Psalm 119: A Lamp

Memorial of Saint Pius of Pietrelcina, Priestalso commonly known as Padre Pio.
Padre Pio died during the night of 23 September 1968, at the age of 81. On 16 June 2002, he was proclaimed a saint by Pope John Paul II. In his homily, the Pope said, “The life and mission of Padre Pio prove that difficulties and sorrows, if accepted out of love, are transformed into a privileged way of holiness, which opens onto the horizons of a greater good, known only to the Lord.”

September 23, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we continue praying with Psalm 119 which, with its 176 verses, is the longest psalm as well as the longest chapter in the Bible. So this could go on forever, right?

Well, it doesn’t. Even though Psalm 119 is used for the Responsorial a total of 22 times during the total liturgical cycle, we won’t see it again for a week or so.

However, the liturgical frequency of this psalm should alert us to the importance of its teachings. Although long and somewhat complex in its acrostic structure, the psalm is direct and simple in its message:

Learn, love and live God’s ways.


Today’s verses liken such pursuit to finding a lamp in the darkness:

Praying with this refrain, we might be able to recall a time we were enveloped in darkness, either material, emotional, or spiritual. Most of us become at least a little frightened by such conditions. We get disoriented. We don’t know if we will be able to find our way out.

The psalmist attests to similar experiences, and voices a confident call on God for deliverance. That confidence grows from the psalmist’s desire and commitment to walk in holy discernment:

From every evil way I withhold my feet,
that I may keep your words.
Through your precepts I gain discernment;
therefore I hate every false way.
Falsehood I hate and abhor;
your law I love.

In this beautiful verse, the psalmist’s confidence is confirmed by God’s faithful endurance:

The law of your mouth is to me more precious
than thousands of gold and silver pieces.
Your word, O LORD, endures forever;
it is firm as the heavens.


Poetry: One, One, One – Rumi

The lamps are different. 
But the Light is the same. 
So many garish lamps in the dying brain's lamp shop, 
Forget about them. 
Concentrate on essence, concentrate on Light. 
In lucid bliss, calmly smoking off its own holy fire, 
The Light streams toward you from all things, 
All people, all possible permutations of good, evil, thought, passion. 

The lamps are different, 
But the Light is the same. 
One matter, one energy, one Light, one Light-mind, 
Endlessly emanating all things. 
One turning and burning diamond, 
One, one, one. 

Ground yourself, strip yourself down, 
To blind loving silence. 
Stay there, until you see 
You are gazing at the Light 
With its own ageless eyes.

Music: Beati Quorem Via – Charles Villiers Stanford, sung by voces 8
The title of this hymn is the first verse of Psalm 119 in Latin. Translation below.

Blessed are they whose road is straight,
who walk in the law of the Lord.

Beati quorum via integra est:
qui ambulant in lege Domini

Psalm 84: The Presence

Friday, September 11, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 84 in which the psalmist expresses great love and longing to dwell in God’s protection.

My soul yearns and pines 
for the courts of the LORD.
My heart and my flesh
cry out for the living God.


The psalm, while it alludes to the Temple as God’s house, offers a broader and deeper understanding of that sacred dwelling place. Psalm 84 describes an abiding so universal that it welcomes even the sparrow into its embrace.

Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest
in which she puts her young—
Your sanctuaries, O LORD of hosts,
my king and my God!


Praying today with this lovely psalm, I focus on my desire to be completely embraced by God – to feel that unquestioning faith, trust, hope and love in all circumstances of my life . This kind of confidence doesn’t come from any temple, building, or church. It comes from the Presence we find WITHIN our “temples”. If that Presence is gone, the “temple”is simply a pile of bricks.


An image rose in my mind of my niece Katelyn when she was about 18 months old. My mother had just died. When my brother and family arrived at Mom’s house shortly after, little Katelyn scurried quickly to the kitchen, my mother’s usual habitat. She wanted that irreplaceable hug from Grandmom. But the kitchen chair was empty. Katelyn touched the chair and, still pre-verbal, looked up at me wondering and confused – much like I was. The kitchen had become a temple without a presence. Neither she nor I were sure where to touch the love that had once been there.

