Fearful Yet Overjoyed

(Reposting from last year. Still works. Just a few edits.)

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Mt28_8 fear_joy

Today, in Mercy,  we enter the Easter Season which will last until June 8th. The next day we will celebrate Pentecost.

Throughout these several weeks, we will have a thorough reading of the Acts of the Apostles. 

Theologian Walter Brueggemann says this about Acts:

In the Book of Acts the church is a restless, transformative agent
at work for emancipation and well-being in the world.

As Easter People, transformed by the Resurrection of Jesus, that’s what we’re all called to be. Our models and inspiration will be found in these early women and men we read about over the next few weeks. This was a community that acted – within a culture of death – for an alternative, life-giving world.

“The whole book of Acts is about power from God that the world cannot shut down. In scene after scene, there is a hard meeting between the church and worldly authorities, because worldly authorities are regularly baffled by this new power and resentful of it.”
At one point, in chapter 17, the followers of Jesus are accused of “turning the world upside down.
” (Brueggemann)

Our world sorely needs such an active Church, speaking clearly to the issues that threaten and limit human life and wholeness in God. It’s not easy to be that witness, but it is critical. Our Gospel suggests the difficulty, but also defines the motivation:

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary
went away quickly from the tomb,

fearful yet overjoyed,
and ran to announce the good news …

May we, though sometimes fearful, choose to be agents of the joyful Good News for our times. May we be brave in witnessing Christ, even in trying times!

Music: Alleluia from Mozart’s Exultate et Jubilate- sung by Barbara Bonney

Be “Laetare!” for Someone

Fourth Sunday of Lent

 

March 22, 2020
Laetare Sunday

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Light

Laetare! Rejoice! Lent has run half its distance to Easter.

I know it may be a bit difficult to rejoice in this Corona time, but think of this.

Spring has stepped over the horizon!  The long winter watch is over. But before we shake off its black velvet wraps for good, it might be well to think about what winter has taught us. It may strengthen us for this unusually challenging spring!

The stretch of time between November and April is all about waiting. Bulbs wait under the frozen earth.  Bears hibernate in the cold mountains.  Birds migrate, their old nests empty until the spring. All creation seems to enter a time of patience and unrealized expectation.  But it is not a time of desolation.  It is a time of hope for things yet unseen. Perhaps we can make our Corona time that kind of hopeful time.

We human beings also experience “winter” – not simply the seasonal one – but “winters of the spirit”.  We all go through times when our nests have been emptied; times when all the beautiful flowering aspects of our lives seem dormant; times when our vigor and strength seem to hide in the cave of depression or sadness.  These “winters” take many forms.  We may find ourselves sick of a job we had always loved. We may find a long, committed relationship wavering.  We may find the burdens of age or economics overwhelming us.  We may be the unwilling bearers of responsibilities we had not bargained for.

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But if we listen, under the deep silence of waning winter, the wind rustles.  It carries the hint of a new season.  It carries the hope of the renewing cycle of our lives.  In that silence, we may be able to hear our own heartbeat more clearly.  We may come to a clearer understanding of what is most important in our lives.  In the stillness, we may be forced to know and understand ourselves in a deeper way.

In this time of global angst and uncertainty, I think of a powerful image from the works of St. Teresa of Avila.  St. Teresa imagines God as a warm healer leaning over our frozen world, setting free the beauty of our spirits. This is what she says:

And God is always there, if you feel wounded.
He kneels over this earth like a divine medic,
and His love thaws the holy in us.

When we are compassionate and offer one another hope and light, we free what is sacred in us and we do a holy work.  Every time you touch another person’s life,  — in these times, from at least six feet away — you have the chance to change winter into spring.  You have a chance to be like God.

Call someone who may feel very alone.  Be “Laetare” for them! Pray for someone suffering illness or loss. Send healing hopes to those you may not even know in distant places of our shared earth. Light, Easter rising and renewed life will come. Let us trust God and hold one another up as we wait.

 

 

New Year’s Eve – 2019

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new sunset

Today, in Mercy, we stand on the far western shore of the Year of Our Lord, 2019.

It is well near evening.  Our memories are silhouetted against the deep magenta sky as they sail beyond the shimmering horizon.  We have lived, laughed, lost and loved in ways never to be repeated, yet never to be forgotten.  The great turning of time goes relentlessly on, but we have written our story in its indelible trail.


