Psalm 85: Be A Neighbor

Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children

“A great prayer for life is urgently needed, a prayer which will rise up throughout the world. Through special initiatives and in daily prayer, may an impassioned plea rise to God, the Creator and lover of life, from every Christian community, from every group and association, from every family and from the heart of every believer.”

Evangelium vitae, 100

January 22, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 85, a Psalm we have prayed with seven times in the past six months. Have we wrung it dry, do you think?😉

Never! That’s the beauty of scripture and particularly of the Psalms. They speak to us in a new voice with each new day’s blessings and challenges.

The verse that grasps my heart this morning is this:

Near indeed is salvation to those who fear God
glory dwelling in our land.

Psalm 85: 10

What will “glory”, or well-being,
look like when it dwells in our land,
throughout our earth?


Walter Brueggemann, in his many writings about the Old Testament and the Psalms, stresses the concept of “neighborliness” as integral to communal well-being.

The well-being of the neighborhood, inspired by the biblical texts, makes possibleand even insists uponan alternative to the ideology of individualism that governs our society’s practice and policy. This kind of community life returns us to the arc of God’s giftsmercy, justice, and law. The covenant of God in the witness of biblical faith speaks now and demands that its interpreting community resist individualism, overcome commoditization, and thwart the rule of empire through a life of radical neighbor love.
(Description of Brueggemann’s book, God, Neighbor, Empire: The Excess of Divine Fidelity and the Command of Common Good)

Praying with Psalm 85, we might hear echos of President Biden’s Inaugural Address which called on our capacity for “neighborliness”:

History, faith, and reason show the way, the way of unity.
We can see each other not as adversaries but as neighbors.
We can treat each other with dignity and respect.
We can join forces, stop the shouting, and lower the temperature.
For without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury.
No progress, only exhausting outrage.
No nation, only a state of chaos.


The President also said this:

Many centuries ago, Saint Augustine, the saint of my church, wrote that a people was a multitude defined by the common objects of their love.
What are the common objects we love that define us as Americans?
I think I know.
Opportunity.
Security.
Liberty.
Dignity.
Respect.
Honor.
And, yes, the truth.


Thousands of years ago, the psalmist clearly described the glorious community which God promises to those who live in mercy, truth, justice and peace:

Mercy and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice shall look down from heaven.

The LORD  will give benefits;
our land shall yield its increase.
Justice shall walk before the Lord,
and salvation, along the way of God’s pattern.

Psalm 85

Prose: Here is the quote from St. Augustine referenced by President Biden, as well as the passage from Cicero which inspired Augustine

If one should say, ‘a people is the association of a multitude of rational beings united by a common agreement on the objects of their love,’ then it follows that to observe the character of a people we must examine the objects of its love.”

St. Augustine, City of God 19.24

A republic is a numerous gathering brought together by legal consent and community of interest. The primary reason for this coming together is not so much weakness as a sort of innate desire on the part of human beings to form communities. For our species is not made up of solitary individuals.

Cicero, Republic, 1.39-40 

Music: After Cicero and Augustine, a little music from our own modern philosopher, Mr. Rogers❤️

Psalm 147: Lightning Strike

Friday after Epiphany

January 8, 2021

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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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

Music: Heal Our Nation – Heartbeat

Psalm 46: Building Hope

Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

Monday, November 9, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 46, a song of confidence, celebration, and joy.

The waters of the river gladden the city of God, 
the holy dwelling of the Most High!


A city gladdened! We know what it looks like. Just this week, we’ve seen it right here in my city, beloved Philadelphia – people dancing in the streets with those who are no longer strangers.

Perhaps people danced in the Roman plaza in 324 AD when Pope Sylvester dedicated the church. Not sure. But it is the power of a civic act, to give people a “place” wherein to claim renewed identity. ( The word “civic” comes from a Latin phrase describing an award given for a noble public deed.)


