Psalm 89: Hopeful Complaining

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 28, 2020

I realized that I have never written a reflection on this Sunday’s readings. Here is a link to a wonderful weekly reflection by a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondolet from the National Catholic Reporter.


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 89, as we did last week, but this time with earlier verses.

Psalm 89 is long and complex. It is significant to an overall understanding of the Book of Psalms because within 89 the entire cycle of Israel’s prayer life is reflected.


How we pray depends on how we see God. In our lives, as in Israel’s, external circumstances can shape that perception of God. 

How we feel physically, mentally; how we love and are loved; whether we are afraid or secure; how we succeed or fail – these and so many other realities put a face on God for us.


Psalm 89 reflects a time of oppression and confusion in Israel’s life. They had been flying high when David built the Temple. Its presence confirmed for them the truth of God’s promise to Abraham. But now, the Temple lay in ruins and the people enslaved in a foreign land. What did all that say about God and God’s Promise? What had happened to the loving face of God?

Contrary to expectation, the psalmist does not begin to pray from a position of lament or complaint. Instead, Psalm 89 begins by remembering and blessing “the good times”.

The promises of the LORD I will sing forever,
through all generations my mouth shall proclaim your faithfulness.

For you have said, “My kindness is established forever;”
in heaven you have confirmed your faithfulness.


Woman at the Well by Angelika Kauffman

It’s like Israel is sitting down beside God and saying, “You know, times are rough right now. But You’ve always been good to me, and I won’t forget that no matter what. So show me where You are taking me in these present circumstances.”

Reminds me of Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well.

What a great way to begin a sorrowful prayer! Such an attitude opens our heart to God’s ever-present Mercy which will come to us — disguised even in our sorrow.


The saints among us never give up on God – and we are all called to be saints. Psalm 89 helps us understand how God is with us and we can be with God even when our specific “prayers” seemed ignored or rejected.

For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
Blessed the people who know the joyful shout;
in the light of your Face, O LORD, they walk.


Poetry: A Psalm of Life – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

For me, the poem voices Longfellow’s philosophy for dealing with adversity which is primarily self-reliance and bravado. I think prayer is a good deal more effective!😃

“A Psalm of Life” became a popular and oft-quoted poem, such that Longfellow biographer Charles Calhoun noted it had risen beyond being a poem and into a cultural artifact…
Calhoun also notes that “A Psalm of Life” has become one of the most frequently memorized and most ridiculed of English poems, with an ending reflecting “Victorian cheeriness at its worst”. Modern critics have dismissed its “sugar-coated pill” promoting a false sense of security…
Nevertheless, Longfellow scholar Robert L. Gale referred to “A Psalm of Life” as “the most popular poem ever written in English”.
Wikipedia
And, besides, I like it.🤓 Hope you all do.

————————————————————-

A Psalm of Life
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

What the Heart of the Young Man Said to the Psalmist

Tell me not in mournful numbers  
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers  
And things are not what they seem.
 
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal; 
Dust thou art to dust returnest  
Was not spoken of the soul.
 
Not enjoyment and not sorrow  
Is our destined end or way;
But to act that each to-morrow 
Find us farther than to-day.
 
Art is long and Time is fleeting  
And our hearts though stout and brave  
Still like muffled drums are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
 
In the world's broad field of battle  
In the bivouac of Life  
Be not like dumb driven cattle! 
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future howe'er pleasant! 
Let the dead Past bury its dead! 
Act, — act in the living Present! 
Heart within and God o'erhead! 

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime  
And departing leave behind us 
Footprints on the sands of time; 

Footprints that perhaps another  
Sailing o'er life's solemn main
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother  
Seeing shall take heart again.
 
Let us then be up and doing  
With a heart for any fate; 
Still achieving still pursuing
Learn to labor and to wait.
 

Music: Show Me Your Face – Don Potter

To Say I Love You

Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter

May 28, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, as we continue to read Jesus’s loving dialogue with his Father, we become the silent listener to an intimate conversation.

Jn17_21 all one

As I prayed with this passage, the memory of my own conversations with my mother came back to me. Many of these exchanges took place in person, but what I remembered today was our daily evening phone calls late in her life.

