Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 116. Today’s verses are such a lovely prayer of recognition and thanksgiving for God’s goodness.
Praying with this phrase this morning, I realized that there is no adequate answer to the psalmist’s question. We could never repay the munificence of God.
What we can do is to allow God’s Lavish Mercy to flow through our lives returning praise for God’s love.
My vows to the LORD I will pay in the presence of all his people. Precious in your eyes, O Lord, is the living and dying of your faithful ones.
Psalm 116: 14-15
Poetry: Little Flute- Tagore
You have made me endless, such is Your pleasure. This frail vessel You empty again and again, and fill it ever with fresh life. This little flute of a reed You have carried over hills and dales, and have breathed through it melodies eternally new. At the immortal touch of Your hands, my little heart loses its limits in joy and gives birth to utterance ineffable. Your infinite gifts come to me only on these very small hands of mine. Ages pass, and still You pour, and still there is room to fill.
Poetry: Poem for St. John of the Cross by Lisa Zimmerman
Saint John of the Cross, Your father married for love an orphan below his noble station. Discarded by his wealthy kindred they say your parents nurtured you in poverty— and the bread was as sweet as any bread
and the days offered their shiny hands and their little streams of water singing in the glades.
I see you wandering happily as a boy, the sun a crown on your small head, your bare feet scuffing the dust. God chirped like a wood lark in the throat of afternoon and the lonely months in prison were far ahead beneath the great shadow of the future.
I try to follow you there, O mystic, to watch you defy your greedy brethren monks who will reject your reforms, your love of less, of days returned to prayer and fasting.
Fat and threatened, they silenced you in a narrow stone cell, one tiny window like the one in the soul where day after day the voice of God pierced your suffering.
Out of emptiness, a full heart— out of abandonment, a poem of seeking— out of utter darkness, a gleam of pure light— love’s last trembling boat waiting for you to get in, and row.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 29 which describes the settling of peace over an ended storm.
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.
This gift of peace invites the psalmist to give glory to the Lord, and to do so in a celebratory manner:
Give to the LORD the glory due his name; adore the LORD in holy attire.
Reading this little verse this morning, I was reminded of my novitiate days. What a profound joy and thrill it was for me to receive the habit of the Sisters of Mercy. I count myself fortunate to have entered just in time to wear the original habit – just for fourteen months before we adopted a modified style.
Each morning as we dressed, we said a specific prayer over each component of the habit. The prayers were beautiful and served to orient us to the duties and blessings of the day.
Psalm 29 reminds us to give thanks for our blessings – and our challenges – as we begin and end each day. But it specifically says that we should clothe ourselves in “holy attire” as we pray. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul describes such attire:
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, Kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with one another and forgive any complaint you may have against another. Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you. And over all these virtues put on love, which is the bond of perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, for to this you were called as members of one body. And be thankful.
Poem: She Walks in Beauty by Lord Byron
May we walk, attired in the beauty of God’s Grace and peace.
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
Music: Because You Are Chosen – John Michael Talbot
Because you are chosen Called to be holy Because you are the Lord’s beloved You must clothe yourself with kindness With heartfelt mercy In the meekness of humility So bear you now with one another And forgive as the Lord’s forgiven you Over all these virtues Bind them all together In the Love of our Lord Jesus Over all these virtues Bind them all together In the Love of our Lord Jesus Over all these virtues Bind them all together In the Love of our Lord Jesus.
Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Saturday, November 21, 2020
From 2018 Post: We celebrate the Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This feast memorializes a story not present in Scripture. We know of it only from apocryphal writings, those considered of unsubstantiated origin. It tells of Mary’s dedication in the Temple at the age of three. Some versions say she remained there until the age of twelve, thus giving her life fully to God even from youth.
On the day of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, “we celebrate that dedication of herself which Mary made to God from her very childhood under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who filled her with grace … .” (Liturgy of the Hours)
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, on Mary’s holy feast, we pray with Psalm 144, a song attributed to David as he thanks God for his war victories.
Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for battle, my fingers for war.
How strange that the Church would use this psalm to celebrate gentle Mary as we commemorate her Presentation in the Temple. The traditional story, not included in scripture, is that Mary’s grateful parents brought her, at age three, to be dedicated to God.
Psalm 144 reminds us, as we pray with Mary today, that life can be filled with daunting challenges. It can even, at times, seem like a war. Pope Francis has described our times as beset by a “culture of death’:
It is difficult both to recognize and to contradict the overwhelming barrage of selfish, materialistic messaging our culture throws at us. It really is an ongoing battle.
But it is a battle we face not with weapons of violence. We stand up, like Mary, by the power of the God in whom we trust.
My mercy and my fortress, my stronghold, my deliverer, My shield, in whom I trust, who rallies strength around me.
