever belittle, hate or kill one another? How could we ever do these things to ourselves?

In our Gospel, the great prophet John the Baptist sees the imminent transformation of the world coming toward him in the person of Jesus Christ. May we see this too as, by our sincere prayer and study of the scriptures, the Light of Christmas waxes in our hearts throughout 2023. In that Loving Light, we recognize one another clearly as beloved children of God.

John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
John testified further, saying,
“I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky
and remain upon him.
I did not know him,
but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me,
‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain,
he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’
Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”

John 1:29-34

Poetry: I Am the Light – Malcolm Guite

I see your world in light that shines behind me,
Lit by a sun whose rays I cannot see,
The smallest gleam of light still seems to find me
Or find the child who’s hiding deep inside me.
I see your light reflected in the water,
Or kindled suddenly in someone’s eyes,
It shimmers through the living leaves of summer,
Or spills from silver veins in leaden skies,
It gathers in the candles at our vespers
It concentrates in tiny drops of dew
At times it sings for joy, at times it whispers,
But all the time it calls me back to you.
I follow you upstream through this dark night
My savior, source, and spring, my life and light.

Music: How Can Anyone Ever Tell You – Shaina Knoll

Often, when I think of Christ on the Cross, I can hear God the Mother singing this song to Jesus, reaching from heaven to console Him in His pain.

This morning, we might ask God to sing this song over our wounded world which has so obscured God’s likeness – perhaps to sing it over us if we are in particular pain.

In our heart’s deep forgiveness, we might sing this song over anyone who has hurt us – the meanness coming from their failure to recognize their own beauty – the fact that they and we are the very image of our loving God.

An Eternal Moment

The Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas
New Year’s Eve – 2022

Today’s Readings:

new sunset

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we stand on the far western shore of the Year of Our Lord, 2022.

It is well near evening.  Our memories are silhouetted against the deep purple sky as they sail beyond the shimmering horizon.  In 2022, we have lived, laughed, lost and loved in ways never to be repeated, yet never to be forgotten.  The great turning of time goes relentlessly on, but we have written our story in its indelible trail. It’s an awesome realization.

John, when writing the first reading, seems to have felt some of tonight’s emotions:

Children, it is the last hour; 
and just as you heard that the evil one is among us,

But you have the anointing that comes from the Holy One,
and you all have knowledge. 

Slightly later on in the epistle, John finishes the thought:

Let what you heard from the beginning remain in you.
If what you heard from the beginning remains in you,
then you will remain in the Son and in the Father.
And this is the promise that he made us: eternal life.

With fireworks and reveling, popular culture will invite us to the brash celebration of our presence within this point in history.  But, at the altar of our hearts, we recognize this long evening of reminiscence as a time of quiet thanksgiving and petition.  It is a time of awe and trust. It is an evening when we balance “time” against the promise of “eternity”.


Like flint struck against the almighty soul of God, we have been given life.  We are God’s fire at this moment in time’s long unwinding.  Tonight, we turn our spirits to those beside us, behind us, before us and we pray in thanksgiving and hope for them.


Together, we sink into the Dark Infinity of our Creator who sustains all life beyond our worries, fears and limitations.  With innumerable universes, God balances us in the Palm of Mercy.  As the midnight shadows fall, God closes the fingertips of grace and protection over us.

In the split moment between two years, we too become infinite – fire in God’s darkness, spark redeemed beyond time.


In 2023, we will forget this transcendent moment.  The bright light of daily living will blind us to that piece of divinity shining in our souls.  But tonight, let us remember.  As midnight passes by, may our spirits kneel within us to the Awesome Mystery who holds us, as one, eternally within Itself.

A truly blessed New Year to you and your beloveds, my friends.

Music: Be Still My Soul – Kari Jobe

O Constant Creator!

Memorial of Saint Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
December 7, 2022

Today’s Readings

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 103 which bursts with music even as we silently read it!

