Afraid? Who Me?

Wednesday after Epiphany

January 8, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we have a few references to fear — and to its perfect antidote, Love.

1Jn4 fear

John continues to instruct us in prose that stuns us with its sacred clarity:

There is no fear in love,
but perfect love drives out fear
because fear has to do with punishment,
and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.


In our Gospel, we meet some pretty fearful disciples. First of all, they are still spinning from the avalanche of loaves and fishes gushing forth from the perfect faith of Jesus. 

Jesus_walks_on_Water,_St_Botolph_without_Aldersgate
Jesus walks on Water, St Botolph without Aldersgate: Photo by Andrew R. Abbott Andrewrabbott [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

Today, they are rowing a storm-tossed lake in the pitch of night. Enough to strike fear into even a crusty fisherman’s heart! But wait a minute! As if all these scary things are not enough, here comes a ghost across the threatening waves!

And how about Jesus in this passage? A little nonchalant, or what? 

About the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them walking on the sea.
He meant to pass by them.
But when they saw him walking on the sea,

they thought it was a ghost and cried out.

Jesus wasn’t worried about the waves.

Jesus, full of Love, and perfected in the Creator’s Presence, has no need or place for fear. He lives in the accomplished wholeness of God where, as Julian of Norwich says, “All manner of things shall be well.”


cocoon

I never really thought much about fearfulness in my life. I exist in great security. But when I read this line from Paula D’Arcy, I saw that there are all kinds of unrecognized fears inhibiting us:

Who would I be,
and what power
would be expressed in my life,

if I were not dominated by fear?

Fears. What are some of yours that, like me, you may not have recognized:

  • Fear of failure, loss, death, dependence.
  • Fear of looking foolish, getting old, being sick, losing my comfort zone.
  • Fear of meaninglessness, unusefulness, of being held responsible?

Could we go on and on?

But what about the biggest fear – of being unloved, and maybe even unlovable.

Dear God, as we pray today,
help us to grow into your amazing love for us.
Help us there to cast out our fears
and to live in your perfect freedom and joy.

Music:  All Shall Be Well – Michelle Sherliza

Christmas 2019

Christmas Day 2019

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Today, in Mercy, may you, your families, communities and loved ones be blessed with every grace and happiness.  Merry Christmas, dear friends!

This is a reflection I wrote for the Catholic Health Association in 2015. I hope it blesses you on this holy day.


word made flesh

“Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.”
Luke 2:11

We knew only his name, not his story. Leon, just 37 years old, was one of those rootless souls who, by life’s violent incisions, become severed from their history and their future. He had come to us from a local boarding home, comatose and dying. He came with no friend or family to attend his imminent passage. So, through the night of Christmas Eve, Kathy, a young, off-duty nurse, sat silently with Leon, adamant that he should not die alone.

Leon had a quiet death. Very little changed in him except for stilled breathing and the relaxed mask that follows expiration. It was Kathy who changed. In that sterile hospital room, grey-lit with early morning, the palpable breath of God embraced her. She knew, and from that Christmas moment will always know, that all life beats within the Divine Heart; that we are sacred and immortal within its mysterious rhythm.

Over these celebratory days, we will orchestrate a series of Christmas moments in our decorations, carols, gifts and feasts. We will visit our treasured memories and revered mangers. We will be blessed by the love of family and friends who are the face of Christ to us.

May we also receive this singular grace: to know that any true Christmas moment comes only when the Spirit of Christ passes through us into the heart of another person. To receive this grace, we may, like Kathy, need to sit in a silent room with a dying stranger. We may need to welcome that ostracized family member who has carelessly injured us. We may need to rediscover, in our own quiet contrition, the radiant Gospel commitment that has paled in us.

Meister Eckhart, seven centuries ago, sought such a Christmas moment:

Today we celebrate the Eternal Birth
which God the Father has borne
and never ceases to bear in all eternity.
But if it takes not place in me, what avails it?
Everything lies in this, that it should take place in me.

Music: Two Hour Playlist for Christmas – Tim Janis

A River of Joy

Memorial of Saint Lucy, Virgin and Martyr

December 13, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Isaiah paints a poetic picture of the soul fully taught by God. He describes that sacred obedience, or heart’s listening to God, which leads to fullness of joy, peace and eternal life.

When looking for music to complement Isaiah’s passage, I found a hymn written in 1876 by Frances R. Havergal, an English Anglican poet and hymn writer.

Her hymn Like a River Glorious, although written in older style language, contains several beautiful metaphors, many reflective of today’s passage from Isaiah.

You might want to pray with one or two of these images today:

river
A river of grace – perfect, yet deepening

 

stand_anchor
Our hearts “stayed” upon God, anchored in faith

 

chick
Being hidden in the hollow of God’s hand

 

wind
“no blast of hurry” to disturb our peace (so appropriate to this busy season)

 

sundial
Our joys and sorrows falling like shadows across the sundial of our lives

 

I hope enjoy praying with this hymn, and the accompanying pictures, as much as I did.

