Psalm 8: What Are We?

Tuesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

January 12, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 8, a brief, beautiful, and highly personal hymn to an awesome Creator.

Charles Spurgeon, celebrated 19th century Baptist preacher, calls this psalm “the song of the Astronomer”, as gazing at the heavens inspires the psalmist to meditate on God’s creation and the human person’s place in it. 

The core of Psalm 8 asks a question:
What are we that you are mindful of us,
we humans that you care for us?

Psalm 8:5-6

Indeed, what are we, who are we? It is a question which each of us spends a lifetime answering.

If you were asked to introduce yourself to a total stranger, how would you begin?

  • With your name, expressing your unique identity?
  • Any group to which you belong?
  • Or where you’re from?
  • What you life work is?
  • Where you fit in society, to whom you are related?
  • How you have been defined by your accomplishments?

For example, might the self-introduction sound something like this:

Any similarity to persons living or dead is purely unintentional 🙂

Hi, I’m Mary Smith.
I’m a dentist, born and raised in Schenectady.
I wrote the book, “How Gumdrops Ruin Kid’s Teeth”.
You may have heard of my great-grandfather and his brother,
the cough drop magnates.


Psalm 8 suggests a whole other way of self-definition:

Hi, I’m Mary, a child of God, 
part of an infinite universe 
that spills from God’s creative love.
 
I am in awe of our Creator
who loves and cares for me,
who has ennobled me in grace.
I try to let all my actions give God praise.

I take seriously my role
in cherishing all Creation.
As I do this,
my own divinely-given nature is revealed
and made available to God 
for the transformation of the world.

I will sing of your majesty above the heavens
When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you set in plac
e.

What are we that you are mindful of us,
that you care for us?
Yet you have made us little less than angels
crowned us with glory and honor.


You have given us rule over the works of your hands, put all things at our feet:
O LORD, our Lord,
how awesome is your name through all the earth!


Poetry (well really prose): from Hamlet by William Shakespeare 

Shakespeare uses Psalm 8 as his reference point for Hamlet’s monologue.
Hamlet is saying that although humans may appear to think and act “nobly” they are essentially “dust”. Hamlet is expressing his melancholy to his old friends over the difference between the best that men aspire to be, and how they actually behave; the great divide that depresses him. (Spark Notes)

I offer the passage to say that Hamlet has become disillusioned, lost his awareness of his own awesome identity in God. Don’t be like Hamlet.

Hamlet, played by Edwin Booth – c.1870 (source: wikipedia)
I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth, 
forgone all custom of exercises, 
and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition 
that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; 
this most excellent canopy, the air—look you, 
this brave o'erhanging firmament, 
this majestical roof fretted with golden fire—
why, it appears no other thing to me 
than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors. 
What a piece of work is a man! 
How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! 
In form and moving how express and admirable! 
In action how like an angel, 
in apprehension how like a god! 
The beauty of the world. 
The paragon of animals. 
And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? 
Man delights not me. 
No, nor woman neither, 
though by your smiling you seem to say so.

Music: Domine, Deus Noster (Psalm 8) by Marc-Antoine Charpentier 

Psalm 97: Ordinary?

Monday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

January 11,2021


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 97 which reminds us that, as Jesus begins his earthly ministry, he is accompanied by the unseen powers of heaven.

The heavens proclaim his justice,
and all peoples see his glory.
Let all his angels worship him.

Psalm 97: 6-7

The psalm is reflective of the glorious passage from our first reading describing the Divinity of Jesus:

The Son of God is…
the refulgence of God’s glory, 
the very imprint of God’s being,
who sustains all things by his mighty word.
When he had accomplished purification from sins, 
he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
as far superior to the angels
as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

Hebrews 1: 3-4

These seem perfect readings to begin a season described as “Ordinary Time” because they remind us that the power of Jesus Christ is far from ordinary.

And our days do not feel like ordinary times, do they? They are both fraught with threat and charged with hope.

They are times belabored by pandemic struggle, political vitriol, climate dissolution, global strife and systemic oppression.

But they are also times bristling with breakthrough discovery, civic renewal, social consciousness, communal courage and spiritual awakening.


Just as in our Gospel on this first day of “Ordinary Time”, Jesus asks his disciples to “Come”, dream extraordinary dreams with him, so he asks us. 