Bless the LORD, O my soul;
and all my being, bless God’s holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all God’s benefits.

Psalm 103:1–2

Our psalm rests today between two Advent readings that pick up its melody of grace and mercy.

In our first reading, Isaiah has just finished praising the Creator in the magnificence of nature. Today’s verses continue that praise and awed wonderment. As we read, we can picture God, robed in glory, marching out the sun, moon, stars …

Lift up your eyes on high
and see who has created these things:
He leads out their army and numbers them,
calling them all by name.
By his great might and the strength of his power
not one of them is missing!

Isaiah 40:26

When we take the time to appreciate a sunrise or sunset, or to trace the constellations across the dark December sky, we are doing what Isaiah encourages his listeners to do – trusting our all-powerful God. If our Creator can hold the heaven’s together in eternal beauty, we can expect the same to be done for us who are the most cherished of God’s creatures.

Do you not know
or have you not heard?
The LORD is the eternal God,
creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint nor grow weary,
and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny.
He gives strength to the fainting;
for the weak he makes vigor abound.

Isaiah 40:28-29

In our Gospel, Jesus puts God’s abiding promise into a comforting invitation:

Jesus said to the crowds:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.

Matthew 11:28-30

As we continue our Advent journey with Isaiah and Jesus, maybe we might like to catch a sunset or sunrise … or go out and look up at the winter stars. Doing so, let’s give ourselves fully in faith to our Creator’s promise to be with us in every rising and setting of our lives. Let us act as people who fully hope and believe:

They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength,
they will soar as with eagles’ wings;
They will run and not grow weary,
walk and not grow faint.

Isaiah 40:31

Poetry: Come – Christina Rossetti 

‘Come,’ Thou dost say to Angels,
To blessed Spirits, ‘Come’:
‘Come,’ to the lambs of Thine own flock,
Thy little ones, ‘Come home.’

‘Come,’ from the many-mansioned house
The gracious word is sent;
‘Come,’ from the ivory palaces
Unto the Penitent.

O Lord, restore us deaf and blind,
Unclose our lips though dumb:
Then say to us, ‘I will come with speed,’
And we will answer, ‘Come.’

Music: On Eagle’s Wings – Michael Joncas

The Holy Way

Monday of the Second Week of Advent
December 5, 2022

Today’s Readings:

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, Isaiah describes a beautiful hike through a desert turned verdant and lush. Usually that’s not the way we picture a desert, but the phenomenon is real.

A desert bloom is a climatic phenomenon that occurs in various deserts around the world. The phenomenon consists of the blossoming of a wide variety of flowers during early-mid spring in years when rainfall is unusually high. The blossoming occurs when the unusual level of rainfall reaches seeds and bulbs that have been in a latent or dormant state, and causes them to germinate and flower in early spring. It is accompanied by the proliferation of insects, birds and small species of lizards. (Wikipedia)

Bloom in Chilean Desert – photo by Javier Rubilar

Isaiah preached during tough times — real “desert” times for Israel. He uses the image of the luxuriant desert bloom to encourage his listeners that, despite their dire circumstances (the Assyrian occupation followed by the Babylonian captivity), there is hope.

But it is hard to hope and believe when you haven’t yet seen the flowers, right? Some of Isaiah’s audience may have seemed a little “weak kneed” about launching out on the journey when the horizon still looked pretty dry and lifeless.

    Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
        make firm the knees that are weak,
    Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
        Be strong, fear not!
    Here is your God,
        Who comes with vindication;
    With divine recompense
        God comes to save you.

Isaiah 35:3-4

I know I’ve felt weak-kneed at times, both literally and figuratively — those times when we are afraid to walk, to step forward or back, to move around or toward what we should. I’ll bet some of you have felt that way too.

At those times, we’re a little bit like the paralyzed man in today’s Gospel. We need courage, the help of good friends, and faith in God in order to stand up and walk on our own. Jesus wants to help us just like he helped this young man.

