On Thy Wondrous Works I Will Meditate (Psalm 145)

 

seashore

by Mary Oliver

1.
All day up and down the shore the
fine points of the waves keep on
tapping whatever is there: scatter of broken
clams, empty jingles, old
oyster shells thick and castellated that held
once the pale jewel of their bodies, such sweet
tongue and juice. And who do you
think you are sauntering along
five feet up in the air, the ocean a blue fire
around your ankles, the sun
on your face on your shoulders its golden mouth whispering
(so it seems) you! you! you!

2.
Now the afternoon wind
all frill and no apparent purpose
takes her cloud-shaped
hand and touches every one of the
waves so that rapidly
they stir the wings of the eiders they blur
the boats on their moorings; not even the rocks
black and blunt interrupt the waves on their
way to the shore and one last swimmer (is it you?) rides
their salty infoldings and outfoldings until,
peaked, their blue sides heaving, they pause; and God
whistles them back; and you glide safely to shore.

3.
One morning
a hundred pink and cylindrical
squid lay beached their lacy faces,
their gnarls of dimples and ropy tentacles
limp and powerless; as I watched
the big gulls went down upon
this sweetest trash rolling
like the arms of babies through the
swash—in a feathered dash,
a snarl of delight the beaks fell
grabbing and snapping; then was left
only the empty beach, the birds floating back over the waves.

4.
How many mysteries have you seen in your
lifetime? How many nets pulled
full over the boat’s side, each silver body
ready or not falling into
submission? How many roses in early summer
uncurling above the pale sands then
falling back in unfathomable
willingness? And what can you say? Glory
to the rose and the leaf, to the seed, to the
silver fish. Glory to time and the wild fields,
and to joy. And to grief’s shock and torpor, its near swoon.

5.
So it is not hard to understand
where God’s body is, it is
everywhere and everything; shore and the vast
fields of water, the accidental and the intended
over here, over there. And I bow down
participate and attentive
it is so dense and apparent. And all the same I am still
unsatisfied. Standing
here, now, I am thinking
not of His thick wrists and His blue
shoulders but, still, of Him. Where, do you suppose, is His
sage and wonderful mind?

6.
I would be good—oh, I would be upright and good.
To what purpose? To be shining not
sinful, not wringing out of the hours
petulance, heaviness, ashes. To what purpose?
Hope of heaven? Not that. But to enter
the other kingdom: grace, and imagination,
and the multiple sympathies: to be as a leaf, a rose,
a dolphin, a wave rising
slowly then briskly out of the darkness to touch
the limpid air, to be God’s mind’s
servant, loving with the body’s sweet mouth—its kisses, its words—
everything.

7.
I know a man of such
mildness and kindness it is trying to
change my life. He does not
preach, teach, but simply is. It is
astonishing, for he is Christ’s ambassador
truly, by rule and act. But, more,
he is kind with the sort of kindness that shines
out, but is resolute, not fooled. He has
eaten the dark hours and could also, I think,
soldier for God, riding out
under the storm clouds, against the world’s pride and unkindness,
with both unassailable sweetness, and tempering word.

8.
Every morning I want to kneel down on the golden
cloth of the sand and say
some kind of musical thanks for
the world that is happening again—another day—
from the shawl of wind coming out of the
west to the firm green
flesh of the melon lately sliced open and
eaten, its chill and ample body
flavored with mercy. I want
to be worthy—of what? Glory? Yes, unimaginable glory.
O Lord of melons, of mercy, though I am
not ready, nor worthy, I am climbing toward you.

Music: Vangelis – Dreams of Surf

Bright with Love

Wednesday of the Third Week of Easter

May 8, 2019

Click here for readings.

Today, in Mercy, the inevitable shadow falls over the early Christian community. Stephen is martyred – the first, the proto-martyr of many, down through the centuries, who will die for their faith.

Acts8_2 Stephen

This slaughter of innocence happened at the feet, and at the approbation, of Saul – yet untouched by the glorious grace of Christ.

How the community must have mourned beloved Stephen who, as our hymn describes him, was “bright with Love”:

  • Stephen, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:5)
  • Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people (Acts 6:8)
  • All those who sat in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen and saw that his face was like the face of an angel. (Acts 6:15)
  • Stephen, filled with the holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God  (Acts 7:8)
  • Stephen, as they were stoning him, called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. ( Acts 7:55)
  • What a treasure of a man! What a devastation to see his young, gracious life crushed by rejection, suffering and pain!