The calls were brief, but unflinchingly regular – 7PM every night. The exchanges were  very simple and almost formulaic: were we both OK, slept well, had a good day, had what for dinner, endured whatever weather….did we need anything?

But the real conversation was deep under any formula. It was the silent language of love, comfort, hope, trust and fidelity.  It was the unspoken assurance that we were, and would always be, FOR each other.


In John 17, we find the same kind of conversation between Jesus and his Father.

  • You and I are one
  • You have gifted me with your glory
  • You have empowered me in your Name
  • You have always loved me
  • I know your heart 
  • and I am grateful

What a privilege to listen to God’s conversation! In our prayer today, we may just want to witness silently the infinite love between Jesus and the Father. As Jesus prays for us to be incorporated into that love, may our hearts overflow in gratitude.


Music: I Just Called fo Say I Love You – Stevie Wonder

Mom and I loved this song because it so clearly described our relationship. I still sing it to her sometimes… loooong distance for sure now🥰.

I think it’s a song we could easily share with God in our prayer.

Our Beloved Communities

Memorial of Saint Philip Neri, priest

May 26, 2020

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given me

Today, in Mercy, Paul gives the first part of his Ephesian farewell address which he will complete in tomorrow’s reading.

Paul really loved the Ephesian community. He lived with them for three years and poured his heart and soul into teaching them. He doesn’t say it outright, but like all ministers, he must have learned from them as well – from their faith, compassion, and openness to his teaching.

Now Paul begins the last journey back to Jerusalem, a passage which will mirror Christ’s own journey to that sacred city. But before he departs, Paul tells the Ephesians how much he loves and expects from them. And he blesses them.

In tomorrow’s continuation, Paul will say:

And now I commend you to God
and to that gracious word of his that can build you up
and give you the inheritance among all who are consecrated.

In our Gospel today, as Jesus commences his own final journey, he blesses his listeners as well:

Father, I pray for them.
I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me,
because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours


Today as we pray, whether we are at the beginning or late parts of our journey, we might take time to pray for the ones God “has given” us in our lives. Like Paul who shared life with the Ephesians, and like Jesus and his beloved disciples, God has given us communities to love and form us on our journey.

These extraordinary pandemic days have reminded us all of what’s most cherished in our lives. It’s such a perfect time to show our own beloved communities how much they mean to us. It doesn’t have to be a long address or a profound speech. My young nephew and his dear wife did it yesterday with a simple and delightfully surprising phone call just before they journeyed on a small vacation.

Just little phrases between us, passed over a thousand mile telephone signal, carried a much bigger message of love and gratitude:

  • just wanted to check on you
  • are you feeling well
  • do you have what you need
  • enjoy your time away
  • travel safely
  • thanks for thinking of me
  • I love you
  • God bless you

Today, as we read the orations of Jesus and Paul, we may not see the same exact phrases, but the message is the same. Jesus and Paul knew it was important to their communities to put that loving message into words. It’s important for our communities too.

familyThanks Jimmy and Kristin. Thank you all my dear family and friends. I am so blessed to have these kinds of conversations with all of you. I don’t ever want to take that for granted.

Like Paul,
I commend each one of you to God
and to that gracious word of his that can build you up
and give you the inheritance among all who are consecrated.

On this, and all your life journeys, travel safely and know you are deeply loved.

Music: The Lord Bless You and Keep You – John Rutter

God’s Friends

Friday of the Fifth Week of Easte


May 15, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Jesus calls us friends. Just think about that!

Think about what it means to really be a friend.

We might have a little trouble reclaiming the true meaning in today’s culture. After all, in our world, you can be “friends” with thousands of people on Facebook, many of whom you might not even know.

On the other hand, if you have been blessed to have really good friends in your life, consider what created that friendship: love, honesty, acceptance, sacrifice, forgiveness, reverence, trust, fidelity, humor.

This is the kind of relationship to which Jesus invites each one of us – where He is part of us and we of Him..

Jn15_15 Friends

If we listen to Jesus in today’s Gospel, we’ll see clearly what makes us a Friend of God:

  • We love God to the point of laying down our lives.
  • We obey God’s command to love unselfishly and inclusively.
  • We seek ever to know God more fully.
  • We acknowledge God’s love as a blessing and gift, not a right.
  • We act on our responsibility to share the love we have received.

Pope Francis has said that the saints are “Friends of God” because they loved with all their hearts. But he stresses that:

“They are like us; they are like each of us: They are people who, before reaching the glory of heaven, lived a normal life, with joys and griefs,
struggles and hopes….When they recognized the love of God, they
followed him with all their heart, without conditions and hypocrisies.”

Pope Francis encourages us, “The saints give us a message. They tell us: Be faithful to the Lord, because the Lord does not disappoint! He does not disappoint ever, and he is a good friend, always at our side.”

Let’s spend some prayer time in thanksgiving for God’s gift of friendship, asking how we might learn to be an even better friend, to love God even more.

Music: Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon and Garfunkel

 

A Love in Troubled Times

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

April 3, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, as we inch closer to Holy Week, we meet both a very troubled Jeremiah and Jesus.

V0034343 The prophet Jeremiah wailing alone on a hill. Engraving.
The Prophet Jeremiah Weeping Alone on a Hill (from the Wellcome Trust)

Jeremiah, the Old Testament mirror of Jesus’s sufferings, bewails the treachery even of his friends:

I hear the whisperings of many:
“Terror on every side!
Denounce! let us denounce him!”
All those who were my friends
are on the watch for any misstep of mine.

That’s really raw, because you can get through almost anything in the company of true friends.


 

Jesus weeps
Jesus Weeping Over Jerusalem by Ary Scheffer (1795-1858)

Jesus came as a Friend and hoped to find Friends of God by his ministry. And he did find many. But not all.

It takes some work to be a true friend of Jesus. Some didn’t have the courage, or generosity, or passion, or hopeful imagination to reach past their self-protective boundaries – to step into eternal life even as they walked the time-bound earth.

In today’s Gospel this band of resisters project their fears and doubts to the crowds around them. The evil sparks light the ready tinder of human selfishness. The mob turns on Jesus, spiritual misers scoffing at the generous challenge to believe.

Jesus pleads with them to realize what they are doing:

If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me;
but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me,
believe the works, so that you may realize and understand
that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.

But Jesus and Jeremiah, though troubled, are grounded in God. Our Responsorial Psalm captures what might have been their silent prayer:

Psalm18 distress

The following transliteration of Psalm 18, composed by Christine Robinson, might help us to be with Jesus in his moment, and in our own moments of fear, anxiety, or doubt.

I open my heart to you, O God
for you are my strength, my fortress,
the rock on whom I build my life.

I have been lost in my fears and my angers
caught up in falseness, fearful, and furious
I cried to you in my anguish.
You have brought me to an open space.
You saved me because you took delight in me.
I try to be good, to be just, to be generous
to walk in your ways.
I fail, but you are my lamp.
You make my darkness bright
With your help, I continue to scale the walls
and break down the barriers that fragment me.
I would be whole, and happy, and wise
and know your love
Always.

Music: Overcome – Psalm 18 by James Block

Home

Wednesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

January 29, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are about being at home with God.

home

In our passage from 2 Samuel, a highly anthropomorphized God informs David that He is sick of living in a tent while being carried to and fro. God goes on to recount for David all that God has done for him, demonstrating that David can fully trust God. 

God wants a home. In other words, it’s time to make a permanent commitment and “move in together” into each other’s hearts.


 

sowerIn today’s Gospel, we find the familiar story of the Sower and the Seed. While the story doesn’t specifically mention “home”, Jesus indicates that only those “at home” with God’s Word will understand the true meaning of the parables.

You may have had the joy of visiting friends who greet you with the invitation, “Make yourself at home”. These friends will have done everything they can to make that possible – clean house, fresh bed linens, your brand of coffee, your favorite meals. They want you to be completely comfortable for your stay.

Well, God wants to stay forever within us. And God wants us to stay forever in God. That mutuality of homecoming is the whole purpose of our lives.

We know how to create this sacred hospitality for our friends. Let today’s reading remind us to do this for God as well by:

  • “learning” God within the Sacred Word of scripture
  • joy and awe at God’s desire to be with us
  • attention to those tendernesses that invite and welcome God
  • continual gratitude for God’s Presence
  • delighting God by our acts of love and hospitality

Music: Welcome to My Heart – Dean Martin
(Even though the song was not directed toward God, it works for me. I hope it does for you too.)