Katelyn’s glance is burned on my memory even now, over 30 years later. I have seen it in so many eyes since then, where lives have been struck with a sadness or tragedy that takes their heart away.


Psalm 84 reminds us that the healing of such bereavements happens in the Heart of God, the immutable Presence holding all our “temples” in its palm.

Blessed they who dwell in Your house!
continually they praise you.
Blessed they whose strength you are!
their hearts are set faithfully upon life’s journey.


We experience all kinds of death, loss, darkness and emptiness in our lives. In those times, how do we touch God’s abiding love? How do we find Light?

Psalm 84 encourages us to be honest with God, to express our longing, to believe God wants our good, and to be sincere in our desire for God’s Presence in our lives.

For a sun and a shield is the LORD God;
grace and glory bestowing;
The LORD withholds no good thing
from those who walk in sincerity. 


Poetry: To Be Held – Linda Hogan

To be held
by the light
was what I wanted,
to be a tree drinking the rain,
no longer parched in this hot land.
To be roots in a tunnel growing
but also to be sheltering the inborn leaves
and the green slide of mineral
down the immense distances
into infinite comfort
and the land here, only clay,
still contains and consumes
the thirsty need
the way a tree always shelters the unborn life
waiting for the healing
after the storm
which has been our life.

Music: Heinrich Schütz set Psalm 84 in the German translation by Martin Luther as part of his Op.2, Psalmen Davids sampt etlichen Moteten und Concerten.

Psalm 24: Vanity, Vanity

Memorial of Saint Gregory the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church

Thursday, September 3, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 24 which encourages us to be sinless, pure of heart, and humble. And that’s hard!

Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?
or who may stand in his holy place?
He whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean,
who desires not what is vain.


Do you remember the song “You’re So Vain”? Here is a reminder.

The song expresses a common understanding of the word “vanity”:

excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance or achievement


We all know people who seem to think they’re hot stuff. Maybe we’re even one of them! But I think that often a person behaving vainly really is quite unsure of himself.

The apparent vanity is a veneer to hide the emptiness inside. It is a veiled fear that, rather than being “all that”, one is really “not enough”.

The word vanity comes from the Latin root vanus which means empty – not “empty” with a readiness to be filled. Instead it connotes an emptiness that rattles with accumulated pretenses and falsehoods. It is a place of loud but lonely echoes.


Paul addresses this kind of emptiness when he writes to the Corinthians. He tells them not to get caught up in the contest of human vanity because we already are sufficient in God’s love and grace. Everything important is already ours in Christ, in God.

So let no one boast about human beings, for everything belongs to you,
Paul or Apollos or Cephas,
or the world or life or death,
or the present or the future:
all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God.


Psalm 24 assures us that to participate in this blessing, to be embraced by God’s favor only this is sufficient:

Who can stand in God’s holy place?
The clean of hand and pure of heart,
who have not given their soul to useless things,
to what is vain.
They will receive blessings from the LORD,
and justice from their saving God.


Poetry: Vanity by George Herbert

The fleet astronomer can bore 
And thread the spheres with his quick-piercing mind: 
He views their stations, walks from door to door, 
         Surveys, as if he had designed 
To make a purchase there; he sees their dances, 
                   And knoweth long before 
Both their full-eyes aspècts, and secret glances. 
         
         The nimble diver with his side 
Cuts through the working waves, that he may fetch 
His dearly-earnèd pearl, which God did hide 
         On purpose from the venturous wretch; 
That he might save his life, and also hers 
                   Who with excessive pride 
Her own destruction and his danger wears. 
         
         The subtle chymic can divest 
And strip the creature naked, till he find 
The callow principles within their nest: 
         There he imparts to them his mind, 
Admitted to their bed-chamber, before 
                   They appear trim and dressed 
To ordinary suitors at the door. 
         
       What hath not man sought out and found, 
But his dear God? who yet his glorious law 
Embosoms in us, mellowing the ground 
         With showers and frosts, with love and awe, 
So that we need not say, “Where’s this command?” 
                   Poor man, thou searchest round 
To find out death, but missest life at hand.

Song: As We Seek Your Face – Divine Hymns

Psalm 33: Fashioned by God

Wednesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, September 2, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray again with Psalm 33, this time with one different verse from a few days ago:

From heaven’s fixed throne God beholds
all who dwell on the earth,
God Who fashions each heart
and knows all its works.

