Promise Remembered

Saturday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time
October 16, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 105, a recounting of the marvelous works God has done from the Abrahamic covenant to the Exodus. Indeed, our psalm celebrates God”s faithfulness to Abraham and to all generations, even us!

God remembers forever the sacred covenant
    which God made binding for a thousand generations –

Psalm 105:8

In our reading from Romans, Paul preaches about that Covenantal Promise. The text is a little deep, and I had to dig a bit to get my inspiration. But there are gems in these dense words!

It was not through the law
that the promise was made to Abraham and his descendants
that he would inherit the world,
but through the righteousness that comes from faith.

This is a spiritually freeing passage. It assures us that God is with us through our faith, not through the perfection with which we keep laws and rules.


Our Gospel reinforces the message:

Everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven,
but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit
will not be forgiven

… the proverbial “bad apple”!

The passage is a little scary when first read, because we all hope we haven’t done anything to offend the Holy Spirit. But I think what Jesus is telling his listeners is this:

If a person criticizes or rejects my life and teaching, forgiveness is still possible when they come to their senses and repent. It’s like cutting the bad spot out of an otherwise good apple.

But if a person chooses to live a life which blasphemes (mocks, dismisses) the Spirit of life, love, mercy and peace, that person can never be forgiven — because they can never repent. They will be rotten to the core.


So the advice of Paul and Jesus boils down to this. Befriend the Holy Spirit by your life of faithful choices. Listen to the Spirit’s inspiration. Help others to do the same. And do not worry when you make a few mistakes. God stands by the promise to be with us always.


Poetry: The Promise Written by Rumi
Translated and read by Fatemeh Keshavarz

(Remember when reading that, for the Sufi mystic poets, everything was about God. Modern users often apply these poetic sentiments to human relationships, but they were not composed in that light.)

When pain arrives side by side with your love
I promise not to flee
When you ask me for my life
I promise not to fight

I am holding a cup in my hand
By God if you do not come
Till the end of time
I promise not to pour out the wine
Nor to drink a sip

Your bright face is my day
Your dark curls bring the night
If you do not let me near you
I promise not to go to sleep…nor rise

Your magnificence has made me a wonder
Your charm has taught me the way of love
I am the progeny of Abraham
I’ll find my way through fire

Please, let me drink water from the jug
This love is not a short-lived fancy
It is the daily prayer, the year-after-year fast
I live it, like an act of worship, till the end of my life

But then, a tree
Blessed not with fruits of your bounty
Will be dry wood for fire
Even if it drinks the ocean

On the wings of the Friend, fly o my heart!
Fly and look upward
For high on the peak of presence
Earthlings like you will not be let in

Others praise God at the time of affliction
You stay awake day and night
Steady, watchful like the wheel of the firmament

Time to stop speaking of the Friend
Jealousy won’t let me scatter the perfume to the wind


Music: Spirit of the Living God – Divine Hymns

Thursday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 1, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 115, bringing a welcome comfort after the always disturbing story of Isaac’s aborted sacrifice.

This story fascinated Rembrandt. Notice the differences between the 1635 and 1655 interpretations. The old man in the 1655 image has darkened eyes, covers his son’s eyes – not his mouth, and embraces the boy in his lap not laid out on an altar. Old age has gentled what Rembrandt found in the story.


But here’s what I think. It was never about a human sacrifice. God was never going to let that happen.

It was about whether Abraham’s trust would allow him to really see God – God who is never a God of death, but always of life.

As Abraham looked about,
he spied a ram caught by its horns in the thicket.
So he went and took the ram
and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son.
Abraham named the site Yahweh-yireh;
hence people now say, “On the mountain the LORD will see.”


We live in a world full of choices that run the gamut from death-dealing to life-giving. They may be small, personal choices like what we eat, or how we drive. Or they may be more consequential choices such as the political views we foster or the global ideologies we embrace.

Psalm 115 helps us to solve any confusion we might have about our choices. Always make the choices that lead ourselves and others to the land of the living.

Abraham must have been thrown into the dark by what he believed was God’s expectation of him. But it was really Abraham’s own expectation that had to be broken through. He did this by staying with his pain while trusting that God was bigger than it.

