Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 32 in which the psalmist expresses joy at being delivered from great suffering.
On this Valentines Day, our culture incentivizes us to think about “love”.
But our psalm might ask us to ponder that the greatest suffering is to believe, quite falsely, that we are unloved – or worse, unloveable. Still, Psalm 32 assures us that we are never unloveable to our God:
Then I acknowledged my sin to you my guilt I covered not. I said, “I confess my faults to the LORD,” and you took away the guilt of my sin.
On this Valentines Day, you may have many dear human hearts to whom you wish to tell your love. But most important, in your prayer, tell the One Who is Love within you. And listen to Love telling you the same.
Poem: Bridges – Marion Strober
Music: Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon and Garfunkel
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 32, a classic penitential psalm.
It is an uncomplicated description of repentance and forgiveness which, nevertheless, discloses profound insights into the human spirit.
Blessed is the one whose fault is taken away, whose sin is covered. Blessed the one to whom the LORD imputes not guilt, in whose spirit there is no guile.
This relational sequence of confession and forgiveness is probed in depth in Psalm 32 (where) the speaker describes his silence and his consequent bodily disability (vv. 3–4). One can observe in the psalm an inchoate theory of repression that became definitive for Sigmund Freud. Repression immobilizes, says the psalmist! The abrupt move in verse 5 concerns the process of making his sin known, saying it aloud, confessing it.
It is confession that makes forgiveness possible. It is denial that precludes assurance and that immobilizes the perpetrator.
Walter Brueggemann, From Whom No Secrets Are Hid
Praying with Psalm 32 this morning reminded me of a story I wrote a few years ago.
Young Emma, skewered by indecision, had stared into her mother’s jewelry box. She had always loved those silver earrings, a gift to her mother from her grandmother—an heirloom now, a treasure beyond price. She wanted so to wear them on this special date, but they were “hands off” and she knew it. Still, her mother at work and unaware of her desire, Emma had succumbed to temptation.
The dance had been wonderful, a whirlwind of such delight that Emma had not noticed when her left earring had brushed against her partner’s shoulder, tumbling hopelessly under the dancers’ trampling feet. Only at evening’s end, approaching her front door exhausted and dreamy, had she reached up to unclip the precious gems.
Her mother sat waiting for her in the soft lamplight, having already noticed the earrings missing from her dresser. Awaiting retribution, Emma knelt beside her mother and confessed the further sacrilege of loss. But her mother simply cupped Emma’s tearful face in her hands, whispering, “You are my jewel. Of course I forgive you.” Though accustomed to her mother’s kindness, this act of compassion astonished Emma, filling her with an indescribable, transformative gratitude.
As we pray Psalm 32, there may be a great forgiveness we are thankful for, or just the small kindnesses that allow us to rise each morning with joy and hope. Perhaps there is a memory of compassion, like Emma’s, that we treasure—one that in turn has made us kinder and more honest.
But maybe, on the other hand, there is a “lost earring”, never acknowledged. With time, that unacknowledgement burrows deeper into the spirit restricting our capacity to love.
Psalm 32 reminds us that God is our Mother waiting in the lamplight to cup our face with love, to receive our joyful thanks for divine mercies.
For this shall every faithful soul pray to you in time of stress. Though deep waters overflow, they shall not reach us.
Like Emma, we may be astonished at the graciousness that has been given to us. We may respond by pouring out our thanks to God in a silent act of prayer.
May we also have the courage to become like our merciful God, anticipating the other’s need for our forgiveness. May we seek the strength not to harbor injury, but too release it to make room for further grace in our hearts.
Poetry: FIRST FORGIVENESS - Irene Zimmerman
The usually mild evening breeze
became a wailing wind
when the gates clanged shut behind them.
They shivered despite their leathery clothes
as they searched for the fragrant blossoms
they’d grown accustomed to sleep on,
but found only serpentine coils
that bit and drew blood from their hands. It was Eve who discovered the cave.
When she emerged, she saw Adam
standing uncertainly at the entrance. A river of fire flooded her face
as she remembered his blaming words—
“The woman you gave me,
she gave me fruit from the tree,
and I ate.”
“Spend the night wherever you choose,”
she told him bitterly.
“You needn’t stay with me.” Long afterwards, when even the moon’s
cold light had left the entrance
and she’d made up a word
for the hot rain running from her eyes,
she sensed Adam near her in the dark. His breath shivered on her face.
“Eve,” he moaned,
“I’m sorry. Forgive me.” In the darkness between them
the unfamiliar words
She understood their meaning
when she touched his tears.
Music: Father, I Have Sinned – Eugene O’Reilly
Our story above was about a “prodigal daughter”. Our music is about a “prodigal son”.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 27, a song of intimate relationship with God. The psalmist is suffused with God’s Presence in the way morning light permeates the shadows.
