Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 51 which expresses the ardent desire for forgiveness and reconciliation.
The psalm reflects back to our first reading – an episode of sibling rivalry, jealousy, and hidden motives.
Moses, favored of God and leader of the people, makes a questionable choice. He marries outside the tribe, after telling everyone else not to. Hmmm. His siblings, Aaron and Miriam, don’t like that. So they indignantly complain:
Is it through Moses alone that the LORD speaks? Does God not speak through us also?
God hears their complaint and sees through it. God sees that they are less concerned about the marriage and more concerned about themselves. They’re tired of Moses telling them what to do. They think God could have picked a better leader — one of them!
God sets them straight about how special Moses is, and their responsibility to support, not undermine, him.
Should there be a prophet among you, in visions will I reveal myself to him, in dreams will I speak to him; not so with my servant Moses! Throughout my house he bears my trust: face to face I speak to him; plainly and not in riddles. The presence of the LORD he beholds.
The whole story is really about motives. Everything we do must be done out of love – out of reverence for God, and out of respect and hope for ourselves and others. This is what it means to have a clean heart. And it is the plea of Psalm 51.
A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me. Cast me not off from your presence, and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
Reflection: This is a great piece by Sister Joyce Rupp on a clean heart (published in America magazine)
Today in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with our Sunday readings, so full of wisdom for our lives.
“Don’t we have anything decent to eat around here?” “There’s nothing to eat in this house !”
How many times do parents hear these complaints from their growing teenagers! The problem? They’re not looking for the apples, or eggs, or yogurt, or avocados which actually are in the fridge. They’re looking for junk!
Today’s first reading reflects a similar situation with the Jews in the desert. They are hungry, but not for the spiritual food Yahweh is offering them. They complain continuously. So God relents, feeding them manna and quail. But God is clear. He says, “I have done this so that you may know I am the Lord, your God.”
In the Gospel, Jesus admonishes his listeners, “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life.” Jesus doesn’t mean we should stop eating. He knows that we need food and other things in order to live. What He wants us to understand is that these things have only secondary importance to the food for our soul, a sustenance which we often relegate to inferior status, to “when we have time”.
In his advice to the Ephesians, Paul says that to live without spiritual awareness is “to live in the futility of our minds”. It’s a powerful phrase, generating an image of us running around in our heads after all sorts of vain worries and goals — junk.
Paul’s advice? Get over that running around! Put on a New Self!
we are such a mix of thorns and thread; why do You insist on living in the midst, even among the broken bowls and spilled strengths? I’ve seen You sift among the crumbs and find (I don’t know how) a loaf; what we tear, touch to make us mend; and show again to sift and share and be again the bread.
Music: Bread of Life ~ Bernadette Farrell
Bread of life, hope of the world,
Jesus Christ, our brother:
feed us now, give us life,
lead us to one another.
As we proclaim your death,
as we recall your life,
we remember your promise
to return again.
Bread of life, hope of the world,
Jesus Christ, our brother:
feed us now, give us life,
lead us to one another.
The bread we break and share
was scattered once as grain:
just as now it is gathered,
make your people one.
Bread of life, hope of the world,
Jesus Christ, our brother:
feed us now, give us life,
lead us to one another.
We eat this living bread,
we drink this saving cup:
sign of hope in our broken world,
source of lasting love.
Hold us in unity,
in love for all to see;
that the world may believe in you,
God of all who live.
You are the bread of peace,
you are the wine of joy,
broken now for your people,
poured in endless love.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 106 which, like its companion piece Psalm 105, is about the praise that comes from remembering.
The difference between the two psalms is this:
In Psalm 105, Israel has remembered God’s goodness, thus a celebratory tone
In Psalm 106, the psalmist recounts Israel’s forgetfulness of God’s goodness, thus a repentant tone.
In Psalm 106, a companion piece to Psalm 105, the same inventory is recited, but this time the focus is on the recurring recalcitrance of infidelity on the part of Israel. That is, it is a confession of sin, and it ends in petition:
Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from among the nations that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise. (v.47)
The message for us? Here is what I take from this psalm:
1 – Never forget or overlook God’s presence and action in my life.
But they soon forgot all God had done; they had no patience for God’s plan.
We have to give ourselves the time to search our circumstances for God’s presence and invitation to Grace.
This practice has always helped me – pausing occasionally during the day, before or after my many tasks and encounters, simply to raise this question: Where is God in this moment?
2 – Structure my life in such a way that it calls me back to grateful remembering.
