Awash in Mercy

Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
June 14, 2022

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with a very diverse set of readings.

The current passages from 1 Kings probably aren’t doing a lot to enhance your spiritual life right now. Life in Elijah’s times was pretty harsh, and applying its harsh descriptions to our own life may take a real stretch.


But our verse for the day and the Gospel to which it leads, offer an easier path to prayer.

This verse opens our Responsorial Psalm, the ardent “Miserere” which begs God for mercy. (I chose it because we prayed with the Alleluia Verse just the other day.)

It may be rare for us to feel such an impassioned need for mercy. Hopefully our lives are not as fraught with angst as were Ahab’s and Jezebel’s. But, let’s face it, neither our lives, nor the way we live them, is perfect.


Those of you who know me won’t need this disclaimer because you know better. But for other readers who don’t know me personally, let me tell you this. Despite my mother’s belief and constant proclamation, I am not perfect either. 

I have hard edges, ingrained meannesses, and unacknowledged shadows that thirst for God’s Mercy and Light. 

I think it’s safe to say that we all do. No canonized saints are reading this blog!


Today’s verse and entire psalm help us to open our hearts to any harbored sinfulness and to receive the transforming grace of insight, forgiveness, and intention to change.

May we pray our plea for mercy
with sincerity and hope.
May God’s response lead us closer
to the perfect compassion
described in today’s Gospel.

Poetry: To Live in the Mercy of God – Denise Levertov

To lie back under the tallest
oldest trees. How far the stems
rise, rise
               before ribs of shelter
                                           open!

To live in the mercy of God. The complete
sentence too adequate, has no give.

Awe, not comfort. Stone, elbows of
stony wood beneath lenient
moss bed.

And awe suddenly
passing beyond itself. Becomes
a form of comfort.
                      Becomes the steady
air you glide on, arms
stretched like the wings of flying foxes.

To hear the multiple silence
of trees, the rainy
forest depths of their listening.

To float, upheld,
                as salt water
                would hold you,
                                        once you dared.

                  To live in the mercy of God.

To feel vibrate the enraptured
waterfall flinging itself
unabating down and down
                              to clenched fists of rock.
Swiftness of plunge,
hour after year after century,

                                                   O or Ah
uninterrupted, voice
many-stranded.
                              To breathe
spray. The smoke of it.

                              Arcs
of steelwhite foam, glissades
of fugitive jade barely perceptible. Such passion—
rage or joy?

                              Thus, not mild, not temperate,
God’s love for the world. Vast
flood of mercy
                      flung on resistance.


Music: Miserere – Gregorio Allegri 

Alleluia: Lean into God!

Memorial of Saint Barnabas, Apostle
Saturday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time
June 11, 2022

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we ask God to help us set our hearts in the right direction — toward God in all things.

And we express the blessed insight that to live within God’s Law is to be favored.

Alleluia, alleluia.
Incline my heart, O God, to your decrees;
and favor me with your law.


Here’s the way I picture this prayer.

Life is like a rip tide. It can capture us and pull us under its breakers when we least expect it. But as any good ocean swimmer knows, when we are caught in a rip tide, we must relax, lean into it, and swim perpendicular to its force.


Our Alleluia Verse today is kind of a “rip-tide prayer”. We ask for the courage to lean into God’s power in our lives, to trust it, and to swim with it even though it contradicts a godless culture.


God promises that there is always a current of grace to carry us to the Divine Heart, but our efforts alone cannot sustain us. As in Psalm 86, we can ask God to do a little leaning toward us to help us out in a tough sea! 🙂

May we ever incline our hearts to God’s Love already leaning over us in Mercy.


Poetry: You are so weak – Rumi

You are so weak.
Give up to grace.
The ocean takes care of each wave ’til it gets to shore.
You need more help than you know.

Music: Oceans – Hillsong

Lent: Written in Dust

April 3, 2022
Fifth Sunday of Lent

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, Jesus writes new rules for life in the venerable Jerusalem dust.

Jn8_1_11JPG

Jesus enjoys an early morning walk from the Mount of Olives to the Temple. The weather, no doubt, was typically beautiful since others easily gathered and sat around Jesus to hear his teaching.

But the Pharisees, vigilant for an opportunity to condemn Jesus, executed a mean-hearted plot.

Dragging a woman “caught in the act of adultery” before the encircled men, they demanded Jesus’s judgment of the distraught woman.

Woman Taken in Adultery – Rembrandt, National Gallery London

Imagine the woman’s terror.  Her poverty and loneliness have already forced her into an ignoble commerce. Had she the chance, she surely would have chosen an easier life.

