Anoint Your Life

Thursday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

September 19, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, I would like to share a piece from a book I am (slowly….) writing:

Lk7_17 jar

The scene is heavy with color, sounds, scents and movement.  The summer sun has begun its long descent through the western sky, filling the garden with orange light and umber shadows. Simon and his household make final preparations for the arrival of Jesus. The dining area is meticulously set in the arbored courtyard, the klinai or dining couches angled so that Simon may have the full consideration of Jesus once the supper begins. The scent of roasting lamb drifts from a nearby spit, incensing the entire space with heightened appetite. Slowly, the scene fills with the ancient Gospel characters, each carrying his or her own hungers to the table.

What is it that Simon the Pharisee most craves from this momentous opportunity to capture Jesus’ attention? He is a man of intellect who rationalizes that Jesus should respond in a certain way to the approaches of a sinful woman. Would his hunger have been satisfied had Jesus met this prediction? Or was a deeper hunger challenged when Jesus defied Simon’s expectation, inviting him to a fresh relationship with his own heart?

1112px-Albrecht_Bouts-Jesus_chez_Simon_le_Pharisien_IMG_1407
By Aelbrecht Bouts – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.0 fr, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4234098

What spectrum of hungers comes with the many guests at this dinner? Are the disciples longing for Jesus to successfully argue his theology with this prominent Pharisee?  Are the other guests hoping to have their allegiances – whatever they may be – proven by the evening’s conversation? And Jesus himself, what hunger does he carry to the diverse gathering of his Father’s children? What yet unmet hopes for his ministry might he long to feed on this special evening?

But there is one among the many whose hunger is obvious.  At first unnoticed by the party, she slips in through the open hedge, advancing toward Jesus with a natural grace even the greatest wealth cannot bestow.  Her lustrous hair falls freely down her long, slender back.  She is bejeweled and bangled with the ornaments of her trade. Her face, though beautiful, reflects the weight of her desperate loneliness and forced self-sufficiency.

She is a woman no longer with pretense. The entire town already has cast her in a mold she will never escape. She has come as she is to the feet of Jesus, presenting her unadorned hope in an alabaster jar.

As we begin our prayer today, what hungers do we take to the feet of Jesus? Let us lift the alabaster jar. Let us decant the ointment of our prayer.  Let us anoint our lives.

The Deeper Melody of Wisdom

Wednesday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

September 18, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Jesus speaks to us like a frustrated parent.

All of us have seen fussy children, needing a nap, twisting around noisily from toy to toy, satisfied only to swipe the toy another child is playing with.

Jesus compares his resistant listeners to such children. They were not convinced by the austere preaching of John the Baptist. They are not moved by the loving freedom of Christ’s message. They find in both teachings only theories to toy with and toss aside. Because their hearts are hardened by distraction, they cannot find the heart in the truth offered to them.

Oh my goodness! Are we not living in the midst of such hardening distractions? So much in our culture invites us to “play” rather than to relate with our environment, with our lives. Advertising tempts us to get as much as possible out of everything, but to give nothing back. Media thrives by convincing us that we are the center of the universe.

We make a lot of noise when we feel threatened by the quiet truth of our common creaturehood and its inherent demand that we live in reverence for one another and for the God who created us.

John preached a message of repentance from such sinful self-absorption. He lost his head over it. Jesus preached the Word of transcendent love and mutual service. He was crucified for it. Each was seen as a threat to the manipulated Law that had become the refuge of their hardened listeners.

We see the pattern repeated down the long corridors of history, filling its passage with martyrs. We see it in our own day wherever someone tells the truth about the demands of the Gospel.

In our own Church, we see Pope Francis persecuted – even by some of his own bishops – for his call for compassion, mercy, and reverence for every person, for all Creation.

Indeed, we still live in the frenzied marketplace where 

“We played the flute for you, but you did not dance.
  We sang a dirge, but you did not weep.”

Ps107_wisdom well

Luke’s final cryptic verse may suggest our deliverance from such frenzy:

“But wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”

Our hearts recognize the Wisdom figures in our world. They have heard the true melody of God in their lives. By steady reflection and good works, they have gone beyond the din of a sinfully distracting culture. The result is inner peace, joy, and salvation, like that of John and Jesus —- and Pope Francis.

May we have the courage to go deep into Christ’s Word to embrace this Truth.