With fireworks and reveling, popular culture will invite us to the brash celebration of our presence within this point in history.  But, at the altar of our hearts, we recognize this long evening of reminiscence as a time of quiet thanksgiving and petition.  It is a time of awe and trust.


 

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Like flint struck against the almighty soul of God, we have been given life.  We are God’s fire at this moment in time’s long unwinding.  Tonight, we turn our spirits to those beside us, behind us, before us and we pray in thanksgiving and hope for them.


 

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Together, we sink into the Dark Infinity of our Creator who sustains all life beyond our worries, fears and limitations.  With innumerable universes, God balances us in the Palm of Mercy.  As the midnight shadows fall, God closes the fingertips of grace and protection over us.

In the split moment between two years, we too become infinite – fire in God’s darkness, spark redeemed beyond time.


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In 2020, we will forget this transcendent moment.  The bright light of daily living will blind us to that piece of divinity shining in our souls.  But tonight, let us remember.  As midnight passes by, may our spirits kneel within us to the Awesome Mystery who holds us, as one, eternally within Itself.

A truly blessed New Year to you and your beloveds, my friends.

Music: Be Still My Soul – Kari Jobe

Catching Hope!

Monday of the First Week of Advent

December 2, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our first reading sets us out on nearly two weeks of passages from Isaiah. The passionate hope of Isaiah’s writing, as well as its literary elegance, can reach into our hearts and powerfully renew us.

Is4_6 glory

For these reasons, “Isaiah’s Vision” is among the most beloved and influential books of the Bible. The book has so influenced Christianity that it often is referred to as “The Fifth Gospel”.

We begin today with a passage that captures Isaiah’s prophecy for the restoration of Israel after the Assyrian and Babylonian decimation. You might think, “So what! That was ancient history and my life is now. What can Isaiah say to me?”

But that is the magic of Isaiah! He is a prophet and a magnificent poet. What he says for “then” can be lifted out of time and wrapped in “now”. In the transformation of prayer, Isaiah can be laid in revelation over our world, our times … my life.

On this second day of Advent, as we faithfully seek to find God in our deep-heart, what do today’s lines say to us:

  • Is there a “branch” of hope in us that we pray will blossom?
  • Is there a holy confidence we may have lost for a while that we hunger to have returned?
  • Is there a barren field in our world or our lives that longs to be brought to life?
  • Do we pray for the graceful restoration of our Church, our world, our country, our families, our own hearts?
  • Do we long for signs of God’s Presence in our lives – not smoking clouds and flaming fire necessarily – but the joyful peace and freedom that would bless and comfort us?

Isaiah today is about assuring us in these longings. He says:

For over all, the LORD’s glory will be shelter and protection:
shade from the parching heat of day,
refuge and cover from the storm and rain.

In our Advent prayer,
we open our spirits to that Promise!

Music: Beautiful Zion- sung by Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Lyrics

1. Beautiful Zion, built above;
Beautiful city that I love;
Beautiful gates of pearly white;
Beautiful temple—God its light;
He who was slain on Calvary
Opens those pearly gates for me.

Zion, Zion, lovely Zion;
Beautiful Zion;
Zion, city of our God!

2. Beautiful heav’n, where all is light;
Beautiful angels clothed in white;
Beautiful strains that never tire;
Beautiful harps thru all the choir;
There shall I join the chorus sweet,
Worshiping at the Savior’s feet.

Zion, Zion, lovely Zion;
Beautiful Zion;
Zion, city of our God!

3. Beautiful crowns on ev’ry brow;
Beautiful palms the conq’rors show;
Beautiful robes the ransomed wear;
Beautiful all who enter there;
Thither I press with eager feet;
There shall my rest be long and sweet.

Zion, Zion, lovely Zion;
Beautiful Zion;
Text: George Gill, 1820–1880
Music: Joseph G. Fones, 1828–1906

You’re Welcome

Tuesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

November 26, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings echo the end-time themes we have been considering for several days. And we may continue to pray with these as we approach Advent.

But as we approach Thanksgiving, I want to shift gears and offer you some reflections I have written over the years in celebration of this holiday. For these next few days, I will focus on these. In the past, readers have used them for their prayer and at their own Thanksgiving tables. I hope you find them beneficial.