Music: Like a River Glorious – Frances R. Havergal – 1876; performed here by the Parkview Mennonite Church. Follow the images and verses below.

river
A river of grace – perfect, yet deepening

 

Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace,
Over all victorious, in its bright increase;
Perfect, yet it floweth fuller every day,
Perfect, yet it groweth deeper all the way.

 

stand_anchor
Our hearts “stayed” upon God, anchored in faith

 

Refrain:
Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.

 

 

chick
Being hidden in the hollow of God’s hand

 

Hidden in the hollow of His blessed hand,
Never foe can follow, never traitor stand;

 

 

wind
“no blast of hurry” to disturb our peace (so appropriate to this busy season)

 

Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care,
Not a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.

 

 

 

sundial
Our joys and sorrows falling like shadows across the sundial of our lives

(Refrain then …)

Every joy or trial falleth from above,
Traced upon our dial by the Sun of Love;
We may trust Him fully, all for us to do;
They who trust Him wholly find Him wholly true.

Let the Vision Inspire!

Memorial of Saint Francis Xavier, Priest

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, both Jesus and Isaiah offer us comforting visions.

Is11_1 stump of JesseJPG

Jesus talks about the innocence of children and the childlike. He blesses their ability to see things that our “adult” preoccupations often block from us.

I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to the childlike.


Reading this, we might be reminded of verses from Clement Clarke Moore’s beloved poem, The Night Before Christmas:

sugar plums

 

 

The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads…

 

 

 


Jesus and Isaiah invite us to allow their hope-filled visions to dance in our heads. They call us to be in a state of innocent anticipation for the glorious Kingdom to reveal itself in our lives.

Read and relish Isaiah’s powerful description of the Lord of this Kingdom!

The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him:
a Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
A Spirit of counsel and of strength,
a Spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD,
and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.

Open your hearts to receive the revelation Jesus wants to give us:

Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father.
No one knows who the Son is except the Father,

and who the Father is except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.

Unlike Clement Moore’s sugar plums, these holy promises are not about tomorrow. Even though we re-enact our waiting in the season of Advent, Christ is already born in us through our Baptism. We already live in the Kingdom described by Jesus and Isaiah.

Hard to believe, isn’t it? Hard to see it for all the worldly upset blocking our sight, for all the Culture of Death around us?

That’s where the sacred vision comes in. Even in the midst of frenetic contradiction, we are called to find, proclaim and practice the redeeming reign of God!

Go deep with Jesus and Isaiah today. Find the inner well your Baptism has planted in your soul. Ask for the grace of boundless, childlike faith. Then joyfully live your life knowing the Kingdom is already within you!

Music: There Blooms a Rose in Bethlehem – Sovereign Grace Music 

Joys and Sorrows Mingled

Saturday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

September 28, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we begin a few weeks of readings from the minor prophets – Zechariah being today’s writer.  We also continue with Luke’s Gospel which will take us through to the season of Advent.

The combination of readings today brought to my mind a treasured and bittersweet quote from our beloved founder:

catherine_joys

Zechariah writes for a community with a foot in both worlds – joys and sorrows. They are freed from captivity but burdened with its harsh memory. They have committed in hope to the rebuilding of the temple, but they are filled with doubts about their ability to deliver. They have a plan for their restoration, but realize that God’s plan is beyond their imagination. They see a protected, walled-in future. God sees a “Jerusalem” without walls, circled only by the fire of God’s love.

Zechariah tells them to let go and fall into God’s Imagination, no matter how scary that might be for them:

People will live in Jerusalem as though in open country,
because of the multitude of men and beasts in her midst.
But I will be for her an encircling wall of fire, says the LORD,
and I will be the glory in her midst.

In our Gospel, Jesus has begun to gently hint that the disciples’ future may not be as they would like to imagine. At this point in the Gospel story, joys are running pretty high- lots of miracles, crowds growing, the awesomeness of the Transfiguration still lighting up their dreams.

But Jesus drops a little reality, a little sorrow into the mix:

Pay attention to what I am telling you.
The Son of Man is to be handed over to men.

The disciples don’t fully comprehend the warning. It is too much for them to take. We understand, don’t we? Is there anything harder to swallow than sorrow, loss, the crash of a bright dream?

Remembering Zechariah ‘s words may strengthen us when the mix of sorrow seems too much for us:

But I will be for her an encircling wall of fire, says the LORD,
and I will be the glory in her midst. …
Sing and rejoice, O daughter Zion!
See, I am coming to dwell among you, says the LORD.

Music: Where Joy and Sorrow Meet – Ultimate Tracks

The Chandelier

Monday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

September 2, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  our scriptures may lead us to think about where we have come from and where we are going.

Indeed, we tell you this, on the word of the Lord,
that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord,
will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep.

My reflection on this passage will be rather personal today. I hope you don’t mind.

As I write, I am blessed to be sitting in a beautiful breeze at our community’s vacation house. It couldn’t be a more lovely day.

1 Th4_17 chandelier

While I pray about these scriptures, a simple chandelier over our dining room table sways in the soft wind. Under its corona, I can’t help remembering all the friends who, over many years, have shared a meal and enjoyed past summer days here.

What an indescribable blessing it is to live in community with holy, joyful and loving women! 

Many of them, over these present days, drop in for a cup of home made soup or a glass of wine. We love one another, and we are entwined in each other’s journey to God. We inspire one another by our radical embrace of the Gospel, and our longing to give even more for God. What a comforting, sturdy, and supportive fabric we weave to enfold one another!

The chandelier rhythmically dances, like a fragrant censor over a sacred table. I remember with immense gratitude those beloved Sisters, now gone, who have blessed my life here at this refreshing seaside. Their names surround me in a grateful litany: Kitty, Marie, Fidelis, Jodi, Maureen, Suzanne, Ronnie, Janet, Giovanni, Mary Joan …

Others too who have sat at this table – not Sisters only, but family in faith, love and ministry bless me as I let the Holy Spirit of the waning summer waft over me.

We have shared crabs and meatballs, tears and laughter, prayer and politics, movies and ball games, hope and a holy, honest ember that warms the soul.

My dear Sisters, as you read this, you will have your own Sea Isle litanies to pray. Are we not indescribably blessed in one another!

Others of you, my dear readers, you will let you own loving list write itself across your heart as you pray.

A family is an eternal line between God and the generations, clear and stable.

A community is a wider path, rich in differences and, because of them, profound in its gifts.

In an interesting reversal, this holiday has come to be more about leisure than labor. And it is at leisure where we are most easily blessed by the joy, sincerity, trust and love of our families, friends, and communities.

Let us thank God for them today, remembering the past, cherishing the present, trusting the future.

Happy Labor Day!

Music: Sea Breeze – Keiko Matsui 

Wherever … with Love

Friday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

August 23, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, I thank God that we have gotten to the Book of Ruth. The wars and subterfuges of the Judges we’re sorely testing me!😂 But the beautiful story of Ruth and Naomi, familiar and beloved, offers us a more spontaneous inspiration for prayer.

Naomi’s husband and only two sons have died. Her only remaining family are her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpha. Naomi, resigning herself to a lonely death, urges these two young women to return to their kinsmen and begin new lives. Orpha acquiesces. 

Naomi RuthJPG
Ruth Swearing Allegiance to Naomi by Jans Victor (1619-1676)

But Ruth abides. Together, she and her mother-in-law return to Bethlehem, Naomi’s homeland. There, by her humble and steadfast work to support Naomi, Ruth attracts the love and admiration of Boaz, whom she eventually marries.

On the surface, and appropriately, we may read the story to be about Naomi and Ruth, their response to devastating bereavement, and their ultimate, fruitful devotion to each other.

However, on a deeper level, we may see Naomi as a symbol of suffering and need, and Ruth as an icon of God. In that manner of reading:

  • God suffers our diminishments with us
  • God refuses to abandon us 
  • God accompanies us to a new understanding of ourselves
  • God works to feed our poverty of mind, heart and spirit
  • God brings our brokenness to wholeness by loving fidelity to us

What a different kind of message from Judges the Book of Ruth brings us – a tender and merciful God more like the God of the Gospel. Although the author of the Book of Ruth is unknown, some think – because of the tone and characters – that it was written by a woman. I like that thought.

May our prayer today take us to the place where God abides with us in any suffering or spiritual longing we hold. May God’s faithful companionship heal and transform us. May God’s song of fidelity thrill, delight and sustain us. May we return it with generosity and joy.

Music: Covenant Song – Rory Cooney and Gary Daigle (Lyrics below)

Wherever you go, I will follow, Wherever you live is my home.
Though days be of blessing or sorrow, though house be of canvas or stone,
Though Eden be lost to the past, though mountains before us be vast,
Wherever you go, I am with you. I never will leave you alone.

Whatever you dream, I am with you, when stars call your name in the night
Though shadows and mist cloud the future,
together we bear there a light.
Like Abram and Sarah we stand, with only a promise in hand.
But lead where you dream: I will follow. To dream with you is my delight.

And though you should fall, you will find me, when no other friend can you claim,
when foes beat you down or betray you, and others desert you in shame.
When home and dreams aren’t enough, and you run away from my love,
I’ll raise you from where you have fallen. Faithful to you is my name.