Think of that: God fashions each heart.

The phrase has special meaning for me today because, yesterday, we welcomed a precious new baby girl into our family.

I look at her newborn innocence and realize that she is the freshest, most hopeful breath of God, still so wrapped in the heavenly air from Whom we all receive life.


We all received that Breath once and it lives eternally within us. Every one of us has received a heart fashioned in God’s own image.

Sometimes that reality is hard to believe about ourselves and others, as it seems to have been for the Corinthians in today’s first reading. Sometimes we make a real mess of the gift we have been given!

Nevertheless, the gift is true and remains true despite our worst efforts!😉


Reflecting on today’s Gospel, there may be “various diseases” and dysfunctions that we wish to bring to the healing hands of Jesus today – for ourselves and for our world. We ask God to restore our innocence and hope throughout our lives and world.

In order to remember and live within the sacred truth that God breathed us into being, we might repeat today’s psalm refrain throughout our day:

Blessed are we, chosen to be God’s own.


Poetry: Two poems today to bless our dear new child Claire:

Songs of Innocence - William Blake
Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed.
By the stream & o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice!
Little Lamb who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee; 
Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee:
He is called by thy name, 
For He calls Himself a Lamb 
He is meek, and He is mild, 
He became a little child.
I a child, and thou a lamb, 
We are called by His name. 
Little Lamb, God bless thee! 
Little Lamb, God bless thee!


Christina Rossetti - Holy Innocents
Sleep, little baby, sleep;
The holy Angels love thee,
And guard thy bed, and keep
A blessed watch above thee.
No spirit can come near
Nor evil beast to harm thee:
Sleep, sweet, devoid of fear
Where nothing need alarm thee.
The love which doth not sleep,
The eternal Arms around thee:
The shepherd of the sheep
In perfect love hath found thee.
Sleep through the holy night,
Christ-kept from snare and sorrow,
Until thou wake to light
And love and warmth to-morrow.

Music: Innocence – Roberto Cacciapaglia

Psalm 113: Awesome!

Wednesday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

August 12, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 113, a magnificent hymn praising God in the heavens. 

The psalm is commonly used at Vespers, the evening prayer of the Church – and no wonder. How often in the evening do we look to the glorious skies, emblazoned with the setting sun, and turn our minds to God!

Who is like the LORD, our God, who is enthroned on high,
and looks upon the heavens and the earth below?


It is in contemplating the sky’s immensity that we begin to appreciate the Divine Infinity.


Last night, I FaceTimed with my niece and her toddler boy, a joy she frequently offers me. During the call, my grandnephew carried his little tablet to the window, opened his “SkyView” app, and began exploring the heavens. Even the youngest “pueri” (Latin for “boys, children, servants”) spontaneously offer our Vespers in answer to God’s Beauty!


As we pray this psalm, at whatever time of day, we can let ourselves rest in silent awe, aware of God’s majesty – that Majesty which deigns to create, love and eternally sustain each one of us beloved “pueri”.


Poetry: Stars by Majorie Pickthall

Photo by Ruvim on Pexels.com
Now in the West the slender moon lies low, 
And now Orion glimmers through the trees, 
Clearing the earth with even pace and slow, 
And now the stately-moving Pleiades, 
In that soft infinite darkness overhead 
Hang jewel-wise upon a silver thread. 
And all the lonelier stars that have their place, 
Calm lamps within the distant southern sky, 
And planet-dust upon the edge of space, 
Look down upon the fretful world, and I 
Look up to outer vastness unafraid 
And see the stars which sang when earth was made. 

Music: Laudate Pueri – Claudio Monteverdi

Laudate, pueri, Dominum; 
laudate nomen Domini.
Sit nomen Domini benedictum 
ex hoc nunc et usque in saeculum.
A solis ortu usque ad occasum 
laudabile nomen Domini.
Excelsus super omnes gentes Dominus, 
et super caelos gloria ejus.
Quis sicut Dominus Deus noster, 
qui in altis habitat, 
et humilia respicit in caelo et in terra?
Suscitans a terra inopem, 
et de stercore erigens pauperem:
ut collocet eum cum principibus, 
cum principibus populi sui.
Qui habitare facit sterilem in domo, 
matrem filiorum laetantem.

