That Family Reunion!

Friday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 12, 2019

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

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

Genesis46_30 family reunion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music: Family Prayer Song – The Promise Keepers

Broken Dreams

Memorial of Saint Benedict, Abbot

Thursday, July 11, 2019

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

Ps105

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

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

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

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

Music: Even If by MercyMe

Oh, Brother!

Wednesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 10, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wounded by Mercy

Tuesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 9, 2019

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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

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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

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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

Twisted Blessing

 Saturday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 6, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we move on to the next great Genesis drama – the story of Jacob and Esau.

Gen27_esau_Jacob

We remember the circumstances. Isaac, grown old and blind, wants to pass the inherited Promise to his firstborn and favorite son – swarthy, earthy Esau (a definite Robert Mitchum role😀) Rebekah, inclined to her son Jacob, helps him disguise himself as Esau to steal the birthright blessing.

Their deceptive success is one of the greatest Biblical examples of how God turns our lives upside down – imparting grace and blessing, even in the disguise of life’s adverse experiences. The story, ripe with Biblical theology and human psychology, is just plain fun to read. See which character you most sympathize with in the drama- and maybe ask yourself why!

But beyond the reading, we might pray with an awareness of God’s unexpected, even amazing, interventions in our own lives. We might ask for that steadfast faith which reveres all circumstances as an unfolding dialogue with this Giver of Grace. As we consider Jacob’s call and promise, we might thank God for our own Baptismal call, and renew our own promise of enduring faith.

Music: Hymn of Promise – Debra Nesgoda

The 5th of July!

After all the speeches, sparklers and spectaculars, the “Next Day” dawns. I wonder what it was like for Jefferson, Franklin and Adams on the fifth of July in 1776. Did they wake up thinking, “Declaration of Independence – signed. Now, make it happen!”?

congress

When you get right down to it, most of our days are 5th, 6th, 7th and 8ths of July. They are the days after graduation when we need to get a job. They are the days after the honeymoon when somebody needs to cook dinner and take out the trash. They are the days after the promotion when the first deadline looms and a bunch of faces are looking to you for the plan.

If the 4th of July is Independence Day, the 5th is Dependability Day, a day to celebrate the people we can always count on. They are there for the parades but they are there for the clean up afterward. They light the spark for the fireworks, but they have a hose nearby just in case. They put their “John Hancock” on the brave new dream and they show up the next morning to design its daunting execution.

WIP

The 5th of July is a day to celebrate our own sense of responsibility or “Dependability” – to realize that most of us really do try to be good spouses, parents, employees, neighbors, sons, daughters and friends – that we do keep making the effort every day to be someone for others and not just for ourselves. It is a day to look around at the people in our lives and be grateful that most of them are trying to do the same thing.

Like Jefferson, Franklin and Adams, we all need to wake up the next day, consider the “dependabilities” in our lives and put our shoulders to the task of making a better world. Each of our lives is its own small country where the future really depends on how we show up on our “5th of Julys”. The fact that you get up every day and engage that challenge is cause for its own celebration. So if you have a little sparkler left in your back yard, light it for yourself tonight – and for your spouse, your boss, your kids, your co-workers – who all showed up today to do the best they could on the 5th of July.

Thanks for that and have a great day!

Music: A Morning After – Maureen McGovern

Chapter Closed

Friday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 5, 2019

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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

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.