Now, her meager quarters have been broken into, her privacy invaded in the most intimate of circumstances.  Her adulterous accomplice has either turned her in, or absconded in cowardice. She is surrounded by brutal accusers, many of whom are likely her former customers.

But Jesus sees the woman, not her sin. He responds to her heart not her actions.  He also sees these evil, plotting men and responds to their veiled motivations.


Wouldn’t we love to know what Jesus scribbled in the Temple dirt as these blood-thirsty hypocrites hung over him?

Might it have been the names of those who also visited the woman on earlier nights?

Might it have been some of their hidden sins?

Challenged to cast the first stone if they were sinless, the plotters slowly slink away.  Jesus is left to forgive and heal this suffering woman.

Jesus tells her to go and sin no more, to -as the first reading says – “remember not the things of the past”. Jesus has made her into a new person by the power of his mercy.


May that renewing Mercy touch us, and our world, where we sorely need it.

May it flow through our renewed hearts to everyone we encounter, no matter the circumstances.


Poetry: Two beautiful poems today. The first refers specifically to Rembrandt’s painting above:

Rembrandt, “The Woman Taken in Adultery,” National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London
by Peter Cooley, Senior Mellon Professor in the Humanities and Director of Creative Writing at Tulane University and lives in New Orleans.

Just as I came out of the Gallery,
I saw a gull among hoards of tourists
encircling the statue of Lord Nelson,
crazed while I prayed he'd make it out, resume
flight I attribute to all birds, boundless.
But my dying: I try to keep it lined
around the edges of the ordinary
so I can—shall I say—appreciate?

Drawn to that picture by the glowing dark
around the woman, kneeling, Christ standing,
the Scribes and Pharisees shrouded in black,
I saw she, too, has just discovered light,
knowing, moments ago, she escaped stoning.
She just this instant came to where I'm going.

The second poem is by the beautiful Franciscan poet, Irene Zimmerman, OSF.

From the angry crunch of their sandaled feet
as they left the courtyard, Jesus knew,
without looking up from his writing on the ground,
that the Pharisees and scribes still carried their stones.

The woman stood where they’d shoved her,
her hair hanging loose over neck and face,
her hands still shielding her head
from the stones she awaited.

“Woman,” he asked, “has no one condemned you?”

The heap of woman shuddered, unfolded.
She viewed the courtyard — empty now —
with wild, glazed eyes and turned back to him.
“No one, Sir,” she said, unsurely.

Compassion flooded him like a wadi after rain.
He thought of his own mother — had she known such fear? —
and of the gentle man whom he had called Abba.
Only when Joseph lay dying had he confided
his secret anguish on seeing his betrothed
swelling up with seed not his own.

“Neither do I condemn you,” Jesus said.
“Go your way and sin no more.”

Black eyes looked out from an ashen face,
empty, uncomprehending.
Then life rushed back.
She stood before him like a blossoming tree.

“Go in peace and sin no more,”
Jesus called again as she left the courtyard.

He had bought her at a price, he knew.
The stony hearts of her judges
would soon hurl their hatred at him.
His own death was a mere stone’s throw away.


Music:  Remember Not the Things of the Past – Bob Hurd

Lent: Forgive As Forgiven

March 22, 2022
Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we meet Azariah of Fiery Furnace – a great champion of faith ready to bolster ours in our own uncertain times.

In our reading from the Book of Daniel, Azariah (later Abednego) prays a moving prayer of urgency, repentance, supplication, and trust:

And now we follow you with our whole heart,
we hold you in awe and we pray to you.
Do not let us be put to shame,
but deal with us in your kindness and great mercy.
Deliver us by your wonders,
and bring glory to your name, O Lord.

This prayer rang very true for me today, as I prayed for God’s mercy and miracles all over our suffering earth, especially in Ukraine.


And then we move to our Gospel, which brings before us the always thorny issue of forgiveness. Forgiveness is easy when it is something we seek for ourselves. Yes, we may have done something wrong. But we see the issue from inside our own heart. We know we didn’t mean it, made a mistake, or didn’t fully understand the harm we caused. We know we deserve forgiveness.

But what about the other guys — the ones who hurt us or someone we love? They meant it, didn’t they!!!! Their treachery was no mistake. They understood all along the harm they would cause! How could we ever forgive them?

Isn’t that the way the tapes sometimes run in our heads when we are hurt by another, or when we witness such hurt?

In our Gospel, Jesus offers us the character of the forgiving master who represents our Creator. The parable teaches that God accepts and heals our weakness – God forgives. But once forgiven, we are called to be like God – forgiving others and desiring their healing.

