Psalm 34: Praying with Angels

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

June 29, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, on this special feast, we pray with Psalm 34.  

David sings. Sheep listens.

This psalm has the most delightful introduction:

Of David, when he feigned madness before the King, who drove him out and he went away.

The Psalm refers to a time when young David was fleeing from Saul who was jealous of David’s impending takeover as king. David seeks harbor with King Achish, but later realizes that was a mistake. Fearing the King, David pretends for be insane in order to be dismissed as harmless.


Serious as the situation is, picturing it makes me smile. Have you ever wanted to get away from someone who had hijacked you into a one-sided conversation? You might pretend you had an appointment, or medical necessity, or anything just to get away.


Liberation of Saint Peter from Prison by Pieter de Hooch

Peter, in our first reading, doesn’t need pretense to escape the wrathful imprisonment of King Herod. All he needs is the angel which God has sent him.

Thus, Psalm 34 is a most appropriate choice for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. It is the first psalm in which an angel is mentioned and here, as in Acts, she is a rescuer.

The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear the LORD, and delivers them.

Taste and see how good the LORD is;
blessed the one who takes refuge in God.


I’ll be honest, I neglect my angels. I believe in them. I trust them. But basically I forget about them unless I’m scared out of my mind about something. In those situations, I call out loudly to them to make sure their “encampment” around me is still intact!

I think it would be a lot better to get to know our angels, and let them get to know us. Inviting them to accompany us in prayer might be a good way to start. And, of course, remember that prayer so many of our parents taught us. We never grow too “mature” to whisper it at night. Maybe even Peter said something like it in that dark prison long ago.

Angel of God, my guardian dear,
to whom God’s love commits me here,
Ever this night be at my side
to light, to guard, to rule, to guide.
Amen


St. Peter And The Angel
 - Denise Levertov

Delivered out of raw continual pain,
smell of darkness, groans of those others
to whom he was chained--

unchained, and led
past the sleepers,
door after door silently opening--
out!
     And along a long street's
majestic emptiness under the moon:

one hand on the angel's shoulder, one
feeling the air before him,
eyes open but fixed...

And not till he saw the angel had left him,
alone and free to resume
the ecstatic, dangerous, wearisome roads of
what he had still to do,
not till then did he recognize
this was no dream. More frightening
than arrest, than being chained to his warders:
he could hear his own footsteps suddenly.
Had the angel's feet
made any sound? He could not recall.
No one had missed him, no one was in pursuit.
He himself must be
the key, now, to the next door,
the next terrors of freedom and joy. 

Music:  Gloria in Excelcis Deo – J.S. Bach
(I thought one of the angels’ greatest hits, first recorded over the hills of Bethlehem, might be appropriate today)

A Women’s Feast?

Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

May 31, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation, when a newly-pregnant Mary travels to be with her shockingly pregnant older cousin, Elizabeth. Although a universal feast, it is certainly a feast for women to treasure.

Visitation
The Carmignano Visitation, a unique masterpiece by one of sixteenth-century Italy’s greatest painters, Jacopo da Pontormo (1494-1557)

The Gospel is replete with the quiet but powerful understandings women share with one another:

  • the haste to support one another
  • the blessing and bolstering of each other’s faith
  • the shared joy to cause a baby’s leap in the womb
  • the desire for mercy and justice for the suffering
  • the “staying with” until need’s end

Of course, men too experience many of these holy sensibilities, but today most certainly invites women to celebrate the gifts of God within their bodies, minds and spirits.

Perhaps we might pray on these things while watching this movie clip of the imagined scene:


Music: Two selections for this wonderful Feastday:

Ave Maria (Schubert) sung in German, as Schubert wrote it, by the incomparable Marian Anderson


Magnificat (Bach) Imagine composing this powerful first movement based on only a single word: “Magnificat”

Grace and Power

Monday of the Third Week of Easter

May 6, 2019

Today, in Mercy, Acts tells us more about Stephen, who was introduced in Saturday’s reading as “a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit”.

Acts6_8 Stephen

Stephen is among the first group of Christians designated as deacons “to serve at table” – in other words, to do the administrative tasks that kept the community whole.

However, Stephen’s gifts went well beyond these services. Acts describes him like this:

Stephen, filled with grace and power,
was working great wonders and signs among the people.

This man was radiant with Holy Spirit! He had so opened his soul to God’s grace and power that he was transformed even to the point that, when indicted:

All those who sat in the Sanhedrin looked intently at him
and saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

That same grace and power that fired Stephen’s spirit are available to us. In this holy Eastertide, as we await the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, let us give sincere time and intention to praying for these gifts – for ourselves, for our faith communities, our communities of love, for our leaders, for our world.

This poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins might help us picture how the Holy Spirit waits to be welcomed into our hearts and lives:

God’s Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
(Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89).  Poems.  1918.)

Music: J.S.Bach – Gedenk an uns mit deiner Liebe (Think of us with your Love)
– from Cantata BWV 29 – Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir (Tranlations below)

Gedenk an uns mit deiner Liebe,
Schleuß uns in dein Erbarmen ein!
Segne die, so uns regieren,
Die uns leiten, schützen, führen,
Segne, die gehorsam sein!

Think of us with your love,
enclose us in your pity!
Bless those who govern us,
those who guide, protect and lead us,
bless those who are obedient!