Psalm 119: The Truth

Monday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

August 3, 2020

 

Today, in Mercy, we pray for a persevering faith. Sometimes, it is very late into our prayer that the unexpected answer comes to us. May we recognize it and welcome it out of the darkness. We pray especially for those who have endured long years of prayerful waiting: for those with chronic illnesses, for the elderly, for widows and widowers, for those who want to believe but can’t.

from 2016

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with a return to Psalm 119. Set today between fascinating passages from both Jeremiah and Matthew, our psalm presents us with a particularly strong challenge:

Let my heart be perfect in your statutes,
that I be not put to shame.

In our first reading, the false prophet Hananiah tries to put Jeremiah to shame by preaching a rosy prophecy in contradiction to Jeremiah’s difficult but truthful “fire and brimstone” warnings. Hananiah eventually gets caught in his own lies.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Peter discovers another dimension of truth – that without faith, he cannot endure the storm


Psalm 119’s verses are a prayer to stay true to the Law, the Word, even in difficulty and storm. 

The psalmist recognizes our human propensity sometimes to create the world we want rather than face the one we have. We do it by lying to ourselves and others until, eventually, our alternative universe falls apart – just like Hananiah’s.

Because, like Peter, we focus on ourselves and our fears, we miss Jesus’s invitation to walk in faith over our life’s rough waters.


Our psalm today voices our prayer not to get twisted on life’s road, to have the courage to embrace the truth of ourselves, our environment, and our world. That truth is revealed when we love and live God’s Law by our justice and mercy toward all Creation.

From your ordinances I turn not away,
for you have instructed me.


Poetry: from Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,a
And that has made all the difference.

Music: Long and Winding Road – Beatles song sung by David Archuleta

Jeremiah’s Psalm

Friday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 24, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Jeremiah’s Psalm. The verses come from chapter 31, part of what is referred to as the “Book of Comfort”. (Chapter 31-33)

In total, the Book of Jeremiah is full of woe. It was written as a message to the Jews in Babylonian exile, blaming their faithlessness for their current predicament. The prophet admonishes the people, calling them to return to the Lord and allow themselves to be made new according to God’s design.

Jeremiah is notable for its complementary tactics of confronting the people with their sorrows while comforting them with God’s mercy. 

Hear the word of the LORD, O nations,
proclaim it on distant isles, and say:
He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together,
he guards them as a shepherd his flock.


Jeremiah forces his listeners to acknowledge that their destruction is deserved. They have shifted their trust from God’s Promise to a political power that devolved into greed, militarism, and the illusion of self-sufficiency. Once that acknowledgement is accomplished, repentance and renewal are possible.

Our passage today describes that possibility:

The LORD shall ransom Jacob,
he shall redeem him from the hand of his conqueror.
Shouting, they shall mount the heights of Zion,
they shall come streaming to the LORD’s blessings:
The grain, the wine, and the oil,
the sheep and the oxen.


Believing that scripture speaks to our experiences as well as to their own times, we may discover stark parallels between our world and that of Jeremiah. As we pray with this psalm, let’s ask to see where we have shifted from God’s hope for Creation. Where do we feel a sense of loss, confusion, desperation or anger? Where have we lost truth, compassion, and reverence for the life we share with all the human community?


As my small community watches the evening news, we audibly mourn the sorry state to which our world has come. We encourage one another to moral and political responsibility to change the forces that have led to this collapse.

This cycle of acknowledgement and grace-filled action can allow us to return, as did Jeremiah’s community, to God’s dream for Creation:

I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will console and gladden them after their sorrows.


Poetry:  What Babylon Was Built About – Judson Crews (1917- 2010) American poet

Music: I Will Restore – Maranatha Music

What was lost in battle
What was taken unlawful
Where the enemy has planted his seed
And where health is ailing
And where strength is falling
I will restore to you all of this and more
I will restore to you all of this and more

I will restore
I will restore
I will restore to you all of this and more

I will restore
I will restore
I will restore to you all of this and more
I will restore to you all of this and more

Where your heart is breaking
And where dreams are forsaken
When it seems what was promised; will not be given to you
And where peace is confusion
And reality an illusion
I will restore
I will restore
I will restore to you all of this and more

Psalm 115: Not To Us

Tuesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 7, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 115. The first verse, not included in today’s passage, is perhaps the most familiar:

Not to us, LORD, not to us
but to your name give glory
because of your mercy and faithfulness.

