The Burning Bush

Wednesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 17, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we read about a “theophany” – a visible manifestation to humankind of God. Not your everyday occurrence, right? Well, let’s think about that.

Ex3_4 bush

In today’s passage from Exodus, Moses, self-exiled from Egypt because he murdered an abusive slave master, is shepherding his father-in-law’s flock through the desert. (Good practice for what will face him for the next forty years!) He’s basically out in the middle of nowhere, mindlessly daydreaming as the sheep dogs do most of the work.

All of a sudden, in the still, quiet spaciousness, a lonely bush combusts right in front of him! Theophany! God wants his attention.


For most of us, there are no burning bushes.
So what does God do when God wants our attention?


Just this morning, another Sister and I were praying in our quiet living room. In the stillness, I heard her very softly say, “Praise God”. She had noticed the clear, blue sky and gently swaying leaves outside our window. She had become instantly aware of how blessed she was by such beauty and life.

A theophany? I think so. And there are scores of them flowing past us daily if we can just open the inner heart to see them; if we can just pause to be grateful within their presence; if we can just acknowledge them by a simple prayer and wait to hear their message.

Some “theophanies” come gently like my friend’s this morning. Some come in an unexpected, and perhaps unwanted, explosion that disrupts our lives. But in each of their guises, they carry a God Who wants to speak with us. May we listen.

Music: jazzing it up today
Echoes from the Burning Bush – The Cathedral Singers

Moses stood on holy ground
Far from God descended down
Set the roadside bush on fire (bush on fire)

Then the Lord did there explain
Through His servant should remain
All the echoes from the bush on fire (the bush on fire)

Oh the echoes from the bush (I hear those lovely echoes from the burning bush)
How they thrill my soul (how they thrill my soul)
Oh the echoes from the bush (I hear those thrilling echoes from the burning bush)
Point me to the Lord (point me to the Lord)

I no more am doubting, but with joy I’m shouting
With no thought of shame to blush (no shame to blush)
This my song shall ever be, words that are so sweet to me
Echoes from the burning bush (the burning bush)

God sent down His only Son
Just to ransom everyone
By the echoes from the fire (from the fire)

God of every earthly land
Would not pick nor choose a man
For His blood will save us from the fire (eternal fire)

Broken Dreams

Memorial of Saint Benedict, Abbot

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Click here for readings

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

Wounded by Mercy

Tuesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 9, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we continue to learn from the amazing saga of Jacob.

This passage tells a story we may have heard: 

Jacob, after years in isolation, is returning to seek reconciliation with his aggrieved brother Esau. Jacob is stressed, penitent, and maybe a good bit nervous about the first encounter.

He tries to get a decent night’s sleep before the highly anticipated meeting. But that was not to be.

Jacob and AngelJPG
Jacob Wrestling with the Angel by Eugène Delacroix

Jacob wrestles through night with an unnamed stranger. The stranger – perhaps an angel, perhaps God – wounds him, renames him, and ultimately blesses him.

The passage is so worth a reflective read! In that reflection, we may see glimpses of our own relationship with God. God comes to us too, unexpectedly, in both our lights and our darknesses. God wrestles us to look him in the face, in the heart – to turn our attention from all the luring distractions and shallowness that keep us from him.

At best we, like Jacob, might come to a sort of truce with God: we do not fully know God’s Name but we, nevertheless, receive God’s blessing. That blessing changes us, renames us. And, in a visible way, it marks us – just as Jacob was marked by a “limp”. We become vulnerable to the things of God, to God’s hope for the world, to the Mercy of God for all Creation. We become marked by a Love which, though it seems to weaken, is our ultimate and indefatigable strength.

Today’s final thought: Will we let ourselves be changed by the grace offered us in life’s struggles? Will we let ourselves be renamed and marked as God’s own?

Frederick Buechner, in his sermon The Magnificent Defeat talks about such surrender:

Power, success, happiness, as the world knows them, are his who will fight for them hard enough; but peace, love, joy, are only from God. And God is the enemy whom Jacob fought there by the river, of course, and whom in one way or another we all of us fight-God, the beloved enemy. Our enemy because, before giving us everything, he demands of us everything; before giving us life, he demands our lives – our selves, our wills, our treasure.

Will we give them, you and I? I do not know. Only remember the last glimpse that we have of Jacob, limping home against the great conflagration of the dawn. Remember Jesus of Nazareth, staggering on broken feet out of the tomb toward the Resurrection, bearing on his body the proud insignia of the defeat which is victory, the magnificent defeat of the human soul at the hands of God.

Music: Jacob Wrestles with the Angel – Leo Kraft

With You, All the Way!

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 8, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we come to the heart of the Jacob story. Through prayer, it may reveal the heart of our story too.

Think of this. Is there anything better than a true friend who, even in your worst isolation, says:

  • I’ve got your back.
  • I’m right here at your side.
  • I’m with you through it all.

This is who God promises to be for Jacob in today’s wonderful first reading.