Music: Perfect Wisdom of Our God – Keith and Kristyn Getty

A Prodigal Love

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 15, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Numbers tells a story of Moses’ intervention to save the people from God’s wrath. It is a story of God’s relenting … a theme which repeats itself endlessly in the Hebrew Scriptures.

This is the way we sometimes characterize the astonishment of Grace – God’s overwhelming passion to love and forgive us over and over. We just can’t imagine such mercy, such infinite generative love!

And so we imagine instead that Moses made God do it!😉 Yeah, I don’t think so.

We imagine that God cannot tolerate our sinful pursuits because we cannot tolerate them in ourselves or in others. But God is mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation, wholeness, love. God can’t help loving us!

Of course, we shouldn’t be stupid and take advantage of the divine largesse… not because it would hurt God, but because it so damages us and limits our capacity for wholeness. But nevertheless, whether we’re stupid or not, God will always welcome us home.

A few days ago, we prayed with the word splancha – that “gut love” that so describes God’s passion for us. We find the word again today in the heart-wrenching parable of the Prodigal Son.

prodigal son

You know the story. Near the end, as the devastated son returns seeking mercy…

While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him,
and was filled with compassion — with splancha – esplanchnisthē
Luke 15:20

Our God is a Love that is filled, overflowing – with no room for retribution or condemnation.

Indeed, our God, like the Prodigal Father, is soft-hearted, an easy mark, a pushover for our sincere repentance, trust, and hope. Our God would bleed for us!

This short but powerful scene from George Balanchine’s ballet, Prodigal Son, may inspire our prayer today. The father is steadfast, a monolith of strength and love. The son is broken, naked in his desperation. Let their magnetic reunion take you to God’s heart. Let God wrap you too in the mantle of Love for any hurt or emptiness that is within you.

George Balanchine “Prodigal Son” – Final Scene (Son- Barishnikov)

 

Claude Debussy also wrote a beautiful piece on this parable. If you have a contemplative space sometime this week, you may want to listen to Debussy’s moving opera (with my all-time fav Ms. Jessye Norman.)

Click here for full opera

If you have only a little time, do try this – short, and oh so beautiful!

Music: Debussy The Prodigal Son – Prelude

A Plank in the Eye

Memorial of Saint John Chrysostom, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Friday, September 13, 2010

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Today, in Mercy, Paul, seeing himself as he really is, gives thanks and praise for his unmerited salvation.

Paul says this:

I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and an arrogant man,
but I have been mercifully treated
because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief.
Indeed, the grace of our Lord has been abundant,
along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

God has also granted me the gift of unmerited salvation. You too, my friends. But everybody’s story is a little different. So I thought a bit today about what I might fill in for those bolded words above. (And you can be sure I’m not going to tell you!😂) You might want to do the same in your prayer today.

In our Gospel, Jesus confronts those who think they are, not beneath, but above redemption and salvation. It’s beautiful: he nails the nitpickers who see the flaws in everyone but themselves.

How can you say to your brother,
‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’
when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye?
You hypocrite!  Remove the wooden beam from your eye first;
then you will see clearly
to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.

IMG_0799Luke6_41 beam

It’s always been one of my favorite passages. But do you know why? It’s because the beam in my own eye probably has prevented me from seeing that the passage is about me!🥺

Music: Only Takes a Moment – Cory Asbury

Idols!

Memorial of Saint Martha

July 29, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings offer us a central question for our faith and spirituality: What do we really worship?

Ex32_19 calf

As we continue the Exodus story, Moses has been on the mountain receiving the Law from God. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, delegated leader Aaron is blowing his assignment. The Israelites tire of waiting for Moses. They want another god to lead them onward. Aaron comes up with idea of fashioning such a idol from all their molten jewelry.

When Moses descends the mountain with the newly-minted tablets in hand, he burns in anger at the scene, smashing the holy stones at his feet. More than a flared temper, this act symbolizes a fractured relationship with God.

The story suggests this for our prayer: we are in ever-deepening relationship with God through our own covenants – our creation, our baptism, our further professions of faith and commitment, our sacramental encounters. These are all living relationships, inviting us to new and deeper life in God.

Still, there may be times in our lives when our hearts lose focus on these covenants 

  • when we try to move somewhere without God’s companionship
  • when we substitute old baubles for moral or spiritual truth
  • when we return to weakening comforts rather than grow into a challenging grace
  • when we just get really mixed up about what is most important in our lives

The calf-worshippers had a big fail in this regard. Exodus tells the story of a merciful God trying to deal with their disloyalty and refashion them as God’s chosen people.