The dedication of St. John Lateran was such an act. The glorious building shouted out in its massive stones, “God lives among us, the Foundation of our lives.”

Or, as our psalmist puts it:

God is our refuge and our strength,
an ever-present help in distress.
Therefore, we fear not, though the earth be shaken
and mountains plunge into the depths of the sea.


Our faith, and the morality it sustains, live deep under the surface of our lives, like the unseen roots of a magnificent tree. The power of those hidden roots is attested to by generations of leaves and branches unfurling in the cycle of life.

Those acts of faith, be they in the construction of sacred buildings or the washing of a beggar’s feet, shout out our conviction that, “God lives among us, the Foundation of our lives.” 

There is a stream whose runlets gladden the city of God,
the holy dwelling of the Most High.
God is in its midst; it shall not be disturbed;
God will help it at the break of dawn.


I began thinking about this reflection last night after President-Elect Biden’s acceptance speech. To me, the world felt lighter than it had in four years. It had begun to breathe again. Hope was returning to its perch in our hearts. This after the terrible fear that it might have died or gotten lost in a long migration into darkness.



I think it is the greatest of sins to kill hope,
especially for those who have only hope to cling to.
Because, indeed, as Joe Biden assured us last night,
when we share hope, we can do anything
in the God who strengthens us.


Hope is its own great “basilica”, built from the stones of mutual charity, reverence, and trust which God fires in our hearts:

The LORD of hosts is with us;
our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
Come! behold the deeds of the LORD,
the astounding things God has wrought on earth.

As we pray Psalm 42 today, let us ask for the continuing grace to exercise hope for and with one another.

Poetry: Hope Restored by Craig A. Roberts, a New Zealand poet. I thought this was a beautiful poem-prayer. His book of poetry can be found here.

Discouraging events, 
entangling thoughts,
melancholic tsunamis form
in quick time, devastating my soul,
destroying the joyful breath of life.
Surges of futility, rejection
and self pity breach the dykes.
I churn and tumble in dark sucking swells.

I call to Him who loves me in abundance.
Swiftly He comes,
plucks me out of dark waters.
He is here now.
He whispers of promises never broken,
reminds me of my calling,
my inward journey,
my vocation.

He reassures my heart,
He restores my poise.
He sends me to wander by the waters edge, 
immersed in His creative wonder
Christ breathes afresh into my created being.

O what joy. Bathed in His steadfast love
I trust all to Christ,
false illusions destroyed,
hope restored,
possibilities unfold,
His kingdom comes.

Music: On Eagle’s Wings – sung by Josh Groban 

Psalm 22: A Reverent Polity

Tuesday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

November 3, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 22, and it’s perfect for our prayer today.

I know God has no partisan interest. God’s interest is for the wholeness and blessing of God’s Creation. God’s interest is for justice and mercy for the poor, sick and suffering. God’s interest is for peace in hearts, families and nations.

All the ends of the earth
shall remember and turn to the LORD;
All the families of the nations
shall bow down before God.

For dominion is the LORD’s,
Who rules the nations.
To God alone shall bow down
all who sleep in the earth.

To God alone my soul shall live;
my descendants shall serve God.
Let the coming generation be told of the LORD
that they may proclaim to a people yet to be born
the justice God has shown.

Psalm 22

Still, let’s put it right out there. This is no ordinary Tuesday. Personally, I have been longing – no, agonizing – for this day since November 8, 2016. What about you?

I know there are many perspectives among my readers. Democrats and Republicans. Citizens of countries other than the USA. Still, I think all of us share some common hopes for today’s election because we care about all of God’s beloved Creation.

Here are some of my hopes.