He asks us to believe
that there are unseen angels attending us.
 
He asks us to remember that we, like him,
are made in the refulgent image of God.


He calls us, like Simon and Andrew, to believe
that our “ordinary time” is actually the “time of fulfillment”:

This is the time of fulfillment.
The Kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the Gospel.

Mark 1:15

Poetry: Maya Angelou – Touched by an Angel

We, unaccustomed to courage,
exiles from delight,
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.

Love arrives
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.

We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love's light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.

Music: Ordinary Time – Marie Bellet

There will come a day for quiet kitchen mornings
Lunches with the girls, book clubs in the afternoon
There will come a day for chintz flowers on my sofa
Just the perfect lipstick, matching purse and shoes.

There will come a day without constant interruption
Confusing all my senses, my reason and my rhyme
But for now I trip on the backpacks in the hallway
Scrub the crayon from the walls that mark this ordinary time.

There will come a day for uneventful dinners
When no one drops their fork or spills their milk upon the floor
There will come a day, I’ll be wiser, I’ll be thinner
I will finish conversations before running out the door.

Well, isn’t that the way it is for all those happy women
Who smile at me from magazines there in the checkout line?
What about the tired, the simple and forgotten?
Blessed be the ordinary here in ordinary time.

He said “Who will feed my sheep?
Who will heed their cry?”
I said “I am vain and weak
But surely I will try.

You know everything
And You know that I’m
Just an ordinary woman 
here in ordinary time”.

There will come a day when everything is order
And I will be the queen of everything I see
But how my heart will leap to find one backpack in the hallway
With the promise of a face, and a story just for me.

So may I never yearn for those cocktail conversations
Clever observations made for fashionable minds
May I finally learn to be happy and have patience
With the constant changing rhythm of this ordinary time,
The constant changing rhythm of this ordinary time.

Psalm 29: Holy Splendor

The Baptism of the Lord

January 10, 2021
We celebrate the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. The Christmas season, which celebrates the revelation of God through Christ, closes with this liturgy. Jesus’ Baptism begins his public ministry.

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 29 in which the psalmist invites the pray-ers to find the power of God in the storm.

One can picture a small group huddled onshore as thunder ripples across the sea. The psalmist says not to focus on the storm itself, but:

  • to see the Power Who creates it
  • to find more than meteorological meaning in the experience
  • to be soaked not only in rain, but in grace.

Give to the LORD, you children of God,
give to the LORD glory and might;
Give to the LORD the glory due God’s name.
Bow down before the LORD’s holy splendor!

Psalm 29: 1-2

The psalmist invites the community to be sanctified by nature’s manifestation of God’s power.


As I wrote earlier this week, “This short post-Epiphany season is all about “manifestation” – how Jesus begins to show us the face of God-become-flesh.” Today’s Baptism of Jesus marks the glorious culmination of these manifestations.

I have always loved this feast. I imagine it as a moment in time when everything changes – when the Timeless Trinity steps through our human perceptions to fully reveal Itself in light, color, and sound. It is a quantum moment when, time suspended, Omnipotence speaks.

The voice of the LORD is over the waters,
    the LORD, over vast waters.
The voice of the LORD is mighty;
    the voice of the LORD is majestic.

Psalm 29: 3-4

In an earlier blog, I offer a reflection on these thoughts. It contains a beautiful picture which I received the artist’s permission to share. I hope you can take time to read it again.


Our lives, too, are filled with potential manifestations of God’s power, with invitations to be bathed in God’s grace. As we pray today, let us allow our psalm to lower the barriers that keep us from hearing God’s voice in our own experiences.


Poetry: God Speaks by Rainer Marie Rilke

God speaks to each of us as God makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.

Music: “Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam” BWV 684 – “Christ our Lord came to the Jordan”) is a hymn by Martin Luther written in 1541. It has been set in many musical compositions, including cantatas and chorale preludes by Johann Sebastian Bach

Organist: Cecilia Yae-Jin Lee, Seoul Catholic Singers (On Youtube, there are several more prestigious organists playing this piece on magnificent organs. But I thought this young woman was extremely impressive rendering it on a rather simple instrument.)

Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam
Nach seines Vaters Willen,
Von Sanct Johann’s die Taufe nahm,
Sein Werk und Amt zu ‘rfüllen.
Da wollt’ er stiften uns ein Bad,
Zu waschen uns von Sünden,
Ersäufen auch den bittern Tod
Durch sein selbst Blut und Wunden,
Es galt ein neues Leben.