Our Gospel shows us Martha, also a little off target in terms of her spiritual priorities. While she is no where near idol worship, she still allows needless distractions to keep her from fully enjoying relationship with God.

Martha

Gentle, merciful Jesus turns her eyes toward him and she understands. Maybe that beautiful grace is what we want to pray for today.

Music:  You Alone – Sarah Hart

That Family Reunion!

Friday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 12, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we read about a family reunion of biblical proportions!  After many years, Joseph – long-thought dead- is reunited with his grieving father, deceitful half-siblings, and beloved younger brother. Wow!

For better or worse, “Family” is a powerful force in every one of our lives. It both nurtures and siphons us; both exalts and critiques us; frees us and binds us.

Genesis46_30 family reunion

In many ways, family makes us who we are – by blood and genes – but more importantly by the hope and promise it places in us.  This was the case with Joseph, the great hope of his father Jacob and the misunderstood threat to his jealous brothers.

Today’s reading shows us a family who has made it through their devastating conflicts, not by their own effort, but by the abiding promise of God.

So many fractured families wish they could tell the same story of redeeming wholeness! What were the openings in this family’s brokenness that allowed God to enter and heal?

As so often in our human story, God comes dressed in ordinary clothes.  God wears the garments of our grief, repentance, forgiveness, hope and longing. He is disguised in our memories, cherished or painful. He peeks through our unresolved regrets, and dances in our acts of kindness, patience, and understanding.

We reach through to touch this God of Hope by our smallest mercy, our offered reconciling word, our tendered apology for a slight grown bigger with the years. And sometimes, we must simply let go of that which is unreconcilable, of those human hurts that can’t be healed because of time’s passage or unreachable hearts.

We let this God of Promise live in our families by honestly loving one another, supporting one another, thanking one another, and anticipating one another’s needs.

Being a strong family takes courage and sacrifice – something Joseph’s brothers were lucky to learn, however late. Let us pray in hope and thanksgiving for our own families – and for all families —  that God may give us that kind of self-sacrificing courage. Let us pray especially for young families, in today’s very inhospitable world, that they may grow strong in God’s and each other’s love.

Music: Family Prayer Song – The Promise Keepers

Broken Dreams

Memorial of Saint Benedict, Abbot

Thursday, July 11, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. The story is rich in emotional layers, leading us to reflect on the unfolding chapters of our own lives.

Ps105

Have you ever looked back to a personal circumstance which, when it occurred, seemed shattering, even unbearable? That same circumstance, when viewed through the long lens of time, may have -amazingly- turned out to be a blessing.

The event may have been a job we didn’t land, a loss we almost couldn’t bear, a failure we tried to avoid. Nevertheless, by the grace of God, we endured and even thrived. We learned new things about God’s power in our hearts, about the resilience of hope, and the effable dynamism of trust.

We learned how to forgive ourselves and others, how to be nourished by community, how to start over – perhaps with better intentions and greater wisdom.

Such was the atmosphere for Joseph and his brothers in today’s reading. Praying with this reading, let us give thanks for God’s Presence, even through the dreams that once seemed broken.

Music: Even If by MercyMe

Oh, Brother!

Wednesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 10, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our journey through Genesis leads us into the thick of the Joseph narrative. This is a long and intricate story, covering thirteen chapters in Genesis. The drama is rich in theological and psychological themes. Even outside the Bible, its scenes would stand the test of literary craftsmanship. Today’s reading offers us just one example.

Ford_Madox_Brown_-_The_Coat_of_Many_Colours_-_Google_Art_Project
Joseph’s Bloodstained Coat by Ford Maddox Brown

We enter the story a little later in the action. Joseph, the favored son of Jacob and thus hated by his jealous brothers, has been sold by them to a band of Midianite merchants. Ending up as a slave In Egypt, Joseph, by means of a series of dreams, saves the Egyptians from a terrible famine. He is greatly honored for this, becoming almost the equal of the grateful Pharaoh.

During the widespread famine, Joseph’s treacherous brothers come to Egypt seeking grain. He recognizes them although they are unaware of who he is. After leading them through a series of trials, Joseph ultimately forgives and reconciles with them. He brings his whole family to live in Egypt, protected by the aura of his unexpected prosperity.

