Psalm 137:Silent Harps

Friday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

June 26, 2020

(I have not written a past reflection on Matthew 8:1-4 because other feasts have occurred on its past dates. But the story is the same as Luke 5 so that reflection is available here.)

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 137, one of the most tender and yet violent of the psalms. Set during the Babylonian Captivity, the verses express the longing of the Jewish people for their homeland and their freedom.

The composer, thought to be Jeremiah the prophet, captures the poignant desperation of those who have lost everything. In literature and music, the psalm’s ardent emotions have been applied to the shameful enslavements throughout subsequent history — of Jews, Africans, and other devastated peoples. It resounds in the lives of refugee families incarcerated at our borders. Its mournful simplicity echoes a cosmic suffering.


But the prayer can also be a very personal one. It has brought release for the pain of individuals experiencing unwanted separation from someone or something not only beloved, but core to their identity.

By the streams of Babylon
we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the aspens of that land
we hung up our harps…

How could we sing a song of the LORD
in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand be forgotten!


Over thirty years ago, I was blessed to spend four months accompanying my mother in the final stages of her terminal illness. It was a time of unexpected benediction and joy for both of us. But it was also a time of deep sadness to the point that I was unable to listen to my precious morning music with which I have always prayed. To do so caused the sadness to rip through me in tears- tears which would have broken my mother’s heart had she seen them. So I hid them by abstaining from music. I hung up my harp. Even after Mom’s death, it took a while for me to tiptoe back into those melodic waters. After it all, I understood more clearly what it meant when the psalmist said, “How can we sing our song in a foreign land?”


Christine Robinson’s transliteration is so perfect to capture this kind of pain, shot with unbearable light.

We were at the end of our rope—
tired, bereaved, despairing.
And they wanted us to sing!
How could we?
How can we sing God’s song in a strange land?
But we will never forget.
We will hold fiercely to our good memories of love.
And we will prevail!

Today, let this magnificent psalm bring you your own global awarenesses and personal memories of how even devastation, when received in faith, can teach and transform us.

Music: Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from the opera Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi

The opera follows the plight of the Jews as they are assaulted, conquered and subsequently exiled from their homeland by theBabylonian king Nabucco ( Nebuchadnezzar II). The historical events are used as background for a romantic and political plot. The best-known number from the opera is the “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves”, “Va, pensiero, sull’all dorate”/ lFly, thought, on golden wings”, a chorus that is regularly given an encore in opera houses when performed today.

Psalm 69: Snapping Out on God

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 21, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 69 which Brueggemann describes as

“a script for unburdening negation in God’s presence. It is a script for rehabilitation to the community of praise and thanks.”

Walter Bruggemann: From Whom No Secrets Are Hid

This Sunday’s reading are not happy ones. Jeremiah is plagued by his persecutors. Romans describes the reign of sin and death before Christ’s act of redemption. And, in our Gospel, Jesus tells his followers not to be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul!

Guess what! Despite the Gospel’s advice, I am afraid of that kind of stuff — persecution, sin, evil, murder…. and all the other terrible consequences in the larger reading of all of Psalm 69.

And guess what else. The psalmist is not only afraid. He is angry… and I mean infuriated, outraged and massively ticked off.

No one wants to listen to him about his grievances either so who gets an earful? Yes, you got it — God. 


In verses 22-28, the writer spews a line of curses for his enemies. And they’re masterpieces — very satisfying ideations if you ever find yourself in similar straits.

But that’s the whole beauty of this psalm. All the negativity remains in the prayer’s imagination. It is not acted out. Once vehemently expressed to God, the catharsis slowly evolves to healing. This happens because the complaining psalmist all of a sudden realizes to Whom he is complaining — the Merciful One, the Patient One, the Forgiving One who has given all these generosities repeatedly to him.

I pray to you, O LORD,
for the time of your favor, O God!
In your great kindness answer me
with your constant help.
Answer me, O LORD, for bounteous is your kindness;
in your great mercy turn toward me.