Christ our Lord came to the Jordan
in accordance with his father’s will,
he received baptism from Saint John,
to fulfil his work and ministry.
By this he wanted to establish for us a bath
to wash us from our sins,
to drown also bitter death
through his own blood and wounds.
This meant a new life.

Psalm 149: Let’s Dance Again!

Saturday after Epiphany

January 9, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 149.

Our psalm contains a brief line tucked at its center which foreshadows the entire message of the Gospel. 

Let them praise God’s name in the festive dance,
let them sing praise with timbrel and harp.
For the LORD loves us,
and adorns the lowly with victory.


We will find a dancing, singing joy when we give ourselves to these truths:

  • God loves us irrevocably
  • We can fully receive this great love to the degree that we become like Christ whose image we find among the poor, lowly, and suffering.

Poetry: Dance from Rumi

Come to me, and I shall dance with you
In the temples, on the beaches, through the crowded streets
Be you man or woman, plant or animal, slave or free
I shall show you the brilliant crystal fires, shining within
I shall show you the beauty deep within your soul
I shall show the path beyond Heaven.
Only dance, and your illusions will blow in the wind
Dance, and make joyous the love around you
Dance, and your veils which hide the Light
Shall swirl in a heap at your feet.

Music: Psalm 149 – Antonín Dvořák

Psalm 147: Lightning Strike

Friday after Epiphany

January 8, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 147.

I began my prayer this morning still unsettled by the events at the U.S. Capitol building. Then I considered that it was still the Octave of the Epiphany, and realized that some epiphanies come by stormy lightning and not by starlight.


My first attempts at prayer seemed to bounce off the psalm’s formulaic words like sleet off a tin roof. The psalm did not yield to my need for naming and healing my anger and pain – the lightning’s wounds.

Asking to find God’s voice in the psalm, I finally came to see it as Israel’s prayer once it had been healed – just like I needed to be healed, just like our country needed to be.


The psalm revealed the steps to such healing …
the steps I, and we as a nation, might take to wholeness.
We heal:

by acknowledging God in humility and praise:
Glorify the LORD, O Jerusalem;
    praise your God, O Zion.


by strengthening an inclusive community:
For God has strengthened the bars of your gates;


by reverencing every family and neighbor:
God has blessed your children within you.


by building an infrastructure of peace:
God has granted peace in your borders


by assuring life’s basic needs for all:
With the best of wheat God fills you


by cherishing the Earth we share:
God sends forth the command to the earth;
    swiftly runs God’s word!

We heal, ultimately,
by acknowledging the unique gift
of God’s loving relationship
with us and every other creature.

If we truly live within that acknowledgment,
we become people of truth and mercy –
People of God.


Poetry: from A Book of Psalms – Stephen Mitchell closes Psalm 147 with this transliteration:

You rejoice in a pure heart 
and in those who let you shine through them...
You send your wisdom to their minds; 
your light runs faster than a thought.
Above all others they are blessed, 
because they can hear you speak
(though your love speaks in all people, 
in the silence of every heart).

Music: Heal Our Nation – Heartbeat

Psalm 72: Endow Our Leaders in Justice

Thursday after Epiphany

January 7, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with another glance at Psalm 72. The verses offered us today jarred me when I first read them. And then they began to speak, even shout, to my spirit.

Praying with the Psalms will not benefit us
if they do not speak to our experience.
Today, Psalm 72 clearly spoke to mine.

I am outraged that my country finds itself continually at the edge of violence and unrest solely on the bidding of one to whom we have entrusted our well-being.

I am beyond sick of normalizing the outrageous irresponsibility of Donald Trump. The sickness has seeped into my prayer and my peace. It causes me sleepless concern for my country and our world.

As I pray Psalm 27 today, I seek a grace from its ancient words. I seek a blessing for our own time.

O God, with your judgment endow the leaders,
    and with your justice, those who legislate;
Let your people be governed with justice
   and your afflicted ones with mercy.

Psalm 72:1-2

As we move through these final fractious days of a deeply disturbing presidency, let us pray for civility, justice, honor, and peace not only for America but for all throughout the world who depend on our integrity.


