Psalm 24: The Gates Are Lifted

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

February 2, 2021


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray once more with Psalm 24, still knocking on God’s door. As it is the Feast of the Presentation, we might picture Anna and Simeon murmuring this psalm as they await the appearance of their Savior.

Lift up, O gates, your lintels;
    reach up, you ancient portals,
that the king of glory may come in!

Psalm 24: 7

Anna and Simeon longed for the promised Redemption. They hoped and believed that Creation would be restored by the Messiah. They waited faithfully in the dark for the Light to come. And on that wondrous morning, sparks flew through the Temple door wrapped in a baby blanket!


In pre-Vatican II days, we nuns had sparse communication with our families. Throughout my over 1000 days of initial formation, I spoke with my mother fewer than 30 times. I stood it well because I was all wrapped up in my new life. But Mom languished. She pined for me and for our little daily chats.

So when the post-Vatican II era hit, Mom got on that phone. She called me every night just about seven o’clock – a brief, but treasured, check-in. Mom likened our phone calls to Stevie Wonder’s popular song at that time. Every now and again, even though it has been over thirty years, I still long for that ring.

For Mom and me, the gates had been unlocked, the lintels lifted up. The ancient portals had opened at the touch of John XXIII and his like-minded buddies. A mother-child light flowed back into us. We were both renewed by the reconnection.


On the Feast of the Presentation, we pray with Anna and Simeon, two so deeply practiced in prayer. As the child Jesus was carried into the Temple that morning, the plea of Psalm 24 was answered before their eyes. In our prayer today, let us joyfully welcome God into our hearts. Let us talk and walk with God as easily as we might with a beloved parent or a dearest friend on any given evening.

Lift up, O gates, your lintels;
    reach up, you ancient portals,
    that the God of glory may come in!

Poem: You, neighbor God, if sometimes in the night — Rainer Maria Rilke

You, neighbor God, if sometimes in the night
I rouse you with loud knocking, I do so
only because I seldom hear you breathe
and know: you are alone.
And should you need a drink, no one is there
to reach it to you, groping in the dark.

Always I hearken. Give but a small sign.
I am quite near.
Between us there is but a narrow wall,
and by sheer chance; for it would take
merely a call from your lips or from mine
to break it down,
and that without a sound.

The wall is builded of your images.
They stand before you hiding you like names.
And when the light within me blazes high
that in my inmost soul I know you by,
the radiance is squandered on their frames.

And then my senses, which too soon grow lame,
exiled from you, must go their homeless ways.

Music: He Walks with Me – Anne Murray

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The son of God discloses

And he walks with me and he talks with me
And he tells me I am his own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known

He speaks and the sound of his voice
Is so sweet, the birds hush their singing
And the melody that he gave to me
Within my heart is ringing

And he walks with me and he talks with me
And he tells me I am his own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known

It’s All About the Temple

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

February 2, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we begin with a reading from the prophet Malachi, a hurler of fire and brimstone in the 4th-5th century before Christ. It’s an interesting choice and begs the question of how it relates to this Feast when a little baby comes to be blessed in the Temple.

Presentation of Our Lord
Presentation of Our Lord – Ambrogio Lorenzetti (Wikipedia.org_ not for commercial use)

Ah, perhaps that’s the hinge – the Temple, both actual and symbolic.

Malachi writes at a time when the second Temple has been restored. In other words, God is about giving the people a second chance to behave according to the Covenant. But they’re not doing such a good job — especially those in charge, the priests:

A son honors his father,
and a servant fears his master;
If, then, I am a father,
where is the honor due to me?
And if I am a master,
where is the fear due to me?
So says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests,
who disdain my name.
Malachi 1:6

A Little Extra Music: Handel – But Who May Abide (You know you have time to listen just before the Super Bowl!)

Through a series of prophetic oracles, Malachi admonishes the people to repent before it is too late because no unrepentant soul will withstand the judgement.

Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
But who will endure the day of his coming?
And who can stand when he appears?
For he is like the refiner’s fire,
or like the fuller’s lye.


In the passage from Hebrews, Paul presents the perfect priest, Jesus Christ. In taking flesh, Christ’s Body becomes the new Temple of our redemption. We stand before judgement already saved by his Passion, Death, and Resurrection.


