A New Heaven and Earth

Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent

March 23, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, all I can think is, “This passage from Isaiah could not have come at a more perfect time!”

Is65_new heavens

Walter Brueggemann calls Isaiah 65 “a glorious artistic achievement”. Indeed, these images confirm his statement:

  • a new heavens and a new earth;
  • constant rejoicing and happiness
  • people will be a delight
  • no weeping or crying;
  • long life for all
  • everyone with a home
  • enough for all to eat

As we pray with this passage today, we may experience a longing for a return to our beautiful, safe world. During this pandemic, we all pray from a place of anxiety, loss, constrainment, or some degree of suffering. 

Isaiah’s community prayed from the same place. All the beautiful images were a promise not yet realized. The prophetic poetry of Isaiah is a call to courageous hope, not a description of current circumstances.

upside

Faith invites us, even as we experience a bittersweet longing, to trust that God is with us, teaching us and leading us deeper into the Divine Understanding. Even as circumstances turn our world upside down, God will guide the falling pieces to a blessed place if we commit to find God in the tumbling.

I don’t think many of us would deny that the world before Corona needed fixing. The systems we have built have left many in deficit long before 2020, and we have failed to address the wound.

Corona has laid that failure bare.

Now that some of that deficit is universally shared, may we be opened to an irrevocable awareness of our common humanity and responsibility for one another.

Only by such an outcome will we move closer to Isaiah’s peaceful Kingdom. Only by our courage to embrace it, can God fulfill the Promise in us.

Music:  O Day of Peace – Carl P. Daw

A Cheat and a Gift

Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent

March 10, 2020

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soup

(I will be honest with you, dear readers – as I always am.  (So sorry, my Guam and Australia friends that I am so late.) The morning got away from me.  Ever had that happen? This is a re-run because Daylight Saving Time made me get up too late, and I had to make the most delicious soup ever before I wrote a reflection. You see, I live in a hungry community whom I love!

Recipe below as a means to ask your forgiveness. 🙂


But first:

Scarlett

Today, in Mercy, our readings are a study in contrasts
between sinfulness and righteousness.
Isaiah says even the forlorn sinners of Sodom and Gomorrah
could be saved if they live humbly
and do justice to the downtrodden.
Jesus says that the sin-blind Pharisees
can only be saved
by becoming servants of the needy.
The message is clear
that
 the path to holiness
is the humble service of our neighbor.
May we hear and respond.


Perhaps, responding to these readings,  we would like to give nourishing “soup” – material or spiritual – to our neighbor today. Let me know if you make it, or something similar.  Or have some great suggestions!

Music: Lovely video: White As Snow Maranatha Singers

Recipe

Prelude:
You have leftover mashed potatoes and a few extra sausages, ham or bacon. Hmm? What to do?

1.Make Your Own Broth

Toss a roughly chopped onion, 3 celery stalks, 3 carrots, a couple of cloves of garlic and a meat bone or chicken breast into a pot. I use celery leaves, unchewable asparagus stems and the like.  You won’t actually be eating these.  It’s just to get the nutrients and flavor.

I added a few pork bones today that  I had in the freezer. (Good to roast them first at 350 for 30 minutes if you have time.) You can use some ham or bacon or beef. Add favorite seasonings like salt, pepper, thyme, rosemary, parsley, bay leaf, and marjoram. Go gently with the add-ins.  You can’t take OUT but you can always ADD. Cover with water. Bring to a boil. Then simmer for about 30 minutes. Pour through a strainer to keep liquid. Let cool. Remove surface fat. (It will rise if you place pot by cool window, or in fridge for a while.  I bought a fat separator and it works well too, but COOL first or your plastic separator will melt!)

      2. The Soup

Roughly clear your stock pot.  (Don’t worry about leaving some of the original spices there.) Add 2-3 tablespoon olive oil. Add chopped onion, celery, carrots, and garlic to pot. Depends on your taste. I use 2 big onions, 4 carrots, 4 celery, 2 garlic gloves. If I have a nice half cabbage, I gladly shower it in.  You’d be surprised how sweet it is! Gently brown as you consider God’s gentleness to you throughout your lifetime. If you want to live dangerously and deliciously, (and don’t have acid reflux), add 1/2 stick butter.

When veggies are transparent, coat with about two tablespoons of cornstarch – the way God sends unexpected grace over you. Stir until the white cornstarch disappears in the veggies. Add your beautiful broth while humming a hymn – preferably Amazing Grace or I Love Rock and Roll Music.  If you don’t have enough of your own broth, add some chicken stock. Bring to a boil and let simmer for about 15 minutes. Sit down and have a glass of wine.

    3. The Left-over Potatoes , Et Cetera

Mix the potatoes like this:  1 cup taters to a half cup flour. Add an egg, good salt and pepper. Combine.  Form balls a little smaller than golf balls.