Gen28_12Ladder

Trickster Jacob, banished and fleeing from His enraged brother, falls asleep on the vast plain, with only a rock for his pillow. He is on a journey between two lives – the old one of extreme conflict, and a new one, as yet unrevealed. When he falls asleep on this desolate night, he thinks he journeys alone.

Ever feel like that? In life, we make many small and big journeys from the old to the new, the comfortable to the challenging, the past to the future, the known to the unknown. Sometimes we make choices to leave a “life” behind. Sometimes, life makes the choice in spite of us. In many of these chosen or unchosen transitions, we may feel very alone, even abandoned.

The good news of today’s reading is that God thinks otherwise.

Know that I am with you;
I will protect you wherever you go,
and bring you back to (wholeness).
I will never leave you
until I have done what I promised you.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus realizes this same ancient promise in the lives of two people on painful journeys. 

He heals the hemorrhaging woman through just her trusting fingertip along his garment’s hem. Such is the awesome power of faith and promise!

He raises new life in a dying child by the reach of her father’s faith into the heart of God’s mercy.

God is with each one of us too – unequivocally. God’s Mercy is everywhere and always.

Jacob responds to God’s promise with faith and hope. So do the Gospel’s centurion and suffering woman. Each of them, in their particular journey, shows us how to welcome God’s promise, “I am with you.” All we need do is to be with God too.

Music: You Are Mine – David Haas

Joy

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 7, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings are knit together by the theme of joy – a quality whose description and possession are elusive.

Lk10_20 joy

As I sought a way to write about joy, I thought immediately of the author C.S. Lewis. If you don’t know him, I suggest it would be worth your while to discover him.

C.S. Lewis was a British writer, academic and theologian. He is best known for his works of fiction, especially The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, and The Space Trilogy. Among my favorite of his non-fiction works are Surprised by Joy and A Grief Observed.

Lewis clearly understood and lived a spirituality like the one offered in today’s readings. He came to understand the amazing difference between joy and happiness. He experienced joy as a longing for the Infinite which is suggested by life’s beauty, but never fully accessed by our human sensibility.

Isaiah, Paul, and Jesus preach this kind of joy in our readings. It is a joy that, even in the midst of trial, gives us peace and hope. It is rooted in our immutable trust in God’s abiding love for us. As today’s Psalm says:

Hear now, all you who fear God,
while I declare
what he has done for me.
Blessed be God who refused me not
my prayer or his kindness!

You might enjoy these quotes about joy from C.S.Lewis. Movie lovers among you might like the wonderful 1993 film about the relationship between Lewis and American poet Joy Davidman, her death from cancer, and how this challenged Lewis’s Christian faith.


All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’.”
C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

“Joy—that sharp, wonderful Stab of Longing—has a lithe, muscular lightness to it. It’s deft. It produces longing that weighs heavy on the heart, but it does so with precision and coordination…It dashes in with the agility of a hummingbird claiming its nectar from the flower, and then zips away. It pricks, then vanishes, leaving a wake of mystery and longing behind it.”
(from Shadowlands and Song of Light by Kevin Ott – a journey into the thoughts of C.S.Lewis)

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Music: Shadowlands – Rebecca St.James

Chapter Closed

Friday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 5, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our passage from Genesis concludes the story of Abraham.

Like any good drama, the passage ties the plot with a final ribbon, but leaves a little thread to suggest an ensuing story.

Gen24_7 promise

Sarah dies and Abraham negotiates a deal to bury her in the “promised”, but as yet unowned, land. So, in essence, Sarah’s grave is the first parcel of this Promised Land.

Soon after, Abraham prepares for his own death by assuring the future of Isaac, both to remain in the Promised Land, and to have a wife from his own people. To secure these things, Abraham commissions his faithful, unnamed, senior servant who travels back to Assyria and finds Rachel. She becomes Isaac’s wife, the mother of the next generation of The Promise.

The two main themes for us to pray with are these:
the land and
the promise secured for the future

Certainly these themes might lead us to consider what promise we cherish, and where we have set the stakes of our “residence”. In other words, where do our heart and soul live in this world?

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance. (Psalm 15:5-6)

But I also cannot pray these verses without thinking of the many immigrants and refugees who have left their homes on the hope and promise of a more secure life.

So many languish in a place of unfulfillment and outright suffering. So many see their posterity taken from them by death or human cruelty. As we think of them today, where does our prayer lead us in compassion and Christian love?

(P.S. Look for a second post today of an old favorite, for those who may never have seen it, or those who might like to read it again. Thanks!)

Music:  When We Go Home, We Go Together – Pure Heart Ensemble

Believe

Feast of Saint Thomas, Apostle

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

 Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings lead us to pray for faith.

John20_27 Thomas

Faith is not a commodity or an achievement.
Faith is a relationship and a journey.

It is a gift and an exercise of grace.
Never stretched, it withers like an broken ligament.

It ebbs and tides with our personal and communal dramas.
It deepens with prayer, silent reaching, and a listening obedience to our lives.
It shallows with our demands, like Thomas, only to see and to touch.

It is fed by the Lavish Mercy of God Who never cuts its flow to our souls
if we but take down the seawall around our heart.