Seeing God’s Face turn toward him in prayer, the psalmist regains balance. The final verse of the psalm rests on the hope and confidence God has promised in the covenantal relationship.

For God will rescue Zion,
and rebuild the cities of Judah.
They will dwell there and possess it
the descendants of God’s servants will inherit it;
those who love God’s name will dwell in it.


Anger visits all of us, sometimes in response to persecution, misunderstanding or disrespect. We feel it for personal grievances and for meanness in the world toward the helpless.  Praying with Psalm 69 may help us, too, find our balance, as did the psalmist, so that the anger leads to wholeness rather than destruction.


Poetry: Time’s Lesson – Emily Dickinson

Mine enemy is growing old, —
I have at last revenge.
The palate of the hate departs;
If any would avenge, —

Let him be quick, the viand flits,
It is a faded meat.
Anger as soon as fed is dead;
'T is starving makes it fat.

Music: Liberty and Justice for All – Brandon Williams

Psalm 51: A Contrite Spirit

Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

June 16, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 51, the Miserere. Perhaps the most recognized of the penitential psalms, it is said to have been written by David after his adulterous affair with Bathsheba. ( although it more likely was written separately and applied to David’s situation later.)

This psalm is so rich in deep spiritual psychology that it would be a shame to dismiss it simply as a “confessional”. The psalm truly teaches us how our soul’s vigor and wholeness may be restored in an environment of sin where we are often both consciously and unconsciously complicit.


Let me give an example of how I see this. Last night in my city, a group of protesters gathered around a statue of Christopher Columbus, supposedly, “to protect it” from dismantling by “them”. Many in the group carried clubs and bats; a few carried military-style weapons. All of the “defenders” were white, angry, and mostly men.

I ask myself what were they really there to do. What did they really feel they had to defend? Did their violent public intimidation scream out, “We love Christopher Columbus!”? Or did it shout, “We refuse to acknowledge that our heritage is laced with racism and sinful domination!”?


For me, this is the kind of sinful circumstance which Psalm 51 can help us redeem. We may not act out our culpable ignorance, violence, defensiveness, or racism like last night’s threatening mob. But we must examine what we retain of these sins in our choices, attitudes, speech, and complicit silence.

How does Psalm 51 guide us to that kind of redemption?

First, there is a broken-hearted recognition of failure in holding up our end of relationship with God. Because, as David acknowledges, it is God whom we ultimately offend in our crassness toward one another. It’s not about only one sinful act, like the list we made before our grade school confessions. It’s about a fissure in love, honesty, and loyalty to the One who gives us all life.


Second, there is confession – saying out loud the failure that has replaced love. My favorite Biblical scholar, Walter Brueggemann, describes it as Truth-telling:

Psalm 51 makes available the truth of our life before God. On the one hand, it resists arrogant autonomy that imagines (with David) that we can live without accountability or dependence on the will and purpose of God. On the other hand, it contradicts the practice of denial that is so seductive in a society that has no time, patience, or energy for the nurture of an interior life. It turns out that truth-telling before God is an indispensable condition for joyous existence. Such emancipation makes for exuberant singing and glad generosity. (Walter Brueggemann: From Whom No Secrets are Hid)

Third, and most important because it is woven through and sustains the other two, is the immovable confidence in God’s mercy and God’s desire to give it.

For you do not desire sacrifice or I would give it;
a burnt offering you would not accept.

My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn.

Psalm 51 is a big one. If you have time, read the whole thing reflectively. It’s good medicine once we have the courage to swallow it.


Poetry: To Live in the Mercy of God – Denise Levertov

To lie back under the tallest
oldest trees. How far the stems
rise, rise
               before ribs of shelter
                                           open!

To live in the mercy of God. The complete
sentence too adequate, has no give.
Awe, not comfort. Stone, elbows of
stony wood beneath lenient
moss bed.

And awe suddenly
passing beyond itself. Becomes
a form of comfort.
                      Becomes the steady
air you glide on, arms
stretched like the wings of flying foxes.
To hear the multiple silence
of trees, the rainy
forest depths of their listening.

To float, upheld,
                as salt water
                would hold you,
                                        once you dared.

 To live in the mercy of God.

To feel vibrate the enraptured
waterfall flinging itself
unabating down and down
                              to clenched fists of rock.

Swiftness of plunge,
hour after year after century,
                                                   O or Ah
uninterrupted, voice
many-stranded.
                              To breathe
spray. The smoke of it.
                              Arcs
of steelwhite foam, glissades
of fugitive jade barely perceptible. Such passion—
rage or joy?

                              Thus, not mild, not temperate,
God’s love for the world. Vast
flood of mercy
                      flung on resistance.

Music: Miserere Mei Deus – Gregorio Allegri 

Psalm 27: Lift the Veil

Friday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

June 12, 2020

Click here for readings

Psalm 27JPG

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 27, a popular psalm used often in the liturgy.

The psalm rocks back and forth between a desperate cry for light and a firm confidence that it will come. No wonder it’s so popular. Isn’t our whole life filled with that rocking?

How many times have we said or heard the plea, “God help me/us!”? I know someone who punctuates almost her entire conversation with similar exclamations. Whenever her own circumstances, or the world in general, disappoints or astounds her, some form of the aspiration arises. Often, it takes a secular form like, “Ay, ay, ay!”, but it is still the same prayer.😀


2bubble

How about you? Have you heard that kind of plea resounding in your own heart lately? The world has been pretty overwhelming recently with disease, death, brutality, anger, and hatred all spilling out like lava from a frightening volcano. And you’ve probably got your own few personal boilers to add!

Unless we’re living in some kind of bubble, it all has to have some impact on our faith, hope and joy.


Psalm 27 is made for these times. It does not fail to acknowledge the weight of circumstances:

Hear, O LORD, the sound of my call;
have pity on me, and answer me…
Hide not your face from me;
do not in anger repel your servant.
You are my helper: cast me not off...

Nevertheless, under its pleading, rests a complete and steadfast confidence in God’s favor:

I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD with courage;
be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD.

The psalmist invites us to share in this honest prayer, for ourselves and for all the anxious world which may carry troubles greater than our own.

(P.S. Be sure to read today’s first reading. Elijah was looking for God’s Face/Voice too. He found it in the most delightful way. Don’t miss it.)


For poetry today, a selection from the powerful poet Denise Levertov

The Tide

Where is the Giver to whom my gratitude
rose? In this emptiness
there seems no Presence.
*
How confidently the desires
of God are spoken of!
Perhaps God wants
something quite different.
Or nothing, nothing at all.
*
Blue smoke from small
peaceable hearths ascending
without resistance in luminous
evening air.
Or eager mornings—waking
as if to a song’s call.
Easily I can conjure
a myriad images
of faith.
Remote. They pass
as I turn a page.
*
Outlying houses, and the train’s rhythm
slows, there’s a signal box,
people are taking their luggage
down from the racks.
Then you wake and discover
you have not left
to begin the journey.
*
Faith’s a tide, it seems, ebbs and flows responsive
to action and inaction.
Remain in stasis, blown sand
stings your face, anemones
shrivel in rock pools no wave renews.
Clean the littered beach, clear
the lines of a forming poem,
the waters flood inward.
Dull stones again fulfill
their glowing destinies, and emptiness
is a cup, and holds
the ocean.

Music: Psalm 27 – Choir of St. John’s College Elora

We’ll Meet Again

Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter

May 22, 2020

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, Jesus acknowledges the difficulty of living a Christian life in a hostile world, especially without his physical presence to lead the disciples.

John16_22 separation

He knows that his friends are anguished at the thought of being separated from him. He compares their heartbreak to the pain of a mother in labor. The comparison is a perfect one because labor pains yield a gift that washes away the memory of suffering:

… when she has given birth to a child,
she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy
that a child has been born into the world.

Jesus tries to comfort his followers with this analogy, but he doesn’t deny the sorrow they are experiencing. Jesus knows that separation from what we dearly love can be a crushing experience. He knows that change often carries unwanted loss.

joys and sorrows

Our lives are braided into this cycle of labor, birth, love, loss, sorrow and joy. Jesus assures us that if we live this cycle in faith and hope, all things return to him in glory:

But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice,
and no one will take your joy away from you.

At those times in our lives when we feel more the absence than the presence of God, (perhaps these pandemic days), remembering the endurance and bravery of others may help us. Although it’s not a religious song, this melody kept playing itself in my heart as I read today’s Gospel. It opened my spirit to a very comforting prayer time.

Music: We’ll Meet Again – Dame Vera Lynn

Dame Vera Margaret Lynn Welch, CH,DBD, OStJ, age 103, is a British singer of traditional popular music, songwriter and actress, whose musical recordings and performances were enormously popular during World War II.

She is widely known as “the Forces Sweetheart” and gave outdoor concerts for the troops in Egypt, India and Burma during the war. The songs most associated with her are “We’ll Meet Again”, “The White Cliffs of Dover”, “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”, and “There’ll Always Be an England”. For more on her generous and fascinating life, Click here

Paul’s Great Sermon

Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

May 20, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Paul gives a magnificent oration at the Areopagus in Athens. It was a big deal billing!

V&A_-_Raphael,_St_Paul_Preaching_in_Athens_(1515)
St. Paul at the Areopagus by Raphael (c.1515)

Areopagus, earliest aristocratic council of ancient Athens. The name was taken from the Areopagus (“Ares’ Hill”), a low hill northwest of the Acropolis, which was its meeting place.

In pre-classical times (before the 5th century BC), the Areopagus was the council of elders of the city, similar to the Roman Senate. Like the Senate, its membership was restricted to those who had held high public office.

The Areopagus, like most city-state institutions, continued to function in Roman times, and it was from this location, drawing from the potential significance of the Athenian altar to the Unknown God that Paul is said to have delivered the famous speech, “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.” (Wikipedia)


diamonds
The sermon has so many beautiful lines, like glorious diamonds that can be turned over and over in prayer. Here are a few that glistened for me:


God … does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands
(Instead, God dwells within us)


God is not served by human hands because God needs nothing.
(Instead, our everything comes from God)


God made from one the whole human race to dwell on the entire surface of the earth.
(We are all connected in the One Creation)


God fixed the ordered seasons and the boundaries of their regions,
so that people might seek God,
even perhaps grope for him and find him,
though indeed he is not far from any one of us.
(We do grope, sometimes in darkness.)


God has overlooked the times of ignorance,
but now he demands that all people everywhere repent…
(Without Christ, we were in shadows of unknowing. With Christ, we are in Light.)


And my favorite:

Acts17_24 everything

What is the “everything” that God is giving you today? What is the abundance of grace, or hope, or longing in your heart as you pray today? Let God’s fullness embrace any emptiness as you offer God your silence and waiting.

Music: Everything – Lauren Daigle

Hope

hummingbird-bird-birds-349758

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
~ Emily Dickenson


 

iris“For the New Year, 1981”

I have a small grain of hope—

one small crystal that gleams
clear colors out of transparency.

I need more.

I break off a fragment
to send you.

Please take
this grain of a grain of hope
so that mine won’t shrink.

Please share your fragment
so that yours will grow.

Only so, by division,
will hope increase,

like a clump of irises, which will cease to flower
unless you distribute
the clustered roots, unlikely source—
clumsy and earth-covered—
of grace.
~Denise Levertov

A Reason for Hope

Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 17, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Philip goes down to Samaria to preach, baptize and confirm. He found a ready audience:

With one accord, the crowds
paid attention to what Philip said.

I found that sentence remarkable. Having been a teacher and presenter for over fifty years, I was thrilled whenever I encountered such an immediately enthusiastic audience. But it wasn’t always the case. Some groups, especially larger “crowds”, had to be worked into a receptive mode. It could be quite challenging.

So what made Philip’s listeners so malleable? Acts tells us that his “signs” helped. But I wondered if there might be something else?

1024px-Angelika_Kauffmann_-_Christus_und_die_Samariterin_am_Brunnen_-1796
By Angelica Kauffman – Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8988425

I wondered where the Samaritan woman of “Well” fame might have been during Philip’s visitation. You remember her from John 4. She was a singular audience for Jesus, and he had to work very hard to engage her good will. But once he did, the result was stunning:

Leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

…. Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him
because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything
I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged
him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because
of his words many more became believers.

So where was our “Well Woman” evangelist when Philip arrived? Hidden behind the later words of scripture, she deepened with Christ’s sacred memory. How had she continued to ignite the Word in the months since she first encountered Jesus?

As she listened to Philip on this post-Easter morning, how affirmed she must have felt for the complete faith she had given to a once-thirsty Jesus!


Hope

In our second reading, Peter enjoins us to live a faith like this holy woman, a witness transformed by the touch of Christ:

Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.
Always be ready to give an explanation
to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope…

We have often waited by the well of our prayer for the voice and touch of Jesus. And we have known it and cherished it. 

Our readings today remind us to be like that Samaritan woman who now had her faith confirmed in the preaching of Philip —to share that faith, to witness it by our hope, to proclaim it by our merciful love.

(Look for a couple of lovely poems on Hope coming in a later post today. We could all use a few doses of hope, I think.  Enjoy!)

Music: Christ Our Hope in Life and Death – Keith and Kristyn Getty

Abundant Life

Fourth Sunday of Easter

May 3, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Jesus makes a great offer!

ollie
Don’t we all want to live a free and joyful life —- to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. Hasn’t this pandemic made us all pause and think about what that really means?

 

 


What if you saw a sign like this somewhere:

advert

We’d all run in to get that deal, right? Well, our Gospel today offers an even better deal … just with a few more strings.

Using the shepherd imagery with which they would be familiar, Jesus tells his followers:

I am the gate.
Whoever enters through me will be saved,
and will come in and go out and find pasture.
A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy;
I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.

tulpis


So what is the “gate” we must pass through to gain this abundant life?

In our second reading, Peter shows us the answer. In all things, we are to live in pattern of Christ.

Christ also suffered for you,
leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.
…. For you had gone astray like sheep,
but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.


RG

Living like this, within the Love Who is Christ, we dwell in eternal life – even as we experience the exigencies of our earthly journey.

Let us pray today to grow in a faith like this, one that frees us to live in utter trust, freedom, and holy joy. Let us look into the eyes of God and ask to grow in childlike love and peace.

 

(Perhaps in your prayer today, as many of us are still living at a distance from the life we love, you might want to look at some of your favorite photos. Pray with the joy, delight and gratitude they give you on this day of “Abundant Life”.)


Music: Peter’s Canticle – today’s second reading set to music by John Michael Talbot.

Jesus has suffered for you
To comfort your life within his dying
Dying so that all might live
Bearing our wounds
So that we might be healed

Let all who seek the true path to peace
Simply come to follow in the footsteps of this man
Who laid down his life when threatened with hatred
And so he came to live in the blessings of love
And so he came to live forever

Holy Saturday: Entombed with Christ

Holy Saturday

April 11, 2020

Click here for readings of the Vigil Liturgy

 

Jesus in tomb
The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb by Hans Holbein (c. 1522)

Today, in Mercy, we wait, entombed with Jesus. The waiting has a surreal sense every year as we commemorate this day with no liturgy of its own.  But this year, it takes on a eerie resemblance to our own global stasis in this pandemic – a time in which we tap into many deep and unexplored feelings.

Eliot

Here are two poems that may help us explore the spiritual dimensions of Holy Saturday in this unique Year of Our Lord 2020.

meynell


levertov

Music: God Rested – Andrew Peterson