Psalm 36: Whew!

Thursday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 23, 2020

From 2016:
Today, in Mercy, we pray to be childlike. As life seasons us, it also sometimes hardens us with an impermeability that prevents continued spiritual growth. We pray for the gifts of trust, hope and faith to return our hearts to the openness of a child that we may respond joyfully to the Holy Spirit.


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 36, a praise hymn of David after a frightening encounter with an enemy.

I could have used this psalm last week. Someone immensely dear to me was hospitalized with suspicion of Covid 19. The fear, for him and for all who love him, was pretty overwhelming.

I did manage a prayer of abandonment before the negative diagnosis was returned about 36 hours later. But I’m rather sure that, like most of my attempts at abandonment, it was somewhat half-hearted. I really wanted my own will and hoped God’s Will was in alignment. Blessedly, it was.

But I would like to deepen in true trust and abandonment to God’s care for me and for all of us.


Psalm 36 gives us a chance to examine David’s prayer of abandonment, which drawing on a long history of God’s wisdom and favor, deeply trusts himself to God.

In our prayer today, we might recall God’s faithful care throughout our lives and release into God’s hands any worries we carry. Let us simply receive that infinite, refreshing fountain of grace pouring over all Creation.

Fountain of Life stained glass window at the Church of St. Maria del Mar in Barcelona,  copyright José Luíz Bernardes Ribeiro, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

Poetry:  Fountains in the sea by Marin Sorescu, translated by Seamus Heaney

Sorescu was a Romanian poet and playwright and one of the most popular figures to emerge from Romanian literary culture since the 1960s. He died in 1996, the year he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature

Seamus Heaney, who died in 2013, was an Irish poet, playwright and translator. He received the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Fountains in the sea

Water: no matter how much, there is still not enough.
Cunning life keeps asking for more and then a drop more.
Our ankles are weighted with lead, we delve under the wave.
We bend to our spades, we survive the force of the gusher.

Our bodies fountain with sweat in the deeps of the sea,
Our forehead aches and holds like a sunken prow.
We are out of breath, divining the heart of the geyser,
Constellations are bobbing like corks above on the swell.

Earth is a waterwheel, the buckets go up and go down,
But to keep the whole aqueous architecture standing its ground
We must make a ring with our bodies and dance out a round
On the dreamt eye of water, the dreamt eye of water, the dreamt eye of water.

Water: no matter how much, there is still not enough.
Come rain, come thunder, come deluged dams washed away,
Our thirst is unquenchable. A cloud in the water’s a siren.
We become two shades, deliquescent, drowning in song.

My love, under the tall sky of hope
Our love and our love alone
Keeps dowsing for water.
Sinking the well of each other, digging together.
Each one the other’s phantom limb in the sea.

Music: Your Love, Oh Lord – Third Day

Psalm 102: God’s Time

Thursday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 16, 2020

From 2018: Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 102, one of the seven penitential psalms. It is introduced as “the prayer of the afflicted”.

Yet, I find our verses today full of hope. They look with confidence to a better future.

You, O LORD, abide forever,
and your name through all generations.
You will arise and have mercy on Zion,
for it is time to pity her.

That last line, “for it is time to pity her”, is particularly touching as the psalmist nudges God to move forward with healing. Don’t we  pray like that sometimes?

  • Dear God, I’ve had all I can take! Please fix this — now!
  • Lord, I’ve learned my lesson. Please relent and rescue me.
  • Jesus, please let this trial be over and let us survive.
  • Lord, it is time for this to be over!

The bedrock of this prayer is the psalmist’s deep trust that God will act as God has promised:

The nations shall revere your name, O LORD,
and all the kings of the earth your glory,
When the LORD has rebuilt Zion
and appeared in his glory;
When he has regarded the prayer of the destitute,
and not despised their prayer.


You may find your heart filled with a prayer like this today. Surely, our whole human community voices a longing for the pandemic sufferings to be over. Or there may be other afflictions you carry that are testing the limits of your endurance.

