Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our readings assure us that God cares about our hungry spirits and will satisfy them.
Both the prophet Elisha and Jesus respond to the needs of the hungry crowds by the power of their faith. In each story, there is only a small amount of food to meet the overwhelming need of the people. But those small amounts, given selflessly and gratefully, renew themselves until all are satisfied.
Our spiritual hungers are deep, and much harder to fill than our physical ones. Sometimes, we don’t even know what we are longing for. Thus we may end up filling our emptiness with distractions and junk.
Today’s readings encourage us to turn our soul’s needs toward God. St. Augustine said this:
You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless (hungry) until they rest in You.
Notice that in Jesus’s miracle of the loaves and fishes, there is one key action before the multiplication occurs.
Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted.
Let’s sift through both the large and the small sustenances of our life for the things that we are grateful for. When we lift these up in thanksgiving, glimpsing the loving face of God, other graces will begin unexpectedly to multiply around and within us.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 23, the familiar hymn of confidence, gratitude, and hope.
You, Lord, are my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.
You make me lie down in green pastures
and lead me beside still waters.
You revive my soul
and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You spread a table before me
in the presence of those who trouble me;
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Praying this psalm, we are enfolded into the arms of a loving God.
This beautiful image, which is beloved to us even in our highly urbanized society, certainly held even greater meaning to the early Christians. They understood, from experience, the utter self-donation of a shepherd to his flock. The shepherd needs the sheep in order to live, just as they need the shepherd. Their lives were critically interdependent.
In a sense, the shepherd became one with the sheep. From sunrise to sunset, and even through the night, he led them to food, water, and rest. He protected them as they slept, by laying his own body across the sheep gate.
In our own time, a more familiar image might be that of a horse-whisperer, someone who through natural sensitivity and studious training, is able to understand and communicate with animals. Rather than “breaking” a horse, as seen in old westerns, the horse-whisperer leads them to trust by listening and responding to them through body-language.
As we pray with the image of the Good Shepherd today, we might imagine Jesus as our “Soul-Whisperer”. Jesus stands beside us in the vast, open loneliness of life, which sometimes tries to “break” us. But we are never alone. He is listening. As he opens our life before us, let us trust and follow him. He has made our welfare his own by becoming one of us.
Poetry: I Am the Door of the Sheepfold – Malcolm Guite
Not one that’s gently hinged or deftly hung,
Not like the ones you planed at Joseph’s place,
Not like the well-oiled openings that swung
So easily for Pilate’s practiced pace,
Not like the ones that closed in Mary’s face
From house to house in brimming Bethlehem,
Not like the one that no man may assail,
The dreadful curtain, The forbidding veil
That waits your breaking in Jerusalem.
Not one you made but one you have become:
Load-bearing, balancing, a weighted beam
To bridge the gap, to bring us within reach
Of your high pasture. Calling us by name,
You lay your body down across the breach,
Yourself the door that opens into home.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 116, a lyrical interweaving of thanksgiving and praise.
I love this beautiful psalm which expresses the heart’s overwhelming gratitude for the whole mystery of one’s life.
How shall I make a return to the LORD for all the good God has done for me? The cup of salvation I will take up, and I will call upon the name of the LORD.
This prayer always comes to my mind when one of our Sisters dies. The witness of her life, remembered in our funeral rituals, always stirs me to deeper faith and gratitude.
Precious in your eyes, O LORD is the death of your faithful one, your servant, who has freely and lovingly served you. To you she has offered the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and called upon your name, O LORD. Her vows to the LORD she has paid in the presence of all your people.
Psalm 116: 15-18
It is with perfect timing that this sacred psalm comes up in Friday’s liturgy. At the Motherhouse in Plainfield,NJ, a wonderful Sister of Mercy is laid to rest today – Sister Diane Szubrowski. Her vows to the Lord she has paid – with faith and mercy. May she rest in Glory!
Poetry: Grateful – Thomas Merton
To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything.
Music: My Vows to the Lord – John Michael Talbot (lyrics below
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 105 which depicts a “Remembering God” who calls us to respond as a “Remembering People”.
“Forever” is a word whose true meaning can be found only in an Eternal God. In Exodus, and in our Psalm 105, we see God inviting us to that fullness.
Our first reading recounts the Abrahamic covenant renewed with Moses. God, flaming out of a bush, tells Moses that God sticks by agreements.
God spoke further to Moses, “Thus shall you say to the children of Israel: The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. “This is my name forever; this my title for all generations.
(I don’t know about you, but I’ve flashbacking all week to to Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 classic, The Ten Commandments.)
Our psalm reinforces the Exodus commitment:
God remembers forever the covenant made binding for a thousand generations entered into with Abraham and by the oath to Isaac.
Psalm 105: 8-9
Our brief but beautiful Gospel shows us what God’s promise looks like in the tender person of Jesus:
Jesus said: “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
Poetry: Everything That Was Broken – Mary Oliver
Everything that was broken has
forgotten its brokenness. I live
now in a sky-house, through every
window the sun. Also your presence.