This verse sets the tone for the whole psalm by establishing that it is only in humility that we will experience God’s faithful mercy.


The psalm sections offered today show how hard it is to keep humble attention on God in a world full of idols. While the psalmist mocked these idolatrous gods and their worshippers, his descriptions indicate the significant space they occupy in his own imagination.

There are lots of distracting “gods” in our world too. As a matter of fact, it is sometimes difficult to find the real God because our culture cloaks God in its own distorting devices. 

For example, we encounter ideologies which promote a “god” who:

  • loves America more than other nations
  • loves white people more than black and brown people
  • loves war as long as we are the victors
  • loves my prosperity over other people’s justice
  • tolerates, or even blesses, violence for the sake of superiority
  • isolates, stereotypes, and discriminates over who deserves blessings

Some of these idolatries work to convince us that we are more important to God if we are white, rich, male, heterosexual, healthy, armed, not too old, and American – because these deifications paint their “god” with those strokes.

The more we match up with this “god” – the molten image of a greedy, elitist, militaristic culture – the more we tend to take glory to ourselves. And the more others might legitimately question, “Where is their God?”.

This becomes all the more disorienting when influencers who benefit from such misguided idolatry and fundamentalism use them to promote themselves and their personal and political agendas.


Psalm 115 says, “Stop that!”.


Our Gospel shows us what God is really like — Jesus, who:

  • sought out those suffering
  • loved the poor and abandoned
  • was moved with pity for others’ pain
  • taught, proclaimed and healed in the name of God’s Mercy

Living in the light of this merciful God both humbles and exalts us so that we may wholeheartedly proclaim by our lives:

Not to us, LORD, not to us
but to your name give glory

because of your mercy and faithfulness.

Non nobis, Domine, non nobis ; 
sed nomini tuo da gloriam,
super misericordia tua et veritate tua.


Poetry: Non Nobis Domine! – Rudyard Kipling
(Written for “The Pageant of Parliament,” 1934)

NON nobis Domine!—
    Not unto us, O Lord!
The Praise or Glory be
    Of any deed or word;
For in Thy Judgment lies
    To crown or bring to nought
All knowledge or device
    That Man has reached or wrought.
And we confess our blame—
    How all too high we hold
That noise which men call Fame,
    That dross which men call Gold.
For these we undergo
    Our hot and godless days,
But in our hearts we know
    Not unto us the Praise.
O Power by Whom we live—
    Creator, Judge, and Friend,
Upholdingly forgive
    Nor fail us at the end:
But grant us well to see
    In all our piteous ways—
Non nobis Domine!—
    Not unto us the Praise

Music: Non Nobis Domine

Psalm 31: Strife of Tongues

Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

June 17, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 31, just three of its twenty-five passionate verses in today’s liturgy. These three will echo in you, as will many others if you read the whole psalm. The images are so strong and yet comforting, the prayer so sincere.

  • In you, LORD, I take refuge.
  • Let me never be put to shame.
  • Incline your ear to me;
  • For you are my rock and my fortress.
  • I will rejoice and be glad in your mercy.
  • Let your face shine on your servant.
  • Save me in your mercy.
  • You hide your beloved in the shelter of your presence.
  • You heard my voice, my cry for mercy.

In my prayer, I focused on this line:

You hide your beloved in the shelter of your presence
from the plottings of evil hearts;
You screen them within your abode
from the strife of tongues.


The strife of tongues”. What a phrase! And what a reality! Our divisive culture is drowning in it – in political, religious and civic contexts. It is often very hard for us to know whom to listen to and believe. But the psalmist helps us to understand a key characteristic of destructive speech – pride and boasting:

Love the LORD, all you his faithful ones!
The LORD keeps those who are constant,
but more than requites those who act proudly.


Today, I prayed for anyone caught in a persecution of words. Specifically, I prayed for Pope Francis and for the Archbishop of Washington, DC, Wilton Gregory. Both men have been victims of “the strife of tongues”.

In a publicized letter written to Donald Trump, Pope Francis was targeted by reactionary clergyman Carlo Viganò who dabbles in conspiracy theories and misinformation in order to undermine Francis’s ministry.