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You’re Welcome

Bill was a big Mid-western guy with the boots and belt buckles to prove it. His wife of thirty years was a patient in our east coast cancer wing. Hearing of a break-through experimental treatment, they had come seeking a cure despite every indication of its hopelessness.

Being away from home, Bill had a lot of empty time outside of visiting hours. He spent much of it observing things that would ordinarily go unnoticed in the bustle of his regular life: weather, nature and human idiosyncrasies.

During one cafeteria lunch, over a bowl of hot soup, he observed, “People around here don’t say ‘You’re welcome’. They hold a door. You say ‘Thank you’. They just say ‘Uh huh'”.  Bill didn’t like that. It made him feel invisible. He said it was like one hand clapping.

In this season of Thanksgiving, it’s something to consider. Thanks are not offered in a vacuum. They are given to benefactors, both human and Divine, on whom we depend for a reciprocity of love, companionship, care and courage. Bill, at such a vulnerable, lonely place in his life, was infinitely sensitive when his thanks received no answer.

During this special time, we may hear a “Thank You” offered to us. In this cold age of our digital distractions, can we receive it consciously? Can we return it with a mutuality of gratitude that says, “You’re welcome! You are welcome in the embrace of my life. I see you as a unique and precious life and I rejoice at any kindness I can give you.”? A simple, sincere smile can say all that. Such is the power of our conscious spirits!

Doing this, we might even hear the Creator’s whisper, saying the same thing to us as we offer our Thanksgiving prayers: “I have created you from an abundance of love. You are precious to me and I believe in you. I hear your “Thank You” and you are welcome in the embrace of my infinite love.”

Music:  Thanksgiving Classical Playlist (You may want to play this hour-long compilation during your Thanksgiving meal.)

Midnight Miracle

Saturday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

November 16, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we are blessed with some of the most gloriously imaginative images in Scripture:

wis18_midnight

Although the passage is a poetic recounting of the Exodus experience, it always makes me think of Christmas. 

  • Midnight on a starry night
  • Peaceful stillness over the earth
  • The all-powerful Word transformed 
  • Appearing among us like a comet in our darkness
  • Hope renewed for an otherwise doomed land

Praying with the passage this morning, I realize that my “Christmas lens” on the reading is right on target.

The Christmas event begins our Exodus story, a story completed in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ.

Just as the God of Moses reached into ancient Israel’s life to free them, transform them and make them God’s People, so God reaches into our lives. God does this not only on Christmas, but in every moment of our experience.

As our media and consumer culture bombards us, all too early, with all the secularized images of Christmas, let today’s verses bring us back to the true startling grace of our own Christ/Exodus stories:

We are not alone in the midnights of our lives.
Listen underneath all the distractions
to the, at first, softly emerging sound of Love
humming under all things.
Watch for the small lights of heaven
longing to break into our human darkness.
Give yourself to their Light.

No matter where we are in our lives right now,
no matter the joy or pain of our present circumstances,
God wants to use these realities to be with us
and to teach us Love.
Let us invite God
into our willingness
to learn that Love,

to become that Love.


Music: Winter Cold Night – John Foley, SJ

Lyrics below (yes, it is an Advent/ Christmas song. But it fits so perfectly. Please forgive me if I am rushing the season too.🤗)

Dark, dark, the winter cold night. Lu-lee-lay.
Hope is hard to come by. Lu-lee-lay.
Hard, hard, the journey tonight. Lu—lee-lay.
Star, guide, hope, hide our poor, winter cold night.

And on earth, peace, good will among men.

Lean, lean, the livin’ tonight. Lu-lee-lay.
Star seems darker sometimes. Lu-lee-lay.
Unto you is born this day a Savior.
Pain, yes, in the bornin’ tonight. Lu lee—lay.
Star, guide, hope, hide our poor, winter cold night.

Our Laboring Mother

Memorial of Saint Gregory the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church

Tuesday, September  3, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Paul again affirms the faith and prudence of the Thessalonians:

Concerning times and seasons, brothers and sisters,
you have no need for anything to be written to you.
For you yourselves know very well
that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night.