Does this mean we ignore or forget the pain forced on others or ourselves? I don’t think so. It means that we use it as a catalyst to remember how in need of grace we and all our sisters and brothers are as we learn to live in love.


Poetry: As we pray with such awareness, how appropriate today’s psalm-poem is:

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.
Remember that your compassion, O LORD,
            and your kindness are from of old.
In your kindness remember me,
            because of your goodness, O LORD.
Good and upright is the LORD;
            thus showing sinners the way.
God guides the humble to justice,
            and teaches the humble God’s way.

Psalm 25:4-9

Music: Forgiveness – Matthew West

Lent: Becoming Mercy

March 14, 2022
Monday of the Second week of Lent

bruggemann

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our reading from Daniel gives us one of the Great Prayers of the Old Testament (according to Walter Brueggemann’s like-named book.)

The Book of Daniel and chapter nine in particular, have been the subjects of extensive biblical exegesis. Chapter nine in considered one of the Messianic Prophecies, Old Testament markers pointing to Christ. So there is much we could study about today’s first reading.

But how might we pray with it – for our times and our lives?


Naming the sins of all the People, Daniel’s great prayer is a plea for mercy:

Lord, great and awesome God,
you who keep your merciful covenant 
toward those who love you
and observe your commandments! …
… yours, O Lord, our God, 
are compassion and forgiveness!


Three themes, so strikingly germane to Lent, arise from Daniel’s prayer:

Repentance
Forgiveness
Transformation


Our Responsorial Psalm picks up this plea to Mercy for mercy:

Remember not against us the iniquities of the past;
may your compassion quickly come to us,
for we are brought very low.
R.    Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins.
Help us, O God our savior,

because of the glory of your name;
Deliver us and pardon our sins
for your name’s sake.


The questions for each of us as we pray today —

Is there someplace in my life longing for such mercy and healing? 
Where can my spirit grow from repentance, forgiveness, and transformation?

be Mercy

In our Gospel Jesus tells us how to open our hearts to this merciful healing.

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.

There it is in black and white. Whether or not the advice changes my heart is up to me!


Poetry: To Live in the Mercy of God – Denise Levertov

To lie back under the tallest
oldest trees. How far the stems
rise, rise
               before ribs of shelter
                                           open!

To live in the mercy of God. The complete
sentence too adequate, has no give.

Awe, not comfort. Stone, elbows of
stony wood beneath lenient
moss bed.

And awe suddenly
passing beyond itself. Becomes
a form of comfort.
                      Becomes the steady
air you glide on, arms
stretched like the wings of flying foxes.
To hear the multiple silence
of trees, the rainy
forest depths of their listening.

To float, upheld,
                as salt water
                would hold you,
                                        once you dared.

                  .To live in the mercy of God.
To feel vibrate the enraptured

waterfall flinging itself
unabating down and down
                              to clenched fists of rock.
Swiftness of plunge,
hour after year after century,
                                                   O or Ah
uninterrupted, voice
many-stranded.
                              To breathe
spray. The smoke of it.
                              Arcs
of steelwhite foam, glissades
of fugitive jade barely perceptible. Such passion—
rage or joy?
                              Thus, not mild, not temperate,
God’s love for the world. Vast
flood of mercy
                      flung on resistance.


Music: Kyrie Eleison (Lord, have mercy) Beethoven- Missa Solemnis

Careful … Compassionate

March 12, 2022
Saturday of the First Week of Lent

Moses spoke to the people, saying:
“This day the LORD, your God,
commands you to observe
these statutes and decrees.
Be careful, then,
to observe them
with all your heart
and with all your soul.



Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, Moses tells us this:

Be careful, then …

Dt. 26:17

Be careful of what? Does Moses mean be careful like, ”Don’t fall down the steps!”. Or does he mean be careful like, “Hold tenderly to love in your life.”?

In this passage from Deuteronomy, Moses goes on to say one of my favorite biblical phrases:

… today the LORD is making this agreement with you:
you are to be a people peculiarly his own, as he promised you…

Dt. 26:18

Since the 17th century, the word “peculiar” has taken on the meaning of “odd” or “unusual”.  But the original sense comes from the Latin peculiarismeaning “of private property”

Moses is reminding us that we belong to God and God to us in a covenant similar to, but far exceeding, the mutuality of a marriage.

So we should “be careful”, full of care, in appreciation for this infinite love.


chick
When Catherine McAuley instructed her sisters in the practice of caring for the sick, she told them always to use great tenderness…

In our Gospel, Jesus tells us how to take this exquisite care of our precious relationship with God:

But I say to you, love your enemies,
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for God makes the sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
… Be compassionate as your Heavenly Father is compassionate.