It is so hard to lose our prophets and saints!

I still remember, with great awe, the funeral of our Sister Mary Joanna Regan – one of the graced treasures of the Sisters of Mercy. Our Beloved Community was raw with her loss – as was the larger community of her love and influence.

Joanna’s dear friend, Father John Comey, SJ – now also of beloved memory – preached the sermon at her funeral liturgy. This was his first sentence:

How can such a woman die?

Dear Readers, haven’t we all felt that way in the face of some great loss? Whenever human frailty seems to bend to the powers of death, hatred, or oppression, our souls are crushed. We are astounded that life and goodness seem to yield. So was the early Christian Church when Stephen seemed to fall to hateful hands.

Nevertheless, they believed that there is an eternal life in God beyond that apparent yielding.  They persisted in the ardent work of building up the reign of Christ.

Now those who had been scattered
continued preaching the word. … and
there was great joy in that city.

And the witness of Stephen impelled not only them, but twenty centuries of committed Christians who find their fullness of life in Jesus Christ.

Certainly our Church, with its many recent fractures and falls, needs a resilient, faithful community to lift it up and carry it forward. Let’s pray to St. Stephen today that we may be that community!

(English and Latin canticle today, plus lovely poem after them)

Music:  Sancte Dei, Pretiose  – sung by the Benedictine Monks of St. Michael’s de Laudes

Latin Version
Sancte Dei, pretiose,
Protomartyr Stephane,
Qui virtute caritatis
Circumfulsus undique,
Dominum pro inimico
Exorasti populo
Et coronae qua nitescis
Almus sacri nominis,
Nos, qui tibi famulamur,
Fac consortes fieri :
Et expertes dirae mortis
In die Judicii.
Gloria et honor Deo
Qui te flora roseo
Coronavit et locavit
In throno sidereo :
Salvet reos, solvens eos
A mortis aculeo. Amen.

English Version
Saint of God, elect and precious,
Protomartyr Stephen, bright
With thy love of amplest measure,
Shining round thee like a light;
Who to God commendest, dying,
Them that did thee all despite.
Glitters now the crown above thee,
Figured in thy honored name:
O that we, who truly love thee.
May have portion in the same;
In the dreadful day of judgment
Fearing neither sin nor shame.
Laud to God, and might, and honor,
Who with flowers of rosy dye
Crowned thy forehead, and hath placed thee
In the starry throne on high:
He direct us, He protect us,
From death’s sting eternally.


Poem: St. Stephen by Malcolm Guite

Witness for Jesus, man of fruitful blood,
Your martyrdom begins and stands for all.
They saw the stones, you saw the face of God,
And sowed a seed that blossomed in St. Paul.
When Saul departed breathing threats and slaughter
He had to pass through that Damascus gate
Where he had held the coats and heard the laughter
As Christ, alive in you, forgave his hate,
And showed him the same light you saw from heaven
And taught him, through his blindness, how to see;
Christ did not ask ‘Why were you stoning Stephen?’
But ‘Saul, why are you persecuting me?’
Each martyr after you adds to his story,
As clouds of witness shine through clouds of glory

Hidden Dance

Hidden Dance

Hidden Dance

How easily I let you go
when the final note was played,
with force as soft
as fracture of the chrysalis,
a breaking web collapsing
mutely in the shadowed night.

How easily it seemed
you slipped into another life,
as if it were familiar to you,
a practiced dance that I
was unaware you’d learned.

You fell in step with music
the living cannot hear.
Instead, I hear your absence
beating like a vacant drum
against the void you left behind.

I know I contradict the peace
with which you said goodbye.
It is as if, in me,
two different people loved you:
one was full of grace and gratitude,
and one still questions why.

Music:  Lux Aeterna – Edward Elgar – sung by Voces8

Sorrow

 

rock

Sorrow

You must be alone

with sorrow

before you can leave it,

or it will crush you

like a black, heavy rock.

You must drive into

the hollow of its face,

under the ledges

it projects against you.

Feel its cold granite

pressed to your grain.

In time,

it will allow your turning

to rest your back

within its curve.

Only then,

you will be free to leave it,

walking lightly once again

on yielding earth.