Psalm 94 holds out encouragement and hope. Reach for it and let it strengthen you.

But you are forever the same, Lord, 
without beginning or end, 
infinite in your compassion, 
fathomless in your love. 
You rebuild the desolate city; 
you bring the exiles back home. 
You grant the poor your abundance; 
you guide the nations toward peace.
You hear the cry of the destitute 
and the sobbing of the oppressed. 
You soothe the pain of the captive; 
you set the prisoner free. 
Come to me too in your mercy 
and set my soul at peace.
from A Book of Psalms by Stephen Mitchell

Poetry: from Burnt Norton – T.S. Eliot

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future, 
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction 
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been 
Point to one end, which is always present. 
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take 
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. 
My words echo 
Thus, in your mind.

Music: On Time God – Deborah Kline Iantorno

Psalm 145: Through the Generations

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 6, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we again pray with Psalm 145 – different verses. The great tenderness in today’s other readings is reflected in the choice of these particular psalm lines.

Our first reading is God’s tender love song to Israel spoken through the prophet Hosea. Our Gospel recounts several acts of tenderness as Jesus ministers to the suffering people he meets.


Psalm 145 reminds us that if we look back over our lives, and even farther back over our ancestors’ lives, we too will discover God’s continual love and mercy to us.

Generation after generation praises your works
and proclaims your might.
They speak of the splendor of your glorious majesty
and tell of your wondrous works.


Many ancestral blessings have been passed on to us – in skills, attitudes, physical strengths – but most importantly, in faith. We probably believe because someone before us taught us how.

There is no greater gift we can give to our children, and to all our beloveds, than to encourage their faith. Let’s take that to heart today as we pray. And let’s thank God for our own story and heritage of faith we have been given.


Poetry: Faith is the Pierless Bridge by Emily Dickinson, who appeared as more a dismissive critic of faith than a proponent. Yet, like many of us who bother to talk about a particular topic, she proved it to be more important to her than she professed.

Faith — is the Pierless Bridge
Supporting what We see
Unto the Scene that We do not —
Too slender for the eye
It bears the Soul as bold
As it were rocked in Steel
With Arms of Steel at either side —
It joins — behind the Veil
To what, could We presume
The Bridge would cease to be
To Our far, vacillating Feet
A first Necessity.

Music: In Every Age – Janèt Sullivan Whitaker

Psalm 60: Punch Drunk with Troubles

Monday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

June 22, 2020


It has been suggested that I make it easier to find previous reflections on the readings for the day, just in case you would like to pray with the First Reading or Gospel. I’ll try to remember to do that.


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 60, and it’s a doozy. It is a hard Psalm to pray with because it contains many layers of meaning. But, in the end, I think it is worth the effort.

The Psalm emerges from a time filled with violence. David struggles to keep control both within and outside his kingdom. His own son and nephew turn against him. His nephew wreaks unspeakable mayhem in Israel’s name. Everything in David’s world is in violent disarray. He actually whines to God about the mess:

  • O God, you have rejected us and broken our defenses …
  • You have rocked the country and split it open …
  • You have made your people feel hardships …
  • You have given us stupefying wine…

Like many of you, I read these verses in the wake of another divisive political rally, in a country riven by fearful hatred, racism, biased brutality, political corruption, and poisonous propaganda. I am so tempted to immediately tie Psalm 60 to these current realities.

But I think that, when we pray the psalms, we must let them first teach us about ourselves. Once that conversion or enlightenment occurs, it may then be possible to apply their wisdom to our world.


King David by Matthias Stom

What is it that makes Psalm 60 a prayer and not a political manifesto? We find the answer in verse 7:

Help us with your right hand, O Lord, and answer us.

David realizes that he is completely out of whack. He has just put all the responsibility for his chaos in God’s lap when it is really David’s own self-serving choices that have caused the problem. 

David’s selfish, short-sighted, and sinful decisions have blinded him like “stupefying wine”. One might say he has drunk his own kool-aid. He needs God’s justice to detoxify him … that divine “right hand” which created a perfectly balanced world.