Wherever you die, I will be there to sing you to sleep with a psalm,
to soothe you with tales our journey, your fears and your doubts I will calm.
We’ll live when journeys are done forever in mem’ry as one.
And we will be buried together, and awaken to greet a new dawn.

Wherever you go, I will follow. Behold! The horizon shines clear.
The possible gleams like a city: together we’ve nothing to fear.
So speak with words bold and true the message my heart speaks to you.
You won’t be alone, I have promised. Wherever you go, I am here.

Your Grace Amazes Me

Monday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

August 12, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Moses recounts for the people God’s immense generosity toward them.

Dt10_7awesome God

Have you ever heard yourself, or someone dear to you, saying, “God has been so good to me!” Such a statement rises out of our awe at God’s love and mercy to us.

The deeper our faith, the clearer our insight into these gifts. I have heard people in the sparest of circumstances utter such a prayer. How can they do that, we might ask?

In all cases, there is a beautiful humility, trust, and generosity emanating from their spirits. Gratitude has transformed them. Hope, not wishing, has freed them.

Moses wants his People to be like that. He says:

Think! The heavens, even the highest heavens,
belong to the LORD, your God,
as well as the earth and everything on it.
Yet in his love for your fathers the LORD was so attached to them
as to choose you, their descendants …

This is your glory, he, your God,
who has done for you those great and awesome things
which your own eyes have seen.

I want to be that kind of grateful, faith-filled person too. Don’t you?

Today’s profound advice from Moses can help us.

Music: Your Grace Still Amazes Me – Philips, Craig and Dean

Bearer of Hope

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 11, 2019

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Hebrews11_1 Fith_hope

Today, in Mercy, we have a few slightly complex readings. But, as with all Sunday lectionary choices, they are strung together by a single theme. 

Upon first reading, we might think that theme is FAITH since the word is mentioned at least eight times. And, indeed, “faith” is the foundation of these readings – the faith of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the Desert Jews, the disciples, and the new Christian community. 

It is the testimony of this ancient and enduring faith that encourages us to be ready, as Jesus says in today’s Gospel:

Do not be afraid any longer, little flock,
for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.

This phrase of Jesus reveals another, deeper, theme: courageous hope.

How awesome that God, in covenant with God’s People, could keep alive – for 400 years- the hope of salvation! How miraculous that these ordinary farmers, milkmaids, herdsman, and shepherds could sustain their hope through numerous generations!

Today’s readings are sending us this message:


Be courageous!
You are the Bearer of Hope
to this generation!


It may seem in our world, and in our individual lives, that God tarries beyond tolerance in answering our hope – for peace, civility, equality, security, goodness.  But we must remember that with God there is no time. God is already responding within the long fidelity of our hope. (Our clocks and Apple watches just are obscuring our view. 😉)

That faithful hope creates the space for charity. And charity is the human face of Divine Love already Abiding.

Faith, Hope, and Charity – the theological virtues (Remember that from your Baltimore Catechism?). 

Virtues
The Theological and Cardinal Virtues with Wisdom: Hope, Faith, Charity, Fortitude, Temperance, Liberality, Justice and Sapientia by Maarten de Vos (1532-1603)

These virtues are the foundation of the spiritual life. Contemporary theology ties these irrevocably to the virtue of justice – the seeking of right relationship in all Creation.

Anselm Min, Professor of Religion at Claremont Graduate University, has edited a powerful book on this subject. (Unfortunately, now out print and thus hugely expensive). One reviewer of the book, Lameck Banda, Professor at Justo Mwale University in Lusaka, Zambia, offers this insight into Min’s collection:

“The running thread throughout this book is that, whichever way the contemporary culture may seek to view and treat faith, hope, and love, the ultimate goal of these virtues is to radically and comprehensively address issues which tend to undermine the agenda of justice.”

That summary in itself gave me a lot to think and pray about. I hope it inspires you as well. God bless your Sunday!

Rohr

Music: Hymn of Hope from The Secret Garden by Rolf Lovland

Radical Joy

Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Priest

Ignatius
by Francisco de Zubarán (1598–1664)

July 31, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Exodus tells us:

Exodus34_29 Radiant

Obviously, I haven’t met Moses personally. 😂 But I have met many wonderful human beings who have reflected a similar radiance.

It is a mirrored glory that comes from friendship with God. 

It glows in the innocence of children and the layered wisdom of the elderly. It blazes in those seeking social justice and in those silently, unwaveringly praying for it. It lights the hope of the living and the dying. It is that mysterious, unquenchable candle shining in both joy and sorrow. Its other holy names are Faith, Hope and Love.

 No one need tell us. We know when we are in the presence of such Light. It needs no words.

Rumi radiant

Today, let’s pray for the blessing of this Radiance all over our shadowed world. Let’s pray for it to shine within us.

Music: Radiant God – Hannah Ford