For their sake God remembered stayed fast to the covenant and relented in abundant mercy, Winning for them compassion from all that held them captive.
Psalm 106: 45-46
Our lives are complex. We have a lot of responsibilities, needs, desires, obstacles, hopes, and frustrations. In trying to deal with life’s complexities, we might begin to think that it all depends on us. We might get tangled in our own machinations. We might forget that it is God who breathed us into life and holds us in it through all our experiences.
Brief morning and evening prayers of gratitude, hope, reflection, repentance, and thanksgiving – these can keep us aware and focused. Slowly we may build to an hourly remembering of God’s companionship and action in our lives. Ultimately, with patience and practice, the awareness becomes constant and sustaining.
There are two wonderful books that have helped me with the prayer of awareness for those who might be interested.
Seven Sacred Pauses: Living Mindfully Through the Hours of the Day by Macrina Wiederkehr
Music of Silence: A Sacred Journey through the Hours of the Day by Brother David Steindl-Rast
Poetry: I live my life in 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 50 which enjoins us – from sunrise to sunset – to offer God a sacrifice of praise.
In our first reading, the Israelites took detailed steps to offer sacrifice to the Lord. Their efforts are summarized in this verse:
We will do everything that the LORD has told us.
But what is the difference between a “sacrifice of praise” and the ritualized blood sacrifice described in Exodus?
I think of a “sacrifice of praise” as that moment in our spiritual lives when our focus shifts
from “what we do to honor God” to “how God lives in us”
from practiced ritual to the awe of Sacred Presence
from my efforts to God’s fidelity
in other words…..
from me to God
At that moment, the “sacrifice” is of our natural self-absorption and self-involvement in order to free God’s presence and action through us.
It is a moment of recognition like that of John the Baptist who, busy as he had been establishing his ministry, on seeing Jesus said, “He must increase and I must decrease.”
Our psalm tells us that God is faithfully responsive to such total awareness and commitment:
Offer to God praise as your sacrifice and fulfill your vows to the Most High; Then call upon me in time of distress; I will rescue you, and you shall glorify me.
Our psalm moves me to this prayer:
My intention, hope, and prayer, dear God, is
to praise You with my life
to act for You in all things
to be Mercy in the world as You would be
May these become a sacrifice of praise to You.
Poetry: St. John’s Eve – Malcolm Guite
Midsummer night, and bonfires on the hill Burn for the man who makes way for the Light: ‘He must increase and I diminish still, Until his sun illuminates my night.’ So John the Baptist pioneers our path, Unfolds the essence of the life of prayer, Unlatches the last doorway into faith,And makes one inner space an everywhere. Least of the new and greatest of the old, Orpheus on the threshold with his lyre, He sets himself aside, and cries “Behold The One who stands amongst you comes with fire!” So keep his fires burning through this night, Beacons and gateways for the child of light.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 19, a testament to God’s Word as living and real in our lives. This psalm foreshadows the beautiful words from John’s Gospel.
Our first reading recounts God’s presentation of the Ten Commandments on Sinai. This code was the basic framework for the community’s response to God’s gift of relationship. God was saying, “Here’s what I need from you to make this thing work.”
Psalm 19 shows us that even though this “Law” was “carved in stone”, it was lived in the hearts of the faithful. It was dynamic, required nuance and interpretation, needed human engagement to fully come to life.
In other words, the “Law” had to live, come off the stone, and into hearts.
When this happens, we grow in the essence of “law”, which is love, reverence, mutuality, and generosity. We experience God’s Word as gift and delight. We long to learn more perfectly what, in our choices and actions, can bring us closer to God.
Then the law becomes, as Psalm 19 tells us:
perfect, refreshing the soul
trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple
right, rejoicing the heart
clear, enlightening the eye.
pure, enduring forever;
more precious than gold
sweeter also than syrup
or honey from the comb.
We all know people who claim to live by a static, lifeless but recite-able law. They can readily quote some out-of-context scripture to judge, reprimand, or condemn. It’s sad because the Word has died in them.
The Law of Love grows in the rich soil of today’s Gospel. It meets life with an honest, open, and loving spirit to find the unique adventure of grace God wants for each of us.
Pope Francis, when speaking of the Law, said this:
Our God is the God of nearness, a God who is near, who walks with his people. That image in the desert, in Exodus: the cloud and the pillar of fire to protect the people: He walks with his people. He is not a God who leaves the written prescriptions and says, “Go ahead.” He makes the prescriptions, writes them with his own hands on the stone, gives them to Moses, hands them to Moses, but does not leave the prescriptions and leaves: He walks, He is close. “Which nation has such a close God?” It’s the nearness. Ours is a God of nearness.
