Psalm 60: Punch Drunk with Troubles

Monday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

June 22, 2020


It has been suggested that I make it easier to find previous reflections on the readings for the day, just in case you would like to pray with the First Reading or Gospel. I’ll try to remember to do that.


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 60, and it’s a doozy. It is a hard Psalm to pray with because it contains many layers of meaning. But, in the end, I think it is worth the effort.

The Psalm emerges from a time filled with violence. David struggles to keep control both within and outside his kingdom. His own son and nephew turn against him. His nephew wreaks unspeakable mayhem in Israel’s name. Everything in David’s world is in violent disarray. He actually whines to God about the mess:

  • O God, you have rejected us and broken our defenses …
  • You have rocked the country and split it open …
  • You have made your people feel hardships …
  • You have given us stupefying wine…

Like many of you, I read these verses in the wake of another divisive political rally, in a country riven by fearful hatred, racism, biased brutality, political corruption, and poisonous propaganda. I am so tempted to immediately tie Psalm 60 to these current realities.

But I think that, when we pray the psalms, we must let them first teach us about ourselves. Once that conversion or enlightenment occurs, it may then be possible to apply their wisdom to our world.


King David by Matthias Stom

What is it that makes Psalm 60 a prayer and not a political manifesto? We find the answer in verse 7:

Help us with your right hand, O Lord, and answer us.

David realizes that he is completely out of whack. He has just put all the responsibility for his chaos in God’s lap when it is really David’s own self-serving choices that have caused the problem. 

David’s selfish, short-sighted, and sinful decisions have blinded him like “stupefying wine”. One might say he has drunk his own kool-aid. He needs God’s justice to detoxify him … that divine “right hand” which created a perfectly balanced world.

Each of David’s previously mentioned “whines” is completed with a sincere and contrite plea:

  • rally us!
  • repair the cracks in the country
  • give us aid against the foe

Once we realize, like David:

  • that the “country” is our own heart,
  • that the “foe” is any residue there of injustice, 
  • and that the “rally” must be of our own merciful love,

… only then might we be ready to pray for our fractured country and our broken, weeping world.


Poetry: Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front – Wendell Berry’s inspired poem about conversion and recovery of the soul in a soul-killing culture.

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready-made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head. 
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
 
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you 
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something 
that won't compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor. 
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias. 
Say that your main crop is the forest 
that you did not plant, 
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns. 
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees 
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion — put your ear 
close, and hear the faint chattering 
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful 
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child? 
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 

Go with your love to the fields. 
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn't go.

Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction. 
Practice resurrection.

Music: Be Still My Soul – Exultate Singers

Psalm 25: Through the Maze

Thursday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

June 4, 2020

Click here for today’s readings

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 25.

Psalm 25_9JPG

In today’s liturgy, this Psalm clearly ties together our first and second readings where both Timothy and a scribe seek clearer understanding of what faith requires:

  • Paul reminds Timothy that it takes perseverance and fidelity to live our faith
  • Jesus affirms for the scribe that there is no greater commandment than love

In Psalm 25, we find David working through his own faith challenges. He is asking God to show him the way, presumably out of some trouble or dilemma, one of the many faced by David over his lifetime.

Like Paul, Timothy, and the Gospel scribe, David realizes that the pursuit of justice is a circuitous journey, one that requires the accompaniment of God.


In today’s excerpt, we have only a few verses of Psalm 25, but the entire psalm paints David as feeling a bit lost and overwhelmed. Nevertheless, in his prayer, he draws on his long, trusting relationship with God.

Walter Brueggemann calls Psalm 25 a “psalm of candor”, one in which the psalmist honestly lays out his confusion, need, or pain. Praying the psalm today, we might do the same, asking God’s merciful insight and direction for ourselves, our loved ones, our country or our world.

There is certainly enough need for a lot of candor on our part! I know that I am feeling more than a bit overwhelmed by our current realities. Racial injustice, pandemic, economic hurt, and political confusion have all combined to make these very troubling times. 

