The Bitter Root

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we taste the “bitter root”. 

Heb12_15 bitter root

Paul writes to the Hebrews:

See to it that no one
be deprived of the grace of God,

that no bitter root spring up and cause trouble,
through which many may become defiled.

In our Gospel, Luke writes to his community

So Jesus was not able to perform any mighty deed in his hometown,
… He was amazed at their lack of faith.

So what is this bitter root that robs a heart of faith, forgiveness, trust, hope and love?

Think of the things we humans bury deep in our souls, before they can be seen, named and confronted. Naïvely, we think that hiding them will make them disappear.
We bury our:

word cloud

These buried irritants never disappear. They thicken under the surface, choking the possibility of new life — of Grace. These “bitter roots” steal our spiritual health and cripple the Holy Spirit within us. They deprive the community of our vigor and life. 

It is so necessary and important for us to bring these tangled undergrowths to light! It is so necessary and important for us to be the loving community that offers understanding, healing, listening and love.

How do we uncover and release these hidden poisons? Prayer, of course, can help us, and the gentle discipline of honesty with ourselves; the natural self-revelation of a trusted friendship, the insights of spiritual direction and retreat, and, sometimes, the professional accompaniment of a counselor.

Mary Oliver, beloved poet, describes a buried darkness in her own life in this poem “The Uses of Sorrow”:

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.

As part of the faith community, we need to contribute to that place of trust and friendship that invites others to work through their darknesses. Healing is not magic. It comes through the tenderness, patience, honesty, awareness and encouragement of the surrounding community, as well as through our own courage. We need that community ourselves, and we need to be that community for others.

Music: Ubi Caritas (Where Charity and Love prevail, there is God.)

 

In Remembrance

mom seaside

Go on…

Now, my mother done her dying,
I come back again to my own life
that I had taken off,
the way you take a coat off
and hang it on a hook behind the door
when seasons change,
sometimes forgetting where it is
until you feel the cold again.

When word that she was ill
fell like a wounded bird
into time’s tranquil pool,
I just ignored the cold.
I walked out into night
to take her hand as she
left quickly for its distant edge.

Through four cold months, we pulled
stars down to light that edge,
blue-hot stars we’d fired
in long years of love.

Family, friends and names that
dozed like dormant flowers in a field
flew up in such a rush of love
around us that November turned to May.

Then, one icy day in January,
I cleared our sidewalk of a heavy snow,
in brief, staccatoed intervals,
lest leaving her too long, the
fragile thread would break
without my benediction.

It was Tuesday, I remember,
but time was caught behind
a wall of silence.  It moved
at half-speed.  Within its womb
that birthed my mother to another life,
I was timeless, still, unborn again.

When my mother died, she did it
just as I had left my life
four months before, with
love and not a glance behind,
no brief regret to do
what faith required her to do.

She drew that thin last breath
from air we shared, as my cheek
laid tenderly on hers, I whispered,
“Go on … and I love you.”

Music: Halleluia – Leonard Chen – played here by:
Violin: Leonardo Barcellos: Cello: Daniel Enache; Guitar: Leonardo Barcellos

There is No Wine

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/012019.cfm

Today, in Mercy, we read about Jesus’s first public miracle at Cana. It is a story that has always fascinated me, mostly because of what is left unsaid – what is written between the lines.

jn2_1 can

The Gospel begins by telling of a wedding and “the mother of Jesus was there”. The suggestion is that Mary had been staying at the wedding site and that she had a special role in the preparations. Perhaps she was the aunt or good friend of the bride or groom. Whatever the case, Mary seems to have had some unique responsibility for the ceremony’s success.

This responsibility motivates her to solicit Jesus’s help when she notices the wine is running out. Did she expect a miracle in return for her remark? We don’t know. Perhaps she just wanted Jesus and his young friends to run down to the local wine store for replenishments.

It was Jesus who decided to turn the request into an occasion for a miracle. Why? It seems like a frivolous miracle when there were sick to be cured and dead to be raised!

The final lines of this pericope might help answer that question

Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee
and so revealed his glory,
and his disciples began to believe in him.

Jesus decided to first reveal his glory at a wedding feast, a party, an ordinary celebration of life and love. The dramatic, life-saving miracles would come – demons grabbing pigs and diving headlong into the sea.

But this first one, the one his closest family and friends would especially remember, was all about joy, dancing, music, friendship – the divine strength of our shared and graced humanity.

Probably most of us don’t expect to encounter a really eye-popping miracle in our lives. But maybe in our challenges we, like Mary, could walk up behind Jesus and whisper, “This situation needs your touch”.

Oh, how Jesus might surprise us!

Music: Everyday Miracles ~ Sara Groves

“Beyond Gold” Friday

Friday, November 23, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/112318.cfm

Today in Mercy,  we continue in the mood of thanksgiving. 

Do you  have a computer calendar that pops up reminders for you — appointments, due dates, anniversaries, etc.?

