Psalm 16: A Night Prayer

Memorial of Saint Anthony of Padua, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Saturday, June 13, 2020

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psalm16 path2

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray once again with Psalm 16. Verses 1-10 strike me as a perfect “nighttime” prayer.

In his musical Phantom of the Opera, Andrew Lloyd Weber lyricizes about the “beauty of the night”.  

It’s a soulful song, and in itself could be used for prayer, especially when we pray in times of spiritual darkness or unknowing. In many ways, it reminds me of John of the Cross’s poem, “The Dark Night”. (Verses below for our poetry today).


All of us have times when our prayer seems to echo back to us without a response from God. Our faith may be tested and our trust stretched very thin. God seems so distant that we wonder what happened to cloud the relationship! We linger in a spiritual darkness that is dry and disconcerting.

Dali John of Cross
Christ of St. John of the Cross by Salvador Dali (1951) – Kenmore Art Gallery, Glasgow

These times in the spiritual life were experienced and described by writers like John of the Cross and the author of “The Cloud of Unknowing”. They are times when our experiences and prayer invite us to a new and deeper understanding of God. They ask us to let go of our intellectual certainties and abandon ourselves to God without demands.


Recently, while describing how disappointed he was in God, a friend told me that he had “lost” his faith long ago. Well, obviously, he hadn’t because he still held expectations of the “God” who was disappointing him. I told him that I had lost my faith a few times too, and that every time I got it back, it was new and deeper than the one I had lost. My “septuagenarian God” is very different from the one I came to follow when I was eighteen!


Our minds and souls are so small next to God’s Infinity. But slowly, through a life of prayerful fidelity and loving service, God stretches our capacity to know and return a Love which is beyond reason.

But the stretching times can be dark – times when Psalm 16 is a comforting prayer.

I like to pray with this transliteration by Steven Mitchell – A Book of Psalms

Unnamable God,
I feel you with me at every moment.
You are my food, my drink,
my sunlight, and the air I breathe.
You are the ground I have built on
and the beauty that rejoices my heart. 

I give thanks to you at all times
for lifting me from my confusion,
for teaching me in the dark
and showing me the path of life. 

I have come to the center of the universe;
I rest in your perfect love.
In your presence there is fullness of joy
and blessedness forever and ever.

Music: Path of Life – The Dameans

Poetry: The Dark Night – Stanzas Of The Soul

( Some people find John of the Cross surprising, if not strange or shocking, in his imagery. He was a grace-filled mystic and poet whose images of God expanded beyond the boundaries we might be accustomed to. And that very extravagance is John’s beauty — he invites us to a place we might not otherwise think to go.)

1. One dark night,
fired with love’s urgent longings
— ah, the sheer grace! —
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.

2. In darkness, and secure,
by the secret ladder, disguised,
— ah, the sheer grace! —
in darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled.

3. On that glad night,
in secret, for no one saw me,
nor did I look at anything,
with no other light or guide
than the one that burned in my heart.

4. This guided me
more surely than the light of noon
to where he was awaiting me
— him I knew so well —
there in a place where no one appeared.

5. O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.

6. Upon my flowering breast
which I kept wholly for him alone,
there he lay sleeping,
and I caressing him
there in a breeze from the fanning cedars.

7. When the breeze blew from the turret,
as I parted his hair,
it wounded my neck
with its gentle hand,
suspending all my senses.

8. I abandoned and forgot myself,
laying my face on my Beloved;
all things ceased; I went out from myself,
leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.

Psalm 119: Your Awesome Word

Memorial of Saint Boniface, Bishop and Martyr

June 5, 2020

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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

Psalm 25: Through the Maze

Thursday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

June 4, 2020

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Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 25.

Psalm 25_9JPG

In today’s liturgy, this Psalm clearly ties together our first and second readings where both Timothy and a scribe seek clearer understanding of what faith requires:

  • Paul reminds Timothy that it takes perseverance and fidelity to live our faith
  • Jesus affirms for the scribe that there is no greater commandment than love

In Psalm 25, we find David working through his own faith challenges. He is asking God to show him the way, presumably out of some trouble or dilemma, one of the many faced by David over his lifetime.

Like Paul, Timothy, and the Gospel scribe, David realizes that the pursuit of justice is a circuitous journey, one that requires the accompaniment of God.