Archbishop Gregory described Donald Trump’s photo op at the Shrine of St. John Paul II as “reprehensible“, condemning the politicization of religion for “manipulative” purposes. As a result, the Archbishop, who is Black, has been racially and sexually slurred by, among others, a far-right hate group claiming to be “Catholic”.


As I prayed for these good priests, and for all others condemned for truthful and compassionate testimony, I asked God to enfold them in the verse from Psalm 31, part of which Jesus prayed on the cross:

Into your hands I commend my spirit;
you will redeem me, LORD, God of truth.

It is painful to witness this kind of sinful negativity in the Church, and the pain does enter into our prayer. Pope Francis points to a way to heal that pain:

Poetry: Our poem today is by a 19th century poet, Susan S. Button from her only book I could find which she published herself. She strikes me as an Emily Dickinson type without the same degree of literary accomplishment. There is very little information on her although she was notable enough in society to have a portrait by John Sartain (currently in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.)

The poem, although on a serious topic, still provided a level of delight about what happens to those who slander the innocent. I offer just a few verses of the long composition and hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Slander

What is the slander’s tongue? An arrow strong,
And sharp, and fierce, empoisoning many a word,
Such as to devil’s only do belong,
When they, by Envy and by Malice stirred,
Do contemplate dark deeds, and souls do gird
For vilest crimes, and with their deadly bane,
The good man rob of fame — with lies absurd
Asunder rend kind Friendship’s gold-linked chain,
And break the three-fold, silken cord of Love amain.
——
For though Slander’s pliant bow was newly strung,
And thick and fast her feathered arrows flew,
And through the misty air their echoes rung,
The light around his head more lustrous grew;
For Innonence forth from her treasures drew
A golden shield, and clasped it o’er his heart,
While Truth held up a golden lamp and new!
While through its lucent flame flew on the dart
From Slander’s quiver, brighter light it did impart.

It trembled on the shield of Innocence—
The good man gazed, and by its blood-stained shade
He knew full well who formed it, and from whence
It came — he plucked it from the shield and bade
The innocent “tremble not, nor be afraid.”
With force redoubled Slander drew her bow
And furious all her cruel haste betrayed,
But soon was heard a horrid shriek of woe,
As her rebounding dart did to her forehead go.

~ Susan S. Button (1858)

Music: Herr, auf dich traue ich – Otto Nicolai (1810-1849j, one of the founders of the Vienna Philharmonic

Psalm 31:1-2

Herr, auf dich traue ich,
Laß mich nimmermehr zu Schanden werden,
Errette mich nach deiner Barmherzigkeit,
Und hilf mir aus.
Neige deine Ohren zu mir, und hilf mir;
Sei mir ein starker Hort,
Ein Hort, dahin ich immer fliehen möge,
Der du hast zugesaget mir zu helfen.
Lord, I trust in you,
Let me never be ashamed;
Deliver me in your mercy And assist me.
Incline your ear to me and help me;
Be a strong refuge for me,
A refuge to which I may always flee,
Which you have promised to me for my aid.

You Are Mine

Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter

May 4, 2020

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800px-Domenico_Fetti_-_Peter's_vision_of_a_sheet_with_animals_-_Kunsthistorisches_Museum_Wien
Peter’s Vision of the Sheet – By Domenico Fetti – Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Bilddatenbank., Public Domain

Today, in Mercy, we have the long story and explanation by Peter of who can be welcomed into the Community. The earliest Christians were all Jews. Their beginning Christian rituals had deep roots in Jewish tradition. Their entire expectation of a Messiah was wrapped in the garment of the Old Testament. So it was hard for them to comprehend that Gentiles might also be saved by the Blood of Christ.

We might be tempted to consider these Jewish Christians very provincial, parochial, or even prejudiced. But maybe we should just look in the mirror!

It seems to be an enduring human inclination and, rather than – like Peter – to seek a road to inclusion, we claim privilege for ourselves and exclude others on all kinds of bases:

  • She’s a woman, so she can’t…. whatever…
  • He’s gay, so he can’t …
  • She’s divorced, so she can’t…
  • He’s pro-life, or pro-choice, so he can’t…
  • She’s a Muslim, an atheist, and (irony of ironies) a Jew, so she can’t…

Maybe in your own life, you have felt the pain of some of these suggested or blatant exclusions.


Jn10_4 Mine

Jesus, in our Gospel, has a whole different approach to whom he loves. All creatures belong to him and will be brought to the Father in love.

