Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 99, one of the six “enthronement psalms” which celebrate God as King.
The psalm is filled with awestruck sentiment such as one might feel before a king:
From the pillar of cloud God spoke to them; they heard the decrees and the law God gave them. Extol the LORD, our God, and worship at the holy mountain; for holy is the LORD, our God.
The images evoked are similar to those of our first reading with Moses’ face shining from his meetings with God:
As Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the commandments in his hands, he did not know that the skin of his face had become radiant while he conversed with the LORD.
The neat thing about all this glory is that a very tender human image nestles in the wording:
Imagine the Beloved’s footstool – some precious place in the universe that invites you to God’s side. For someone it may be beside the ocean. For another it may be a quiet glen. It may be at your window listening to the sparrow’s morning song.
Wherever it is in the glorious universe, we are welcomed to rest with God at the peaceful footstool. We are free to speak as easily with God as Moses did in the little Sinai tent. And no doubt, we will receive a certain radiance, perhaps not so visible as Moses’. But we will be changed by such prayer.
Poetry: Here is Thy Footstool – Rabindranath Tagore
HERE IS THY footstool and there rest thy feet where live the poorest, and lowliest, and lost. When I try to bow to thee, my obeisance cannot reach down to the depth where thy feet rest among the poorest, and lowliest, and lost. Pride can never approach to where thou walkest in the clothes of the humble among the poorest, and lowliest, and lost. My heart can never find its way to where thou keepest company with the companionless among the poorest, the lowliest, and the lost.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 103 whose verses this morning remind us of God’s munificence.
Munificent – it’s a wonderful word whose Latin roots literally mean gift-making, abundant generosity.
Praying this morning, I realize that I can’t even begin to number the gifts God has given me.
But like Moses in today’s first reading, I want to visit God in the sacred tent of prayer – learning, thanking and awakening to the Mercy in my life.
… and, like Moses, to invite God into every moment, to ask God to keep company with me on my journey:
Moses at once bowed down to the ground in worship. Then he said, “If I find favor with you, O LORD, do come along in our company.
Poetry: Bearing the Light – Denise Levertov
Rain-diamonds, this winter morning, embellish the tangle of unpruned pear-tree twigs; each solitaire, placed, it appears, with considered judgement, bears the light beneath the rifted clouds — the indivisible shared out in endless abundance.
Music: In the Garden – written by C. Austin Miles in 1912. Miles wrote nearly 400 hymns, this one the most famous.
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 63, a prayer of both longing and fulfillment.
O God, you are my God whom I seek; for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.
Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary to see your power and your glory, For your kindness is a greater good than life; my lips shall glorify you.
Psalm 63: 2-4
Mary Magdalen is the embodiment of that longing and embrace. And so the Church applies to her the powerful intimacy of our first reading:
The Bride says: On my bed at night I sought him whom my heart loves– I sought him but I did not find him. I will rise then and go about the city; in the streets and crossings I will seek Him whom my heart loves. I sought him but I did not find him. The watchmen came upon me, as they made their rounds of the city: Have you seen him whom my heart loves? I had hardly left them when I found him whom my heart loves.
Song of Songs 3:1-4
Within each one of us is a sacred mystic who longs for and seeks God’s embrace. Perhaps that mystic hibernates like a little bear hidden under all the distractions of our lives. But if we give ourselves to silence and holy waiting, the sleeping hermit will awake! 😴
We might pray with beautiful Mary Magdalen today to let that seeker in us reach for God Who is also waiting.
Poem: Song of the Soul That Is Glad to Know God by Faith – St. John of the Cross
English version by Antonio T. de Nicolas Original Language Spanish
Well I know the fountain that runs and flows, though it is night!
This eternal fountain is hidden deep. Well I know where it has its spring, Though it is night!
In this life’s dark night, Faith has taught where this cold fountain lies, Though it is night!
Its origin I cannot know, it has none, And I know all origins come from it, Though it is night!
And I know there can be nothing more fair, The heavens and earth drink there, Though it is night!
And I know it has no bed, And I know no one can cross its depths, Though it is night!
Its clarity is never clouded, And I know all light shines from it, Though it is night!
I know her streams swell so abundantly, They water people, heaven and even hell, Though it is night!
The current born of this fountain I know to be wide and mighty, Though it is night!
And from these two another stream flows, And I know neither comes before, Though it is night!
I know Three in only one water live, And each the other feeds, Though it is night!
This eternal fountain is hiding from sight Within this living bread to give us life, Though it is night!
He calls all creatures to this light, And of this water they drink, though in the dark, Though it is night!
This living fountain I desire, I see it here within this living bread, Though it is night!
Music: I Found My Beloved – John Michael Talbot
So I found my beloved in the mountains On the lonely and far distant isles O’er resounding waters I heard the whispering of love’s breezes To heal my broken heart Oh tranquil evening, silent music And the sounding solitude of the rising dawn It is there that I hear You There that I taste of You In love’s banquet to fill my heart Chorus: And I found Your footprints In the sands by the sea And like Your maiden I ran along the way to a secret chamber And there you gave to me There you taught me, O so well And I drank of your sweet spiced wine The wine of God And there I gave to You Keeping nothing for myself And I promised You forever To be your bride (Repeat Chorus) So I have abandoned All I ever sought to be And in dying My spirit has been released
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
Just as the newborn is carried through the birth canal on the waters of life, so too God’s neonate people finally begin the fullness of life promised to Abraham. God accomplishes this great “delivery” by a masterful intertwining of omnipotence, human choices, and natural phenomena. The result is breathtaking!
