Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with another glance at Psalm 72. The verses offered us today jarred me when I first read them. And then they began to speak, even shout, to my spirit.
I am outraged that my country finds itself continually at the edge of violence and unrest solely on the bidding of one to whom we have entrusted our well-being.
I am beyond sick of normalizing the outrageous irresponsibility of Donald Trump. The sickness has seeped into my prayer and my peace. It causes me sleepless concern for my country and our world.
As I pray Psalm 27 today, I seek a grace from its ancient words. I seek a blessing for our own time.
O God, with your judgment endow the leaders, and with your justice, those who legislate; Let your people be governed with justice and your afflicted ones with mercy.
As we move through these final fractious days of a deeply disturbing presidency, let us pray for civility, justice, honor, and peace not only for America but for all throughout the world who depend on our integrity.
Poetry: Beclouded by Emily Dickinson
The sky is low, the clouds are mean, A travelling flake of snow Across a barn or through a rut Debates if it will go. A narrow wind complains all day How some one treated him; Nature, like us, is sometimes caught Without her diadem.
Music: Be a Blessing (Psalm 72) Richard Bruxvoort Colligan
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, as we once again pray with Psalm 27, we do so in the light of our seminal first reading from John:
God is love, and when we remain in love we remain in God and God in us.
1 John 4:16
Psalm 27 tells us how God does it:
For the Lord rescues the poor who cry out, and the afflicted who have no other help. The Lord has pity for the lowly and the poor; and saves the lives of the poor.
Psalm 27: 12-13
Our psalm gives us the measure for love in our lives. Who are the suffering ones in the circle of our experience? How are we widening that circle to offer loving mercy with greater energy and fidelity?
The Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy can be our guide as we seek to stretch our love in ever-widening circles.
The Corporal Works of Mercy
To feed the hungry To give water to the thirsty To clothe the naked To shelter the homeless To visit the sick To visit the imprisoned, and ransom the captive To bury the dead
The Spiritual Works of Mercy
To instruct the ignorant. To counsel the doubtful. To admonish sinners. To bear patiently those who wrong us. To forgive offenses. To comfort the afflicted. To pray for the living and the dead.
Poetry: Widening Circles – Rainer Maria Rilke
I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world. I may not complete this last one but I give myself to it. I circle around God, around the primordial tower. I’ve been circling for thousands of years and I still don’t know: am I a falcon, a storm, or a great song?
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 2. The prayer seems a fitting reminder to all of us, and especially US citizens, as our new political season opens.
And now, O rulers, give heed; take warning, you rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice before God; with trembling rejoice… Blessed are all who take refuge in God!
Although I was relieved to lessen my political attention after the November election, I realize that we always have a moral imperative both to pray for our leaders and to measure their efforts, and our own, against the standards of social justice.
Why do the nations so furiously rage together,
and who do the people imagine a vain thing?
The kings of the earth rise up,
and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord,
and against His Anointed.
George Frederic Handel: Messiah
Psalm 2: 1-2
The interplay of politics and morality is on-going, and its energy rises once again with this month’s seating of the new Congress and inauguration of President Biden.
The U.S. and the world has been given stark lessons under the tenure of the exiting president. Some have learned from these experiences. Some have allowed their ignorances to be confirmed.
It has not been easy. We live in an age when truth and morality have been rendered elastic – seemingly malleable to multiple alternative narratives.
Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their yokes from us. (Psalm 2:3)
Seen in a political light, we are a long way from achieving that charge.
Our elected leaders have an almost impossible job to guide this fractured nation closer to our moral hope. But our prayer, and our sincere contribution to the effort, can make a huge difference in the result.
Despite any partisan leanings, can we pledge that contribution?
Poetry: The Paths of Love and Justice – Christine Robinson
Why are the nations in an uproar? Why do the peoples mutter and threaten? Why do the rich plot with the powerful? They are rebelling against the demands of Love and Justice. God laughs, cries, and says with anger: I have set my Love in your hearts and my Justice in your minds. You are my children and I have given you the universe your lives, and the tasks of your days. Be wise Be warned Stick to the paths of Love and Justice. Your restless hearts will find me there.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, and on this glorious feast, we pray with Psalm 72.
It is a gorgeous psalm that fills our senses with lights, and scents, and the tactile experience of an ancient and sacred world:
we inhale the flower of justice
wrap ourselves in its profound peace
gaze on a distant, moonless universe
stretch our prayer from sea to sea,
and our praise to the ends of the earth
We see the ancient nations gather in homage, carrying the gems, spices and bounty of their homelands.
We, too, kneel in astounded wonder that this vulnerable child, hidden in the far reaches of both geography and imagination, carries to us the Promise of the Ages.
We, too, trust the star, rising in our own hearts.
Psalm 72 echoes our beautiful first reading from Isaiah, another masterpiece that, in itself, is enough simply to read and savor:
Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the LORD shines, and over you appears his glory.
Isaiah 60: 1-2
In Isaiah, these magnificent verses follow two chapters of gloom and darkness. They break forth in true epiphany to say, “Your Light has come!” – now your life must begin to shine as well.