We pray with Mary:
to discern the path of grace for our lives
to turn our whole lives over to God,
to become a portal for God to enter our world
We pray for the courage to be God’s new song of hope for our times.
O God, I will sing a new song to you; with a ten stringed lyre I will chant your praise, You who give victory to your beloved, and deliver us from the grasp of evil.
Poem: To the Immaculate Virgin, On a Winter Night – Thomas Merton
Lady, the night is falling and the dark
Steals all the blood from the scarred west.
The stars come out and freeze my heart
With drops of untouchable music, frail as ice
And bitter as the new year's cross.
Where in the world has any voice
Prayed to you, Lady, for the peace that's in your power?
In a day of blood and many beatings
I see the governments rise up, behind the steel horizon,
And take their weapons and begin to kill.
Where in the world has any city trusted you?
Out where the soldiers camp the guns begin to thump
And another winter time comes down
To seal our years in ice.
The last train cries out
And runs in terror from this farmer's valley
Where all the little birds are dead.
The roads are white, the fields are mute
There are no voices in the wood
And trees make gallows up against the sharp-eyed stars.
Oh where will Christ be killed again
In the land of these dead men?
Lady, the night has got us by the heart
And the whole world is tumbling down.
Words turn to ice in my dry throat
Praying for a land without prayer,
Walking to you on water all winter
In a year that wants more war.
Music: Blessed Be the Lord, My Rock – by Abbie Betinis sung by St. Pius X Choir, Atlanta, Georgia
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 150, the final chapter of the Book of Psalms.
When any of us writes or speaks an important message, we usually take pains to make sure the final comments are direct and powerful. We want our last words to make an significant impact on our audience.
I think the Book of Psalms wants to do the same thing.
So what’s the ultimate ringing word these sacred chapters leave with us?
And it’s not a gentle suggestion. The psalm charges us to SHOUT our praise! To make noise with our acclamations of God! To be absolutely cacophonous in our exaltation. We are to praise God:
with the blast of the trumpet,
with lyre and harp,
with timbrel and dance,
with strings and pipe.
with sounding cymbals,
with clanging cymbals
One might come away thinking we must be noisy in showing our love for God. But there are so many ways we “shout”, even in our silence.
I think this morning of my Sisters at McAuley Convent, in the quiet accumulation of their elder years. There is very little noise in that beloved community. Still, everything about them shouts praise, gratitude, and faith – all without their even having to say a word.
True praise is an energy, not a sound. It is the direction of our whole being toward the God Who gives us life. It is the gathering of everything about our existence and lifting it all toward God in confidence of its transformation.
It is the quiet sound of our every breath streaming “Alleluias” over all Creation. It is the final word of our being after everything else is said.
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Alleluia
Poetry: Praising Manners by Rumi
We should ask God To help us toward manners. Inner gifts Do not find their way To creatures without just respect. If a man or woman flails about, they not only Destroy their own house, They incinerate the whole world. Your depression is connected to your insolence And your refusal to praise. If a man or woman is On the path, and refuses to praise — that man or woman Steals from others every day — in fact is a shoplifter! The sun became full of light when it got hold of itself. Angels began shining when they achieved discipline. The sun goes out whenever the cloud of not-praising comes near. The moment that foolish angel felt insolent, he heard the door close.
Music:J.S. Bach: Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, BWV. 225
“Singet!” Bach’s motet springs to life with the insistent repetition of this word, bouncing between two choirs. It’s a joyful and dazzlingly virtuosic celebration of the human voice, culminating in a mighty four-voice fugue. This motet was performed for Mozart when he visited Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church in 1789. (Bach was music director at the church from 1723 until his death in 1750). Johann Friedrich Doles, a student of Bach who directed the performance wrote, As soon as the choir had sung a few bars, Mozart started; after a few more he exclaimed: ‘What is that?’ And now his whole soul seemed to be centered in his ears. When the song was ended, he cried out with delight: ‘Now, here is something one can learn from!’( taken from https://thelistenersclub.com/2019/10/11/joyful-sounds-of-praise-five-musical-settings-of-psalm-150/ )
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 1 which tells us that a vigorous spiritual life roots us firmly in God.
One who delights in the law of the LORD, and meditates on God’s law day and night is like a tree planted near running water.
That rootedness steadies us even in life’s fierce winds, unlike the fate of the spiritually lifeless.
… they are like chaff which the wind drives away. For the LORD watches over the way of the just, but the way of the faithless vanishes.
I think of my parents who were ordinary people, not scripture scholars or recognized prophets. They simply prayed every day, and tried to do good for and with the people in their lives. Their energy was focused on God and others, not themselves. They were honest, humble, grateful people. They never realized how holy they really were.