Just as it is in our lives!
Like any great Bible story, this one invites us to find ourselves somewhere within it. At the least, we are all making a sometimes treacherous passage through life. And at particular times, maybe even now, the threats may be intense.
At times, we stand at the edge of intimidating seas, wondering how we will make it to the other side. But if we reflect on our history, we must acknowledge that – with prayer and patience – the parting wind does come. Those “chariots” at our heels become mired in our resilience, hope and trust in God.
In moments of astounding though quiet grace, we catch the glance of God. And we sing in thanksgiving.
The glory of this magnificent reading is captured in the Exultet, sung at the Easter Vigil.
Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven,
exult, let Angel ministers of God exult,
let the trumpet of salvation
sound aloud our mighty King's triumph!
Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her,
ablaze with light from her eternal King,
let all corners of the earth be glad,
knowing an end to gloom and darkness.
Rejoice, let Mother Church also rejoice,
arrayed with the lightning of his glory,
let this holy building shake with joy,
filled with the mighty voices of the peoples.
(Therefore, dearest friends,
standing in the awesome glory of this holy light,
invoke with me, I ask you,
the mercy of God almighty,
that he, who has been pleased to number me,
though unworthy, among the Levites,
may pour into me his light unshadowed,
that I may sing this candle's perfect praises.)
(V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with your spirit.)
V. Lift up your hearts.
R. We lift them up to the Lord.
V. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
R. It is right and just.
It is truly right and just, with ardent love of mind and heart
and with devoted service of our voice,
to acclaim our God invisible, the almighty Father,
and Jesus Christ, our Lord, his Son, his Only Begotten.
Who for our sake paid Adam's debt to the eternal Father,
and, pouring out his own dear Blood,
wiped clean the record of our ancient sinfulness.
These, then, are the feasts of Passover,
in which is slain the Lamb, the one true Lamb,
whose Blood anoints the doorposts of believers.
This is the night,
when once you led our forebears, Israel's children,
from slavery in Egypt
and made them pass dry-shod through the Red Sea.
This is the night
that with a pillar of fire
banished the darkness of sin.
This is the night
that even now, throughout the world,
sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices
and from the gloom of sin,
leading them to grace
and joining them to his holy ones.
This is the night,
when Christ broke the prison-bars of death
and rose victorious from the underworld.
Our birth would have been no gain,
had we not been redeemed.
O wonder of your humble care for us!
O love, O charity beyond all telling,
to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!
O truly necessary sin of Adam,
destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!
O happy fault
that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!
O truly blessed night,
worthy alone to know the time and hour
when Christ rose from the underworld!
This is the night
of which it is written:
The night shall be as bright as day,
dazzling is the night for me,
and full of gladness.
The sanctifying power of this night
dispels wickedness, washes faults away,
restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners,
drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.
On this, your night of grace, O holy Father,
accept this candle, a solemn offering,
the work of bees and of your servants’ hands,
an evening sacrifice of praise,
this gift from your most holy Church.
But now we know the praises of this pillar,
which glowing fire ignites for God's honor,
a fire into many flames divided,
yet never dimmed by sharing of its light,
for it is fed by melting wax,
drawn out by mother bees
to build a torch so precious.
O truly blessed night,
when things of heaven are wed to those of earth,
and divine to the human.
Therefore, O Lord,
we pray you that this candle,
hallowed to the honor of your name,
may persevere undimmed,
to overcome the darkness of this night.
Receive it as a pleasing fragrance,
and let it mingle with the lights of heaven.
May this flame be found still burning
by the Morning Star:
the one Morning Star who never sets,
Christ your Son,
who, coming back from death's domain,
has shed his peaceful light on humanity,
and lives and reigns for ever and ever.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with a selection from Exodus which you will probably recognize from the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night. It describes one of the most astounding displays of power in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Stand with the author on the other side of the Red Sea and feel the pounding exultation:
I will sing to the LORD who is gloriously triumphant; horse and chariot casting into the sea. My strength and my courage is the LORD, who has been my savior. my God, whom I praise; the God of my father, whom I extol.
It is a beautifully cadenced victory chant, and I have always loved hearing it at the vigil as we celebrate our deliverance from death through Christ’s Resurrection.
Imagine those “chariots and charioteers”, ancient symbols of power and oppression!
So Pharaoh made his chariots ready and mustered his soldiers six hundred first-class chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt, with warriors on them all.
Exodus 14: 6-7
What chance did the unarmed, rag tag horde of fleeing Israelites hold against such power?
It wasn’t easy for them! Moses had to bolster them in their fear and hesitation.
But Moses answered the people, “Fear not! Stand your ground, and you will see the victory the LORD will win for you today. For these Egyptians whom you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you have only to keep still.”
Exodus 14: 13-14
Within these readings, the parallels to our own lives are abundant. If not now, at least at some time, we will have overwhelming forces pursue us. We will be afraid. Our faith will be tested. We will doubt.
If we can “be still”, bolstering our trust in prayer, God will reveal our particular deliverance. It may not look like what we imagined, nor exactly fit what we might have prayed for.
But in trusting prayer, the flood waters of grace release and resurrect us from all that threatens our souls.
The flood waters covered them, they sank into the depths like a stone. Your right hand, O LORD, magnificent in power, your right hand, O LORD, has shattered the enemy.
Exodus 15: 5-6
Poetry: I think the psalm is its own poem today.😉
Music: Horse and Chariot – let these kids wake up our faith today!
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 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.