Christine Robinson’s interpretation of Psalm 115 fits well here:

O Great Mystery
   We must love and praise you without understanding.
You are not a little tin god
   with eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear
   and a mouth that does not speak.
You can not be described or boxed up or tamed
   You are beyond our understanding.
Still, we yearn to hear you, know you,
   feel your love, and in mystery, we do.
We know awe at the intricate majesty of the heavens,
We cherish the work of caring for each other 
and the Earth.
We praise you, Great Mystery
   all the days of our lives.

Poetry: Silence – Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Abraham failed the test.
For Sodom and Gomorrah he argued
but when it came to his son
no protest crossed his lips.
God was mute with horror.
Abraham, smasher of idols
and digger of wells
was meant to talk back.
Sarah would have been wiser
but Abraham avoided her tent,
didn’t lay his head in her lap
to unburden his secret heart.
In stricken silence God watched
as Abraham saddled his ass
and took Isaac on their final hike
to the place God would show him.
The angel had to call him twice.
Abraham’s eyes were red, his voice hoarse
he wept like a man pardoned
but God never spoke to him again.

(It is true that, in Genesis, this is the last recorded exchange between God and Abraham!)


Music: Story of Isaac – Leonard Cohen

(If there’s no picture below, just click on the underlined phrase “Watch on Youtube

The door, it opened slowly
My father, he came in
I was nine years old
And he stood so tall above me
Blue eyes, they were shining
And his voice was very cold
Said, "I've had a vision
And you know I'm strong and holy
I must do what I've been told"
So we started up the mountain
I was running, he was walking
And his axe was made of gold

Well, the trees, they got much smaller
The lake, a lady's mirror
When we stopped to drink some wine
Then he threw the bottle over
Broke a minute later
And he put his hand on mine
Thought I saw an eagle
But it might have been a vulture
I never could decide
Then my father built an altar
He looked once behind his shoulder
He knew I would not hide

You who build these altars now
To sacrifice these children
You must not do it anymore
A scheme is not a vision
And you never have been tempted
By a demon or a god
You, who stand above them now
Your hatchets blunt and bloody
You were not there before
When I lay upon a mountain
And my father's hand was trembling
With the beauty of the word

And if you call me brother now
Forgive me if I inquire
Just according to whose plan?
When it all comes down to dust
I will kill you if I must
I will help you if I can
When it all comes down to dust
I will help you if I must
I will kill you if I can
And mercy on our uniform
Man of peace or man of war
The peacock spreads his fan

God’s Starry Calendar

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent

April 2, 2020

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Abraham
Abraham Looks to the Heavens from Bible Pictures by Charles Foster (1897)

Today, in Mercy, Yahweh is very clear with Abram that he is now in a life-changing situation:

My covenant with you is this:
you are to become the father of a host of nations.
No longer shall you be called Abram;
your name shall be Abraham,
for I am making you the father of a host of nations.


pregnantHaving witnessed how young fathers are upended by the news of impending fatherhood, I can’t even imagine what Abraham felt like when he heard this:

I will render you exceedingly fertile;
I will make nations of you;
kings shall stem from you.

But aside from the practical ramifications of God’s promise, what Abraham is invited to is a whole new outlook on the world.  God lays out before him a vision of the ages, infinitely beyond the confines of Abraham’s current understanding.

dangles

It is an existence beyond time and human definition. It is the infinite place of God’s timelessness, where we all exist, but forget when we are born. Our lifetime is a spiritual journey back to remembrance.


In our Gospel, Jesus uses a rather cryptic phrase as he challenges his listeners to look beyond their circumscribed perspectives:

Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever keeps my word will never see death….
Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day;
he saw it and was glad.

Jn8_56 Abraham

By fully embracing his covenant with God, Abraham saw beyond death.  The vision of heaven was opened to him and he lived his life by its power. He lived then within the Day of the Lord, not within any small confined reality.

Jesus offers us the same invitation. We can choose to see with God’s eyes, or with only our own. We can choose to live within God’s infinity, or in only our own earthbound borders.

In our current global situation, when time has lost its shape and days silently morph into one another, it may be a good time to remember the eternal character of our heart.  It may be time to have a sit-down with God about our covenant, like the conversation God had with Abraham.