When you return, it will be freely,

on a pilgrimage,

to touch the name you carved once

with the anguish of your heart.

Music:  Seeking Serenity – Nicholas Gunn

Holy Saturday

 Alternative Reading for Today: Walter Brueggemann

Holy Saturday

Today, in Mercy, we join Mary and the disciples as they deal with Christ’s death. No doubt, the range of emotions among them was as great as it would be among any group or family losing someone they dearly loved.

They had entered, with heart-wrenching drama, into a period of bereavement over the loss of Jesus. Doubt, hope, loss, fear, sadness and remembered joy vied for each of their hearts. They comforted one another and tried to understand each other’s handling of their terrible shared bereavement.

They did just what we all do as families, friends and communities when our beloved dies.

But ultimately, our particular bereavement belongs to us alone, woven from the many experiences we have had with the person who has died. These are personal and indescribable, as is the character of our pain and loss.

Do not be afraid of your bereavement.  It is a gift of love.

Holy Saturday, like bereavement, is a time of infrangible silence. No matter how many “whys” we throw heavenward, no answer comes. It is a time to test what Love has meant to us and, even as it seems to leave us, how it will live in us.

As we pray today with the bereaved Mother and disciples, let us fold all our bereavements into their love.  We already know the joyful end to the story, so let us pray today with honesty but also with unconquerable hope that we will live and love again.

Separately, I will send two poems today that I hope may help with your prayer.

Music:  Farewell – Michael Hoppé

 

Good Friday

Click here for readings

Good Friday

Good Friday

Calvary was a glass box where God,
confined, no longer touched the world.

 It was a white plain, without sound,
not the groaning, blood-soaked hill
the scriptures leave us.

 I know.

Calvary hewed itself inside me once
with the chisel of a long sorrow
that fell, persistent, merciless
like cold, steel rain.

 It was a place bereft of feeling.

Only the anticipation and
the memory of pain are feelings.
Pain itself is a huge abyss,
bled by the silence that mimics death,
but is not as kind as death.

 Calvary is the place where
all strength is given
to the drawing of a breath
to linger in it unfulfilled.

God, now I go quietly inside
where you are dying in a glass box, still.
I am changing now to glass
to pass through and companion you.

 I watch the rain, itself like glass,
crashing to an unknown life
beneath the earth.  Where love roots
absolute, unbreakable, I cling to you
in a transparent act of will.

Music: Handel: Messiah – Part 2

The Raising of Lazarus

800px-Raising-of-Lazarus
from wiki commons

Evidently, this was needed. Because people need
to be screamed at with proof.
But Jesus knew his friends. Before they were,
he knew them; and they knew
that he would never leave them
desolate here. So he let his exhausted eyes close
at first glimpse of the village.
And immediately he seemed
to be standing in their midst.
Here was Martha, the dead boy’s sister.
He knew he would always find her
at his right hand, and beside her
Mary. They were all here.
Yet opening his eyes it was not so.
He was standing apart,
even the two women
slowly backing away,
as if from concern for their good name.

Then he began to hear voices
muttering under their breath
quite distinctly; or thinking,
Lord, if you had been here
our friend might not have died
.
(At that, he seemed to reach out
to touch someone’s face
with infinite gentleness,
and silently wept.) He asked them the way
to the grave. And he followed
behind them, preparing
to do what is not done
to that green silent place
where life and death are one. 

Merely to walk down this road
had started to feel like a test,
or a poorly prepared-for performance
with actors unsure of their lines,
or which play they were supposed to be in;
a feverish outrage rising inside him
at the glib ease with which words like “living”
and “being dead” rolled off their tongues.
And awe flooded his body
when he hoarsely cried,
“Move the stone!”

“By now he must stink,”
somebody helpfully shouted.
(And it was true, the body
had been lying in the tomb
four days.) But he was far away,
too far away inside himself
to hear it, beginning
to fill with that gesture
which rose through him:
no hand this heavy
had ever been raised, no human hand
had ever reached this height
shining an instant in air, then
all at once clenching into itself
at the thought all the dead might return
from that tomb where
the enormous cocoon
of the corpse was beginning to stir.

In the end, though, nobody stood
there at its entrance
but the young man
who had freed his right arm
and was pulling at his face,
at small strips of grave wrappings.
Peter looked across at Jesus
with an expression that seemed to say
You did it, or What have you done? And all
saw how their vague and inaccurate
life made room for him once more.