Matthew 5: 44-48

So, let’s be careful of love today
when we find this precious God
in our sisters and brothers
and in all God’s Creation.
“great tenderness in all things…”


Poetry: Tenderness – Rumi

When inward tenderness 
finds the secret hurt,
pain itself will crack the rock and
Ah! let the soul emerge.

Music:  Compassion Hymn – The Gettys

Lent: A Love Beyond Measure

March 11, 2022
Friday of the First Week of Lent

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our readings could confuse us with their threads of legalistic logic. We see several examples of “if-then” admonitions that can make us picture God as an accountant measuring every choice we make.

If the wicked man turns, … then he shall surely live
If the virtuous man turns, … then none of his good deeds shall be remembered.
If you, O Lord, mark iniquities … then who can stand.
If you go to the altar unreconciled … then leave and be reconciled


Sometimes, we can get obsessive about the “if-then” aspects of religion. And IF we do, THEN we probably miss the whole point. Because folded in today’s “if-then” seesaws is the truth of these passages: that the Lord does NOT sit miserly in Heaven to mark our iniquities.

God measures the righteousness of love.

Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD.

Jeremiah 9: 23-24

Today’s Responsorial Psalm offers us a beautiful prayer for today as we pray in the embrace of God’s Lavish Mercy:

I trust in the LORD;
my soul trusts in his word.
My soul waits for the LORD
more than sentinels wait for the dawn.
Let Israel wait for the LORD.
For with the LORD is kindness
and with him is plenteous redemption;
And he will redeem Israel
from all their iniquities.

Psalm 130: 5-7

Let’s wait for the Lord today
to see how God’s Grace
invites us to
the righteousness of Love.


Poetry: Measurement by Ella Hines Stratton

Great tasks are but seldom given out,
Great deeds are but for the few,
Yet the little acts, not talked about,
May need a faith as true.

Some things are better for being small,
For a breath who wants a cyclone?
And the flower which would die in a water-fall
Grows bright with a drop alone.

The small is not always a little thing—
The stroke of a pen may move
A crown from off the brow of a king,
A government from its groove.

At times our measurement cannot be right,
For, when tried by the Master’s test,
So little a gift as a widow’s mite
Out-balances all the rest.

And whether a thing be great or small
As none of us may plan,
It is safe to do, what we do at all,
The very best that we can.


Music: Everlasting Love – Mark Hendrickson & Family (Lyrics below)

Lent: On God’s Good Side?

March 7, 2022
Monday of the First week of Lent

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we are invited to be like God:

The LORD said to Moses,
“Speak to the whole assembly of the children of Israel
and tell them:
Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.

Leviticus 19:1

Our first reading goes on to tell us how to be a decent person.

Don’t steal, lie, or cheat
Pay just wages
Respect and help those physically burdened
Be impartial and just
Defend life
Don’t slander, hate, take revenge, or hold a grudge

Basically, the message is about kindness …
deep kindness,
the type that comes from realizing
how infinitely kind God is to us.

Leviticus, after a long list of practical examples, sums it up:

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD.

Leviticus 19:18

Our Gospel tells us what happens when we make the choice to take the Old Testament advice — or not.

We are all familiar with the parable of the sheep and the goats. And we all hope our scorecard gets us into the right herd “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him …”

In this parable, Jesus puts the advice of Leviticus into practical form for his followers. But he adds one dynamic element that not only invites but impels our wholehearted response:

Amen, I say to you,
what you did not do for one of these least ones,
you did not do for me.

Matthew 25:40

Leviticus invites us to become holy as God is holy. But Jesus reveals the secret that this Holy God lives in the poor, hungry, homeless, imprisoned and sick. By embracing these most beloved of God, we find the path to holiness.


Poetry: When Did I See You – Renee Yann, RSM

When Did I See You …
(Woman Who Is Homeless)

In the bitter rain of February
I sat inside a sunlit room,
and offered You warm prayer.

Then, she passed outside my window
dressed too lightly for the wind,
steadied on a cane, though she was young.

She seemed searching for
a comfort, unavailable and undefined.
The wound of that impossibility

fell over her the way it falls
on every tender thing that cries
but is not gathered to a caring breast.

Suddenly she was a single
anguished seed of You,
fallen into all created things.

Gathering my fallen prayer,
I wear the thought of her
like cracked earth wears fresh rain.

I’ve misconstrued You,
Holy One, to whom
I spread my heart

as if it were a yearning field…
Holy One, already ripe within
her barest, leanest yearning.