That you may know
that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”–
Jesus said to the one who was paralyzed,
“I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” 

He stood up immediately before them,
picked up what he had been lying on,
and went home, glorifying God. 

Luke 5:24-25

Advent invites us to journey
into deep faith and spiritual freedom,
to trust the desert for its flowers,
to believe that God lovingly wills
our vigor and wholeness.

The LORD himself will give his benefits;
    our land shall yield its increase.
Justice shall walk before him,
    and salvation, along the way of his steps.

Today’s Psalm 85: 13-14

Poetry: I Walked in a Desert – Stephen Crane

I walked in a desert.
And I cried,
“Ah, God, take me from this place!”
A voice said, “It is no desert.”
I cried, “Well, But —
The sand, the heat, the vacant horizon.”
A voice said, “It is no desert.”

Music: Desert Flower – Biljana Obradovic Bixy

Both Felt and Yet Awaited …

Second Sunday of Advent
December 4, 2022

Today’s Readings:

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, Isaiah paints the vision of Shalom.

“Shalom” is a Hebrew word commonly translated to English as “peace”.

In Hebrew, words are built on “roots”, generally of three consonants. When the root consonants appear with various vowels and additional letters, a variety of words, often with some relation in meaning, can be formed from a single root. Thus from the root sh-l-m come the words shalom (“peace, well-being”), hishtalem (“it was worth it”), shulam (“was paid for”), meshulam (“paid for in advance”), mushlam (“perfect”), and shalem (“whole”).

Our passage from Isaiah indicates an even deeper concept of shalom – one in which there is such right-balance among all creatures that:

When I first get up each morning, I glance through the news on my iPad while my tea is steeping. It’s a bad habit that I have trouble resisting because I want to make sure the world is all in one piece before I really start my day.

And, you know what? It never is. It’s a mess – with people shot, carjacked and bombed; with puppies abandoned, idiots in government, and tornadoes all over the place. There is little or no peace typed across the top of CNN.

The morning news is never going to blast the headline:
A shoot has sprung from the Jesse’s root! 
God’s spirit rests on him!

See, here’s the thing. This “Jesse news” is what we are meant to set our mornings by, to set our lives by – because we are people of faith, and we have been taught the true meaning of “shalom”. Shalom is something that will never be found in our “apparent” world. Shalom is only to be found within each of us who live the promise of Isaiah fulfilled in Jesus.

Advent is about pondering how to live “shalom” in an often corrupt world. It is a time to ask ourselves if we really believe the Promise to which Advent points:

On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse,
and from his roots a bud shall blossom.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him:
a spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
a spirit of counsel and of strength,
a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD,
and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.
Not by appearance shall he judge,
nor by hearsay shall he decide,
but he shall judge the poor with justice,
and decide aright for the land’s afflicted.

Isaiah 11:1-4

While acknowledging the often leaden toxicity of our culture, our redeemed hearts will not be caught in it. We will live by and in the Promised Light because we understand that Isaiah’s “Day” started this morning when we decided to pray. We will live in the beautiful world that both has felt and yet awaits the touch of an Incarnate God.

Poetry: A World of Light – Elizabeth Jennings

Yes when the dark withdrew I suffered light
And saw the candles heave beneath the wax,
I watched the shadow of my old self dwindle
As softly on my recollection stole
A mood the senses could not touch or damage,
A sense of peace beyond the breathing word.
Day dawdled at my elbow. It was night
Within. I saw my hands, their soft dark backs
Keeping me from the noise outside. The candle
Seemed snuffed into a deep and silent pool:
It drew no shadow round my constant image
For in a dazzling dark my spirit stirred.
But still I questioned it. My inward sight
Still knew the senses and the senses' tracks,
I felt my flesh and clothes, a rubbing sandal,
And distant voices wishing to console.
My mind was keen to understand and rummage
To find assurance in the sounds I heard.
Then senses ceased and thoughts were driven quite
Away(no act of mine). I could relax
And feel a fire no earnest prayer can kindle;
Old parts of peace dissolved into a whole
And like a bright thing proud in its new plumage
My mind was keen as an attentive bird.
Yes fire, light, air, birds, wax, the sun's own height
I draw from now, but every image breaks.
Only a child's simplicity can handle
Such moments when the hottest fire feels cool,
And every breath is like a sudden homage
To peace that penetrates and is not feared.