~ by Franz Wright from a fragment by Rainer Maria Rilke ~

Music: Franz Schubert – The Raising of Lazarus ( For more info on music, click here )

Mother God

Here are two of my poems to go with tomorrow’s reflection. I hope they are useful for your prayer. Also, this interesting excerpt I found online.

The Hebrew word for mother is emm, the Aramaic word is immah, and the Arabic word is umm. The liturgical word amen, which at its core means “confirmation, support”, is derived from the words for “mother”.  ( From Dr. Goodword’s Language BlogClick here to go to blog)


root

If You Are Mother

 If You are Mother, God
don’t let us hurt ourselves;
keep freedom in us
as freedom,
not as willfulness,
so that we grow,
even if we must grow down
like a dark, hidden root.

 Remember,
if life dies in us,
You change.  We are not
isolated seedlings
you left somewhere
in lonely hope one Spring.

 You are the ground, and the
growth, and the growth’s nourishment.
When we green, it is You
who thrive.


hands

 The Hands of God

 The hands of God love me
when I cannot see God’s face.
Like salve, they warmly run
over in and out of me,
pausing where my hurt is knotted,
barbed to their approach…

 mother’s hands, lover’s, friend’s,
my own hands held in God’s hands,
healing self-estrangement.

 I come to God’s hands
like broken earth
stretches for redeeming rain.

 Even in the deep night,
where God will not speak,
those loving hands are words
which I answer in the darkness.

 

Friendship Poems

door

Because You Were Kind
I suppose
it was the utter simplicity
of your self – gift
that clothed it so
with grace
and made it a door
for the Holy One
to walk through.
Had you noticed
God’s sacred footfalls
under your tender words;
do you await
the gracious return
of the Giver
to replace, a hundredfold,
the loving gift you gave to me?


shell

Unshelled
Immediate friend,
enduring friend,
where my vulnerability
is so finely echoed
I will allow it
to exist
unshelled.


plants
Re-Planting
(Written after my mother’s death)
That afternoon,
winter framed sunlight
in the cold windows.
I watched you spread small greens
across a wooden table,
fingering their thready roots
like harp strings.
A song fell from that,
like quiet, nurturing rain.

Unable to sing,
I let the song seep quietly into me,
bathing my uprooted soul
in the warm silence between us.
There, in that comfort,
the small cutting at my core
sought earth,
sought healing.

Finally, I spoke
and laid the whole parched root
upon the table of your mercy. And
you, ever-tender gardener, lifted it
and blew the dust away, and
spitting gently in your hand,
massaged the feeble life it hid
before you stood it carefully in soil.

You said, “Life is like this sometimes.
Be gentle with it.  It will bloom again.”


 

old friend

                      Old Friend
When I saw you gathered like a sigh
in your cornflower velvet chair,
quilted against a passing winter flu,
I hurt to see you,
weak like half-drawn tea,
but knew
we did not yet sail
the catastrophic sea.

What I did know as I had not before
is that, dear friend, you do grow old,
and the day on which I will not find you,
warm and easy near the window’s cold
fell into my heart like sudden, heavy rain
that drowned my voice so unexpectedly,
I dove beneath the wave
to find myself again.

When you are gone from me,
I’ll gather somewhere in a sigh,
near fragile things of earth,
near leaves that turn to lace before they fall,
or snow, whose symmetry is yielding,
even as it lay,
and I will love you
as completely as I did today.
Near fragile things of earth, I’ll love you
as silently and as completely
as I did today.


Music: Joe Bongiorno: Walk with Me

 

 

Valentine’s Poems

pexels-photo-220483

Consummation

You have been present to me, God
like light to flame,
like heat to flame
like fluid movement
and energy of shape to flame.

The wax of my life
is consumed in such Presence.
Shall I simply be content
that it burn,
or shall I seek the Transparency
to which it disappears?

 

ocean

Kairos

All the ages that have loved You
sometimes rush into me
like the white falls of a river,
and Your engagement of the earth
from all antiquity
is caught in a great gasp
by the walls of my soul.

In every creature that has ever been
or ever will be, You and I
have been loving each other.
All that treasure swells
in me for a moment
before it thins again into the Chronos
where I seek You in its shadows.

For a second, split in light
I may have held your still
eternal soul within my own.

Music: Bach: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring