Jeremiah: An Ancient Love

Wednesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

August 5, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with a beautiful pastoral segment from Jeremiah. This Responsorial Psalm follows on the first reading, both passages affirming God’s everlasting love for us.

Jeremiah wrote at a time of great suffering and confusion for Israel. The Kingdom was falling apart, having been beset by overwhelming enemies. Near the end of Jeremiah’s life, the nation falls into the Babylonian Captivity. Much of the Book of Jeremiah prophesies, judges, and laments these troubles.

But today’s verses come from Chapters 30 – 33, part ofJeremiah often referred to as the “Book of Comfort” or “Little Book of Consolation.” These are the brighter and more hopeful chapters of an otherwise heavy set of writings.

Moreover, these three chapters speak to a significant shift in understanding God’s relationship with Israel. The original covenant with Abraham is stated in conditional terms- “You will be my People and I will be your God”. I hate to use the now sullied term, but it was sort of a “quid pro quo”.

The renewed covenant described in Jeremiah is an unconditional relationship sustained, despite Israel’s weaknesses, by a Divine and Everlasting Love, by the Good Shepherd:

As Israel comes forward to be given his rest,
the LORD appears to him from afar:
With age-old love I have loved you;
so I have kept my mercy toward you.


As we look over our lives past and present, we can pray in gratitude that we are embraced by the same Ancient and Everlasting Love.

Probably each of us has had a few personal little “Babylons”. We may even have had some of our personal “temples” destroyed. You know, those self-absorbed campaigns and petty addictions that distract us from the sacred essence of our life that:

We are God’s Love made flesh,
called to live in that Truth.


Video Poem: Three Poems from Rilke’s Book of Hours

Music: This Ancient Love – Carolyn McDade

Psalm 126: The Rhythm of Life

Feast of Saint James, Apostle

July 25, 2020 

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 126, one of fifteen Psalms of Ascent, which meant it would be sung in gratitude when “ascending” for prayer.

You may enjoy listening to the Psalm read accompanied by music.
Psalm 126 – Milken Archive, Jewish Choral Art in America.


Psalm 126 is popular and immediately recognizable to Jews and Christians. Thought to be written by either Ezra or the prophets at the return from the Babylonian Captivity, the psalm celebrates restoration while remembering the lessons of exile.

Israel is overwhelmed with gratitude at their deliverance, barely able to comprehend God’s goodness.

When the LORD brought back the captives of Zion,
we were like men dreaming.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with rejoicing.


Have you ever had a feeling like that, perhaps when you’ve gotten to the other side of a really rough patch in your life? Feeling like we’ve come through a dream – maybe a bad one – we can’t even find the words to thank God for helping us. We might simply laugh or cry for joy.

Psalm 126 reminds us not to let that tumultuous gratitude dissipate. The repetition of the psalm inscribes that gratitude on our hearts, transforming it to renewed hope and trust in God. As Catherine McAuley reminds us, life is a series of joys and sorrows. Both cycles can deepen our faith when we receive them in union with God.

This is your life,
joys and sorrow mingled,
one succeeding the other.

Letter to Francis Warde – May 28, 1841

Julien Dupré (French, 1851-1910)

Psalm 126 assures us that we can meet our life experiences with hope and trust because God is faithful. Within both our “comings” and our “goings”, God abides with us and will deliver us to joy.

Although they go forth weeping,
carrying the seed to be sown,
They shall come back rejoicing,
carrying their sheaves.


Poetry:  A Short Testament by Anne Porter

Whatever harm I may have done 
In all my life in all your wide creation creation
If I cannot repair it 
I beg you to repair it, 

And then there are all the wounded 
The poor the deaf the lonely and the old
Whom I have roughly dismissed 
As if I were not one of them. 
Where I have wronged them by it 
And cannot make amends 
I ask you 
To comfort them to overflowing,

And where there are lives I may have withered around me,
Or lives of strangers far or near 
That I've destroyed in blind complicity, 
And if I cannot find them 
Or have no way to serve them,

Remember them. I beg you to remember them

When winter is over 
And all your unimaginable promises
Burst into song on death's bare branches.

Music: Hallelujah- Leonard Cohen

Psalm 65: Word-Seed

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 12, 2020

From 2017:

Today, in Mercy, we pray with the powerful and mysterious readings of today’s liturgy. They tell us that God breathes eternal inspiration into us and all Creation. The gift, like seed, is intended to bear fruit that is returned to God in love and praise. By participating in that return, we become children of God. May the seed of God’s Word fall on good ground in our spirits.

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 65, a song poem probably written to celebrate the harvest season. The psalm describes an abundantly fruitful earth, filled with life and produce.

Though humans labor for these blessings, God is the bounty’s true agent. The power of that agency is found in the array of words used to describe God’s actions.

God has: 

  • visited 
    • watered
      • enriched
        • filled
          • prepared
  • drenched
    • broken up
      • softened
        • blessed and
          • crowned

What is it that has drawn all this intervention from God? Our readings tell us. It is the Word-Seed which is God’s own life.

Just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down….
so shall my Word be. (Isaiah 55)
For creation awaits with eager expectation
the revealing Word of the children of God… (Romans 8)
The seed sown on rich soil
is the one who hears the Word and understands it,
who indeed bears fruit and 
yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. (Matthew 13)

By our dedicated prayer with scripture and trusted spiritual reading, the Word works on our spirits just as the psalm describes.  Our understanding, too, is visited, watered, enriched, filled, prepared, drenched, broken up, softened and ultimately blessed and crowned.

As we pray with Psalm 65 today, we can picture David looking out from hilltop over the abundance of his fields. His heart is filled with awe and praise for God’s generosity.

We all want to live in a spiritual landscape akin to the psalm’s bountiful picture. Inviting God’s Word, in humility, gratitude, and awe is a true path to such blessing.


Poetry: A Word Is Dead – Emily Dickinson


Music: Aria by Secret Garden

Psalm 89: Hopeful Complaining

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 28, 2020

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


Woman at the Well by Angelika Kauffman

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

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

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


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

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


Poetry: A Psalm of Life – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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

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

————————————————————-

A Psalm of Life
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

What the Heart of the Young Man Said to the Psalmist

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

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

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

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

Music: Show Me Your Face – Don Potter

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 103: Bless Your Sacred Heart!

Solemnity of Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

June 19, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, on this tender feast of the Sacred Heart, we pray with Psalm 103, a hymn of exultant and confident praise.

Walter Brueggemann calls Psalm 103 the best known and best loved of the hymns of praise. He says these hymns have a five-fold purpose, which I paraphrase here:

First, praise imagines something new. It doesn’t describe what is. We are healed to become new selves in God:

God pardons all your iniquities,
heals all your ills.


Second, hymns of praise are acts of devotion with political and controversial overtones. Human boundaries will not impede God’s Mercy.

Not according to our sins does he deal with us,
nor does he requite us according to our crimes.


Third, the Psalms refer to Israel’s whole salvation history in which God is the key character and lively agent. Our prayer is not about just this moment in our lives – it is built on a long faith-story.

Merciful and gracious is the LORD,
slow to anger and abounding in kindness.


Fourth … in singing praise, all claims for the self are given up as the self is ceded over to God. In other words, we fall in love with God.

Bless the LORD, O my soul;
all my being, bless his holy name.


Fifth, the hymns of praise with their unreserved and exuberant self-abandonment into the infinity God, contrast starkly with modern “praise songs” which often revert to a narcissistic smallness. . True praise is a large prayer that includes all Creation

The Lord’s kindness is everlasting to those who fear him.


In Psalm 103, the psalmist begins by counting her own blessings. She then moves out to praise God for the blessings given to all Creation. This unfolding in prayer reminds us to enlarge our own awareness of the needs and blessings of others as we pray.

Praying this psalm, let us become amazed and delighted that God loves us completely, irrationally, perfectly and eternally. Wow!

God is so good that it just makes you want to dance. Thus, our energetic music this morning from Godspell

Music: O Bless the Lord, My Soul (based on Psalm 103)
(Lyrics below)

Oh bless the Lord my soul!
His praise to thee proclaim!
And all that is within me join,
To bless His holy name!
Oh yeah!

Oh bless the Lord my soul!
His mercies bear in mind!
Forget not all His benefits,
The Lord, to thee, is kind.
He will not always chide
He will with patience wait
His wrath is ever slow to rise

Oh bless the Lord
And ready to abate
And ready to abate
Oh yeah!

Oh bless the lord
Bless the lord my soul
Oh bless the lord my soul!
He pardons all thy sins
Prolongs thy feeble breath
He healeth thine infirmities
And ransoms thee from death
He clothes thee with his love
Upholds thee with his truth
And like an eagle he renews
The vigor of thy youth

Then bless His holy name
Whose grace hath made thee whole
Whose love and kindness crowns
Thy days


Poetry: Praise the Rain by Joy Harjo who is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. She earned her BA from the University of New Mexico and MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Harjo draws on First Nation storytelling and histories, as well as feminist and social justice poetic traditions, and frequently incorporates indigenous myths, symbols, and values into her writing. Her

Praise the rain; the seagull dive
The curl of plant, the raven talk—
Praise the hurt, the house slack
The stand of trees, the dignity—
Praise the dark, the moon cradle
The sky fall, the bear sleep—
Praise the mist, the warrior name
The earth eclipse, the fired leap—
Praise the backwards, upward sky
The baby cry, the spirit food—
Praise canoe, the fish rush
The hole for frog, the upside-down—
Praise the day, the cloud cup
The mind flat, forget it all—

Praise crazy. Praise sad.
Praise the path on which we’re led.
Praise the roads on earth and water.
Praise the eater and the eaten.
Praise beginnings; praise the end.
Praise the song and praise the singer.

Praise the rain; it brings more rain.
Praise the rain; it brings more rain.

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

Psalm 16: The Secret

Wednesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

June 10, 2020

Click here for readings

psalm16

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 16.  This Psalm is introduced as “A Michtam of David”. “Michtam” can be interpreted as either “golden” or “secret” by various translators. 

For prayer this morning, I focused on “secret” because, in the psalm, David expresses what he considers the secret to a joyful, holy life even in difficulty.

O LORD, my allotted portion and cup,
you it is who hold fast my lot.
I set the LORD ever before me;
with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.

The last line of this verse immediately brought to mind St. Teresa of Avila’s transcendent advice:

Nada te turbe
nada te espante
Todo se pasa
Dios no we muda.
La paciencia todo alcanza.
Quien a Dios tiene
nada le falta
Solo Dios basta.

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing.
God alone is changeless.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

Repeating this Psalm slowly and intentionally, let us pray for that kind of peace today:

  • for ourselves
  • our beloveds
  • our world, especially those from whom peace has been stolen by injustice, war, greed, and hate.

Music: Psalm 16 – Shane and Shane

There is fullness
Of joy
Of joy
At Your right hand
There are pleasures
Forevermore
Forevermore

My heart is glad and my soul rejoices
My flesh it dwells secure
Because You put on flesh
Lived a blameless life
My curse on the cross You bore

Then You ripped the doors off the City of Death
And the chains fell to the floor
Now the serpent’s crushed
It has been finished
And You reign forevermore

You are my portion
My cup and you make my lot secure
The lines have fallen
For me in pleasant places
A beautiful inheritance

Psalm 121: A Climbing Song

Monday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

June 8, 2020

Click here for readings

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 121, another of the fifteen Psalms of Ascent.

(Placing the hymn early today. You might want to play it as you read the psalm.)
Waldorf Davies: Psalm 121 St. John’s College Choir Cambridge

 


climber

Picture the ancient pilgrims on their way up to Jerusalem. They carry in their hearts all the joys and burdens of their lives, just like everyone else in the world.

Psalm 121 eyes
What blesses them particularly is that they have turned their eyes toward God as they journey, singing both their griefs and their delights in hope and thanksgiving.


The psalm moves from a plea for help in the beginning: 

I lift up my eyes toward the mountains;
whence shall help come to me?

To, at the close, a triumphant confidence in that help in perpetuity:

The LORD will guard you from all evil;
he will guard your life.
The LORD will guard your coming and your going,
both now and forever.


May we, too, fix our eyes on God,
vigilantly seeking God’s truth
at the core of our experiences.

May our faithful, lifelong dialogue with God
lead us, like the psalmist,
to the same blessed assurance.


Just for a little added joy, here is the glorious hymn Blessed Assurance
– sung by CeCe Winans honoring Cicely Tyson at the Kennedy Center Honors.


Poem: Prayer by David Gioia

(In this poem, we glimpse one particular pilgrim and the prayer he is carrying. The poet addresses God in lovely ways, ( I really loved “Jeweller of the spiderweb”). Finally he prays for protection for a beloved. I think we’ve all prayed that kind of prayer.)

Echo of the clocktower, footstep
in the alleyway, sweep
of the wind sifting the leaves.
Jeweller of the spiderweb, connoisseur
of autumn’s opulence, blade of lightning
harvesting the sky.
Keeper of the small gate, choreographer
of entrances and exits, midnight
whisper traveling the wires.
Seducer, healer, deity or thief,
I will see you soon enough—
in the shadow of the rainfall,
in the brief violet darkening a sunset—
but until then I pray watch over him
as a mountain guards its covert ore
and the harsh falcon its flightless young.

Psalm 119: Your Awesome Word

Memorial of Saint Boniface, Bishop and Martyr

June 5, 2020

Click here for readings

Psalm 119_word

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 119 which is considered a hymn psalm, meant for offering praise for God’s handiwork.

bird

This psalm, the longest in the Bible, is an extended string of delight in God’s beauty, power, and tenderness. It reminds me of a mockingbird’s lovely, tireless song, lilting up into the morning or evening sky.

Though long, the psalm is a very simple yet profound prayer. Seeing its length, we might tend to set it aside for a shorter psalm. Instead, don’t tackle the whole thing. Pick one verse that speaks to you. Sit down beside it. Let it crawl into to your lap like a small child. Cradle it and let your soul hum with it.


I remember, as a young novice, learning to pray this beautiful psalm in Latin. Its innocent clarity echoed my desire simply to deepen in God’s ways. Psalm 119 has been one of my favorites for nearly sixty years now, carrying God’s Word to me in myriad ways.

119


Today in our prayer, we might want to contemplate what single word God is speaking most clearly to us in this moment. The words vary over the course and circumstances of our lives. Let us listen and respond to what we hear today in quiet prayer.

wordcloud

Music: Word of God, Speak – MercyMe