Music: In the Day of the Lord  – M.D. Ridge

Promise

 

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 21, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are all about making and keeping promises.

Our first reading refers to Genesis and God’s promise to Abraham of land and posterity. Through his hospitality to three disguised angels, Abraham secures God’s promise to bless Sara and him with a child.

Luke8_15 promise

In today’s second reading from Colossians, Paul assures us that God has brought that promise to its full completion in the gift of Jesus Christ living in us.

…the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past
has now been manifested to his holy ones,
to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory
of this mystery among the Gentiles;
it is Christ in you, the hope for glory. 

In our Gospel, Jesus encourages Martha to give her attention to the presence of this promise revealed in her life. Mary sees the promise fulfilled in Jesus, the living presence of God. She gives her full heart to it. Martha, maybe like us sometimes, is preoccupied by other distractions.


Our readings invite us to rejoice in God’s promise to us
of “land” and “posterity”.

In Jesus, we are brought home to God.
In Jesus, the fruitfulness of our life is eternally secured.


We make promises to God too.

vowsAs I think about my vows today, I am so aware of the recent deaths of two of our Sisters. At all of our funerals, our vows rest near us for our wakes – a profound symbol of promises given and promises fulfilled. God bless you, Margaret and Mary Ellen! Thank you for your witness among us!
Today, as we pray about God’s faithful promises to us, we might want to reflect on and deepen the commitments of our Baptism, our religious profession, our marriage, our covenants to communities of faith and service.

Like Martha, we might hear Jesus encourage us to give our fullest heart to that which is most important.

Music: God’s Promise – Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir  (Lyrics below)

God’s Promise

Chorus:
Everything He said
In His word
He will do it for you.
Every prophecy He gave
Every promise he made

He will do it for you.
If you only trust Him
And let Him have his way
He’ll work things out for you.

If you only believe and
You will see
That He will do it
For you.

(Repeated several times)

He’ll do it
He will do it/
My God is a faithful God
He will do it

And He’s always there
To answer every payer
He will do it.
He’ll do it.

No matter what you’re going through.
He’ll do it.
Remember His word is true.
He’ll do it.

Cause He understands
He’ll do it.
You can always trust and lean on Him
My God will do it
For you….

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

After the Tumult

Tuesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 2, 2019

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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 

Well, Will You?

Monday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 1, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we have the rather charming passage in Genesis where Abraham nickels and dimes God. We might dismiss it as childlike lore if we hadn’t tried it with God ourselves a hundred times. 😂

At least I know I bargain with God? Don’t you? When I really want life to go in a way I don’t expect it to, I might try to make a deal with God. It goes something like this:

Dear God, if you only please do “X”, I promise that I will do “Y”.

Or it might go like this:

Dear God, I know You can’t possibly want this suffering to be happening.
Won’t You please fix it? I promise to be grateful!

Even now, when faith has brought me to a deeper understanding of God’s presence in my life, these little bargains still creep through.

follow me

But, if I wait, Grace teaches. God is not the Omnipotent Fixer. God is rather the Omnipresent Mercy bearing our blessings and sorrows with us. God is the Infinite Revelation, leading us in both light and darkness into the depth of a Love we will never fully comprehend:

For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so surpassing is God’s mercy
toward those who live within its awe.

(today’s responsorial Pslam 103)

Sometimes when I feel, like Abraham, that God may have turned and walked away from my pleading prayer, I hear God’s fading footsteps calling me to follow into an unexpected depth.

It is a radical call, like the one in Matthew’s Gospel, to follow and know the Face of God hidden in life’s suffering.

“Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus answered him,
“Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests,
but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”
Another of his disciples said to him,
“Lord, let me go first and bury my father.”
But Jesus answered him, “Follow me,
and let the dead bury their dead.”

It is not easy to put the following of Christ above all our human considerations, but this is our invitation and call. May we be gifted with the grace to respond.

Music: Will You Come and Follow Me? – John Bell

The Stars Will Teach Us

Wednesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

June 26, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our reading from Genesis invites us further into the gift of our faith.

We see God break into Abram’s life through a vision.