On this day when we celebrate the power of tested and proven faith,
may we bring our needs into the circle gathered in that Upper Room.

Standing beside Thomas today in our prayer,
may we place our trust in the glorified wounds of Christ.

A video today for your prayer: Blessed Are They That Have Not Seen

After the Tumult

Tuesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 2, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we stand with Abraham as he reflects over the demolished plains surrounding Sodom and Gomorrah. He has been through a traumatic upheaval with God. Now he lets the reality of its teaching sink into his soul.

Genesis19_28 sodomJPG

The smoldering land over which Abraham meditates has been flattened by earthquake and ensuing fire. It is a striking symbol for us of those events or circumstances in our lives that have crushed our hope and joy. At some time, we have all stood at the edge of such a scorched plain, one to be traced not on a paper map but on the map of our soul.

The upheaval may have been spawned by a death, a broken vow, a trust revealed as false, a devastating illness of spirit, mind or body. Whatever the trauma, something of us did not survive – at least not in the way it was before the fire.

Abraham is full of such considerations on this now quiet morning. And he, as many of us in the aftermath of our storms, has learned a new depth of God. God has stayed with Abraham, listened to him, shown mercy to Lot and his family.

What we see in this reading is Abraham, our earliest ancestor in faith, growing in his understanding of the nature of God. Even the upheavals of life can bring us to the fullness of God’s mercy. Though life may unfold differently from what we would choose, it will always bring us grace if we stay in relationship with Abiding Love.

May God give us the faith to hold on to that Lavish Mercy in any upheaval we encounter. May we, like Abraham, stand quiet and trusting in the power of God – perhaps not to change things, but to change us.

Music: Though the Mountains May Fall – Dan Schutte 

The Yoke, Indeed, Is On Us!

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 30, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, the symbols of yokes and plows shout out across our readings. Again, we are dealing with metaphors not in everyday usage for most of us. But those listening to Elijah, Paul, and Jesus absorbed the symbolism easily.

Gal5_yoke

The yoke has connotations of subservience and toiling; in some ancient cultures it was traditional to force a vanquished enemy to pass beneath a symbolic yoke of Spears or swords.The yoke may be a metaphor for something oppressive or burdensome, such as feudalism or totalitarianism. (Wikipedia)

The writer of Kings has fiery Elijah engaged in one of his several highly dramatic episodes. What a scene, right? But what is the point for us?

The point is the same in all three readings: yoke=commitment. Each of our writers is talking about a further understanding of the word “yoke” —a freely chosen commitment made, by grace, for Love.

Sometimes, as in Kings, we need to break an enslavement in order to commit to something life-giving, such as Elisha’s call to follow Elijah.

Other times, as in Galatians, we must remind ourselves of the freedom and power we have chosen by breaking the old yokes that bound us.

In our Gospel, Jesus acknowledges the cost of a commitment to his Way. He has already told us in Matthew 11:

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.

Today, in Luke, Jesus doubles down on his invitation /challenge to follow him:

No one who sets a hand to the plow
and looks to what was left behind
is fit for the kingdom of God.

The question left for our prayer today? Is my heart fully yoked to the heart Christ? Is my hand firmly grasping the plow?

Music: My Yoke is Easy – Dennis Jernigan

Here’s the Problem

Thursday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, June 27, 2010

Click here for readings

Here’s the Problem

Gen16_1 Sarai

Today, in Mercy, Abram and Sarai fall back into a struggle with God’s promise. God tarries with fulfillment and has not yet removed Sarai’s barrenness. The aging couple become impatient.

So, as we all sometimes do when God appears deaf to our prayers, Sarai comes up with her own strategy, clearly outside God’s outlined promise. They will use their slave Hagar to bear Abram’s heir.

The passage doesn’t mean that we should not work hard to fulfill our lives. It isn’t intended to contradict that old wisdom:

Work as if everything depended on you.
Pray as if everything depended on God.

Or as St. Ignatius puts it in a more precise way:

I consider it an error to trust and hope in any means or efforts in themselves alone; nor do I consider it a safe path to trust the whole matter to God our Lord without desiring to help myself by what he has given me; so that it seems to me in our Lord that I ought to make use of both parts, desiring in all things his greater praise and glory, and nothing else.

What this reading does hold up before us is the quality of our faith, the depth of our relationship with God. 

  • Do I consider every aspect of my experience in the light of prayer, sharing it with God, listening for God’s voice?
  • Do I inform my spirit through scripture and spiritual reading, (with what I like to call “a holy culture”), so that I can trust my discernment and be patient for its fulfillment?
  • Do I seek the counsel and companionship of those who strengthen the resolve of my spirit?

Abram was making good progress with these stepping stones, then Sarai threw him a curve with the offer of Hagar as his concubine. But don’t just blame Sarai. Good old Abram caught the curve and ran with it!🙂

Life pitches us all a lot of curves. It can be hard to catch God’s Voice as the curve buzzes by us!

Let’s pray today to let this story teach us whatever we need to learn about our own faith, discernment, patience, and “holy culture”.

Music: I Can Hear Your Voice – Michael W. Smith