He paints a dire picture of those “times and seasons”, likening them to the onset of labor pains. But like a mother’s labor, these pains ultimately yield life:

For God did not destine us for wrath,
but to gain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

So Christ, our Laboring Mother, delivers us – even through seasons of suffering and evil – to a new day. And we – we are the midwives to one another’s salvation:

Therefore, encourage one another
and build one another up,
as indeed you do.

This honest encouragement is so essential for us in our faith communities because, without it, the mystery of suffering and evil overwhelm us. 

Ps27_13

It is both awesome and fearsome to truly encounter Mystery. In its presence, we are rudderless: we cannot explain, control, or humanly rationalize it. Mystery can only be comprehended by greater Mystery. Suffering can only be plumbed by the greater Mystery of Love.

And we know Love’s Name: Jesus by Roc O’Connor (Lyrics below)

Refrain:

Jesus, Jesus
Let all creation bend the knee to the Lord.

1. In Him we live, we move and have our being;
In Him the Christ, In Him the King!
Jesus the Lord.

2. Though Son, He did not cling to Godliness,
But emptied Himself, became a slave!
Jesus the Lord.

3. He lived obediently His Father’s will
Accepting His death, death on a cross!
Jesus the Lord.

The Chandelier

Monday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

September 2, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  our scriptures may lead us to think about where we have come from and where we are going.

Indeed, we tell you this, on the word of the Lord,
that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord,
will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep.

My reflection on this passage will be rather personal today. I hope you don’t mind.

As I write, I am blessed to be sitting in a beautiful breeze at our community’s vacation house. It couldn’t be a more lovely day.

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While I pray about these scriptures, a simple chandelier over our dining room table sways in the soft wind. Under its corona, I can’t help remembering all the friends who, over many years, have shared a meal and enjoyed past summer days here.

What an indescribable blessing it is to live in community with holy, joyful and loving women! 

Many of them, over these present days, drop in for a cup of home made soup or a glass of wine. We love one another, and we are entwined in each other’s journey to God. We inspire one another by our radical embrace of the Gospel, and our longing to give even more for God. What a comforting, sturdy, and supportive fabric we weave to enfold one another!

The chandelier rhythmically dances, like a fragrant censor over a sacred table. I remember with immense gratitude those beloved Sisters, now gone, who have blessed my life here at this refreshing seaside. Their names surround me in a grateful litany: Kitty, Marie, Fidelis, Jodi, Maureen, Suzanne, Ronnie, Janet, Giovanni, Mary Joan …

Others too who have sat at this table – not Sisters only, but family in faith, love and ministry bless me as I let the Holy Spirit of the waning summer waft over me.

We have shared crabs and meatballs, tears and laughter, prayer and politics, movies and ball games, hope and a holy, honest ember that warms the soul.

My dear Sisters, as you read this, you will have your own Sea Isle litanies to pray. Are we not indescribably blessed in one another!

Others of you, my dear readers, you will let you own loving list write itself across your heart as you pray.

A family is an eternal line between God and the generations, clear and stable.

A community is a wider path, rich in differences and, because of them, profound in its gifts.

In an interesting reversal, this holiday has come to be more about leisure than labor. And it is at leisure where we are most easily blessed by the joy, sincerity, trust and love of our families, friends, and communities.

Let us thank God for them today, remembering the past, cherishing the present, trusting the future.

Happy Labor Day!

Music: Sea Breeze – Keiko Matsui 

Sabbath and Jubilee

Saturday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

August 3, 2019

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Sabbath-Should-We

 

Today, in Mercy, our reading from Leviticus may seem pastoral and peaceful in tone as it describes the days and years of rest and jubilee. Don’t let that tone fool you. This is perhaps one of the most radical, transformative passages in Scripture!

These verses from Leviticus describe and mandate an economic system based on respect and care for neighbor and earth. They require the community to take significant, reflective pauses in what might be an otherwise relentless drive to personal prosperity.

These commands are rooted in the understanding that God is the Creator, and therefore “owner” of all – people, animals, the land and its produce. We are to use these resources with reverent mutuality. If we do not, we become caught in an economy that inflates some at the expense of others – that is, an extractive economy.

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In an extractive economy, those with power and money siphon resources from the weak and vulnerable. This cycle grows ever more greedy because the “haves” can never have enough. Eventually, both human and natural resources are exhausted and the faulty, actually sinful, economy fails.