  • But like David, we can lay down our fears, needs and concerns before a loving God.
  • Like David, we can trust God’s desire to lead us.
  • Like David, we can remember God’s mercies and be confident they will continue.
  • Like David, we can ask for and follow God’s direction to justice and peace.

degrebber_david-plagen_grt
King David at Prayer by Pieter deGrabber


swords
Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares, a sculpture by Evgeniy Vuchetich in the United Nations Art Collection

In our poem today, Rudyard Kipling does much the opposite of what I suggest above. He is deeply angry after WWI has claimed the life of his son John. His poem speaks of “justice” but suggests revenge or retribution. The justice he describes is one that demands the last drop of the opponent’s blood before it is satisfied .

I read the poem to better understand my own feelings.  What fragments of darkness still hide in my longing for light?

Kipling’s poem is available here.


Kipling’s angry passion is completely understandable, rational, and politically powerful. But it is not the justice or “right relationship“ of the Gospel. The pursuit of such Gospel justice is an arduous and winding journey of the heart and soul. It is the trying walk of sacrificial love which Jesus taught us. May we have the courage to walk it for our time. Thus the cry of our Psalm 25:


Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my savior.

Music: Psalm 25 – Karl Kolhase

Eulogy

Friday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

February 7, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Sirach gives us a beautiful eulogy for King David.

A eulogy sets a particular frame of remembrance around a person’s life. Like Sirach today, that frame tries to capture the positive accomplishments of the person who has died. We set aside any mistakes and negativity. Or we acknowledge them as Sirach has done for David by invoking God’s forgiveness:

The LORD forgave him his sins
and exalted his strength forever.


To tell the truth, I’ve attended a few funerals where I wondered what the speaker might come up with in a positive regard. You know, you need more than a sentence or two for a decent eulogy! Despite my wondering, every tribute has provided an enriching lesson on the sacred beauty of a human life.

Sir47_1 eulogy

There are times when I leave such a life celebration thinking, “Gosh, I never realized that about him!” or “Wow, there are so many things we don’t understand about someone’s life!” 

If only we could treat every living person with the same honor their eulogies inspire!


In our Gospel, we read the sad and violent story of John the Baptist’s martyrdom. It’s a passage filled with the best and the worst of the human heart. One would wonder what kind of eulogy could have eventually been crafted for the likes of Herod, Herodias, and Salome.

But for John the Baptist, Jesus had given him the perfect epitaph even before John died.

I say to you, among those born of women
there is no one greater than John;

In the verse, Jesus also reveals what it takes to earn greatest accolade in God’s eyes:

… yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God
is greater than John.

Luke 7:28


When Jesus spoke that verse, John had not yet died. If Jesus said anything about John after his death, the words are not recorded. All we have is this poignant response from Matthew:

Later, John’s disciples came for his body and buried it.
Then they went and told Jesus what had happened.
As soon as Jesus heard the news,
he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone.
But the crowds heard where he was headed
and followed on foot from many towns.
Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat,
and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
Matthew 14: 12-14


As we pray today with the legacies of David and the Baptist, we might consider what we’d want to see engraved on our own tombstones. I’ve told my friends I’d like to see this:

She was kind.

Still working on it!😉

What about you?

Music: Lay Me Down – in this song, two icons of country music, Loretta Lynn and Willie Nelson sing their own kind of eulogy. (Lyrics below)

Lay Me Down
I raised my head and set myself
In the eye of the storm, in the belly of a whale
My spirit stood on solid ground
I’ll be at peace when they lay me down
When I was a child, I cried
Until my needs were satisfied
My needs have grown up, pound for pound
I’ll be at peace when they lay me down
When they lay me down someday
My soul will rise, then fly away
This old world will turn around
I’ll be at peace when they lay me down
This life isn’t fair, it seems
It’s filled with tears and broken dreams
There are no tears where I am bound
And I’ll be at peace when they lay me down
When they lay me down some day
My soul will rise, then fly away
This old world will turn around
I’ll be at peace when they lay down
When they lay me down some day
My soul will rise and fly away
This old world will turn around
I’ll be at peace when they lay me down
When I was a child, I cried

Got Baggage?

Memorial of Saint Paul Miki and Companions, martyrs

February 6, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, “journey” is a central theme. David takes his final journey after commissioning his son Solomon as his successor. In our Gospel, Jesus commissions the disciples for their first missionary journey.

Each of these journeys has its own “baggage requirements”.


David’s situation is easy and can be stated in a phrase we are all familiar with:

“You can’t take it with you.”