Poetry: What is the Root? – Hafiz
What Is the Root of all these Words?
One thing: love. But a love so deep and sweet It needed to express itself With scents, sounds, colors That never before Existed.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 78 which calls on the community to remember God’s constant gifts to us. Those gifts are symbolized in bread, manna from Heaven.
Thinking about the symbol of bread, this wonderful poem by Mary Oliver captured my prayer today. I leave it with you without additional comment to find your own place within it.
As I prayed with the poem, I began drawing a mandala … but it turned into an icon! (Who knew!😀) Each segment holds a memory or awareness of a particular gift God has given me.
Icons, like poems, allow the receiver a certain amount of interpretation. For example, is the figure here God, an Angel, me – or someone else? It’s up to you … enjoy the sacred play.
I hope this poem will offer you a doorway to your prayer as well.
Eat bread and understand comfort. Drink water, and understand delight. Visit the garden where the scarlet trumpets are opening their bodies for the hummingbirds who are drinking the sweetness, who are thrillingly gluttonous.
For one thing leads to another. Soon you will notice how stones shine underfoot. Eventually tides will be the only calendar you believe in.
And you will hear the air itself, like a beloved, whisper Oh let me, for a while longer, enter the two Beautiful bodies of your lungs…
The witchery of living is my whole conversation with you, my darlings. All I can tell you is what I know.
Look, and look again. This world is not just a little thrill for your eyes.
It’s more than bones. It’s more than the delicate wrist with its personal pulse. It’s more than the beating of a single heart. It’s praising. It’s giving until the giving feels like receiving. You have a life–just imagine that! You have this day, and maybe another, and maybe still another…
We do one thing or another; we stay the same, or we change. Congratulations, if you have changed.
Let me ask you this. Do you also think that beauty exists for some fabulous reason? And, if you have not been enchanted by this adventure– your life– what would do for you?
What I loved in the beginning, I think, was mostly myself. Never mind that I had to, since somebody had to. That was many years ago. Since then I have gone out from my confinements, though with difficulty. I mean the ones that thought to rule my heart. I cast them out; I put them on the mush pile. They will be nourishment somehow (everything is nourishment somehow or another).
And I have become the child of the clouds, and of hope. I have become the friend of the enemy, whoever that is. I have become older and, cherishing what I have learned, I have become younger.
And what do I risk to tell you this, which is all I know? Love yourself. Then forget it. Then, love the world.
Music: Break Thou the Bread of Life by Mary A. Lathbury (1877), and sung beautifully here by Acapeldridge
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 136 in which the psalmist remembers in detail Israel’s long experience of God’s enduring fidelity.
The cadence of the psalm creates an underlying drumbeat to our prayer, a chant of gratitude and confidence. Reading it, I was reminded of two things.
The first is a scene from the movie “Glory” where the troops pray the night before battle. They pray in the classic style of the Black spiritual call-and-response song.
You may have seen it:
The prayer of these men, like the prayer of ancient Israel, is not just a walk down memory lane. No. Each proclamation is an act of of faith – and of gratitude for the past, courage for the present, and hope for the future.
Secondly, I was reminded of the simple and methodical cadence of a childhood ditty – S/he loves me S/he loves me not. Didn’t many of us try that magic practice at least once, maybe at our first young crush?
Well, God does love us – daisy or not. The proof is not in the petals, but in the story of our lives.
Poetry: I thank you, God – e.e.cummings
i thank You God for most this amazing day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes (i who have died am alive again today, and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay great happening illimitably earth) how should tasting touching hearing seeing breathing any—lifted from the no of all nothing—human merely being doubt unimaginable You? (now the ears of my ears awake and now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
Music: Swing Low, Sweet Chariot – Etta James sings a classical example of the call-and-response spiritual
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 116, a lyrical interweaving of thanksgiving and praise.
I love this beautiful psalm which expresses the heart’s overwhelming gratitude for the whole mystery of one’s life.
How shall I make a return to the LORD for all the good God has done for me? The cup of salvation I will take up, and I will call upon the name of the LORD.
This prayer always comes to my mind when one of our Sisters dies. The witness of her life, remembered in our funeral rituals, always stirs me to deeper faith and gratitude.
Precious in your eyes, O LORD is the death of your faithful one, your servant, who has freely and lovingly served you. To you she has offered the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and called upon your name, O LORD. Her vows to the LORD she has paid in the presence of all your people.