Can You Hear Me Now?

Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

January 15, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we read about God’s call of Samuel, Hannah’s son.

New things are about to happen in Israel. The People have lived under the questionable leadership of a series of Judges. But now, threats from inside and outside loom. So God chooses to move in a new way among the community.

1Sam speak Lord

Samuel is going to be God’s bridge to that new way. In today’s reading and subsequent verses, he hears God’s call, listens, receives a vision, and prophesies to Eli.


In our reading from Mark, Jesus is the Divine Bridge to a new reality. Early now in his ministry, his call is blossoming in his heart, as he realizes that he must go all over Israel preaching and healing.

When Simon told Jesus the local villagers were looking for him, Jesus told them,

“Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come.”
So he went into their synagogues,
preaching and driving out demons

throughout the whole of Galilee.”

Jesus continues his healing and enlightening mission through all who call themselves Christian. He calls each of us in different ways to be a “Bridge” with him to the Reign of God.

How are you hearing and listening to your particular call every day? Maybe, like Samuel, by the time God calls us three times, we may understand!😉

Music: Since I mentioned “bridge”, I can’t help including one of my favorite songs, Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel. It’s not really a religious song, but their popular song actually was inspired by a great Gospel song,  Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep and its one freely interpreted verse very near the end: “I’ll be your bridge over deep water/If you trust in my name.’ 

Bridge Over Troubled Waters

 

Oh, Mary Don’t You Weep (Lyrics below, but they are VERY liberally interpreted by these wonderful Gospel singers.)

Lord, I’m singing . . . (solo)
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep. (group)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (solo)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (group)
Listen, Mary, (solo)
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep. (group)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (solo)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (group)
Pharaoh’s army, (solo)
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep. (group)
They got drownded in the sea, (solo)
Drowned in the Red Sea. (group)
Jesus said, Mary, (solo)
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep. (group)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (solo)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (group)
Can’t you hear me singing, Mary? (solo)
Oh, Mary don’t you weep. (group)
I want you to know, Martha don’t have to mourn. (solo)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (group)
Oh, listen, Mary, (solo)
Oh, Mary don’t you weep. (group)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (solo)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (group)
Pharaoh’s army, (solo)
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep, (group)
They got drownded in the sea, (solo)
Drowned in the Red Sea. (group)
Jesus said, Mary, (solo)
Oh, Mary don’t you weep, (group)
Tell Martha not to mourn, (solo)
Tell Martha not to mourn, (group)
Lord, and if I could tonight, (solo)
If I could, (group)
I want to tell you I surely would right now. (solo)
Surely would, (group)
I would stand on the rock. (solo)
Stand on the rock, (group)
Right on the rock where Moses stood. (solo)
Moses stood, (group)
Pharaoh’s army, (solo)
Oh, Mary don’t you weep (group)
They got drownded in the sea, (solo)
Drowned in the Red Sea. (group)
Jesus say, Mary, (solo)
Oh, Mary don’t you weep. group)
He said Mary . . . (solo)
Oh, Mary don’t you weep .(group)
Oh, Mary . . . (solo)
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep. group)
Tell Martha not to mourn. (solo)
Tell Martha not to mourn. group)

Get By with a Little Help from…

Memorial of Saints Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops and Doctors of the Church

January 2, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we lay aside our holiday experiences and dress once again in our ordinary dailyness. It is time to begin again, in this new year, the faithful living of our lives.

Church_of_Gregory_of_Armenia_of_Saint_Basil's_Cathedral_1
 copyright: Photo: Wikipedia / Shakko

The Church encourages us with the celebration of two great friends, Basil and Gregory. These men are particularly venerated, with St. John Chrysostom, in the Eastern Churches, whose character they highly impacted. These tremendously influential ministers supported and inspired one another to do great things for God in a time when the faith was sorely tested.

To learn more about these great saints called the Three Hierarchs, click here.


The friendship and legacy of these iconic saints reminds us that we need one another’s support and example to stay strong in our own faith. In our first reading, John tells us the same thing.