In our Gospel, two aged and venerable prophets wait in the Temple for the Promised One. Their long years of prayer have already proven them faithful. Now, Simeon’s and Anna’s long and complete fidelity is rewarded by seeing their Savior. They know Him because they have already created a place for him in the Temple of their hearts. Now, they will meet their judgement in total peace. As Simeon’s prays:

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.”

It’s a beautiful, total-hearted prayer!  Don’t we all hope to be able to offer it one day?

( I wrote an earlier reflection about dear Anna.  You might like to see it again here:

Music: Nunc Dimittis – Taizé (Latin and English text below)

Nunc dimittis servum tuum,
Now dismiss your servant
Domine, Domine,
Lord, Lord,
Secundum verbum tuum in pace.
according to your word in peace
Domine.
Lord.

Prayer of the Imagination

An added meditation for today’s Gospel about the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple


Anna

Prayer of the Imagination (For Anna, the Prophetess)
by Leddy Hammock and Susan Kelly
(Text and Music below)

Now, in this moment I close my outer eyes
and look within with my inner eyes.
I see a vision of wonder,
for I am the daughter of the vision of God,
of the tribe of the blessed ones,
a soul under grace.
I judge not by appearances.
I believe in God’s promises.
I fast from shadows and I live on light.

From my youth, I have served at the temple,
a vessel to a holy purpose.
Prayer is the temple where I dwell
Here I behold the image of the Lord.
I close my eyes and behold that image,
the eyes of the Infinite beholding me
all through the ages,
so tenderly gazing with love and compassion,
enfolding me.

Prayer is the temple where I dwell.
Here, I behold the image of the Lord.
The thoughts held in mind
are mirrored in kind all around me,
reflecting through all that I see.

Now, I behold with inner vision
the wonders that will be in the fullness of time.
The dreams of all my days and nights
are incensed in the inner sanctum.
My thoughts of truth are flowers on the altar of light.
In the presence of the Holy of Holies,
I keep the high watch.
Gifted with the inner sight,
I see beyond the present.

I am an old, old soul, yet ageless in eternity.
Though outer eyes may seem to dim with time,
the inner eyes are crystal clear.
Though outer vision may seem obscured by time and place,
or clouded by the sorrows and the slavery of sense,
another world’s revealed so clear.
And what I see will be.
My thoughts are giving form,
And held in mind, shall reproduce in kind.

O Lord, I take a long loving look at the real.
I prophesy.
Christ is here.
I have seen the Lord, Thine image,
and held that image to my own heart.
I am the Spirit of Imagination.
I am Anna, the prophetess, woman of power

Music: Imagining- Hammock and Kelly

 

Waiting for God

The Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas

December 30, 2019

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rembrant anna
Presentation in the Temple – Rembrandt van Rijn

Today, in Mercy, we meet the venerable prophetess Anna. Oh, what she has to teach us!

  • Perseverance: she had waited eight decades for the revelation

  • Unconditional Faith: throughout those decades, she prayed always believing
  • Pure Spirit: she believed that, like the pure in spirit, she would see God
  • Unquestioning Receptivity to the Holy: when the Savior appeared, not in glory nor a fiery chariot, she received his vulnerability without hesitation

  • Adoration: “She never left the temple,but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.”
  • Sacred Satisfaction: “And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God” because her faith and hope had been affirmed.

psalm_light

There is soooooo much in this reading for each one of us. Find yourself somewhere within it today as you pray. Perhaps:

  • Am I expecting God in every moment of my life?
  • If I have received the gift of “old age”, how has the long wait blessed and/or challenged me to keep hold of God’s hand?
  • If I am still “young”, how do I invite God into my unfolding journey?
  • Am I asking God to continually reveal Divinity in my daily life?
  • Am I purifying my heart of self-interest so that I can better perceive God’s Presence?
  • Can I welcome God no matter how the Divine Presence clothes itself?
  • Do I stay with my prayer, creating a deep temple in my spirit?
  • Can I find contentment and peace with how God chooses to be with me – even in suffering?