In today’s excerpt, we have only a few verses of Psalm 25, but the entire psalm paints David as feeling a bit lost and overwhelmed. Nevertheless, in his prayer, he draws on his long, trusting relationship with God.

Walter Brueggemann calls Psalm 25 a “psalm of candor”, one in which the psalmist honestly lays out his confusion, need, or pain. Praying the psalm today, we might do the same, asking God’s merciful insight and direction for ourselves, our loved ones, our country or our world.

There is certainly enough need for a lot of candor on our part! I know that I am feeling more than a bit overwhelmed by our current realities. Racial injustice, pandemic, economic hurt, and political confusion have all combined to make these very troubling times. 

  • But like David, we can lay down our fears, needs and concerns before a loving God.
  • Like David, we can trust God’s desire to lead us.
  • Like David, we can remember God’s mercies and be confident they will continue.
  • Like David, we can ask for and follow God’s direction to justice and peace.
degrebber_david-plagen_grt
King David at Prayer by Pieter deGrabber

swords
Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares, a sculpture by Evgeniy Vuchetich in the United Nations Art Collection

In our poem today, Rudyard Kipling does much the opposite of what I suggest above. He is deeply angry after WWI has claimed the life of his son John. His poem speaks of “justice” but suggests revenge or retribution. The justice he describes is one that demands the last drop of the opponent’s blood before it is satisfied .

I read the poem to better understand my own feelings.  What fragments of darkness still hide in my longing for light?

Kipling’s poem is available here.


Kipling’s angry passion is completely understandable, rational, and politically powerful. But it is not the justice or “right relationship“ of the Gospel. The pursuit of such Gospel justice is an arduous and winding journey of the heart and soul. It is the trying walk of sacrificial love which Jesus taught us. May we have the courage to walk it for our time. Thus the cry of our Psalm 25:


Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my savior.

Music: Psalm 25 – Karl Kolhase

To Say I Love You

Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter

May 28, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, as we continue to read Jesus’s loving dialogue with his Father, we become the silent listener to an intimate conversation.

Jn17_21 all one

As I prayed with this passage, the memory of my own conversations with my mother came back to me. Many of these exchanges took place in person, but what I remembered today was our daily evening phone calls late in her life.

The calls were brief, but unflinchingly regular – 7PM every night. The exchanges were  very simple and almost formulaic: were we both OK, slept well, had a good day, had what for dinner, endured whatever weather….did we need anything?

But the real conversation was deep under any formula. It was the silent language of love, comfort, hope, trust and fidelity.  It was the unspoken assurance that we were, and would always be, FOR each other.


In John 17, we find the same kind of conversation between Jesus and his Father.

  • You and I are one
  • You have gifted me with your glory
  • You have empowered me in your Name
  • You have always loved me
  • I know your heart 
  • and I am grateful

What a privilege to listen to God’s conversation! In our prayer today, we may just want to witness silently the infinite love between Jesus and the Father. As Jesus prays for us to be incorporated into that love, may our hearts overflow in gratitude.


Music: I Just Called fo Say I Love You – Stevie Wonder

Mom and I loved this song because it so clearly described our relationship. I still sing it to her sometimes… loooong distance for sure now🥰.

I think it’s a song we could easily share with God in our prayer.

Our Beloved Communities

Memorial of Saint Philip Neri, priest

May 26, 2020

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given me

Today, in Mercy, Paul gives the first part of his Ephesian farewell address which he will complete in tomorrow’s reading.

Paul really loved the Ephesian community. He lived with them for three years and poured his heart and soul into teaching them. He doesn’t say it outright, but like all ministers, he must have learned from them as well – from their faith, compassion, and openness to his teaching.

Now Paul begins the last journey back to Jerusalem, a passage which will mirror Christ’s own journey to that sacred city. But before he departs, Paul tells the Ephesians how much he loves and expects from them. And he blesses them.

In tomorrow’s continuation, Paul will say:

And now I commend you to God
and to that gracious word of his that can build you up
and give you the inheritance among all who are consecrated.

In our Gospel today, as Jesus commences his own final journey, he blesses his listeners as well:

Father, I pray for them.
I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me,
because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours


Today as we pray, whether we are at the beginning or late parts of our journey, we might take time to pray for the ones God “has given” us in our lives. Like Paul who shared life with the Ephesians, and like Jesus and his beloved disciples, God has given us communities to love and form us on our journey.

These extraordinary pandemic days have reminded us all of what’s most cherished in our lives. It’s such a perfect time to show our own beloved communities how much they mean to us. It doesn’t have to be a long address or a profound speech. My young nephew and his dear wife did it yesterday with a simple and delightfully surprising phone call just before they journeyed on a small vacation.

Just little phrases between us, passed over a thousand mile telephone signal, carried a much bigger message of love and gratitude:

  • just wanted to check on you
  • are you feeling well
  • do you have what you need
  • enjoy your time away
  • travel safely
  • thanks for thinking of me
  • I love you
  • God bless you

Today, as we read the orations of Jesus and Paul, we may not see the same exact phrases, but the message is the same. Jesus and Paul knew it was important to their communities to put that loving message into words. It’s important for our communities too.

familyThanks Jimmy and Kristin. Thank you all my dear family and friends. I am so blessed to have these kinds of conversations with all of you. I don’t ever want to take that for granted.

Like Paul,
I commend each one of you to God
and to that gracious word of his that can build you up
and give you the inheritance among all who are consecrated.

On this, and all your life journeys, travel safely and know you are deeply loved.

Music: The Lord Bless You and Keep You – John Rutter

Twelve Who Loved

Feast of Saint Matthias, Apostle

May 14, 2020

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12

Today, in Mercy, Acts relates the story of Matthias and his inclusion as one of the Twelve. But besides Matthias, there was another man considered just as worthy of appointment, Justus. The lot did not fall on him and we never hear of him again.

So if there were two equally good men why didn’t they just widen the circle to thirteen Apostles?


This appointment of the twelfth apostle reflects the importance of the number twelve throughout Scripture. It is a number which signifies perfection, heritage, and strength.

Jacob 12
Jacob Blessing His Twelve Sons – T. Daziel (c.1893)

The Book of Genesis states there were twelve sons of Jacob and those twelve sons formed the twelve tribes of Israel. The New Testament tells us that Jesus had twelve apostles. According to the Book of Revelation, the kingdom of God has twelve gates guarded by twelve angels. 

So Matthias, the Twelfth, brought the circle of Apostles to wholeness.


JofCross
In our Gospel, Jesus tells us that he chooses us all to be his friends. It is a friendship built on imitation of him, proven by keeping his commandments. His commandments are clear:

          • Love God.
          • Love others as I have loved you.

Every day, by prayer and reflective living, we deepen in our love for God and neighbor. We learn Love within the revelation of our own lives.

joy

Jesus tells us that if we love like that our joy will be complete. May we be blessed by that holy joy.

Meditation: Instead of music today, a lovely meditation for those of us missing the celebration of Eucharist: No Longer Do I Call You Servants

Abundant Life

Fourth Sunday of Easter

May 3, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Jesus makes a great offer!

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

 

 


What if you saw a sign like this somewhere:

advert

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

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

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

tulpis


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

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

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


RG

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

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

 

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


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

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

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

Life is the Miracle

Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter

April 28, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Acts recounts the sad but inspiring story of Stephen’s martyrdom.

To read an earlier reflection on St. Stephen’s death, click here.


In our Gospel, we continue to pray with John’s Discourse on the Bread of Life.

The setting is Capernaum, on the other side of the lake from where the feeding of the 5000 occurred. Rumors are flying about how Jesus got from one side to the other without a boat. In other words, the air is buzzing with whispers of miracles.


Some bright light in the re-gathering crowd decides to become their representative and inquisitor of Jesus:

inquisitors

“What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?
What can you do?
Our ancestors ate manna in the desert … ”
(how about something a long those lines, the questioner seems to imply????)

Where was this guy when the loaves and fishes were pouring out of a single basket? Where was he when Jesus appeared at the lake’s far side, already rested and waiting for the exhausted, arriving crowd?


But Jesus doesn’t take the inquisitor’s bait. He speaks as the Divine Teacher to help them understand that this is about a lot more than signs and miracles. 

Jesus reminds them that any “miracle”, any “manna” should lead us to God, in whose Presence the need and demand for continuing miracles ceases.

Jn6_35 bread

Jesus encourages them to get beyond their limited perceptions of signs, manna, bread, and miracles. He explains that all the Power of God stands before them in him, the Son, the Bread sent “down from heaven, and giving life to the world.”

It’s a lot to take in. But they want to: “Sir, give us this bread always.”


It’s a lot for us to take in too, don’t you think. I know I wouldn’t mind a regular old miracle now and then… a shower of manna or a cure for Covid19!

But instead Jesus asks us to live within the miracle of God’s Presence in all things, in the bread of our ordinary lives which He transforms by love.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Stephen had this kind of radical faith. “Filled with the Holy Spirit”,  he could – even in the throes of human contradiction – “see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

May our faith ever deepen that we too see God in the Bread of our ordinary daily lives. May that faith inspire us to act always with love, hope and mercy.

Music:  I Am the Bread, the Bread of Life – Brian Hoare 

Fearful Tuesday

Tuesday of Holy Week

April 6, 2020

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Fearful Tuesday

Today, in Mercy, our Gospel tells the sad story of Jesus’s betrayal by his closest friends.

Pope Francis, in his Palm Sunday homily, reflected on the depth of these betrayals:

Jesus suffered betrayal by the disciple who sold him and by the disciple who denied him.  He was betrayed by the people who sang hosanna to him and then shouted: “Crucify him!” He was betrayed by the religious institution that unjustly condemned him and by the political institution that washed its hands of him.  

We can think of all the small or great betrayals that we have suffered in life.  It is terrible to discover that a firmly placed trust has been betrayed.  From deep within our heart a disappointment surges up that can even make life seem meaningless.  This happens because we were born to be loved and to love, and the most painful thing is to be betrayed by someone who promised to be loyal and close to us.  We cannot even imagine how painful it was for God who is love.


thorns

As we walk beside Jesus on this Fearful Tuesday, let us confide our hurts, current or remembered, asking to be gracefully transformed by them. Let us listen to Jesus’s pain and heart-break, asking to be a source of comfort and love to Him.

With Jesus, may we carry in our prayer all those throughout the world suffering abandonment, fear, loss, or betrayal at this painful time.

Music: I Will Carry You – Sean Clive
You may hear this song in many ways. Perhaps Jesus comforts you with it. Or you might comfort Jesus in his escalating suffering. Or together, Jesus and you may sing it over a suffering world.
(Lyrics below)

I will carry you when you are weak.
I will carry you when you can’t speak.
I will carry you when you can’t pray.
I will carry you each night and day.

I will carry you when times are hard.
I will carry you both near & far.
I’ll be there with you whenever you fall.
I will carry you through it all.

My arms are wider than the sky,
softer than a little child,
stronger than the raging,
calming like a gentle breeze.
Trust in me to hold on tight because

I will carry you when you can’t stand.
I’ll be there for you to hold your hand.
And I will show you that you’re never alone.
I will carry you and bring you back home.

Not pain, not fear, not death, no nothing at all
can separate you from my love.
My arms and hands will hold you close.
Just reach out and take them in your own.
Trust in me to hold on tight.
I will carry you.

Pour Out Your Love

Monday of Holy Week

April 6, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our Gospel places a fundamental question before us.  How should the precious oil be used – tenderly poured out or reasonably saved?  It is a question that challenges us to balance justice with mercy, reality with hope, law with passion.  How are we being asked to open our alabaster jar?

anointing at Bethany

This poem by Malcolm Guite may offer inspiration for our prayer:

Come close with Mary, Martha, Lazarus
so close the candles stir with their soft breath
and kindle heart and soul to flame within us,
lit by these mysteries of life and death.
For beauty now begins the final movement
in quietness and intimate encounter.
The alabaster jar of precious ointment
is broken open for the world’s true Lover.

The whole room richly fills to feast the senses
with all the yearning such a fragrance brings.
The heart is mourning but the spirit dances,
here at the very center of all things,
here at the meeting place of love and loss,
we all foresee, and see beyond the cross.

(Malcolm Guite: The Anointing at Bethany)


anoint_bethany

Jesus, give us courage to accompany you in your final journey. May your passion, death and resurrection bring us new life.

As we make this Holy Week journey, may we prove our love by our actions. May we live generously, hopefully, and gratefully in the Mercy of God.

Music:  Pour My Love on You by Craig and Dean Phillips