Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 128. It describes the blessed scene that might ensue from the kind of hopeful and just community described in yesterday’s reflection. Because of its final verse, I like to think of it as a “Grandparents’ Blessing”.
Happy are they all who fear the Lord, and who follow in the ways of God! You shall eat the fruit of your labor; happiness and prosperity shall be yours. Your beloved shall be like a fruitful vine within your house, your children like olive shoots round about your table. The one who fears the Lord shall thus indeed be blessed. The Lord bless you from Zion, and may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.
May you live to see your children’s children; may peace be upon your household.
In our Gospel, Jesus tells us that we achieve such blessedness by actions, not simply by words.
Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.
Matthew 23: 1-3
I took that admonition to heart today. I do a lot of “preaching” on these pages. Following the example of Jesus, I need to see if those words come to life in my actions.
Are you with me?
Poetry: The Words We Speak – Hafiz
The words We speak Become the house we live in. Who will want to sleep in your bed If the roof leaks Right above It? Look what happens when the tongue Cannot say to kindness, “I will be your slave.” The moon Covers her face with both hands And can’t bear To look.
Music: Without Words – Bethel Music
Just a pretty cool instrumental to reflect with today.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 40, and wow, do we need it after an astounding heartless first reading!
The story of Jephthah and his daughter is one of the most disturbing in the Bible! It contains so many flaws in faith and reason that it becomes almost unusable for prayer. Then again, maybe that’s the very reason we should pray with it.
was so full of his own lust for victory that he made a promise to God which God would never want.
was so focused on himself that he ignored the maxim against human sacrifice
had such a distorted concept of God that he made an excuse to kill on God’s supposed behalf
The lesson for me? Don’t be like Jephthah.
We can use God, distort God, and manufacture what we believe to be God’s Will. Countless people have done so down through the centuries and are still doing it. Just shake a history book, and a thousand Jephthahs fall out wrapped in other inglorious names.
We constantly see religion manipulated into a tool for political and personal aggression. The world is full of people who purport to know God’s Will for the rest of us.
Psalm 40 blessedly contradicts this kind of idolatry. We must never attempt to create God in our own image, to satisfy our own agendas.
Psalm 40 lists those practices that will help us to sincere relationship with God and God’s power in our lives:
responsiveness to grace
Happy are they who trust in the Lord! they do not resort to evil spirits or turn to false gods. Great things are they that you have done, O Lord my God! how great your wonders and your plans for us! There is none who can be compared with you. Oh, that I could make them known and tell them, but they are more than I can count. In sacrifice and offering you take no pleasure (you have given me ears to hear you); burnt-offering and sin-offering you have not required.
These virtues are powereded by a deeply prayerful and reflective life which roots God’s Goodness in our souls.
And so I said, “Behold, I come. In the roll of the book it is written concerning me: ‘I love to do your will, O my God; your law is deep within my heart.’”
Poetry: I Know What You Want – a Psalm 40 prayer by Rev. Christine Robinson
I have trusted You, Holy One
and waited for You.
When I was mired in misery
you touched me with your spirit.
You pulled me out
and set me on solid ground.
You put a song in my heart and work in my hands.
I praise you.
I know what you want from me,
and where the meaning of my life lies—
Not in rituals, offerings, sacrifices, or creeds,
just my heart; open to others, and open to You.
I try to live that way.
I fail often but you nudge and beckon and I follow.
I pray that my words, my song, my life
show forth your light and light others’ way.
May all who seek you find you.
Touch us with your spirit, that we may be glad.
Music: Take, Lord, Receive – John Foley, SJ
This prayer is the Suscipe of St. Ignatius Loyola found in the final part of his book, “The Spiritual Exercises”.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 37 which is widely interpreted as:
“a response to the problem of evil, which the Old Testament often expresses as a question: why do the wicked prosper and the good suffer?”
It’s a question all of us struggle with, isn’t it? And wouldn’t we manage things a lot differently if we were in charge of the world?
Psalm 37 opens with this advice to help us deal with our consternation:
Do not be provoked by evildoers; do not envy those who do wrong.
Like grass they wither quickly; like green plants they wilt away.
Psalm 37: 1-2
The psalmist continues to demonstrate that even though evil doers seem to prosper, their prosperity is short-lived. Only goodness endures and ultimately thrives.
Psalm 37 sounds very much like a parent teaching a child not to be distressed by the apparent success of the selfish and scheming. God is not fooled by evildoers so neither should we be.
The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them;
But my Lord laughs at them, seeing that their day is coming.
Psalm 37: 12-13
The advice is easily spoken but perhaps not so easily practiced. So the psalmist offers some tips on how to live a spiritually fruitful life:
Trust in the LORD and do good.
Find your delight in the LORD.
Commit your way to the Lord.
Be still before the LORD.
Refrain from anger; abandon wrath;
Do not be provoked; it brings only harm.
Wait a little, and the wicked will be no more.
Turn from evil and do good, that you may be settled forever.
Wait eagerly for the LORD, and keep the Lord’s way;
The psalm indicates the result of such goodness, conditions that sound very much like the Beatitudes:
You will be raised up to inherit the earth.
Yes, the poor will inherit the earth, will delight in great prosperity.
Better the meagerness of the righteous one than the plenty of the wicked.
The LORD will sustain the righteous.
The LORD knows the days of the blameless; their heritage lasts forever.
They will not be ashamed when times are bad; in days of famine they will be satisfied.
For those blessed by the Lord will inherit the earth, but those accursed will be cut off.
It’s hard to live a life like the one this psalm invites us to. (At least, I think it is!) It’s hard to have that much faith, especially when evil is smacking us right in the face. The psalmist acknowledges this difficulty but does so with a beautiful assurance:
The valiant one whose steps are guided by the LORD, who will delight in God’s way, may stumble, but will never fall, for the Lord holds their hand.
Poetry: Give Me Your Hand – Rainer Maria Rilke
God speaks to each of us as we are made, 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 horror. 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: Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand – Alfred Street Baptist Church
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