Epiphany is not simply about kings and camels. It is not simply about a crèche and a star.
It is about Divine Revelation hovering over our dailyness. It is about us, opening our eyes in faith and responsiveness to our ever-present God.
The feast of Epiphany reminds us:
Poetry: The Journey of the Magi – T.S. Eliot
Eliot wrote the poem after his conversion to Anglicanism ( He had been a Unitarian.) The poem conveys his struggle to grow in the light of his new faith. The “journey” is life-long and demanding in a world that often contradicts that faith.
“A cold coming we had of it, Just the worst time of the year For a journey, and such a long journey: The ways deep and the weather sharp, The very dead of winter.” And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory, Lying down in the melting snow. There were times we regretted The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces, And the silken girls bringing sherbet. Then the camel men cursing and grumbling And running away, and wanting their liquor and women, And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters, And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly And the villages dirty and charging high prices: A hard time we had of it. At the end we preferred to travel all night, Sleeping in snatches, With the voices singing in our ears, saying That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley, Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation; With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness, And three trees on the low sky, And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow. Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel, Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver, And feet kicking the empty wine-skins. But there was no information, and so we continued And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember, And I would do it again, but set down This set down This: were we led all that way for Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly, We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death, But had thought they were different; this Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death. We returned to our places, these Kingdoms, But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, With an alien people clutching their gods. I should be glad of another death.
Music: The People that Walk in Darkness – Bob Dufford, SJ
The people that walk in darkness
have seen, have seen a great light.
And on those who dwell in endless gloom,
a light has shone.
For a Child is born this day:
Daughter of Zion, awake.
The glory of God is born.
And they shall name Him counselor,
shall call Him mighty God.
And He shall rule from age to age:
Prince of Peace.
Darkness covers the earth;
thick clouds govern its pe0ple.
But the Lord will bring them light;
the Lord will bring them light.
The people that walk in darkness
have seen, have seen a great light.
And on those who dwell in endless gloom,
a light has shone.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 98 which, once again, enjoins us to “sing a new song”.
Sing to the LORD a new song, Who has done wondrous deeds; Whose right hand has won victory, by the holy arm.
You know what? We’re trying, aren’t we? God knows, we need a new song! And the coming of the New Year gives us the push to find it in ourselves. Right?
Because that’s where it has to come from — within each one of us.
Other people can sing with us, accompany our song, or applaud our a cappellas. But our song is not out there somewhere. Our song is deep within us, breathed there by a virtuoso God at our creation. It was meant to be sung – and sung by us.
Sing praise to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and melodious song.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn shout with joy to the King, the LORD.
Let the sea and what fills it resound, the world and those who dwell there.
Let the rivers clap their hands, the mountains shout with them for joy,
The beauty of our song is that it can change to adapt to the tone of our days – sometimes an aria, sometimes a dirge. Sometimes an anthem, sometimes a ballad. Sometimes a canticle, sometimes a lullaby. A requiem, a Kyrie, a Sanctus, an Alleluia!
Each song is inspired by the One Divine Song, whose voice is sounded in Creation by the consecration of our own song, given in sincerity and love.
The Lord has remembered us In mercy and faithfulness All the ends of the earth have seen the power of our God. So shout with joy to the LORD, all the earth; break into song; sing praise.
Psalm 98: 3-5
Let’s listen to God singing over us today, so that we can respond with our own heart-song:
The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; The Lord will rejoice over you with gladness; will quiet you with love; will exult over you with passionate singing.
Poetry: Every Riven Thing by Christian Wiman
God goes, belonging to every riven thing he’s made
sing his being simply by being
the thing it is:
stone and tree and sky,
man who sees and sings and wonders why
God goes. Belonging, to every riven thing he’s made,
means a storm of peace.
Think of the atoms inside the stone.
Think of the man who sits alone
trying to will himself into a stillness where
God goes belonging. To every riven thing he’s made
there is given one shade
shaped exactly to the thing itself:
under the tree a darker tree;
under the man the only man to see
God goes belonging to every riven thing. He’s made
the things that bring him near,
made the mind that makes him go.
A part of what man knows,
apart from what man knows,
God goes belonging to every riven thing he’s made.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 85 – a song filled with urgency and expectation!
When we pray this psalm:
Tomorrow, we begin the exclamations of our answered hopes — the great O Antiphons.
But for today, let us relax into the certainty that, indeed, the Savior is coming – just as sure as the clouds turn silver with the weight of rain.
Poetry: Last Night, the Rain Spoke to Me – Mary Oliver
Last night the rain spoke to me slowly, saying, what joy to come falling out of the brisk cloud, to be happy again in a new way on the earth! That’s what it said as it dropped, smelling of iron, and vanished like a dream of the ocean into the branches and the grass below. Then it was over. The sky cleared. I was standing under a tree. The tree was a tree with happy leaves, and I was myself, and there were stars in the sky that were also themselves at the moment, at which moment my right hand was holding my left hand which was holding the tree which was filled with stars and the soft rain— imagine! imagine! the wild and wondrous journeys still to be ours.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 34.