Our touching, our stories. Earthy
and holy both. How can this be, but
it is. Every day has something in
it whose name is Forever.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 103, always a source of sweet reflection on God’s mercy.
From today’s verses, this line rings out:
It’s a call to make our lives a total prayer – every moment lived in and with the Presence of God.
The truth is that this is already our reality. God is present to our every moment because it is God’s Life which breathes within us.
The psalm’s call is really to our awareness – the mandate fully to realize that God is living God’s life through us.
The psalm tells us to remember that, in order to so live in us, God is continually merciful. And so God:
pardons all our iniquities
heals all your ills
redeems our life from destruction
and ultimately crowns us with kindness and compassion.
In other words, when we are open to Grace, God makes the best even of our mistakes – always allowing us repent, change, and deepen in love and mercy.
God redeems our life from every darkness and crowns us with mercy and compassion, God fills our days with light, renews our young enthusiasm with the eagle’s strength.
Poetry: The Presence of Love – Samuel Taylor Coleridge
And in Life's noisiest hour, There whispers still the ceaseless Love of Thee, The heart's Self-solace and soliloquy. You mould my Hopes, you fashion me within; And to the leading Love-throb in the Heart Thro' all my Being, thro' my pulse's beat; You lie in all my many Thoughts, like Light, Like the fair light of Dawn, or summer Eve On rippling Stream, or cloud-reflecting Lake. And looking to the Heaven, that bends above you, How oft! I bless the Lot that made me love you.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 17, a prayer which captures our deep desire to live in the Light of God’s Face.
We, like the psalmist and like Jacob in our first reading, want to know, to understand, to name the Holy in our experience.
From you let my judgment come; your eyes behold what is right. Though you test my heart, searching it in the night, though you try me with fire, you shall find no malice in me.
When Jacob struggles with the heavenly visitor, he wants a blessing and the visitor’s name. Jacob wants to define what has happened to him in the night.
The man then said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”
The Spirit does bless Jacob, but remains nameless, beyond the confines of Jacob’s definition. It is only after the visitor has departed that Jacob realizes whom he has encountered:
With that, the visitor bade him farewell. Jacob named the place Peniel, “Because I have seen God face to face,” he said, “yet my life has been spared.”
In our own lives, Heaven visits us constantly though we may be unaware. Discovering God’s Face depends so much on where we look and how we have learned to see.
Psalm 17 tells us that, if we stand in the light of justice and mercy, God’s face is revealed to us.
This was the light in which Jesus lived – to the point that, as we read in today’s Gospel, he could discover God’s face even under the guise of a poor demoniac.
Poetry: God BY KAHLIL GIBRAN
In the ancient days, when the first quiver of speech came to my lips, I ascended the holy mountain and spoke unto God, saying, “Master, I am thy slave. Thy hidden will is my law and I shall obey thee for ever more.”
But God made no answer, and like a mighty tempest passed away.
And after a thousand years I ascended the holy mountain and again spoke unto God, saying, “Creator, I am thy creation. Out of clay hast thou fashioned me and to thee I owe mine all.”
And God made no answer, but like a thousand swift wings passed away.
And after a thousand years I climbed the holy mountain and spoke unto God again, saying, “Father, I am thy child. In pity and love thou hast given me birth, and through love and worship I shall inherit thy kingdom.”
And God made no answer, and like the mist that veils the distant hills he passed away.
And after a thousand years I climbed the sacred mountain and again spoke unto God, saying, “My God, my aim and my fulfillment; I am thy yesterday and thou are my tomorrow. I am thy root in the earth and thou art my flower in the sky, and together we grow before the face of the sun.”
Then God leaned over me, and in my ears whispered words of sweetness, and even as the sea that enfoldeth a brook that runneth down to her, he enfolded me. And when I descended to the valleys and the plains God was there also.
We behold the splendor of God shining on the face of Jesus. We behold the splendor of God shining on the face of the Son.
[Verse1] And oh, how his beauty transforms us, the wonder of presence abiding. Transparent hearts give reflection of Tabor’s light within, of Tabor’s light within.
[Verse 2] Jesus, Lord of Glory, Jesus, Beloved Son, oh, how good to be with you; ow good to share your light; how good to share your light.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 33 in which the human family remembers and gives thanks for God’s creative omnipotence.
Following upon our reading from Genesis, our psalm moves past Eden to the practical world of the psalmist. It is a world where centuries have passed and human beings have progressively made a mark on Creation – for good or for ill.
God has watched the progression, blessing or redeeming it in Mercy:
The One who fashioned together their hearts is the One who knows all their works.
The psalmist reminds us that all Creation generates within God’s power. To cooperate with that infinite grace, we must wait, listen, trust, and deepen in holy understanding:
Our soul waits for the LORD, who is our help and shield. For in God our hearts rejoice; in God’s holy name we trust. May your mercy, LORD, be upon us; as we put our hope in you.
We are not the actors. We are simply the instruments of God’s gracious unfolding in the symmetry of Creation – both in the cosmos and in the delicate blossom of our own hearts.
How is God growing in the world today within my life?
Poetry:The light shouts in your tree-top, and the face – Rilke
The light shouts in your tree-top, and the face of all things becomes radiant and vain; only at dusk do they find you again. The twilight hour, the tenderness of space, lays on a thousand heads a thousand hands, and strangeness grows devout where they have lain. With this gentlest of gestures you would hold the world, thus only and not otherwise. You lean from out its skies to capture earth, and feel it underneath your mantle’s folds. You have so mild a way of being. ……………………………………………They who name you loudly when they come to pray forget your nearness. From your hands that tower above us, mountainously, lo, there soars, to give the law whereby our senses live, dark-browed, your wordless power.
Our gifted Mercy artist, Sister Judy Ward, has created greeting cards using some of my designs. This “Sunrise Tree” is one of them. If you would like to purchase any of Sister Judy’s beautiful work, you can connect with her here. She’s nice to talk with on the phone.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 85 and its enchanting metaphors for heavenly bliss:
glory dwells with us
kindness and truth meet
justice and peace kiss.
truth springs out of the earth,
justice looks over heaven’s edge
Our souls long for such an environment, don’t they?
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul says that the way to find it is to remove the veil from our hearts:
… whenever a person turns to the Lord the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:16-18
Our prayer with Psalm 85 today might echo that of Rev. Christine Robinson, Minister Emerita of the First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
O God, you have given us a beautiful earth— Grant us the wisdom to use it well. Lead us to an inner life in which we can rejoice. Speak peace to us, that we may live in peace. May your mercy and truth meet together Righteousness and peace kiss each other, Surrounding us with your light. Help us know true prosperity, And be gentle with your Earth. Guide our feet in the ways of peace.
Poetry: Lift Not the Painted Veil – Percy Bysshe Shelley
The advice in this poem by Shelley is a rather gloomy antithesis of Paul’s advice to the Corinthians (kind of like looking at the negative instead of the photograph, for those of us who remember the non-digital dream 😉) Still, the poem’s images offer much to think about if we choose not to “lift the veil”.
Lift not the painted veil which those who live
Call Life: though unreal shapes be pictured there,
And it but mimic all we would believe
With colours idly spread,-behind, lurk Fear
And Hope, twin Destinies; who ever weave
Their shadows, o'er the chasm, sightless and drear.
I knew one who had lifted it-he sought,
For his lost heart was tender, things to love,
But found them not, alas! nor was there aught
The world contains, the which he could approve.
Through the unheeding many he did move,
A splendour among shadows, a bright blot
Upon this gloomy scene, a Spirit that strove
For truth, and like the Preacher found it not.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 128 which is a recounting of how blessed we are when we live in God’s Presence.
Our Gospel reveals the clear and essential key to attaining that Presence – love of God and neighbor.
The scribe in today’s Gospel is well on his way to living in God’s embrace.
We might choose to go with him to Jesus today to ask what is most important for us as we continually try to open our lives to God’s grace.
Poetry: Love as if … by Vinita Hampton Wright
Love as if loving is the first thing on your to-do list. Love as if you have no other plan but to love. Love as if you are confident that love makes good things happen. Love as if this is your first opportunity to love. Love as if this is your last opportunity to love. Love as if loving can heal all wounds. Love as if loving is your first purpose on earth. Love as if loving is your favorite choice. Love as if you have that kind of power. Love as if it will keep the earth spinning in vast, beautiful space.
Music: You Shall Love the Lord with All Your Heart
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 19, full of beautiful words for us to pluck and relish.
The sublime British writer and theologian C.S. Lewis says this about Psalm 19 and how the ancient Israelite may have appreciated it:
“Law” … must have shone with an extraordinary radiance. Sweeter than honey; or if that metaphor does not suit us who have not such a sweet tooth as all ancient peoples (partly because we have plenty of sugar), let us say like mountain water, like fresh air after a dungeon, like sanity after a nightmare. But, once again, the best image is in a Psalm, the 19th. I take this to be the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world. Most readers will remember its structure; six verses about Nature, five about the Law, and four of personal prayer.
C.S. Lewis, Reflection on the Psalms
As we pray today with the verses about God’s Law, we may consider each word as a facet of the Holy Spirit’s gifts given at Pentecost and at our Confirmation:
The precepts of the Lord are:
perfect refreshing trustworthy wise right joy giving clear enlightening pure enduring true just precious sweet
Meditating on the virtues, wouldn’t we like to fill our days with their peace, beauty, and wisdom?
The writer of Sirach surely wanted to, whose simple and profound prayer is the perfect complement to our psalm.
I thank the LORD and I praise him; I bless the name of the LORD. When I was young and innocent, I sought wisdom openly in my prayer I prayed for her before the temple, and I will seek her until the end, and she flourished as a grape soon ripe. My heart delighted in her, My feet kept to the level path because from earliest youth I was familiar with her.