Music: Beautiful World – Louis Armstrong

Our Splendid God

Wednesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time
November 16, 2022

Today’s Readings:

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we move deeper into the final weeks of Ordinary Time. Our readings continue to offer us images about what it will be like at the end of time.  

In our passage from Revelation, we are given an ornate and exuberant description of how the author envisions God’s “headquarters”, so to speak. With all its gems and thrones and crowns and flaming torches, the passage can be a little overwhelming. But what is the core message? I think it is this:

God is the Splendid Creator. Despite time’s destruction, Creation will be ultimately perfected by our Perfect God. Believing this, we are called to awe-filled worship and gratitude, as spoken in these two verses from the passage:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty,
who was, and who is, and who is to come.”

Revelation 4:8

“Worthy are you, Lord our God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things;
because of your will they came to be and were created.”

Revelation 4:11

Today’s Gospel about the talents reminds us that we each have been given particular gifts with which to build up God’s Creation. Like the watchful Master, God expects – and needs – us to use these gifts, and to increase their value by sharing them with our sisters and brothers.

Sometimes we think we have no real gifts to give. But the witness of a simple, faithful, generous life is beyond price.

We may want to spend some prayer time reflecting on the many gifts we have been given – by God and by those who love us, and how we might offer these in worship to our Splendid Generous God.

Poetry: Advice to a ProphetRichard Wilbur (1921 – 2017) was an American poet and literary translator. One of the foremost poets of his generation, Wilbur’s work, composed primarily in traditional forms, was marked by its wit, charm, and gentlemanly elegance. He was appointed the second Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1987 and received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry twice, in 1957 and 1989.

In Wilbur’s poem, we get a different vision of what the end of times might be like, and how we might respond to the prophet who describes such times.

When you come, as you soon must, to the streets of our city,
Mad-eyed from stating the obvious,
Not proclaiming our fall but begging us
In God's name to have self-pity,

Spare us all word of the weapons, their force and range,
The long numbers that rocket the mind;
Our slow, unreckoning hearts will be left behind,
Unable to fear what is too strange.

Nor shall you scare us with talk of the death of the race.
How should we dream of this place without us?—
The sun mere fire, the leaves untroubled about us,
A stone look on the stone's face?

Speak of the world's own change. Though we cannot conceive
Of an undreamt thing, we know to our cost
How the dreamt cloud crumbles, the vines are blackened by frost,
How the view alters.  We could believe,

If you told us so, that the white-tailed deer will slip
Into perfect shade, grown perfectly shy,
The lark avoid the reaches of our eye,
The jack-pine lose its knuckled grip

On the cold ledge, and every torrent burn
As Xanthus once, its gliding trout
Stunned in a twinkling.  What should we be without
The dolphin's arc, the dove's return, 

These things in which we have seen ourselves and spoken?
Ask us, prophet, how we shall call
Our natures forth when that live tongue is all
Dispelled, that glass obscured or broken

In which we have said the rose of our love and the clean
Horse of our courage, in which beheld
The singing locust of the soul unshelled,
And all we mean or wish to mean.

Ask us, ask us whether with the worldless rose
Our hearts shall fail us; come demanding
Whether there shall be lofty or long standing
When the bronze annals of the oak-tree close.

Music: We Have Gifts to Share – Susan Kay Wyatts – This is a childlike song, but the point is profound. For those with young children and Grands, you might like to share this song with them.