(In a second post, I will share a powerful reflective poem by Leddy Hammock & Sue Kelly – Prayer of Imagination for Anna, the Prophetess. I hope you love this piece as much as do.)

Music: While I Wait – Lincoln Brewster

 

Honor Those Who Bore You Life

Memorial of Saints Joachim and Anne, Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary

July 26, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our Exodus reading coincides perfectly with today’s Memorial Feast for Anne and Joachim, grandparents of Jesus.

Exodus20_5

In the passage, we have one of many Old Testament formulations of the Ten Commandments. We learned these codes as children, and perhaps have always interpreted them as laws which, when broken, marked us as sinners.

While this is one approach, a more mature and life-giving one is offered by the Biblical scholar Terence E. Fretheim:

The focus (of these directives) is on
protecting the health of the community,

to which end the individual plays such an important role.
Exodus: Interpretation: A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching

The command to honor one’s father and mother clearly demonstrates this approach. It is a command not only for children to be docile and obedient. Rather it denotes a life-long responsibility to care for parents and other  nurturers of our lives. The command also suggests the responsibility of these nurturers to live honorably so that their children may respond to their example with equal honor.

Today is a day to pray for our own families and for all families, for the young and the elderly, and for those walking the tenuous bridge in between.  It is a day to assess how well we carry our responsibilities to honor, obey, bless and foster life for one another.

It is a day to be deeply grateful for the love of family which we are blessed to experience; a day to pray for healing for those not equally blessed. Let us pray for families distressed by the necessity to migrate, and further burdened by nations’ failures to keep the commandment of neighborly love.

Like Mary, may we embrace the elders in our lives who love and need us, be these parents, mentors, community members, or neighbors. Scripture promises us that, in doing so, we shall have “mercy bestowed on us down to the thousandth generation.”

Music: Love Remains – Hillary Scott

Find Yourself in This Feast

Saturday, February 2, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

Presentation
Icon from The Menologion of Basil II, an illuminated manuscript designed as a church calendar or Eastern Orthodox Church service book (menologion) that was compiled c. 1000 AD, for the Byzantine Emperor Basil II

This event is layered with human and Divine dimensions. It is filled with memorable characters and key moments in their lives. One or more of their stories may touch your own experience as you pray today.

The infant Jesus, just forty days old, is presented and dedicated in the Temple, setting in motion his whole life as the fulfillment of Jewish expectation. We may reflect on the power of our own Baptisms. If we were infants when baptized, we may recall who carried us to the font and who stood for our dedication to Christ.

Mary and Joseph came to the Temple that day for the ritual of Purification. They place their young marriage, and their beginning parenthood, into the circle of their Jewish faith. We may reflect on those points of religious dedication in our own lives – marriage, religious profession, ordination, Confirmation, and just how much the sacred nature of these events impacts our daily living.

Anna and Simeon, long-faithful servants of God, rejoice in the fulfillment of their hopes for the Messiah. Those of us richer in years might gratefully reflect on God’s fidelity to us over the course of our lifetime, and what sacred hopes we still might long to have fulfilled.

Simeon, so completed by seeing his Savior, intones the moving prayer Nunc Dimittis – “Now You may dismiss your servant in peace.” We might pray for those who are nearing their life’s close that they may be blessed with peace. We might also pray for ourselves that we will experience peace and joy at the end of our lives.

And finally venerable Anna who, woman to woman, stood beside young Mary as Mary faced Simeon’s painful words:

Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
and you yourself a sword will pierce
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.

For a beautiful meditation on Anna, click here.

Music: Bach – Cantate BWV 125 – Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin
Johann Sebastian Bach composed the cantata Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin With peace and joy I depart), BWV 125, for use in a Lutheran service. He composed this in 1725 for the feast for the Purification of Mary which is celebrated on 2 February and is also known as Candlemas. The cantata is based on Martin Luther’s 1524 Hymn.

Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin
In Gottes Willen,
Getrost ist mir mein Herz und Sinn,
Sanft und stille.
Wie Gott mir verheißen hat:
Der Tod ist mein Schlaf worden.

With peace and joy I go on my way
in God’s will.
My heart and mind are comforted,
peaceful and calm.
As God promised me
death has become my sleep.