When I read its refrain, my mind was triggered into a kind of “Jeopardy-like” exchange with God:
Answer: This is the reason God sent his Son, and continues to redeem the world in us. Question : What is “The Lord hears the cry of the poor”.
Psalm 34 reiterates a fundamental fact so often overshadowed by our highly secularized “Christmas unconsciousness”. The psalm refocuses us by consistently using words like this:
Let my soul glory in the LORD; the lowly will hear me and be glad.
When the poor one called out, the LORD heard, and from all his distress he saved him.
When the just cry out, the LORD hears them, and from all their distress he rescues them.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.
Christmas is God’s response to the unrelenting cry of the poor. If we want to truly honor and celebrate Christmas, we must allow that merciful and healing response to flow through us.
Poetry: Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit – Alice Walker (born February 9, 1944) is an American novelist, story writer, poet and social activist. In 1982, she wrote the novel The Color Purple for which she won the National Book Award hardcover fiction, and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Did you ever understand this? If my spirit was poor, how could I enter heaven? Was I depressed? Understanding editing, I see how a comma, removed or inserted with careful plan, can change everything. I was reminded of this when a poor young man in Tunisia desperate to live and humiliated for trying set himself ablaze; I felt uncomfortably warm as if scalded by his shame. I do not have to sell vegetables from a cart as he did or live in narrow rooms too small for spacious thought; and, at this late date, I do not worry that someone will remove every single opportunity for me to thrive. Still, I am connected to, inseparable from, this young man. Blessed are the poor, in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Jesus. (Commas restored) . Jesus was as usual talking about solidarity: about how we join with others and, in spirit, feel the world, and suffering, the same as them. This is the kingdom of owning the other as self, the self as other; that transforms grief into peace and delight. I, and you, might enter the heaven of right here through this door. In this spirit, knowing we are blessed, we might remain poor
Music: The Lord Hears the Cry of the Poor – John Foley, SJ
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 25, the prayer of someone who is in love with God – as was John of the Cross:
Your ways, O LORD, make known to me; teach me your paths, Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior.
Psalm 25: 4-5
When we truly love someone, we see God’s face in them. Who doesn’t love that beautiful line from Les Miserables:
Take my hand I'll lead you to salvation Take my love For love is everlasting And remember The truth that once was spoken To love another person Is to see the face of God
( Just in case you’re longing to listen to it now🤗)
John of the Cross saw God’s Face in all Creation, and found God deep within his own contemplative soul:
What more do you want, O soul! And what else do you search for outside, when within yourself you possess your riches, delights, satisfactions, fullness, and kingdom – your Beloved whom you desire and seek?
Be joyful and gladdened in your interior recollection with Him, for you have Him so close to you. Desire Him there, adore Him there.
Do not go in pursuit of Him outside yourself. You will only become distracted and wearied thereby, and you shall not find Him, nor enjoy Him more securely, nor sooner, nor more intimately than by seeking him within you.
Spiritual Canticle 1.8
John was in love with God in a way described by the blessed Jesuit Pedro Arrupe:
Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.
As we pray today with St. John of the Cross, we ask our God to deepen us in love. We thank God for the promise and gift of Unconditional Love:
Remember that your compassion, O LORD, and your kindness are from of old. In your kindness remember me, because of your goodness, O LORD.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 1 and its confident responsorial verse.
Last night we watched a public television Christmas special, “Rick Steves’s European Christmas“. From its many beautiful scenes, one in particular remained with me: a little group of friends tobogganing down a snow covered hill at night. Their only lights came from the small lanterns they held and the full moon’s generous luster against the white snow.
My first reaction to the scene was to wonder, “What if their light goes out?”. Then I realized that there was a light beyond them which would guide their way.
There are times in our lives when the light, if it doesn’t go out, at least flickers. I wrote about that awareness in this story a few years ago:
She had arranged to visit with an old college friend. They had been separated too long by the distancing choices that life often demands. She wanted to reconnect to that rare experience of shared transparency found just once or twice in a lifetime – the gift of a real friend.
They sat on a porch overlooking a gentle pond. The day was bright, the coffee hot, the chairs comfortable. But the magic was gone. Only half her friend had arrived for the cherished conversation. The other half – joy, adventure and the excess of youthful hope – had been lost. Somewhere in the intervening years, the light had gone out. Her friend had suffered a wound she did not share. This one afternoon would be too short a time to give that wound a name.
During our Advent journey, God is waiting in the seeming darkness to guide us. God already knows the wounds we carry. God sees where our heart’s light has dimmed. Holding our half-heartedness next to the Divine Heart, God yearns to rekindle us.
Today’s psalm reminds us that there is a always Light waiting beyond us to guide our way.
Blessed the one follows not the counsel of darkness nor walks in it ways, nor remains in the company of the insolent, But delights in the law of the LORD and meditates on its Light day and night.
Poetry: from Mary Oliver
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”