I pray for, and believe that we must demand, a President and Congress who:

  • respect, reverence and legislate for life in all its stages, colors, genders, ethnicities, and religious and political affiliations.
  • do the hard work of building bridges, not walls, throughout the world
  • respect and care about those who are poor and marginalized
  • model American compassionate leadership rather than American isolationist primacy
  • generate unity and tolerance, not fear, division and hatred
  • choose others over self, truth over manipulation, leadership over greed
  • are thoughtful, brave statesmen and stateswomen not bullies and whiners

As we pray this psalm today, may we realize that to find these virtues in our leaders, we must first practice them ourselves. In the long run, we get what we deserve. Let’s humbly pray to live in a manner that propagates and deserves selfless moral leadership.

Poetry: LET US PRAY – Sister Joan Chittister 

Give us, O God,
leaders whose hearts are large enough
to match the breadth of our own souls
and give us souls strong enough
to follow leaders of vision and wisdom.
In seeking a leader, let us seek
more than development of ourselves—
though development we hope for,
more than security for our own land—
though security we need,
more than satisfaction for our wants—
though many things we desire.

Give us the hearts to choose the leader
who will work with other leaders
to bring safety
to the whole world.

Give us leaders
who lead this nation to virtue
without seeking to impose
our kind of virtue
on the virtue of others.

Give us a government
that provides for the advancement
of this country
without taking resources from others
to achieve it.

Give us insight enough ourselves
to choose as leaders those who can tell
strength from power,
growth from greed,
leadership from dominancy,
and real greatness from the trappings of grandiosity.

We trust you, Great God,
to open our hearts to learn from those
to whom you speak in different tongues
and to respect the life and words
of those to whom you entrusted
the good of other parts of this globe.

We beg you, Great God,
give us the vision as a people
to know where global leadership truly lies
to pursue it diligently,
to require it to protect human rights
for everyone everywhere.

We ask these things, Great God,
with minds open to your eternal care.

Joan Chittister, OSB

Music: America- rendered in true American Jazz by the inimitable Ray Charles

Oh beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife
Who more than self, their country loved
And mercy more than life
America, America may God thy gold refine
'Til all success be nobleness
And every gain divined

And you know when I was in school
We used to sing it something like this, listen here

Oh beautiful, for spacious skies
For amber waves of grain
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain

But now wait a minute, I'm talking about
America, sweet America
You know, God done shed his grace on thee
He crowned thy good, yes he did, in brotherhood
From sea to shining sea

You know, I wish I had somebody to help me sing this
(America, America, God shed his grace on thee)
America, I love you America, you see
My God he done shed his grace on thee
And you oughta love him for it
'Cause he, he, he, he crowned thy good
He told me he would, with brotherhood
(From sea to shining Sea)
Oh Lord, oh Lord, I thank you Lord
(Shining sea)

Psalm 145: Prayer Answered

Memorial of Saint Monica

August 27, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, on this feast of St. Monica, we pray with Psalm 145.

We can almost picture the psalm’s sentiments pouring out in Monica’s prayer. For years, she had prayed for her son Augustine’s conversion. She was canonized for the level of her persevering prayer – a prayer blessed with the amazing answer of St. Augustine’s holy life.

Every day will I bless you,
and I will praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the LORD and highly to be praised;
his greatness is unsearchable.

Like the answer to most prayers, Monica’s came after the long working of God’s mysterious ways. Her own life was shaded by suffering and loss. But, she was steadfast in her hope over the nearly two decades it took to see Light dawn in Augustine.


Generation after generation praises your works
and proclaims your might.
They speak of the splendor of your glorious majesty
and tell of your wondrous works.


As we reflect on the generations of our own families, and the decades of our own lives, there are many “Monica-Augustine” stories. Whenever we pray for life to lead us and our beloveds to God, we pray like Monica.

Today, let’s bring our own “Augustines” to God in hopeful prayer. And let’s thank God for any “Monica” who has done this loving service for us over our lives.

I think this morning of my mother’s well-worn prayer book. The little devotional volume had been fattened with a number of prayer cards stuffed in its thin pages. One day, just before my mother died, I noticed this one: Prayer for My Daughter, a Nun. I can’t say I was exactly surprised by it. I supposed Mom prayed for me. But the card blessed me in a vey tender way and made me confident that my life would continue to be blessed.