Poetry: Beclouded by Emily Dickinson

The sky is low, the clouds are mean,
A travelling flake of snow
Across a barn or through a rut
Debates if it will go.
A narrow wind complains all day
How some one treated him;
Nature, like us, is sometimes caught
Without her diadem.

Music: Be a Blessing (Psalm 72) Richard Bruxvoort Colligan

Psalm 27: Can We Love Like This?

Wednesday after Epiphany

January 6, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, as we once again pray with Psalm 27, we do so in the light of our seminal first reading from John:

God is love, 
and when we remain in love 
we remain in God 
and God in us.

1 John 4:16

How can we love like that?

Psalm 27 tells us how God does it:

For the Lord rescues the poor who cry out,
and the afflicted who have no other help.
The Lord has pity for the lowly and the poor;
and saves the lives of the poor.

Psalm 27: 12-13

Our psalm gives us the measure for love in our lives. Who are the suffering ones in the circle of our experience? How are we widening that circle to offer loving mercy with greater energy and fidelity?


The Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy can be our guide as we seek to stretch our love in ever-widening circles.

The Corporal Works of Mercy

To feed the hungry
To give water to the thirsty
To clothe the naked
To shelter the homeless
To visit the sick
To visit the imprisoned, and ransom the captive
To bury the dead


The Spiritual Works of Mercy

To instruct the ignorant.
To counsel the doubtful.
To admonish sinners.
To bear patiently those who wrong us.
To forgive offenses.
To comfort the afflicted.
To pray for the living and the dead.


Poetry: Widening Circles – Rainer Maria Rilke

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.
I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I’ve been circling for thousands of years
and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?

Music: The Mercy Song – Paul Alexander

Psalm 72: Governed with Mercy

Memorial of Saint John Neumann, Bishop

January 5, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 72 which will be familiar to us because it is used six times throughout the Advent and Christmas seasons.

O God, with your judgment endow the king,
and with your justice, the king’s son;
He shall govern your people with justice
and your afflicted ones with judgment.

Psalm 72: 1-2

This short post-Epiphany season is all about “manifestation” – how Jesus begins to show us the face of God-become-flesh.

The core message, conveyed to us in the daily progressive reading of 1 John, is that God is Love.


Our Gospel today, the feeding of the 5000, shows how that Love is expressed – merciful action for those in need.

Our psalm, written a thousand years before Christ, exults in the expectation of such a merciful Messiah:


The mountains shall yield peace for the people,
and the hills justice.
He shall defend the afflicted among the people,
save the children of the poor.
Justice shall flower in his days,
and profound peace, till the moon be no more.
May he rule from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.

Let us begin once again, in this new year,
to soak in the words and images
describing this longed-for and loving Savior.


Poetry: When Little Was Enough – Irene Zimmerman, OSF

(LUKE 9:10–17)

“Send the people away from this deserted place
to find food and lodgings,” the twelve urged Jesus,
“for the day is advanced and it is almost evening.”

Jesus looked at the crowd (there were about five thousand)
and looked at his disciples, still excited and tired
from their first mission journey.

What had they learned from the villagers of Galilee
who shared bread and sheltered them from cold night winds?
What had they learned of human coldness on the way?

He remembered the pain in his mother’s voice
as she told of his birth night when they found no room
in all of Bethlehem, House of Bread.

“You give them something to eat!” he said.

“We have only five loaves and two fish!” they protested.
“How can we feed so many with so little?”
He understood their incredulity.

They had yet to learn that a little was enough
when it was all they had—
that God could turn these very stones to bread.

“Have the crowd sit down in groups of fifty,” he said.
Jesus took the food and looked up to heaven.
He blessed it, broke it, gave it to the disciples
to distribute to the new-formed churches.

Afterwards, when everyone was satisfied,
the twelve filled twelve baskets of bread left over—
as faith stirred like yeast within them.


Music: Justice Shall Flourish – Rory Cooney

Psalm 2: A Political World

Memorial of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, religious

January 4, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 2. The prayer seems a fitting reminder to all of us, and especially US citizens, as our new political season opens.

And now, O rulers, give heed;
take warning, you rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice before God;
with trembling rejoice…
Blessed are all who take refuge in God!


Although I was relieved to lessen my political attention after the November election, I realize that we always have a moral imperative both to pray for our leaders and to measure their efforts, and our own, against the standards of social justice. 