“Fear not!”, God says.
I am your shield;
I will make your reward very great.”

So Abram must have been a little frightened when God decided to visit him here. But why?

What Abram was nervous about was this: despite God’s earlier promise to him, Abram and Sarai were still childless – barren. In fact, he was so concerned that God would not prove true to the promise, that he was making plans about his own future without God’s help.

… if I keep on being childless
(I will) have as my heir
the steward of my house, Eliezer…

Abram was a very practical guy. His newly-sprouted faith expected practical, even instant results. It would take some time for Abraham to grow into a faith rooted in relationship rather than signs; to realize that faithful relationship is for the long run, not the immediate answer.

Gen15_5_stars

God helps Abram to understand this long, deep view.

God took him outside and said:
“Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can.
Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.”

Abram looked at these stars, made and sustained by God’s hand. He saw that this God Who was inviting him to relationship was beyond time, beyond numbering, beyond human definitions – boundless in life, mercy and love. And so, letting go of his need for concreteness and Immediacy,

Abram put his faith in the LORD,
who credited it to him
as an act of righteousness.

Today’s scripture may lead us consider our own relationship with God, God’s promise in our life, how we are being drawn beyond our limited expectations. Is there a place of barrenness, an unmet need, a broken expectation shaking our heart or spirit? Let’s ask to abandon all these things to God’s love.

We might even want “to go outside” ourselves, literally or figuratively, asking God to teach us how God’s Presence in our life is infinite, even beyond the stars – if we have a faithful heart to see.

Music: Beyond the Moon and Stars – Dan Schutte 

Will We Live Our Faith Out Loud?

Tuesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

June 25, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we begin several weeks of readings from the Book of Genesis. 

Some people think of Genesis as a literal history. Others think of it more as a myth. Was there a real Adam and Eve? A real apple? A real snake?

When we get caught up in these ambivalences about Genesis, we are likely to miss the whole point. And the whole point, according to Hebrew Scripture scholar Walter Brueggemann is this:

… these texts should be taken neither as history nor as myth.
Rather, we insist that the text is a proclamation
of God’s decisive dealings with his creation. 


“God’s decisive dealings with God’s Creation…”

What a powerful phrase! So over the next few weeks, here is our opportunity:

How does God want to be with us,
to love us,
and to share the ongoing Creation with us?


Today’s reading, according to Brueggemann, is the second part of a four-part drama:

Genesis 11: 30—25: 18 “The Embraced Call of God”
Will Abraham live by faith? 

This second segment poses a profound question to us, and to our Church:
Have we embraced God’s call in our lives and will we live our faith OUT LOUD!

Jesus asks us the same question in today’s Gospel: Will we live our faith OUT LOUD?


Will we:
“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.”

cage

How to help children at the border and in inhuman detention centers:

Click here.


Music: By Faith -Keith and Kristyn Getty

God’s Forever Covenant

Thursday, April 11, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  our readings focus on the inviolable power of covenant.  

gn17_Covenant

The word “covenant” is derived from the Latin “convenire ”- to gather, to assemble, to fit.

We get the sense of an artist pulling together the pieces of a mosaic to form a masterpiece. Or we may think of a poet choosing the perfect words to convey feelings otherwise unwordable.

In our first reading, God fashions his covenant by weaving together the family lines descending from Abraham:

I will maintain my covenant with you
and your descendants after you
throughout the ages as an everlasting pact,
to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.

Jesus deepens the Abrahamic promise by revealing that he is the Son of God sent to fulfill the ancient promise:

Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you,
before Abraham came to be, I AM.”

These promises are passed on to us in many ways. Today’s reading might remind us of the role our families have played in transmitting the faith to us. They, together with our early teachers, opened our hearts to the amazing possibilities of grace.

I pray in thanksgiving today for my parents and all the generations who formed them. I pray for the good Sisters who modeled a captivating holiness to me. I pray for my beloved Mercy family as they continue to show me the face of God.

For whom would you offer a grateful prayer today? You might simply say their names in your prayer, or write their names in your own mosaic of thanksgiving. Or just listen to this music and let them bless your heart today.

Music:  By Faith – Keith & Kristyn Getty