Discovering the card also made me aware of my responsibility to pray daily for my family, friends, and community. They are my “Augustines” in whatever challenges they may face in life – just as I hope I am somebody’s too. Because, friends, we belong to one another in the Communion of Saints, and our “family” is fed not by blood, but by the Spirit.

The generations discourse of the power of your awesome deeds
and declare your greatness.
They publish the fame of your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your justice.


Poetry: St. Augustine and Monica by Charles Tennyson Turner

Her weeping kiss – for years, her sorrow flowed
At last into his wilful blood; he owed
To her his after-life of truth and bliss:
And her own joy, what words, what thoughts could paint!
When o’er his soul, with sweet constraining force,
Came Penitence – a fusion from remorse –
And made her boy a glorious Christian saint.
Oh ye, who tend the young through doubtful years
Along the busy path from birth to death,
Parents and friends! forget not in your fears
The secret strength of prayer, the holy breath
That swathes your darlings! think how Austin’s faith
Rose like a star upon his mother’s tears!


Music: (something for opera fans among us) La Conversione di Sant Agostino, Oratorio by Johann Adolph Hasse

Hasse begins La Conversione di Sant’ Agostino with an orchestral introduction that establishes the work‘s tonal center in the key of B-flat major, with most arias composed within related keys. From the grandeur and dynamic intensity of the Introduction comes the first vocal entrance of the oratorio. The listener acts as a voyeur into a conversation between Simpliciano (tenor), a priest, and Monica (soprano), the mother of Saint Augustine of Hippo, in which Monica expresses her fears that her son may never change his wicked ways. This urgent desire becomes the core dramatic theme throughout the oratorio with Alipio (alto), the friend, and Navigio (bass), the brother, serving to intensify the desperate desire for conversion. The role of Saint Augustine (alto) is secondary to that of his mother, Monica. Saint Augustine only has two arias, both dealing with his desire to find release from his sinful ways. His conversion is explicitly stated in the Part Two aria in which he begs God to look upon him with compassion following the censure of his own heart.

Psalm 4: To See God’s Face

Tuesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

June 9, 2020

Click here for readings

king harp

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 4, a lament written to be sung with stringed instruments.

The psalmist expresses confidence that God rewards the prayer of the just, warning the “dull of heart” to wake up!

 


When I call, answer me, O my just God,
you who relieve me when I am in distress;
Have pity on me, and hear my prayer!
Men of rank, how long will you be dull of heart?
Why do you love what is vain and seek after falsehood?

Surely, the psalmist’s sentiments echo in our hearts:

  • We all pray, in these conflicted times, for the grace to wake up to the justice and mercy of God.
  • We pray, like the psalmist, to see the face of God in ourselves and in our neighbor.
  • We pray to finally be able to break through the falsehood of racism to the Presence of our Creator in every person.

shane mccrae
The poem I offer today was written by Shane McCrae, an American poet and recipient of a 2011 Whiting Award. McCrae earned a BA at Linfield College, an MA at the University of Iowa, an MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and a JD at Harvard Law School. He currently teaches at Columbia University.

In this poem, the poet and his young daughter trace faces in the waves, the way many of us have in waves or clouds.

psalm4

Like all great poems, this one allows us to find our own meaning within it. I see a father looking to find the reflection of his own face in our representations of God, and hoping that his little child might do so a well. We sense their hopes disappear in the waves and in a culture that has enthroned God’s image as a white male.

Still When I Picture It the Face of God Is a White Man’s Face

Before it disappears
on the sand his long white      beard before it disappears
The face of the man
in the waves I ask her does she see it ask her does
The old man in the waves      as the waves crest she see it does
she see the old man his
White     his face crumbling face it looks
as old as he’s as old as
The ocean looks
and for a moment almost looks
His face like it’s     all the way him
As never such old skin
looks my / Daughter age four
She thinks it might he might be real she shouts Hello
And after there’s no answer answers No



Music:
  The Whole Book of Psalmes: Psalm 4, “Oxford Tune”
written by – Thomas Ravenscroft (1588 – 1635)
rendered here by Richard Muenz

 

Psalm 123: Song of the Caged Bird

Memorial of Saint Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs

Charles Lwango
St. Kizito being baptised by St. Charles Lwanga at Munyonyo – stained glass at Munyonyo Martyrs Shrine

Charles Lwanga (1860 – 1886) was a Ugandan convert to the Catholic Church, who was martyred for his faith and is revered as a saint by both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.


June 3, 2020

Click here for today’s readings

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 123. How fitting that this particular prayer should bless us at this time!

Psalm 123 is one of the fifteen Psalms of Ascent (120-134). It is thought that these prayer songs were sung by pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem, expressing the joys, sorrows, needs and sufferings of the community.

Among them Psalm 123 is a lament, particularly for the scorn and contempt the Israelites felt as they tried to live lives of faith in a hostile world. Verses 3 and 4, (not included in today’s passage) plead:

Show us favor, LORD, show us favor,
for we have our fill of contempt.
Our souls are more than sated
with mockery from the insolent,
with contempt from the arrogant.

Praying with Psalm 123, we might think of today’s “pilgrims”, traveling the streets in protest of racial injustice. The integrity of their cause has been polluted by the rioters and looters infiltrating them, drawing contempt even from some who might otherwise have supported them.

Geo_Floyd

Still, people of faith must not be distracted from the truth, nor should we hide from the reality of our own complicity in normalizing unjust systems.  We must hear the lament of all those who long for justice. We must acknowledge that our current structures have grievously failed people of color, the poor and the refugee. We must make the choices that justice and mercy demand of us.


Today’s Responsorial verses may help us. In our hearts and souls, let us stand beside one another as we pray, each of us created to serve God by serving one another:

To you I raise my eyes,
to you enthroned in heaven.
Yes, like the eyes of servants
on the hand of their masters,

Like the eyes of a maid
on the hand of her mistress,
So our eyes are on the LORD our God,
till we are shown favor.


A poem to enrich your reflection:

cage

Caged Bird
A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
~ Maya Angelou


Music: Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina: Ad te levavi oculos meos (Psalm 123)

Ad te levavi oculos meos, qui habitas in caelis.
Ecce sicut oculi servorum in manibus dominorum suorum;
sicut oculi ancillae in  manibus dominae suae:
ita oculi nostri ad Dominum Deum nostrum,
donec misereatur nostri.

Miserere nostri, Domine, miserere nostri,
quia multum repleti sumus despectione;
quia multum repleta est anima nostra
opprobrium abundantibus, et despectio superbis.

What “World” Do You Live In?

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter

May 16, 2020

Click here for readings

Jn15:18 world

Today, in Mercy, Jesus talks about “the world”.

That word can cause a little confusion, both as we find it in scripture and in the history of Christian thought.

Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology says five connotations for “world” may be found in scripture:

  • The physical world – the actual plant Earth
  • The human world – the land and seas we can navigate
  • The moral world – the universe of good and evil
  • The temporal world – the world that will someday end
  • The coming world – eternal existence 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is talking about the moral world which, in the New Testament, refers to those people who are indifferent and hostile to Christ’s teaching.

If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.
If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own;
but because you do not belong to the world…
the world hates you.


wolf-clipart-57
A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

We understand this use of the word. We see the evil in the world. We are saddened, angered and confounded by it when we recognize it.

But do we always recognize it?

Blatant evils like murder are readily recognized. But the most insidious evils are those that masquerade as good.

These masquerading evils often pretend to protect our rights, our security, our safety. But they usually do so at the expense of someone else’s rights – the poor, the refugee, the aged, the homeless, people of color……and all who have become “disposable” in our society.


These deceptions hide behind brave and noble words like “America First”, “Second Amendment Rights”, “Protect Life” and a rash of other slogans which fail to examine the whole impact of single-issue politics. 

It’s confusing because we love America, right? We believe in people’s constitutional rights, right? We respect life, right?

What if our slogans instead more clearly reflected Gospel values:

  • The Human Family First
  • Safety Rights for Everyone
  • Health Security for All Life – Womb to Tomb

CriticalConcerns-Poster-FINAL

How can we be spiritually discerning about what is good within such realities and what is rooted in sinful self-interest? Jesus tells us in these words:

Remember the word I spoke to you,
‘No slave is greater than his master.’
If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.

We must look to the one who is hated and persecuted to find the Face of Christ. We must love that Face and learn its heartaches. We must become a companion in their search for wholeness. We must set aside any costume of self-righteousness and put on the garment of Mercy:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Colossians 3:14-16

Music: The Mercy Song – Paul Alexander

Be Impartial, or Not?

Thursday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

February 20, 2020

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, two Apostles of Jesus are our teachers. James advises us on what to do. Beloved Peter, as so often is the case, shows us what not to do.

James tells us to show no partiality. He makes clear that he is talking about impartiality toward those who are materially poor. It’s a maxim that Jesus gave us time and again in the Gospel.

James2_1 partiality

James reminds us that Jesus is not just impartial toward the poor, he actually has a preferential love for them. So Jesus was partial to the poor, right? Hmm!

Yes, I think that’s right. In order to balance our human inclination to the richest, best, strongest, etc., Jesus teaches us to go all out in the other direction.

It’s like this great cartoon that’s popped up on Facebook recently:

equity


Our Gospel picks up the theme.

Because of his great love for the poor and his passion for mercy, Jesus tells his followers that suffering is coming. Peter doesn’t like hearing that. Can you see Peter take Jesus aside and say, “Listen, Jesus, negative talk is going to hurt you campaign. You’re God! You can just zap suffering out of your life!


behind me satan

Jesus responds to Peter definitively: “Get thee behind me, Satan!

Wow! That must have stung! But that’s how important it was to Jesus that his followers understood his mission: to preach Mercy to the poor, sick, and broken by sharing and transforming their experience.

Jesus wants us to understand that too.

 


Music: Beauty for Brokenness – Graham Kendrick

Turn, Turn, Turn!

Thursday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

February 13, 2020

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings leave me wondering about what makes God tick.

In our first reading, God exacts justice for Solomon’s unfaithfulness, but He does it sort of like a prosecutor in a plea bargain.

I will deprive you of the kingdom … but not during your lifetime
It is your son whom I will deprive … but I won’t take away the whole kingdom.

What’s going on with God in this reading? Well, it’s more like “What’s going on with the writer as he tries, retrospectively, to interpret God’s role in Israel’s history?

The passage is much more than a report on exchanges between God and Solomon.

It is a testament to Israel’s unwavering faith that God is intimately involved in their lives. In every circumstance, the believing community returns to the fact that experience leads to God and not away from Him.

So “Solomon … had TURNED his heart to strange gods”
BUT God had not turned from Solomon.
Nor would God EVER turn because
God has CHOSEN Israel.


In our Gospel, the Syrophoenician woman tries to get the favor of Jesus to turn toward her. And actually, Jesus sounds pretty mean and stingy about it.

Again the writer Mark is portraying, retrospectively, a significant time in Christ’s ministry. Jesus has really gone into hiding in a remote place. Apparently, he wants space to figure some things out. The story indicates that one of those things might be whether or not his ministry should embrace the Gentiles.

The persistence of this woman’s faith is a turning point for Jesus Who evolved, as we all do, in his understanding of his sacred role and meaning in the world.

These passages encourage us to constantly turn toward God Who lives our life with us. Such conversation helps us to grow spiritually. As we become bigger in heart and soul, so does our concept of God and what God’s hope is for us.