Sabbath and Jubilee are meant to restore balance by causing us to reflect on and reverse the pitfalls of a greedy, extractive system.

The parallels to present day realities are stunning! We live in a world where everything is a commodity at the disposal of those who control money. Walter Brueggemann calls this “the oligarchy of concentrated wealth…the network of the wealthy and powerful in the U.S. and around the world who basically outflank or control governmental structures.”

This unmitigated imbalance eventually creates impoverished nations whose citizens are plagued by violence, who must flee their homeland simply to survive. It spawns a culture of “disposability” where even human beings are bought and sold into exploitation. It creates a system where you may be sold anything, even if it kills you like tobacco, opioids and carcinogenic products. You may buy anything, even if it kills the people who provided it, even if it kills the earth for future generations.

So we simply cannot read Leviticus today as an ancient writing meant to organize a long-ago agrarian society. This scripture is speaking to us, demanding that we pause to consider how we contribute to or stand against such systems.

The reading is asking us to develop a deep, sacred awareness of all human beings as “neighbor”, and to live, unflinchingly, out of that awareness.

Music: The Workingman’s Hymn – Joshua Davis (Lyrics below)

Some people hunger for the greenback bill
Some folks hunger for the top of the hill
Some people just tryin’ to get a decent meal
Well I know that we can turn it around

Some people sleepin’ in a fine feather bed
Some folks are dreamin’ of an old homestead
Some just need a place to lay their head
Well I know that we can turn it around

[Chorus]
I know that we can turn it around
There’s one thing that I’ve found
If there’s a force in the dim singin’ a workingman’s hymn
I know that we can turn it around

River bottom up to home on high
In the light of the endless sky
Jetsettin’ or just gettin’ by
I know that we can turn it around

[Chorus]   [Bridge]

From the 9th Ward up to Patoka Lake
One man’s joy’s been another man’s pain
But the sun keeps shinin’ through the drivin’ rain
And I know that we can turn it around

It’s Raining Bread!

Wednesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 24, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are all about food in the many forms and senses of that word.

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The Israelites have been in the desert for a while.  The burden of travel is beginning to weigh upon them.  Food is short, tempers even shorter.  Things seem so bad that, in a fit of stupendous forgetfulness, they tell Moses they were better off as slaves in Egypt.

Moses asks God to intervene, which God does with the gifts of manna and quail.

The folks in today’s reading remind me a lot of people I know — even myself.  Haven’t we all heard, and maybe uttered, the complaint that things were so much better in “the old days”.  Haven’t we critiqued a challenging situation with the unhelpful assessment, “Well, it’s not like it used to be!”

But the God of Exodus is so patient, as is Moses.  God doesn’t become angry with the complainers. Instead God promises to take care of them and to stay with them forever on their journey. God makes good on this word by initiating the naturally occurring phenomena of morning manna and migrating quail so that the community is fed.

Some areas to focus on as we pray with this passage:

God does not deliver the Israelites immediately to their destination. Life is a journey, not an arrival.

God intervenes to meet their needs, but through ordinary occurrences rather than miracles. God uses manna and quail, surprising but nonetheless naturally occurring events in the Sinai desert.

God expects the Israelites to interact with grace, to recognize that God is about the continuing work of Creation and Covenant, even within the natural circumstances of our lives.

For us, the profound reminder that God accompanies us in drought and abundance, in joy and sorrow, in wilderness and stability; that God is listening under our hungers; that God is sustaining us in graces we may be slow to recognize.

Music: Panis Angelicus – Luciano Pavarotti

Panis angelicus
fit panis hominum;
Dat panis caelicus
figuris terminum:
O res mirabilis!
manducat Dominum
Pauper, servus, et humilis. 

Te trina Deitas
unaque poscimus:
Sic nos tu visita,
sicut te colimus;
Per tuas semitas
duc nos quo tendimus,
Ad lucem quam inhabitas.
Amen.

Bread of Angels,
made the bread of men;
The Bread of heaven
puts an end to all symbols:
A thing wonderful!
The Lord becomes our food:
poor, a servant, and humble.

We beseech Thee,
Godhead One in Three
That Thou wilt visit us,
as we worship Thee,
lead us through Thy ways,
We who wish to reach the light
in which Thou dwellest.
Amen.