TGVNG cal

On this date, I am reminded of two very happy events:

  • the birth of one of my precious grand-nephews three years ago – a gift of beauty, love and hope to our family
  • the jubilant wedding of two dear friends six years ago – a covenant and sign of love, fidelity and courage in today’s unloving world

As we get older (as I have been blessed to do), our calendar blocks become more crowded with memories – with the years’ accumulation of joys and blessings. “Thanksgiving Friday” is a good day to mentally page through the gift of years, remembering, thanking, praying for all that has brought love, hope and encouragement to our hearts.

Every life we love copy

It’s a good strategy to resist the commercial lure of “Black Friday” and to keep our focus on what truly counts as GIFT – those treasures that are beyond gold in our life’s story.

Hopefully, God’s goodness came to us yesterday, and comes to us daily, in abundance and joy – of family, friends and blessings shared. 

But for some, God draws us closer through loneliness, loss or sadness shared. The great grace is that God abides with us in every season, and reveals Mercy’s loving face in both our sorrows and our joys. 

May we praise God and know the Comforting Presence in whatever the season of our hearts. Let us pray this for one another.

Music:  10,000 Reasons – Matt Redman

Look Good or Do Good? Hmmm.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/101718.cfm

Today, in Mercy, our readings continue the theme of sincere faith versus hypocritical practices.

Paul really lets the Galatian community have it. Apparently, their behavior had slipped pretty low!  Paul’s list of things to be avoided contains some shocking stuff, like orgies, bursts of fury, and drinking bouts. Sounds bad! A lot worse, I hope, than any list he might make about us if he were writing now. I wonder?

Lk 11_42 spices

In our Gospel, Jesus let’s loose on some of the Pharisees too. He points out that they practice the tiniest, visible observances so that people see them as holy. But they ignore the more important requirements of love, justice and mercy. In other words, they look good but don’t do good.

As we pray with these readings, we could try to address the small hypocrisies in our own lives – a kind of “weed the garden” approach. Surely it would help our spiritual life to get rid of anything like orgies, fury and drunkenness. But I think most of us, dear readers, are pretty much beyond that. 🙏

I prefer to take my cues from Paul’s accompanying list of virtues to be pursued: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. How obvious are these things in my life? When I lie my head on the pillow at night, are these the things I remember about my day? Have I given these gifts to others? Have I received them with gratitude?

As we read about the tithes of mint, rue and other garden herbs, the cooks among us might like to imagine life as a great bouillabaisse, perfectly seasoned for God with all the spices on Paul’s menu. What little herb do you need to add right now?

Music: The Fruits of the Spirit ~ Selah

Bless the Children

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Readings:  http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/100718.cfm

Today, in Mercy, our Psalm for the day offers us a tender blessing.  One of the most striking phrases of the blessing is “May you see your children’s children.”

Psalm 128

Indeed, how grateful we are for the children in our families — no matter how old they are! What a gift to be renewed by their simplicity, openness, and dearness.What a joy to watch these next generations rise to their adulthood in grace and honor. What a particular blessing to live to see their children claim a heritage of life and goodness.

I hope you won’t mind me continuing on a personal note, as I did in yesterday’s reflection. On this celebration weekend, my family also marks the birthday of my oldest niece – a paragon of responsibility, honor and goodness. She was the first bright star of our next generation and our family treasures her.

Similar to yesterday’s reflection, we should also let our younger family and friends know how we love them, what great hope and joy we find in them, how grateful we are for them.  We should pray constantly for their life in the spirit, for their strength in this shifting world, and for their friendship with God. We should be light for them, as our elders have been for us.

May we never take for granted what we have been given by the ones who come after us, who carry our hope and life into the future.

Music: – sung by the inimitable Bob Dylan, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature – a singer whom one either loves or hates. I hope you love his rendition of Forever Young.

What Is, Is.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

          Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/092718.cfm

Today, in Mercy, we meet the first of a few readings from Ecclesiastes, written by an author who calls himself Qoheleth – Teacher. The book contains many loved and oft-repeated phrases that we might recognize:

  • There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven
  • He has made everything beautiful in its time.

And today’s kick-off thought:

  • Vanity of vanities ….  All is vanity.

Reading Ecclesiastes places us in the presence of a writer who is a realist at best, and a cynic at worst. Parts of the book can be downright depressing; other parts, elegant in their spare beauty.

We can finish a passage like today’s and hear echoes around us of Star Trek’s Borg mantra: 

Resistance is futile. 

Qoheleth says as much:

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

The phrase carries at least a little tinge of hopelessness. But I think a lot depends on the way we read it.

Realizing that “things are the way they are” can give us a sense of stability and trust. It can release us from struggling needlessly against realities that will not be moved. It can encourage us to find within these “immovables” the hidden path to a new grace. It can remind us that others have endured; so can we.

What is is

One of our Wisdom Sisters taught us that by naming and accepting our reality, we can move from fighting it into growing from it. She always said, “What is, is” – implying “now deal with it”.