I am the good shepherd,
and I know mine and mine know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;
and I will lay down my life for the sheep.
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice,
and there will be one flock, one shepherd.

Let us pray today to know and love our God ever more intensely. Let us ask to experience God’s infinite love and knowledge of us so that our unquenchable joy, humble gratitude, and limitless charity grow more evident.

Let us pray these gifts for all our sisters and brothers, no matter by what gate they come to the sheep fold.

Music: You are Mine – David Haas

Struck to the Heart

Easter Tuesday 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings present us with a picture of the nascent Church as it works toward understanding itself in the physical absence of Jesus.

Throughout the Gospels, we see a Christian community forming around a Leader they can see, hear and touch. Acts reveals how that community awakens to itself when Jesus is no longer materially present.

Acts shows us a Church like us. We have never seen Christ, nor heard him, nor touched him. And yet we believe, or want to believe.


In our reading today, Peter preaches with brutal honesty:

Let the whole house of Israel know for certain
that God has made him both Lord and Christ,
this Jesus whom you crucified.

acts2_38_heartstruck

Peter’s message gets through to the assembly, to the point that, when they hear it, they are “cut to the heart”. This phrase indicates a profound conversion in the way they believed. Peter tells them that their faith, like Jesus’ life, must now become a sign of contradiction to a “corrupt generation “.

What might this powerful passage say to us?

For one thing, the reading calls us to be honest about the sincerity of our faith. Is it the core of our lives? Or is it, at best, a Sunday hobby? Does it pervade our relationships and choices, giving witness to Christ’s commission to love? Or is it a tool to judge and vilify those who differ from us?

Now, in these pandemic times, as we are distanced from the opportunity to worship in community, we may be struck by all that we had taken for granted until now. Faith matters.  We need it to be whole human beings.

The reading doesn’t demand that we “preach our faith out loud”. It calls us to a much deeper and more courageous witness:

  • to be Truth in a world of lies
  • to be Peace in violence
  • to be Justice in the face of abuse and domination
  • to be Servant rather than be served
  • to be Love for those deemed unlovable
  • in other words, to be like Jesus

And to do it all because we have been “cut to the heart” by the witness of the Cross and Resurrection.

Music: By Faith-Keith & Kristyn Getty

 

Regret

Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

February 4, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we read one of the saddest lines in Scripture.

2Sam18_32

You have followed the story in these daily passages. Absalom rebels, designing to usurp his father’s throne. A massive battle rises between them. David, as commander-in-chief, remains behind, but gives instructions to his generals to spare Absalom’s life. Joab ignores the command, killing Absalom in a moment of vulnerability.

David is devastated.

david mourns
David Mourning Absalom’s Death – Jean Colombe


I think there is no more wrenching human emotion than regret. When I ministered for nearly a decade as hospice chaplain, and later in the emergency room, I saw so much regret.

People who had waited too long to say “I’m sorry”, “I forgive you”, “Let’s start over”, “Thank you for all you did for me”, “I love you”…..

Instead, these people stood at lifeless bedsides saying things like, “I should have”, “I wish…”, “If only…”


Life is complex and sometimes difficult. We get hurt, and we hurt others — sometimes so hurt that we walk away from relationship, or stay but wall ourselves off.

We might think that what is missing in such times is love. But I think it is more likely truth. In times of painful conflict, if we can hear and speak our truth to ourselves and one another, we open the path to healing.



If you want the truth, I’ll tell you the truth.
Listen to the secret sound,
the real sound, which is inside you.
~ Kabir


That healing may demand adjustments, agreements, even a willingness to step apart in mutual respect. But if the changes emerge from shared truth, restoration and wholeness are possible.

David and Absalom never found that path because they were so absorbed in their own self-interests. Theirs was the perfect formula for regret – that fruitless stump that perpetually sticks in the heart.

I remember a trauma surgeon leaving the hospital late one night after an unsuccessful effort to save a young boy who had been shot. The doctor carried the loss so heavily as he walked into the night saying to me, “I’m just going to go home and hug my kids.”

As we pray over David and Absalom today, let us examine our lives for the fractures that are still healable and act on them. Let us “hug” the life we have. Regret is a useless substitute.