They were like those trees planted near running streams, feeding on the waters of generosity not greed. They were strong in life’s winds, which were many and sometimes ferocious. Theirs was a quiet and unassuming faith, but immovable as rock.
My brother and I were blessed to grow up in the shade of those trees, a blessing which made us want to be like them.
Let’s pray for continuing grace to deepen our roots in God.
Let’s pray for a faith that nurtures and encourages those God has placed under our branches.
Let’s stretch the reach of our tree’s caring shade to all our sisters and brothers, especially those scorched by pain and poverty.
Let’s drink deeply of the life-giving waters God offers us.
Poetry: I learned that her name was Proverb by Denise Levertov
And the secret names of all we meet who lead us deeper into our labyrinth of valleys and mountains, twisting valleys and steeper mountains— their hidden names are always, like Proverb, promises. Rune, Omen, Fable, Parable, those we meet for only one crucial moment, gaze to gaze, or for years know and don’t recognize but of whom later a word sings back to us as if from high among leaves, still near but beyond sight drawing us from tree to tree towards the time and the unknown place where we shall know what it is to arrive.
Music: Tree Song by Evie Karlsson If you have young ones in your life, you may want to listen to this song together. A very simply expressed, yet profound, message.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 119 which is filled with repeated invitations to awake to the beauty of God’s Law all around and within us. But sometimes in our spiritual life, just as in our physical life, we just don’t want to wake up, do we?😉
Our psalm today tells us we need to be alert, to actively seek God in our lives:
It’s not easy to believe that God can be found in everything, even the things that challenge and hurt us. It requires a new way of looking, of seeing.
God’s presence isn’t always sweet and comforting. In our bitter times, God may be with us in a push to change, or to resist, or to protest. It helps to trust that there is an integrity to God’s path in our lives, and that, by grace, we will be led to holiness, even in challenge.
With all my heart I seek your path, let me not stray from your commands. Within my heart I treasure your promise, that I may not stray from your law.
Walking a labyrinth is a good way to intentionally practice this type of trusting prayer. Doing this, we rediscover the times God has already led us through life’s surprising, and sometimes immobilizing, twists.
We begin to see an order in what we thought was chaos, the order of God’s immutable law of love:
Open my eyes, that I may consider the wonders of your law.
If you would like to pray with a labyrinth, this website is a great start. The Dominican Sisters of Peace take us through praying with a “finger labyrinth”.
Poem: Excerpt from THE HOUND OF HEAVEN by Francis Thompson Here is just the beginning of Thompson’s great poem, which speaks of the “labyrinthine” ways…
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears I hid from Him, and under running laughter. Up vistaed hopes I sped; And shot, precipitated, Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears, From those strong Feet that followed, followed after. But with unhurrying chase, And unperturbéd pace, Deliberate speed, majestic instancy, They beat — and a Voice beat — More instant than the Feet 'All things betray thee, who betrayest Me'.
Music: The Peace of God – from Labyrinth by David Baloche
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with another of the Torah Psalms, Psalm 119. It is the prayer of one who delights in and lives by the Torah, the sacred law. ( See yesterday’s reflection for some scholarly words on the Torah Psalms.)
In today’s verses, with lovely antiphonal lilt, the psalmist describes the holy person, then asks for the virtues to become one.
Blessed are the blameless….. so guide me in your ways.
I want to meditate on your deeds …. so make me understand.
I want to observe your laws … so give me discernment
I delight in your path …. so lead me on it.
I will keep your law forever …. if you will just guide me.
I don’t think God can resist a sincere prayer like this. The psalmist is saying, “I want to love you, God, with my whole life. But you, Almighty, must help my weakness.”
As we pray today with Psalm 119, we might let a similar prayer rise up in our hearts.
We, too, want to love God well – completely. We, too, need Divine guidance to discern God’s continuing call in the complexities of our lives. We, too, long to deepen in discernment and commitment.
The psalmist gives us good example. Just tell God like it is. Tell God what you really want, what you really need to love as God wishes us to love.
If you hear yourself making requests for power, money, fame, security in any of their selfish forms, you better start all over again!😉
Remember the beginning of the psalm, the foundation of our prayer:
Blessed are they whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD.
In the Christian scriptures, that foundation is proclaimed like this:
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Let’s ask God for the courage to offer a blameless prayer. The simple prayer of the Gospel centurion comes to mind:
Poetry: Morning Hymn by Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley. They are considered founders of the Methodist religion.
Christ, whose glory fills the skies,
Christ, the true, the only light,
Sun of Righteousness, arise,
Triumph o’er the shades of night:
Day-spring from on high, be near:
Day-star, in my heart appear.