Each of David’s previously mentioned “whines” is completed with a sincere and contrite plea:

  • rally us!
  • repair the cracks in the country
  • give us aid against the foe

Once we realize, like David:

  • that the “country” is our own heart,
  • that the “foe” is any residue there of injustice, 
  • and that the “rally” must be of our own merciful love,

… only then might we be ready to pray for our fractured country and our broken, weeping world.


Poetry: Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front – Wendell Berry’s inspired poem about conversion and recovery of the soul in a soul-killing culture.

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready-made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head. 
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
 
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you 
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something 
that won't compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor. 
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias. 
Say that your main crop is the forest 
that you did not plant, 
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns. 
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees 
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion — put your ear 
close, and hear the faint chattering 
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful 
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child? 
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 

Go with your love to the fields. 
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn't go.

Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction. 
Practice resurrection.

Music: Be Still My Soul – Exultate Singers

Psalm 16: A Night Prayer

Memorial of Saint Anthony of Padua, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Click here for readings

psalm16 path2

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray once again with Psalm 16. Verses 1-10 strike me as a perfect “nighttime” prayer.

In his musical Phantom of the Opera, Andrew Lloyd Weber lyricizes about the “beauty of the night”.  

It’s a soulful song, and in itself could be used for prayer, especially when we pray in times of spiritual darkness or unknowing. In many ways, it reminds me of John of the Cross’s poem, “The Dark Night”. (Verses below for our poetry today).


All of us have times when our prayer seems to echo back to us without a response from God. Our faith may be tested and our trust stretched very thin. God seems so distant that we wonder what happened to cloud the relationship! We linger in a spiritual darkness that is dry and disconcerting.

Dali John of Cross
Christ of St. John of the Cross by Salvador Dali (1951) – Kenmore Art Gallery, Glasgow

These times in the spiritual life were experienced and described by writers like John of the Cross and the author of “The Cloud of Unknowing”. They are times when our experiences and prayer invite us to a new and deeper understanding of God. They ask us to let go of our intellectual certainties and abandon ourselves to God without demands.


Recently, while describing how disappointed he was in God, a friend told me that he had “lost” his faith long ago. Well, obviously, he hadn’t because he still held expectations of the “God” who was disappointing him. I told him that I had lost my faith a few times too, and that every time I got it back, it was new and deeper than the one I had lost. My “septuagenarian God” is very different from the one I came to follow when I was eighteen!


Our minds and souls are so small next to God’s Infinity. But slowly, through a life of prayerful fidelity and loving service, God stretches our capacity to know and return a Love which is beyond reason.

But the stretching times can be dark – times when Psalm 16 is a comforting prayer.

I like to pray with this transliteration by Steven Mitchell – A Book of Psalms

Unnamable God,
I feel you with me at every moment.
You are my food, my drink,
my sunlight, and the air I breathe.
You are the ground I have built on
and the beauty that rejoices my heart. 

I give thanks to you at all times
for lifting me from my confusion,
for teaching me in the dark
and showing me the path of life. 

I have come to the center of the universe;
I rest in your perfect love.
In your presence there is fullness of joy
and blessedness forever and ever.

Music: Path of Life – The Dameans

Poetry: The Dark Night – Stanzas Of The Soul

( Some people find John of the Cross surprising, if not strange or shocking, in his imagery. He was a grace-filled mystic and poet whose images of God expanded beyond the boundaries we might be accustomed to. And that very extravagance is John’s beauty — he invites us to a place we might not otherwise think to go.)

1. One dark night,
fired with love’s urgent longings
— ah, the sheer grace! —
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.

2. In darkness, and secure,
by the secret ladder, disguised,
— ah, the sheer grace! —
in darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled.

3. On that glad night,
in secret, for no one saw me,
nor did I look at anything,
with no other light or guide
than the one that burned in my heart.

4. This guided me
more surely than the light of noon
to where he was awaiting me
— him I knew so well —
there in a place where no one appeared.

5. O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.

6. Upon my flowering breast
which I kept wholly for him alone,
there he lay sleeping,
and I caressing him
there in a breeze from the fanning cedars.

7. When the breeze blew from the turret,
as I parted his hair,
it wounded my neck
with its gentle hand,
suspending all my senses.

8. I abandoned and forgot myself,
laying my face on my Beloved;
all things ceased; I went out from myself,
leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.