Click right triangle above to hear how Handel felt about it as he uses Psalm 2 in his Messiah.
Why do the nations so furiously rage together,
and who do the people imagine a vain thing?
The kings of the earth rise up,
and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord,
and against His Anointed.
George Frederic Handel: Messiah 
Psalm 2: 1-2

The interplay of politics and morality is on-going, and its energy rises once again with this month’s seating of the new Congress and inauguration of President Biden.

The U.S. and the world has been given stark lessons under the tenure of the exiting president. Some have learned from these experiences. Some have allowed their ignorances to be confirmed.

It has not been easy. We live in an age when truth and morality have been rendered elastic – seemingly malleable to multiple alternative narratives.


Another verse of Psalm 2 from Handel’s Messiah
Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their yokes from us.
(Psalm 2:3)

Psalm 2 reminds us of the one true narrative:
we are all creatures of God
charged to live in harmony
with one another and with the Creator.

Seen in a political light, we are a long way from achieving that charge. 

Our elected leaders have an almost impossible job to guide this fractured nation closer to our moral hope. But our prayer, and our sincere contribution to the effort, can make a huge difference in the result.

Despite any partisan leanings, can we pledge that contribution?


Poetry: The Paths of Love and Justice – Christine Robinson

Why are the nations in an uproar?
Why do the peoples mutter and threaten?
Why do the rich plot with the powerful?
They are rebelling against the demands of Love and Justice.
God laughs, cries, and says with anger:
I have set my Love in your hearts and my Justice in your minds.
You are my children and I have given you the universe
your lives, and the tasks of your days.
Be wise
Be warned
Stick to the paths of Love and Justice.
Your restless hearts will find me there.


Music: Justice and Mercy – Matt Redman

The Epiphany of Our Lord

January 3, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, and on this glorious feast, we pray with Psalm 72.

It is a gorgeous psalm that fills our senses with lights, and scents, and the tactile experience of an ancient and sacred world:

  • we inhale the flower of justice
  • wrap ourselves in its profound peace
  • gaze on a distant, moonless universe
  • stretch our prayer from sea to sea,
  • and our praise to the ends of the earth

We see the ancient nations gather in homage,
carrying the gems, spices and bounty of their homelands.

We, too, kneel in astounded wonder that this vulnerable child, 
hidden in the far reaches of both geography and imagination,
carries to us the Promise of the Ages.

We, too, trust the star, rising in our own hearts.


Psalm 72 echoes our beautiful first reading from Isaiah, another masterpiece that, in itself, is enough simply to read and savor:

Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem!  
Your light has come,
the glory of the Lord shines upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples;
but upon you the LORD shines,
and over you appears his glory.

Isaiah 60: 1-2

In Isaiah, these magnificent verses follow two chapters of gloom and darkness. They break forth in true epiphany to say, “Your Light has come!” – now your life must begin to shine as well.

Epiphany is not simply about kings and camels. It is not simply about a  crèche and a star. 

It is about Divine Revelation hovering over our dailyness. It is about us, opening our eyes in faith and responsiveness to our ever-present God.

The feast of Epiphany reminds us:

Look at your life today.
The star did not pass you by.
Open your eyes and find it.
Once you have seen it,
live in its Light.

Poetry: The Journey of the Magi – T.S. Eliot

Eliot wrote the poem after his conversion to Anglicanism ( He had been a Unitarian.) The poem conveys his struggle to grow in the light of his new faith. The “journey” is life-long and demanding in a world that often  contradicts that faith.

“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.”
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.


Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.


Music: The People that Walk in Darkness – Bob Dufford, SJ

The people that walk in darkness 
 have seen, have seen a great light.
 And on those who dwell in endless gloom, 
 a light has shone.
 
Refrain: 
For a Child is born this day: 
Rejoice, rejoice.
Daughter of Zion, awake. 
The glory of God is born.
 
And they shall name Him counselor, 
shall call Him mighty God.
And He shall rule from age to age: 
Prince of Peace.
 
Refrain
 
Darkness covers the earth; 
thick clouds govern its pe0ple.
But the Lord will bring them light; 
the Lord will bring them light.
 
Refrain
 
The people that walk in darkness 
have seen, have seen a great light.
And on those who dwell in endless gloom, 
a light has shone.
 

Refrain