The writer of Job expresses the same sentiment:

chick-154490_960_720And Job said,
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked shall I return.
The LORD gave,
and the LORD has taken away;
blessed be the name of the LORD.”
Job 1:2

 


It’s a lesson we seem to have a hard time learning. Whenever I pack for a trip, the challenge resurfaces.

baggage
For anyone wondering, yes this is actually me at the airport, except for the heels! 🙂

Back in my early days of flying, when there were no baggage fees, some passengers took everything but the kitchen sink on their journeys. I have a clear picture of petite women hauling suitcases bigger than themselves over to the check-in counter.

Often in life we carry a lot of baggage we don’t need. Some of it is good stuff we just can’t part with, and some of it is junk we should have tossed long ago. The point is that it’s all weight we don’t need if we want to reach our desired destination easily.


 

Mk6_8journey
Jesus drives that point home to his disciples in today’s Gospel:

He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick
– no food, no sack, no money in their belts.


Now that’s a pretty stringent packing list! So what might it mean for our spiritual journey?

Let’s ask ourselves this:

  • What weighs me down from being a loving, generous, just and merciful person?
  • Are there things I won’t let go of because I am fearful, insecure, or selfish?

When the disciples heeded Jesus’s advice, their ensuing freedom made them capable of miracles. Might such courage do the same thing for us?


Music: Have a little fun this morning with this great old country song. Apologies to all grammarians who will spot the blatant contradiction in the title!
I Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now – Goodman Revival

Refrain:
Well, I wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey now
Gotta make it to Heaven somehow
Though the devil tempt me and he tried to turn me around
He’s offered everything that’s got a name
All the wealth I want and worldly fame
If I could still I wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey now

Well, I started out travellin’ for the Lord many years ago
I’ve had a lot of heartache and I met a lot of grief and woe
But when I would stumble then I would humble down
And there I’d say, I wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey now

Oh, there’s nothin’ in this world that’ll ever take the place of God’s love
All the silver and gold wouldn’t buy a touch from above
When the soul needs healin’ and I begin to feelin’ His power
Then I can say, thank the Lord, I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now

Oh, I wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey now
Gotta make it to Heaven somehow
Though the devil tempts me and he tried to turn me around
He’s offered everything that’s got a name
All the wealth I want and worldly fame
If I could still I wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey now.

Mercy Surrounds Us

Memorial of Saint Agatha, virgin and martyr

February 5, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, David gets himself in trouble once again.

In the later years of his kingship, David is pretty impressed with himself. The kingdom has grown exponentially. There is peace and prosperity. David wants a census taken so that he can assess his capacity for new expansion.

So why does God get so mad about this census? The Book of Exodus sets out that a person has the right to number only his own belongings. The People belong to God, not to David. David’s pride and self-satisfaction has taken him over.

Ps32_deep waters

However, as usual, David repents. This is probably the best lesson we can learn from him. Then, in a greatly allegorized treatment, God gives David a choice of three punishments.


Passages like this can confuse us if we interpret them literally. Does God really interact and punish like this? 

It helps to remember the purpose of these writings — not to relay a factual history, but rather to tell a story that helps us grow in relationship with God.

What I believe happened here is that a pestilence did fall upon the country. At the same time, David realized that his heart had grown selfish and graceless. He took the natural event as a sign to turn back to God. And then the writers told the story in a way that the ancient peoples could relate to – with a God that forgives but gets even.


In our Gospel, Jesus preaches another vision of God – a vision of Complete Mercy, especially toward the vulnerable, weak, and sinful. That pretty much includes all of us.

Jesus releases the power of this Divine Mercy by his words and miracles. But his own family and neighbors reject him. They are more comfortable with a God who behaves like they do – meting out more judgement and punishment (preferably toward others!😉) than mercy and inclusive benediction.

In this Gospel, we begin to see Jesus as One who asks not only for repentance but for conversion – for a new way of being with God and neighbor, the way of Love.

How might we have responded had we been in that neighborhood synagogue? How are we responding today?