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The LORD is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?
Because of this deeply abiding Love, the psalmist fears nothing – not armies, nor any other threat to peace and grace-filled confidence.
Though an army encamp against me, my heart will not fear; Though war be waged upon me, even then will I trust.
We have little, or maybe big, wars at times, don’t we? Armies of pain, or sadness, struggle or confusion standing at the border of our hearts? In such times, Psalm 27 invites to remember and trust:
For God will hide me in the holy abode in the day of trouble; will conceal me in the shelter of God’s tent, will set me high upon a rock.
With the psalmist, we pray with longing – we implore God to show us this comforting, protective love.
Your presence, O LORD, I seek. Hide not your face from me; do not in anger repel your servant. You are my helper: cast me not off.
Poetry: from The Spiritual Canticle – John of the Cross
Oh, then, soul, most beautiful among all creatures, so anxious to know the dwelling place of your Beloved so you may go in search of him and be united with him, now we are telling you that you yourself are his dwelling and his secret inner room and hiding place. There is reason for you to be elated and joyful in seeing that all your good and hope is so close as to be within you, or better, that you cannot be without him. Behold, exclaims the Bridegroom, the kingdom of God is within you.
Music: Unchained Melody – sung by Susan Boyle
Psalm 27 reminds me of this modern classic which, no doubt, was written about a different kind of love. But listening to the song as a prayer, a holy longing can be unchained in our spirits.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 95, once again a call to a holy tenderheartedness – that mix of love, discernment, and generosity that magnetizes us into dynamic relationship with God.
Oh, that today you would hear his voice: “Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the desert, Where your fathers tempted me; they tested me though they had seen my works.”
Psalm 95: 7-9
Our other Sunday readings, which Psalm 95 anchors, clarify the reason we seek this tenderheartedness. It is so that we might not only hear, but really listen and respond to the Truth of God in our lives.
Those who will not listen to my words which a prophet speaks in my name, I myself will make them answer for it.
In our first reading from Deuteronomy, the people were confused. They were passing into a new land with lots of rivaling religions and spiritualities. Moses was nearing the end of his life and leadership over them. They wanted to know who to listen to and how to behave in order to stay in God’s favor.
God promises that God’s voice will come through a prophet like Moses:
I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin, and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him.
Deuteronomy 18: 19
In our Gospel, we see Jesus – the fulfillment of the Deuteronomic Promise. The people witnessing his power are amazed. They struggle with whether they can believe in him when he seems just one of them, a Nazarene, Joseph’s son.
But some could believe – readily. Some, like the disciples, discerned quickly the Truth Jesus was. They heard, listened, believed and obeyed the Word.
Our psalm suggests that such readiness, such tenderheartedness comes from the consistent practice of relationship with God through praise, witness, thanksgiving, prayer, worship, humility, and obedience.
To me, it boils down to this:
let your life unfold in God’s Presence
be silent under God’s loving gaze
thank God for all you have been given
realize you are nothing without God
listen to your life as God speaks it to you
act on what you hear
Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD; let us acclaim the rock of our salvation. Let us come into God’s presence with thanksgiving; let us joyfully sing psalms to the Lord. R. If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts. Come, let us bow down in worship; let us kneel before the LORD who made us. For the Lord is our God, and we are the people God shepherds, the flock God guides.
I keep telling my heart, “Go easy now. I am submerged in golden treasure.” It replies, “Why should I be afraid of love?”
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 111, a song of reassurance and hope.
God, renowned for grace and mercy, Who gives to those living in awe, will forever be mindful of the covenant once promised.
Psalm 111: 4-5
It is a wonderful thing when we can trust someone to remember a promise made to us. Psalm 111 tells us we can trust God like that.
Maybe some of you share this experience. When I was a little girl, my Dad often did the food shopping. Sometimes, he went to the new “big store” (supermarkets were the new thing in the early ‘50s). When he did, I always asked him to remember to bring me a surprise, and he never forgot.
Usually the surprise would be a little bag of M&Ms or Hershey kisses. But once it was a carrot- remarkably like the carrots he bought for the week’s cooking!
Sometimes it feels like that with God’s Promise. Its fulfillment doesn’t always come to us in the ways we expect or pray for. Instead of special, surprising sweetness, God’s signs feel like carrots … ordinary carrots that we see every day, that we mix into the soup of our daily unsurprising lives.
Our Alleluia Verse today is a good prayer when our life seems full of “carrots”:
May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ enlighten the eyes of our hearts, that we may know what is the hope that belongs to our call.
Ephesians 1: 17-18
May our eyes be enlightened to see God’s Promise fulfilled in the amazing blessings of our lives:
I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart in the company and assembly of the just. Great are the works of the LORD, exquisite in all their delights.
Psalm 111: 1-2
My Dad loved me with all his heart and would have given me anything good that was in his power to give.
We can be assured, as in Psalm 111, that all- powerful God is like that too. It’s just that sometimes those good things look like ordinary carrots and we need enlightened eyes to recognize their exquisiteness.
Poetry: Mindful – Mary Oliver
I see or hear
that more or less
that leaves me
like a needle
in the haystack
It was what I was born for —
to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside this soft world —
to instruct myself
over and over
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,
the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant —
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,
the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help
but grow wise
with such teachings
as these —
the untrimmable light
of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?
Music: Blessed Assurance
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.
Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angels, descending, bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.
Perfect submission, all is at rest,
I in my Savior am happy and blest,
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 97 which reminds us that, as Jesus begins his earthly ministry, he is accompanied by the unseen powers of heaven.
The heavens proclaim his justice, and all peoples see his glory. Let all his angels worship him.
Psalm 97: 6-7
The psalm is reflective of the glorious passage from our first reading describing the Divinity of Jesus:
The Son of God is… the refulgence of God’s glory, the very imprint of God’s being, who sustains all things by his mighty word. When he had accomplished purification from sins, he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, as far superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
Hebrews 1: 3-4
These seem perfect readings to begin a season described as “Ordinary Time” because they remind us that the power of Jesus Christ is far from ordinary.
And our days do not feel like ordinary times, do they? They are both fraught with threat and charged with hope.
They are times belabored by pandemic struggle, political vitriol, climate dissolution, global strife and systemic oppression.
But they are also times bristling with breakthrough discovery, civic renewal, social consciousness, communal courage and spiritual awakening.
Just as in our Gospel on this first day of “Ordinary Time”, Jesus asks his disciples to “Come”, dream extraordinary dreams with him, so he asks us.
– He asks us to believe that there are unseen angels attending us. – He asks us to remember that we, like him, are made in the refulgent image of God.
– He calls us, like Simon and Andrew, to believe that our “ordinary time” is actually the “time of fulfillment”:
Poetry: Maya Angelou – Touched by an Angel
We, unaccustomed to courage,
exiles from delight,
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.
We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love's light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.
Music: Ordinary Time – Marie Bellet
There will come a day for quiet kitchen mornings
Lunches with the girls, book clubs in the afternoon
There will come a day for chintz flowers on my sofa
Just the perfect lipstick, matching purse and shoes.
There will come a day without constant interruption
Confusing all my senses, my reason and my rhyme
But for now I trip on the backpacks in the hallway
Scrub the crayon from the walls that mark this ordinary time.
There will come a day for uneventful dinners
When no one drops their fork or spills their milk upon the floor
There will come a day, I’ll be wiser, I’ll be thinner
I will finish conversations before running out the door.
Well, isn’t that the way it is for all those happy women
Who smile at me from magazines there in the checkout line?
What about the tired, the simple and forgotten?
Blessed be the ordinary here in ordinary time.
He said “Who will feed my sheep?
Who will heed their cry?”
I said “I am vain and weak
But surely I will try.
You know everything
And You know that I’m
Just an ordinary woman
here in ordinary time”.
There will come a day when everything is order
And I will be the queen of everything I see
But how my heart will leap to find one backpack in the hallway
With the promise of a face, and a story just for me.
So may I never yearn for those cocktail conversations
Clever observations made for fashionable minds
May I finally learn to be happy and have patience
With the constant changing rhythm of this ordinary time,
The constant changing rhythm of this ordinary time.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, as we once again pray with Psalm 27, we do so in the light of our seminal first reading from John:
God is love, and when we remain in love we remain in God and God in us.
1 John 4:16
Psalm 27 tells us how God does it:
For the Lord rescues the poor who cry out, and the afflicted who have no other help. The Lord has pity for the lowly and the poor; and saves the lives of the poor.
Psalm 27: 12-13
Our psalm gives us the measure for love in our lives. Who are the suffering ones in the circle of our experience? How are we widening that circle to offer loving mercy with greater energy and fidelity?
The Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy can be our guide as we seek to stretch our love in ever-widening circles.
The Corporal Works of Mercy
To feed the hungry To give water to the thirsty To clothe the naked To shelter the homeless To visit the sick To visit the imprisoned, and ransom the captive To bury the dead
The Spiritual Works of Mercy
To instruct the ignorant. To counsel the doubtful. To admonish sinners. To bear patiently those who wrong us. To forgive offenses. To comfort the afflicted. To pray for the living and the dead.
Poetry: Widening Circles – Rainer Maria Rilke
I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world. I may not complete this last one but I give myself to it. I circle around God, around the primordial tower. I’ve been circling for thousands of years and I still don’t know: am I a falcon, a storm, or a great song?
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 25, the prayer of someone who is in love with God – as was John of the Cross:
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.
Psalm 25: 4-5
When we truly love someone, we see God’s face in them. Who doesn’t love that beautiful line from Les Miserables:
Take my hand I'll lead you to salvation Take my love For love is everlasting And remember The truth that once was spoken To love another person Is to see the face of God
( Just in case you’re longing to listen to it now🤗)
John of the Cross saw God’s Face in all Creation, and found God deep within his own contemplative soul:
What more do you want, O soul! And what else do you search for outside, when within yourself you possess your riches, delights, satisfactions, fullness, and kingdom – your Beloved whom you desire and seek?
Be joyful and gladdened in your interior recollection with Him, for you have Him so close to you. Desire Him there, adore Him there.
Do not go in pursuit of Him outside yourself. You will only become distracted and wearied thereby, and you shall not find Him, nor enjoy Him more securely, nor sooner, nor more intimately than by seeking him within you.
Spiritual Canticle 1.8
John was in love with God in a way described by the blessed Jesuit Pedro Arrupe:
Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.
As we pray today with St. John of the Cross, we ask our God to deepen us in love. We thank God for the promise and gift of Unconditional Love:
Remember that your compassion, O LORD, and your kindness are from of old. In your kindness remember me, because of your goodness, O LORD.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 98. If it sounds familiar as you read it today, no wonder. It looks like Mr.98 might have peeked and copied from Ms. 96 whose verses we read yesterday!🤗
Still, there are some new lovely thoughts to consider this morning as we pray just one month from Christmas. The psalm’s melodic, celebratory tone offers a welcome contrast to the other two rather daunting readings today.
Psalm 98 describes God’s redemption of Israel and the rejoicing that will ensue. It also features many expressions and instruments of music and song. The psalm’s exultant and joyful character inspired Sir Isaac Watts, in 1719, to compose an interpretation we all love: Joy to World. Watts’s poem was set to the music of George Frideric Handel.
Although this glorious song is normally preserved for Christmas, it describes the condition of grace we actually live within every day. Christ already has come into time, already has been born in our hearts.
Our liturgical year is a commemoration and celebration of a salvation already achieved.
So let’s have a bit of early Christmas today. Let’s reach for the full joy of our “Christing” by praying Psalm 98 as Isaac Watts prayed it.
Joy to the World; the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let ev'ry heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing.
Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields & floods, rocks, hills & plains
Repeat the sounding joy.
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.
Poetry: Into the Darkest Hour by Madeleine L’Engle
It was a time like this,
War & tumult of war,
a horror in the air.
Hungry yawned the abyss-
and yet there came the star
and the child most wonderfully there.
It was time like this
of fear & lust for power,
license & greed and blight-
and yet the Prince of bliss
came into the darkest hour
in quiet & silent light.
And in a time like this
how celebrate his birth
when all things fall apart?
Ah! Wonderful it is
with no room on the earth
the stable is our heart.
Music: John Rutter – The Falcon – first movement based on Psalm 98
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 1 which tells us that a vigorous spiritual life roots us firmly in God.
One who delights in the law of the LORD, and meditates on God’s law day and night is like a tree planted near running water.
That rootedness steadies us even in life’s fierce winds, unlike the fate of the spiritually lifeless.
… they are like chaff which the wind drives away. For the LORD watches over the way of the just, but the way of the faithless vanishes.
I think of my parents who were ordinary people, not scripture scholars or recognized prophets. They simply prayed every day, and tried to do good for and with the people in their lives. Their energy was focused on God and others, not themselves. They were honest, humble, grateful people. They never realized how holy they really were.
They were like those trees planted near running streams, feeding on the waters of generosity not greed. They were strong in life’s winds, which were many and sometimes ferocious. Theirs was a quiet and unassuming faith, but immovable as rock.
My brother and I were blessed to grow up in the shade of those trees, a blessing which made us want to be like them.
Let’s pray for continuing grace to deepen our roots in God.
Let’s pray for a faith that nurtures and encourages those God has placed under our branches.
Let’s stretch the reach of our tree’s caring shade to all our sisters and brothers, especially those scorched by pain and poverty.
Let’s drink deeply of the life-giving waters God offers us.
Poetry: I learned that her name was Proverb by Denise Levertov
And the secret names of all we meet who lead us deeper into our labyrinth of valleys and mountains, twisting valleys and steeper mountains— their hidden names are always, like Proverb, promises. Rune, Omen, Fable, Parable, those we meet for only one crucial moment, gaze to gaze, or for years know and don’t recognize but of whom later a word sings back to us as if from high among leaves, still near but beyond sight drawing us from tree to tree towards the time and the unknown place where we shall know what it is to arrive.
Music: Tree Song by Evie Karlsson If you have young ones in your life, you may want to listen to this song together. A very simply expressed, yet profound, message.