It sounds spartan, but it actually can be very freeing. We can’t change so many things – the weather, the tides, the hearts of others. The years will pass, friendships blossom and fade. We will get old, if we are blessed with that gift. We’ll lose our jump shot and probably some of our hair – maybe a few others things too.🤗

But God will always love us, abide with us and cherish us for eternity.

Music: In Every Age – Janét Sullivan Whitaker

Love is …

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

       Readings: Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we encounter the often-read, less-practiced Corinthians passage on love. Could there be any word more massacred in our human language? Watch a few minutes of “Bachelorette”, or read a few Valentine’s cards, or listen to a commercial that tells you how much you’ll love some car! You’ll see what I mean.

Our souls so desperately need to learn and re-learn Paul’s definition of love.

1Cor13_loove

To open, Paul tells us that nothing we do matters if it is done without love. Does this mean we have to enjoy executing all the duties required of us? I think not. Sometimes a duty feels like a drudgery.

But Paul is speaking here to our motivation. All that we do must be done because we care for and honor ourselves and others. This lightens any sense of burden and gives us a resilience and joy even in difficulty. This is what real love looks like.

Paul goes on to name the specific characteristics of love.  If you’re like me, this section is like a checklist against which I measure myself:

  • Patient? – sometimes. 
  • Jealous, pompous, boastful, rude? – uh oh!
  • Does not seek its own interests? – (alarms now going off)

Yes, the deeper we go into this passage, the more we realize how far we are from the kind of love Paul describes.

The whole point of the spiritual journey is to continually refine our understanding and practice of love until it fits more perfectly to the pattern of Jesus Who is Love.

Let’s all pray today to “clang” a little less, and love a lot more.

Music: Love Goes On ~ Bernadette Farrell

Dance!

Saturday, September 8, 2018

       Readings:  Click here for readings.

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Birthday of Mary, Mother of Jesus.

Ps13_6 bountifully

It is a special day for me and many of my Sisters, as September 8th was one of the traditional entrance dates for young women joining the community.  Fifty-five years ago, the sun rose bright as gold at my bedroom window. Its rays fell along the hem of my long, black postulant’s dress hanging in expectation on the door. 

On that day, I would step into an unwritten future, every possibility already joyfully given to God. Like Mary, I and my companions were being born into a God-destined life. It was a thrilling moment for me.

fam
Taken about nine months after Entrance Day.                                          ( Notice the guy still crying in the back!)

What I really didn’t think about that day was my mother. Yes, there was joy, but there was some pain watching me be born into a second life beyond her.

On this Feastday, I think about St. Anne and wonder what blessings and hopes she whispered over young Mary. I think about how Anne felt as she watched Mary choose her own path to God; how she felt as Mary’s awesome life unfolded. And I pray in thanksgiving for my own mother.

This morning, I stand in amazed and humble gratitude to see time’s long cast over the years. Decades seem folded into moments, a thousand stories bound in a single, grateful prayer. God, indeed, has dealt bountifully with me. But somehow I believe that God was encouraged to do so by my mother. 🤗🙏

The music today may seem an unusual choice, but I think it captures a hope every loving mother has for her child. Anne may have hummed the hope over Mary in Aramaic tones; my mother over me in a 1940’s ballad. May we sing a melody of grace over all our children, freeing and blessing them to dance with God.

Blessings and love to my “Band of Sisters”, shown here as we marked our Golden Jubilee five years ago. (Missing our dear Arizona contingent who was unable to join us that day.)

May you continue to be bountifully blessed, beloved companions in Mercy!

Band_Golden

Music: I Hope You Dance – Lee Ann Womack

Grandparents

July 26, 2018 – Memorial of Sts. Anne and Joachim, Parents of Mary

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/072618.cfm

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the grandparents of Jesus. Nothing is known of them from the Bible, but there are references in an apocryphal piece called the Gospel of James. There are also many legends surrounding this holy couple. But the fact is that we know little or nothing, for certain about them.

Ps36_ Anne _Joachim

We shape our conception of Anne and Joachim from what we know about their daughter, a woman of such profound goodness that she was the means for God to become one of us. We give them honor and devotion because of what we know about their grandson, Jesus.

Anne and Joachim, together with Mary and Joseph, formed the first, loving nuclear community that fostered the life of Jesus. Like all newborns, Jesus was given over by God into these human hands. What an awesome responsibility and privilege!

Let us pray today for all young children that they may be blessed with caring parents and grandparents. Let us pray especially for grandparents who carry a special kind of love to their grands, one filled with a generational wisdom, generous fidelity, and tempered mercy so necessary for a joyful life.

And, children, listen to your grands.  They really have seen it all, ridden the big waves of time.. really did – ahem – walk to school with the snow above their ears! They can be a fount of wisdom and love. Trust them! Respect them! Enjoy them!

Music: a children’s song, especially for the Grands among us. May Anne and Joachim bless you today!