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.

thnkgvg_mercy


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.

1 Th4_17 chandelier

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.

Lv25_17_extraction

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.

Exodus16_4

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.

Vigil

Saturday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 20, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we keep vigil with the “Children of Israel” as they begin the great Exodus.

Ex12_42 Vigil

Even the youngest of us understands what it means to “keep vigil”. Toddlers, on Christmas Eve, keep vigil for the sound of Santa’s footsteps on the roof.

Throughout our lives, the kinds of vigils we keep deepen in meaning. Any given night holds an array of vigil-keepers:

  • A nervous student pulls an all-nighter before a big exam.
  • An anxious parent watches over a feverish child.
  • A faith-filled soul sits in pre-dawn prayer.
  • A vigilant elder prays quietly at the death bed of a long-beloved.

As families and communities, we wait together for each other’s lives.

  • Together, we expect the births of each generation’s babies.
  • We wait and hope for college acceptances and new jobs.
  • We wait for test results of all kinds.
  • We wait to listen to one another’s stories of success or disappointment.
  • We wait and prepare for the dawning of great feasts like Christmas and Easter

When we keep vigil, we live in expectation of something or someone coming to us. But there is another important aspect to every vigil.

As we wait, something is also happening within us.
In the deep quiet of our waiting, we are transformed.

Thomas Merton, monk of Gethsemane, was assigned to keep a particular type of vigil at the abbey. It was called “fire watch”, a night-long lookout to ensure that no fire erupted in the old wooden buildings as the other monks slept.  Merton writes about that watch at the end of his book The Sign of Jonas:

The fire watch is an examination of conscience in which your task as watchman suddenly appears in its true light:  a pretext devised by God to isolate you, and to search your soul with lamps and questions, in the heart of darkness.
“Fire Watch, July 4, 1952”

Today, as we pray with Israel’s Passover vigil, let us consider our own vigils – current or past. Beyond their apparent meaning, to what secret transformation might God be inviting us? What is happening deep in our soul as we watch far out to the horizon of our hope?

Music: Firewatch – Chris Remo

The Flag

Independence Day

July 4, 2019

Suggested Reading for the Day

Today, in Mercy, I offer this opinion piece.


flag

In some ways, it’s hard to be an American today. We live in a country confused about its identity, a country enmeshed in questions about “who we really are” – about both the good and the evil we are capable of. Those questions, on days like July 4th, get all tangled up in symbols like our beautiful flag.

I don’t have the answers but, as usual, I have an opinion. I think we all do. And I’ll share mine for those who might want to read it.

Our flag, cobbled together on a narrow Philadelphia street, has run with the Massachusetts 54th up the Fort Wagner rampart, and has been hoisted on a bloody hill in Iwo Jima. It has been raised over singing, saluting schoolchildren, and wrapped around the caskets of our heroes. It has wafted from the shoulders of Olympians, and stretched – supersized -across our nation’s stadiums.

Woven into its stately stripes is our desire for human freedom, strength, pride, happiness, and peace. For me, our flag stands for this ideal and thus I will always respect and value it.

What I will not salute is the hijacking of our beloved symbol to stand for militarism, white nationalism, religious extremism, isolationism, imperialism, or racial and ethnic exceptionalism. These poisonous misappropriations have so clouded our flag that we struggle to retain the purity of its original call to us:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The men who wrote these lofty words didn’t fully comprehend or achieve their reach. They ignored whole segments of people – women, people of color, Native Americans – who should have been immediately embraced within the nascent ideal.

And now, after centuries, we still struggle to secure the full promise of these words for all people. In many ways we have even regressed in our efforts, retreating to the deadly “isms” mentioned above.

Whenever an ideology is used to suppress and control the legitimate freedoms of others, a malignant force is unleashed. And when that force conceals itself with our flag, we all suffer.

I believe that’s why Americans like Colin Kaepernick and Megan Rapinoe protest the flag as they do. They are protesting the poisons poured into our flag  by these toxic ideologies. Rather than immortalizing or demonizing such protesters, we would do well to listen to them, discerning the truth they attempt to reveal to us.

But, as we face these challenges, let us not blame the flag. Let us blame ourselves and, in that honesty, resolve to go forward in the strength of our common humanity.

Today, let the flag do what it was intended to do. Let it call us to a determined commitment to freedom and mutual responsibility for one another’s well-being. Let the flag make us brave to face where we have failed one another – often grievously- in this pursuit. But let it also make us confident that the courage it has drawn from us over centuries will strengthen us as a just, compassionate, inclusive, free and strong nation.

Music: The Star-Spangled Banner- sung by The Voices of Gwynedd; arranged and conducted by Musical Director Carol Evans.

Fearful Yet Overjoyed

Easter Monday, April 23, 2019

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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.

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