One of the many suggestions for our prayer today might center on the inevitable dramas within families and communities fueled by favoritism, jealousy, even treachery. But reading Joseph’s story, we must consider these inevitabilities in the long-term light of God’s abiding grace, the power of forgiveness, and God’s will to give us new life even as we stand in our concupiscent ashes.

At times in our own life story, we may act as, or be impacted by, behaviors like those of doting Jacob, the envious brothers, or entitled Joseph. We might find ourselves entangled in a drama to rival this dysfunctional family of Jacob! Our prayer leads us to ask, “How were they ultimately delivered to freedom, restored to love?” 

The controlling, underlying theme of the Joseph narrative is that our hidden God remains with us in all of life’s roller coaster episodes. This God longs to grace us with the redemptive powers of repentance, forgiveness, hope, renewal and generosity. These graces can heal our bruised human story, letting it announce the saving power of God if we but open our hopes, choices, and dreams to it.

Music: Any Dream Will Do – from Joseph and the Amazing, Technicolor Dreamcoat, Andrew Lloyd Weber

A New Day Awaits

Sunday, March 31, 2019

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1 Cor new creation

Today, in Mercy,  halfway through Lent, we see in our readings glimpses of new life.

The captivity in Egypt had been TOUGH on Israel. During those many decades, they had appeared to be abandoned and forgotten by God.  It was a harsh reckoning for them … hard to be forgotten. Even then, when they thought they had found freedom, they still wandered for forty years in the desert.

But now Israel stands at a new horizon.  Moses has died and Joshua has become Israel’s leader.  God tells him that it is a new day:

“Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.”

In our second reading, Paul tells us:

Whoever is in Christ is a new creation:
the old things have passed away;
behold, new things have come.

And in our revered Gospel story of the Prodigal Son, Jesus tells us:

This beloved child of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
was lost, and has been found.

All of these passages speak to us in our Lenten journey, and in our Life journey.  We have experienced our own “Egypts”, times when we felt disconnected, even abandoned, by God.  We have sometimes felt we were journeying aimlessly toward an unknown goal. We have at times wandered, like the prodigal son, from the path of God’s love. We have darknesses in our memories that still long for Light.

This poem from Mary Oliver might capture the feeling for us:

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
~ Mary Oliver ~

In today’s readings, God is reminding us that the Light awaits us. Forgiveness, reconciliation, new energy and grace are the gifts of Easter – the gifts where we must keep our eyes focused as we journey.

So let us do as e.e.cummings encourages us in this poem:

Let It Go – e.e. cummings

let it go – the
smashed word broken
open vow or
the oath cracked length
wise – let it go it
was sworn to
go

let them go – the
truthful liars and
the false fair friends
and the boths and
neithers – you must let them go they
were born
to go

let all go – the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things – let all go
dear

so comes love


Music: Remember Not the Things of the Past – Bob Hurd
(Lyrics below)

Remember not the things of the past;
now I do something new,
do you not see it?
Now I do something new, says the Lord.

In our distress God has grasped us by the hand,
opened a path in the sea, and we shall pass over,
we shall pass over, free at last.

In our parched land of hypocrisy and hate,
God makes a river spring forth,
a river of mercy, truth and compassion; come and drink.

And who among us is sinless in God’s sight?
Then who will cast the first stone, when he who was sinless
carried our failings to the cross?

Pressing ahead, letting go what lies behind,
may we be found in the Lord, and sharing his dying,
share in his rising from the dead.

Mercy, like spring rain…

Saturday, March 30, 2019

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Hosea6_3 rainJPG

Today, in Mercy, our two readings encourage us to be humble and repentant.

In the reading from Hosea, God is very clear:

For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice,
and knowledge of God
rather than burnt offerings.

In our Gospel, Jesus tells us the parable of the proud Pharisee and the humble tax collector. The Pharisee’s prayer shows his judgmental self-satisfaction with all the sacrifices he’s made:

O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity —
greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector.

I fast twice a week,
and I pay tithes on my whole income.’

On the other hand, we have the scorned tax collector ( a status we can understand this time of year:-)  who admits his weakness and need for God’s mercy.

Oh God, have mercy on me, a sinner!

The readings are really about seeing ourselves in the light of God’s truth, while knowing that our merciful God loves us infinitely, even in our weakness. They are about being open to that mercy so that we can know the fullness of God’s grace.

Music: Humble – Audrey Assad