Music: The Least of These – Karl Kohlhase

Lent: Listening with the Heart

March 6, 2022
First Sunday of Lent

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy,  our reading from Romans tells us:

The word is near you,
in your mouth and in your heart.

How is the Word of God near us, with us? 

Certainly, our sincere study and prayer with scripture is one way. Sitting quietly with scriptural passages, letting them speak to us, and inviting them to inform our lives is a life-giving discipline.

Sometimes, we might choose just one word or phrase from a beloved reading, turning it over and over, gently in our prayer. How has this precious word informed our lives, inspired us, called us, comforted us? How is it speaking to us in this moment?


As we move more deeply into the “words” of scripture, we move closer to the Word – the Incarnate God. John writes: 

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.

Through him all things were made;
without him nothing was made that has been made.

John 1:1

Today in our prayer, we might recommit ourselves to a deepening love of scripture, of the Word given to us there.

In his book, “The Bible Makes Sense”, Walter Bruggemann says this:

The Bible is not an “object” for us to study but a partner with whom we may dialogue. It is usual in our modern world to regard any “thing” as an object that will yield its secrets to us if we are diligent and discerning. And certainly this is true of a book that is finished, printed, bound, and that we can buy, sell, shelve, and carry in a briefcase or place on a coffee table…[But] reading the Bible requires that we abandon the subject-object way of perceiving things… [If we do,] the text will continue to contain surprises for us, and conversely we discover that not only do we interpret the text but we in turn are interpreted by the text… We may analyze, but we must also listen and expect to be addressed.


Poetry: God – by Khalil Gibran

In the ancient days, when the first quiver of speech came to my lips, I ascended the holy mountain and spoke unto God, saying, 'Master, I am thy slave. Thy hidden will is my law and I shall obey thee for ever more.' 

But God made no answer, and like a mighty tempest passed away. 

And after a thousand years I ascended the holy mountain and again spoke unto God, saying, 'Creator, I am thy creation. Out of clay hast thou fashioned me and to thee I owe mine all.' 

And God made no answer, but like a thousand swift wings passed away. 

And after a thousand years I climbed the holy mountain and spoke unto God again, saying, 'Father, I am thy son. In pity and love thou hast given me birth, and through love and worship I shall inherit thy kingdom.' 

And God made no answer, and like the mist that veils the distant hills he passed away. 

And after a thousand years I climbed the sacred mountain and again spoke unto God, saying, 'My God, my aim and my fulfilment; I am thy yesterday and thou art my tomorrow. I am thy root in the earth and thou art my flower in the sky, and together we grow before the face of the sun.' 

Then God leaned over me, and in my ears whispered words of sweetness, and even as the sea that enfoldeth a brook that runneth down to her, he enfolded me. 

And when I descended to the valleys and the plains, God was there also.

Music: Word of God Speak – Mercy Me

Love and Mercy

February 20, 2022
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our reading from 1 Samuel tells the intriguing tale of David’s magnanimity toward Saul. Saul is enraged and jealous of David whom Samuel has anointed as king to replace Saul. David is continually in Saul’s crosshairs.

David Spares Saul – William Brassey Hole

But one night, David stealthily enters Saul’s camp. Even though he has a chance to kill Saul, David spares his life out of respect for his kingship.

While it’s not exactly “love for his enemies”, David does demonstrate a largeness of spirit that foretells today’s Gospel. This gracious spirit demonstrates that David is in right relationship (covenant) with God.

Our Gospel is part of Jesus’s Great Sermon in which he restates and renews the covenant of right relationship. If our spirits are true to God, we will love as God loves. We are to be merciful as God is merciful.

This Law of Love is the essence of life in Christ. It is a profoundly challenging call.

How hard it must have been for David as he stood, spear in hand, over his sleeping enemy – over the one trying to kill him!

How hard it is for us not to be vengeful, retaliatory, and parsimonious when we feel threatened or exploited.

But we are called, in Christ, to the New Covenant of love. By that call, we are endowed with a right spirit.

Today, Jesus asks us to love, forgive, and judge all others as we ourselves would want to be treated. He asks us to live with a divinely magnanimous heart.

Let us pray for the strength to respond.

Prose: from To Love as God Loves by Roberta C. Bondi, professor emerita of church history and spirituality, Candler School of Theology, Emory University.

Love as a disposition 
does not primarily act
on abstract principle.
Instead it is a way of seeing
habitually and responding
to the real, separate, individual needs
of each of the people we encounter
in our lives every single day.

Music: O Mercy – Stu Garrard, Matt Maher and Audrey Assad