Music: Today’s Responsorial Psalm 32 – Marty Goetz ( Lyrics below)

Psalm 32 – Marty Goetz

These are periled times we live in, trouble everywhere
Weary hearts will often give in to this world’s despair
But high and over all, our Father knows our every care
And in His Book, if you will look, you’ll find His promise there

(Chorus)
He who trusts in the Lord
Mercy shall surround him
He who trusts in the Lord
Mercy shall surround him
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice
You upright in heart, lift up your voice
For great is His mercy toward all who trust in the Lord

Soon will be the time when we will see the Holy One
Oh how sweet to know that He’ll complete what He’s begun
And blessed is the man who stands forgiven in God’s son
And blessed are they who in that day will hear Him say, “Well done”

(Chorus)

Gracious is He and slow to anger
His loving kindness has no end
With love to embrace both friend and stranger
Reaching out to one and all, who upon His name will call

(Chorus)

Mercy is His reward
For all who trust, for the pure and just
Who put their trust in the Lord
For all who trust for the pure and just who put their trust in the Lord

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.

Outrageous Grace

Monday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

February 3, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we have two highly dramatic passages. If there were an Oscar category for “Best Biblical Drama”, these stories would definitely be nominees!

In our ongoing “David Saga”, the troubled king flees Jerusalem because his own son Absalom is plotting to overthrow him. David, at this point in time, is humbled and not a little wearied by the theatrics of his life. His sins continue to haunt him and wreak a recompense. 


dirt thrower
Shimei curses David by Julius Schnorr von Karolsfeld

In today’s passage, we meet Shimei who has his own little miniseries going on in the Bible. Shimei is part of Saul’s family and holds David responsible for Saul’s demise. When meeting David in this passage, Shimei dangerously, and we might say stupidly, sets on him, throwing dirt and stones at the King. David prevents the troops from responding to the wildly outraged man. David even suggests that God may be trying to teach David something in the attack.


In our Gospel, we meet another wildly outraged man. This one is tormented by his inner demons, causing him also to put himself in dangerous situations. Jesus names this man’s tormentor and casts it out, giving the man control of himself again.


Have you ever been so offended, humiliated or injured that you felt outrage for yourself or another? Such fury chains us, making rationality and reconciliation close to impossible. Sometimes, it renders us impotent to name and address the deep source of our indignation. Instead, we lash out with stones of anger and hate – throwing the dirt of condemnation rather than seeking inner balance and healing.

dementor

Most of us have encountered large or small “dementors” in our life. (Thanks for the term AND the image, Harry Potter) 

 


But when I think of those who have endured unbelievable degrees of torment, I am amazed at their stories of faith and resolution: Anne Frank, Victor Frankel, Nelson Mandela, Harriet Tubman …. Jesus Christ. How did they come through it whole and blessed?


 

Mk5_1_20demoniac

Maybe the possessed man in Mark’s Gospel was just lucky that day to run into Jesus. Or maybe he sought out Christ, trying to find stability in the midst of his derangement.

When we face our own imbalances can we stay still long enough to ask, as David did, “What is God teaching me in this. How can this lead me closer to God?” If we could, might we not be surprised to see our demons named, cast into the greater sea of God’s eternal wisdom, peace and love?

Music: Amazing Grace – Sean Clive

God loves …. always!

Saturday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

February 1, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, David gets his comeuppance after his sinful forays.

david weeps
David Weeps – wikipedia.org – not for commercial use

The passage is hard to deal with. It suggests that God is vengeful, and gets us back for going against him. That’s not the God Who loves me.

Like much of the Old Testament, the writer is interpreting the circumstances of life in order to teach a lesson. The lesson here is not that God is a payback God. The core lesson is that our choices have repercussions, and should always be made in the light of God’s hope for us.

Sometimes in our own lives, we think of God as reacting in a human way to us – getting angry, forgetting us, paying us back, testing us, punishing us. Like the disciples in today’s storm-tossed boat, our faith is weak and maybe misdirected.

God is Love, and Love only. God is NEVER “I’ll getcha’ “. Deep faith directs us to find God’s love – God’s continuing call to intimacy – in every circumstance of our lives. 

God didn’t kill David’s illegitimate son. It just happened, the way so much of life happens. We can blame God if we want to, but we’re missing the point. 

The point is that God is with us in the inevitable joys and sorrows of our lives saying, as he did to his distraught shipmates:

“Why are you terrified?
Do you not yet have faith?”

Ps51

Our Gospel assures us that God is with us, “sleeping” even in our rocky boat. By faith and prayer, we “wake God”, as we actually wake ourselves to the truth of God’s immutable, loving Presence in our lives.

Music:  You Raise Me Up – Selah

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