When David Heard – Eric Whitaker ( The piece builds. Be patient. Lyrics below)

When David heard that Absalom was slain,
he went up into his chamber over the gate and wept,
and thus he said;

My son, my son,
O Absalom my son,
would God I had died for thee!

When David heard that Absalom was slain,
he went up into his chamber over the gate and wept,
and thus he said;

My son, my son.

Choices

Friday of the Third Week of Ordinary Time

January 31, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, if this first reading doesn’t smack you right between the eyes, check your political pulse, dear Friends!

David has become King, called to lead his people with a largeness of heart for their good…. but…

power

 

Power tends to corrupt, and the corruption is hard to resist even for the likes of David. With no checks and balances on him, David commandeers anything he desires – nations, goods, women, human lives! He is convinced that he can do anything he wants to do. His choices lurch him into a spinning culture of death, evil, and selfishness.

This passage from 2 Samuel is threaded with the very same lines woven into this morning’s newspapers: plotting, manipulation, lying, obstruction, projection, irresponsibility, crudeness, disrespect….

Aren’t we just so sick and tired of it all!?

Over the coming days, we will see how David’s corruption affects him – and it’s quite a drama! But for our prayer today, what can we learn?


Perhaps the Gospel offers us a key.

Mk4_30

Jesus talks about “the Kingdom of Heaven”. He uses the symbols of a healthy harvest and a tiny mustard seed. He teaches his listeners that when the things of God are planted deep in us, we too yield a life-giving harvest. We become large-hearted, God-hearted.

Through the gift of free will, God gives us power. We can choose between good and evil, self and others, life and death. In today’s passage, David makes some huge, selfish mistakes in his choices.

Throughout history and even today, people make the same good and bad choices. When leaders make such choices, the whole world feels the impact.

Today, I might want to check how I’m doing, not only in my personal choices, but in my advocacy for a moral and just world for all people.

Music:  A Pure Heart – Rusty Nelson

Who’s Boss?

Thursday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

January 30, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, David has received a wake up call from God, delivered by the prophet Nathan:

Go and tell David my servant, Thus says the LORD:
Is it you who would build me a house to dwell in?
 
2 Samuel 7:5

As a follow up to David’s big idea of building a house for God, God says,”Wait a minute! I don’t think so!” Gently, but ever so clearly, God reminds David of a phrase very popular on social media today:

boss

It seems David has gotten a little full of himself. He likes being King. He decides to use his power and position to do something nice for God. But God uses the occasion to remind David that all that David has comes from God. David is not God’s King, he is God’s servant. David can’t do anything for God except to offer thanks, praise and worship.

Ps119 lamp

This huge spiritual insight turns David’s heart to see himself truly as God sees him. His subsequent prayer is full of humility and gratitude as David asks God for continued blessing on David’s House.

The lesson for me today is this: God is God. I am nothing without God. Everything I have and am comes from the Divine Goodness.

Meister Eckhart echoes here:

If the only prayer we say
in our entire lives is

“Thank You”,
it is enough.

Music: Thank You, God – mantra video composed by Michelle Sherliza

God Gets Tough

Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle

January 25, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we ride with Paul on the road to Damascus, there to be struck with him by a Godly Light.

800px-La_conversión_de_san_Pablo_(Murillo)
The Conversion of St. Paul — Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

Have you ever been knocked off your “high horse” by the sudden realization of something to which you had been totally blind? It’s shocking, isn’t it? 

We might react by castigating ourselves with remarks like:

  • How could I have missed that?
  • Wow, I was really stupid, or foolish, or naïve, or prejudiced, or misled, or … or what?

God, in a kind of ironic twist, strikes Paul blind in order to cure him of his real blindness: the right he claimed to persecute others for a faith he didn’t understand.

Sometimes God has to be pretty tough with us to wake us up to the truth of our souls. John Donne, the pre-eminent English metaphysical poet, prayed for that kind of Divine Toughness in his poem Batter my heart, three-personed God.

png-divider-lines--1400

Since I have blogged twice previously about this feast,


Links available here:

Click here for 1/24/2019 Reflection

Click here for 4/19/2018 Reflection


I thought my readers might like to pray with Donne’s poem, read by Tom O’Bedlam

Holy Sonnets: Batter my heart, three-person’d God
Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Here also is a musical interpretation of the poem.
The University of South Florida Chamber Singers perform Richard Nance’s “Batter my heart” under the direction of Dr. James Bass