Psalm 116: 15-18
It is with perfect timing that this sacred psalm comes up in Friday’s liturgy. At the Motherhouse in Plainfield,NJ, a wonderful Sister of Mercy is laid to rest today – Sister Diane Szubrowski. Her vows to the Lord she has paid – with faith and mercy. May she rest in Glory!
Poetry: Grateful – Thomas Merton
To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything.
Music: My Vows to the Lord – John Michael Talbot (lyrics below
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 103, always a source of sweet reflection on God’s mercy.
From today’s verses, this line rings out:
It’s a call to make our lives a total prayer – every moment lived in and with the Presence of God.
The truth is that this is already our reality. God is present to our every moment because it is God’s Life which breathes within us.
The psalm’s call is really to our awareness – the mandate fully to realize that God is living God’s life through us.
The psalm tells us to remember that, in order to so live in us, God is continually merciful. And so God:
pardons all our iniquities
heals all your ills
redeems our life from destruction
and ultimately crowns us with kindness and compassion.
In other words, when we are open to Grace, God makes the best even of our mistakes – always allowing us repent, change, and deepen in love and mercy.
God redeems our life from every darkness and crowns us with mercy and compassion, God fills our days with light, renews our young enthusiasm with the eagle’s strength.
Poetry: The Presence of Love – Samuel Taylor Coleridge
And in Life's noisiest hour, There whispers still the ceaseless Love of Thee, The heart's Self-solace and soliloquy. You mould my Hopes, you fashion me within; And to the leading Love-throb in the Heart Thro' all my Being, thro' my pulse's beat; You lie in all my many Thoughts, like Light, Like the fair light of Dawn, or summer Eve On rippling Stream, or cloud-reflecting Lake. And looking to the Heaven, that bends above you, How oft! I bless the Lot that made me love you.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 69 whose speaker, not to make a pun, is in bad straits!
I am sunk in the abysmal swamp where there is no foothold; I have reached the watery depths; the flood overwhelms me.
This is painful stuff – the kind of desperate pain we find threaded throughout the psalms in the prayers of lament.
These laments follow a pattern:
a petition for God’s help
multiple repetitions of this plea
detailed descriptions of the suffering being endured
proclamations of the sufferer’s innocence
assurances of the sufferer’s goodness
and often, a list of suggestions about how God should solve the problem
So the prayer, at least mine, would go something like this:
Dear God, please help me get out of this mess!
Do something, please. I know you can do something!
I am being harassed and destroyed. Let me tell you all about it.!
And it’s not my fault- (well, not completely anyway)
I try to be a good person and look what happens anyway!
I still believe in you and pray that you take care of my persecutors
(By the way, here are some tips on how you might do that, God.)
All in all, such a lament is a really healthy prayer. If we pray it completely, we get to the “BUT” of the pictured verse – that place where we allow God to teach and change us.
When we pray like this, we do these things in God’s Presence:
recognize our pain and name it
admit that we need help
analyze what’s really at the root of our pain
acknowledge our part in causing the suffering
rehearse our vengeance until we have exhausted it
reclaim our faith as a way to healing
THEN allow God to convert us to the Love of which we are made
The psalmist has given us a gift by laying out such vulnerability for us. It is healing to humbly and honestly pray this psalm when we are “overwhelmed” by hurt, confusion, anger, fear or any form of desperation.
We may have to pray Psalm 69 many times before we let God through to teach us the real meaning of our suffering. It is only then that we might pray the psalm’s final verses:
See, you humble ones, and be glad; you who seek God, take heart! For the LORD hears us, and does not turn away from our pain. Let the heaven and the earth praise God, the seas and whatever moves in them! For God will rescue usand rebuild us so that we can be at home with ourselves as the dwelling place of God.
Psalm 69: 33-36
Poetry: Psalm 69 – Christine Robinson
Save me, O God,
I have gotten myself in deep waters.
and find no firm ground under my feet.
I am tired of crying.
I feel at war with myself and with others;
I’m unable to do what is expected of me.
O God, you know my foolishness and my faults—
Do you love me anyway?
I really am sinking.
These rushing, dark waters are going to swallow me up.
Answer me, God!
Your loving kindness would save me.
If I could see your face, it would be enough
to ease my distress and help me relax in the flood.
I will remember that you are here,
even in the torrent, even in the war.
I will give thanks for the small beauties
and kindnesses of the day.
And for the love that is in my heart.