We live in a world not unlike that of Basil, Gregory, and Chrysostom. Conflicting, and often deceitful, forces twist the faith to distort its original truth. In our world, these false perceptions are used as excuses for all kinds of evils: war, nationalism, prejudicial exclusion, and racial and economic domination.

But John the Evangelist says this in our first reading:

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.

Today’s Gospel shows us that even John the Baptist had to juggle thorny religious questions in order to stay focused on the core truth of Christ. The Baptist keeps this focus by his singular faith and humility:

… there is one among you whom you do not recognize,
the one who is coming after me,
whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.

So today, inspired by these great saints, let us take up the call to be true humble followers of Jesus, making our faith evident by our choices for mercy, justice and love in a conflicted world.

Music: Hymn of the Cherubim- Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom 

Mary, Full of Grace

The Octave Day of Christmas

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

IMG_2003
Theotokos, a mosaic mural from the Gelati Monastery, Georgia, (1125-1130 AD)

January 1, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate Mary, Mother of Jesus.

I begin my prayer today by asking a question posed by distinguished theologian, Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ:

What would be a theologically sound, spiritually empowering and ethically challenging theology of Mary, mother of Jesus the Christ, for the 21st century? This question has no simple answer, for the first-century Jewish woman Miriam of Nazareth, also held in faith to be Theotokos, the God-bearer, is arguably the most celebrated woman in the Christian tradition. One could almost drown surveying the ways different eras have honored her in painting, sculpture, icons, architecture, music and poetry; venerated her with titles, liturgies, prayers and feasts; and taught about her in spiritual writings, theology and official doctrine.

To see Sister Elizabeth Johnson’s excellent article, click here.


In my own prayer today, though, I am not reaching for a deeper theological understanding of Mary. I simply want to talk with her as my Mother, my older Sister, my Friend. I want to seek her guidance and her inspiration. I want to thank her for her continual willingness to bear Christ into the world, and into my life.

How significant it is that the Church begins the year inviting us all to Mary’s Light! Our first reading blesses us in a way that Mary might bless us:

The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!

Mary was all about giving us the LORD, not giving us herself. We see Mary best when we see her holding Christ toward us – the “God-bearer” or “Theotokos”.

IMG_2004
Theotokos Vladimirskaya icon, Vologda, Vladimirskaya Church, mid-end 16 century

This title, used especially in Eastern Christianity, originated in the 3rd century Syriac tradition. It affirms Mary as the Mother of Jesus, Who was both human and divine in nature.

Our reading from Galatians assures us that we too, by our Baptism, are the daughters and sons of God – thus becoming Mary’s own. She is our Mother too by the power of this sacrament.

Our Gospel reveals the spirituality of Mary who “pondered” all the mysterious workings of God deep in her heart. This Mary is my revered sister, guiding me as I meet the unfolding of God in my own life.

Today, let us pray with Mary, our Mother, our Sister, Bearer of God. Let us pray for the whole Church, the whole world – all of whom she tenderly loves.

Music: Two selections today.

A Peaceful Hymn to the Theotokos – Nuns of the Carmazani Monastery in Romania

Prayer of Pure Love – Leddy Hammock and Sue Riley

The Whispered Word

Feast of Saint John, Apostle and evangelist

December 27, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate John, “the Beloved Disciple”.

Throughout John’s magnificent writings, the themes of Love and Light stretch our perception of God, and challenge us to love like God loves.

1Jn1_1 Word

John’s deep love of God, and devotion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, pour out in his epistles which we will be blessed with over the next several weeks.

Sometimes John’s poetic style can be a little off-setting to those more comfortable with practical prose. But if we can allow our minds to savor the rich layers of meaning within the words, we will start to experience the lyrical mystery of John’s relationship with God.

jesus-and-st-john-at-last-supper-jozef-sedmak
Jesus and St. John at Last Supper from 19. cent. in St. Michaels church (Michelskerk).

On these holy days, while we still bask in Christmas glory, we might ask in prayer to be deepened in our friendship with God. We might imagine ourselves resting our head on Jesus’s shoulder, just as John did at the Last Supper. We might listen there for the holy secrets God wants to whisper into our lives.

Music: Whisper- Jason Upton