Music: Perfect Wisdom of Our God – The Gettys (See poem after music video)


All this “turning” brought to mind some favorites lines from T.S. Eliot:



At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.



I happened across a website where Eliot himself reads “Burnt Norton”, the poem from which these lines are taken. Eliot fans might enjoy this. Eliot’s poems take time and work as well as simple reading.  But the effort is so worth it!

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
Quick, said the bird, find them, find them,
Round the corner. Through the first gate,
Into our first world, shall we follow
The deception of the thrush? Into our first world.
There they were, dignified, invisible,
Moving without pressure, over the dead leaves,
In the autumn heat, through the vibrant air,
And the bird called, in response to
The unheard music hidden in the shrubbery,
And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses
Had the look of flowers that are looked at.
There they were as our guests, accepted and accepting.
So we moved, and they, in a formal pattern,
Along the empty alley, into the box circle,
To look down into the drained pool.
Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,
And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.
Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.
Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

II

Garlic and sapphires in the mud
Clot the bedded axle-tree.
The trilling wire in the blood
Sings below inveterate scars
Appeasing long forgotten wars.
The dance along the artery
The circulation of the lymph
Are figured in the drift of stars
Ascend to summer in the tree
We move above the moving tree
In light upon the figured leaf
And hear upon the sodden floor
Below, the boarhound and the boar
Pursue their pattern as before
But reconciled among the stars.

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving,
Erhebung without motion, concentration
Without elimination, both a new world
And the old made explicit, understood
In the completion of its partial ecstasy,
The resolution of its partial horror.
Yet the enchainment of past and future
Woven in the weakness of the changing body,
Protects mankind from heaven and damnation
Which flesh cannot endure.
Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.

III

Here is a place of disaffection
Time before and time after
In a dim light: neither daylight
Investing form with lucid stillness
Turning shadow into transient beauty
Wtih slow rotation suggesting permanence
Nor darkness to purify the soul
Emptying the sensual with deprivation
Cleansing affection from the temporal.
Neither plentitude nor vacancy. Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time,
Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs
Time before and time after.
Eructation of unhealthy souls
Into the faded air, the torpid
Driven on the wind that sweeps the gloomy hills of London,
Hampstead and Clerkenwell, Campden and Putney,
Highgate, Primrose and Ludgate. Not here
Not here the darkness, in this twittering world.

Descend lower, descend only
Into the world of perpetual solitude,
World not world, but that which is not world,
Internal darkness, deprivation
And destitution of all property,
Dessication of the world of sense,
Evacuation of the world of fancy,
Inoperancy of the world of spirit;
This is the one way, and the other
Is the same, not in movement
But abstention from movement; while the world moves
In appetency, on its metalled ways
Of time past and time future.

IV

Time and the bell have buried the day,
the black cloud carries the sun away.
Will the sunflower turn to us, will the clematis
Stray down, bend to us; tendril and spray
Clutch and cling?
Chill
Fingers of yew be curled
Down on us? After the kingfisher’s wing
Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still
At the still point of the turning world.

V

Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is only living
Can only die. Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.
Not the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts,
Not that only, but the co-existence,
Or say that the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.
And all is always now. Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Will not stay still. Shrieking voices
Scolding, mocking, or merely chattering,
Always assail them. The Word in the desert
Is most attacked by voices of temptation,
The crying shadow in the funeral dance,
The loud lament of the disconsolate chimera.

The detail of the pattern is movement,
As in the figure of the ten stairs.
Desire itself is movement
Not in itself desirable;
Love is itself unmoving,
Only the cause and end of movement,
Timeless, and undesiring
Except in the aspect of time
Caught in the form of limitation
Between un-being and being.
Sudden in a shaft of sunlight
Even while the dust moves
There rises the hidden laughter
Of children in the foliage
Quick now, here, now, always —
Ridiculous the waste sad time
Stretching before and after.