Dark and cheerless is the morn
Unaccompanied by thee,
Joyless is the day’s return,
Till thy mercy’s beams I see;
Till thy inward light impart,
Glad my eyes, and warm my heart.
Visit then this soul of mine,
Pierce the gloom of sin, and grief,
Fill me, Radiancy Divine,
Scatter all my unbelief,
More and more thyself display,
Shining to the perfect day.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 19, one of the unique “Torah Psalms” (1, 19, 119) in which Israel celebrates the divine structure of life in all Creation, including ourselves.
James Luther Mays, in his article The Place of the Torah-Psalms in the Psalter, suggests that these psalms serve as a guide to how all the other psalms are to be read, interpreted and prayed.
Walter Brueggemann describes life without God as “normless” – without the structure of grace and relationship with God that holds all Creation in abundant Life. He refers to the Torah as a “norming” dynamism, and writes:
And when Israel … used the term “Torah” (never meaning simply or simplistically “law”), it refers to the entire legacy of norming that is elastic, dynamic, fluid, and summoning. The outcome of that legacy in the Psalter is the great Torah Psalms in which Israel celebrates, with joy, that the creator God has not left the world as a normless blob but has instilled in the very structure of creation the transformative capacity for enacted fidelity. That is why Psalm 19 juxtaposes the glory of creation that attests the creator (vv. 1–6) with the commandments that are the source of life.
Our verses today for the Feast of St. Matthew include this phrase…
Their message goes out through all the earth.
… perhaps equating the universal ministry of the Apostles to the transformative power and witness of the heavens to God’s immutable glory.
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day pours out the word to day, and night to night imparts knowledge. Not a word nor a discourse whose voice is not heard; Through all the earth their voice resounds, and to the ends of the world, their message.
The teaching of the Apostles is codified for Catholics in the Apostles Creed. We might want to pray it slowly today, attentive to those “norming ” beliefs – our sort of fundamental “Torah” – which hold our lives in graceful relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son Our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into Hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into Heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Amen.
Poetry: XIX Caeli Ennarant by Malcolm Guite
In that still place where earth and heaven meet Under mysterious starlight, raise your head And gaze up at their glory: ‘the complete
Consort dancing’ as a poet said Of his own words. But these are all God’s words; A shining poem, waiting to be read
Afresh in every heart. Now look towards The brightening east, and see the splendid sun Rise and rejoice, the icon of his lord’s
True light. Be joyful with him, watch him run His course, receive the gift and treasure of his light Pouring like honeyed gold till day is done
As sweet and strong as all God’s laws, as right As all his judgements and as clean and pure, All given for your growth, and your delight!
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with the lilting Psalm 116, an intimate, tender, and powerful prayer.
The psalmist, overwhelmed by God’s goodness, asks a clear and urgent question:
How shall I make a return to the LORD for all the good God has done for me?
The verse itself shows the spiritual awareness of the questioner. Some people don’t believe God has done anything for them. They think they’ve done everything for themselves! And it’s sad to see somebody lost in that illusion.
They never feel awe and gratitude that they have received, as pure gift from God:
the breath of life
the capacity to believe, hope and love
the beauty of all Creation
the heritage of faith, family and friendship
the blessing of community in its many forms
the particular gifts that make them unique in the world
the capacity to care, act, and change things toward good
the irrevocable invitation to befriend God
the Lavish Mercy and steadfast accompaniment of that Divine Inviter
the promise of eternity
As we grow in our capacity to recognize and live out of these gifts, we deepen in our “sacrifice of praise”.
Walter Brueggemann describes a sacrifice of praise like this:
It must be an intimate, yielding act of trustful submission of “spirit and heart,” not “sacrifice and burnt offerings”. The speaker (psalmist), now situated in glad praise, can imagine an intimacy and communion in which contact between God and self is available and in which the distinction between the two parties is clear and acknowledged—God in splendor, the self in “brokenness”.
That “brokenness” is fully given to God to heal and empower with grace so that one’s life becomes a witness to God’s love.
To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving, and I will call upon the name of the LORD. My vows to the LORD I will pay in the presence of all his people.
The “sacrifice of praise” is not accomplished in a single declaration or decision. It can begin like that. But to last, it must be “lived into”, moment by moment, through an intentional, prayerful life. That is the lesson of today’s Gospel – it is how we build our “house” on rock.
Poetry: God of Shelter, God of Shade – by Irene Zimmerman, OSF
God of shelter from the rain,
God of shade from the heat,
I run from You
through the muddy street
of my uncommitted heart
till wild winds beat
against my doors,
through all my walls,
and I stand
hear Your command
to be the wheat.
Sweet the giving!
Sweet this land!
God of shelter from the rain.
God of shade from the heat.
Music: Alvin Slaughter and Inside out - The Sacrifice of Praise