Great to have some sautéed and drained sausage balls, shredded chicken, or bacon or ham.

Once soup is simmering nicely, drop in your extras – potatoes, sausage balls, etc.. Add a can of rinsed beans or a couple handfuls of little pasta things if you want some heft. Let cook gently for 15 or 20 minutes.

Honey, you’re gonna’ love it!  Let me know!

 

Leap … and Be Held

Saturday after Ash Wednesday

February 29, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Isaiah continues his advice begun in yesterday’s reading. When he finishes the list of things we should and should not do, Isaiah tells us how God will respond:

Then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday;
Then the LORD will guide you always
and give you plenty even on the parched land.
God will renew your strength,
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring whose water never fails.
The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake,
and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up ~

Oh, who can resist these glorious Isaiahan lines. It’s a beautiful picture, isn’t it? To imagine it offers us great encouragement as we lumber through Lent and out of the doldrums of February.

deer

How fitting that this should be our reading on “Leap Day”, a 24-hour period that many of us consider an extra gift.


Here’s a thought I wrote several years ago that I hope you will find beneficial:

Mitch Albom, the author who wrote “Tuesdays with Morrie”, wrote another book entitled “Just One More Day”.

It is an appropriate title to think about in this week in Leap Year when we will actually have “just one more day” than normal.

How often have we wished that phrase, perhaps near the end of a great vacation, or before an important project is due? Or maybe as Mitch Albom uses it: to have just one more day with someone who has passed from our lives.

With God, we always have one more day. God is Infinite Possibility and Eternal Generosity. Saturday – February 29 – is a good day to stretch our faith and ask what God would have us do with “just one more day” to witness to Divine Abundance in our lives.

Leap2020

Will it be one more day to love, to work, to be thankful, to be competitive, to take advantage or to give it?  The way we use that “one more day” will tell us a lot about how we are using all our days. Maybe we could consider a question that one of our older Sisters is famous for: “Wouldn’t it be sad to come to the last day of our lives – (no more days) —  and realize that we had missed the whole point?”


May all your “leaps” take you to blessed places, dear Friends.
Let go. Take the leap into God’s way, as Isaiah counsels. And just be held.

Music: Just Be Held – Casting Crown 

Lent: The Wound

Friday after Ash Wednesday

February 28, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Isaiah cuts his listeners no slack — and we too are his listeners.

Is58_7_10

In this powerful passage, the prophet shatters the pretenses of those who make a show of religion. Speaking with God’s voice, Isaiah lambastes those who fast and pray but practice no works of justice and mercy.

“Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits,
and drive all your laborers.
Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting,
striking with wicked claw.”

These “fake fasters” are left wondering why God doesn’t answer their prayers. The prophet tells them that God isn’t fooled by their pretenses:

Is this the manner of fasting I wish,
of keeping a day of penance:
That a man bow his head like a reed
and lie in sackcloth and ashes?

Isaiah says that God’s not into sackcloth and ashes. God’s into good works of mercy and justice. These are the actions that change our hearts, opening us to deeper relationship with God.

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.


Listen, dear friends. It can’t be clearer than that.

priscilla-du-preez-FOsina4f7qM-unsplash
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

In a world full of prosperity gospels, false piety and pretend religion – used to justify all kinds of injustice – we may get mixed up sometimes about what pleases God.

Let’s really open our hearts to Isaiah’s message and try to rid our own lives of any pretense about these things.

Let’s confront such hypocrisy when we see it used to subtly oppress rather than to lift up others.


Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed.

Perhaps we might spend sometime today thinking about that “wound” we need healed. Might there be some harbored prejudice, indifference, fear, or ignorance that distances us from others who are different, vulnerable, or in need?

Isaiah cautions that until that wound is healed, we will never hear God’s true answer to our prayers.

Music:  Respond – Collin Campbell (Lyrics below)

 

Oh how long will you cry out
And never truly seek my face
You come to me with heavy hearts
But you ignore what makes mine break

I see your thoughts, I hear your words
And I have watched you as you’ve prayed
I’ve told you my desires
But you don’t follow all the way

Children, I’m crying out
Break the chains
Let the oppressed go free
Empty yourselves to those in need
Be my hands Be my feet
What you do unto them You do unto Me

Every day you lift your voice
And await my swift response
But I see only what’s inside
And it’s (what i see on the inside) an offering I don’t want

Children, I’m crying out
Break the chains
Let the oppressed go free
Empty yourselves to those in need
Be my hands Be my feet
What you do unto them You do unto Me

Then your Salvation will come like the dawn
And my glory will be your shield
When you call on My name I will not turn away
I am Your God And I am here
And your light it will shine from the dark
You will be like a free flowing stream
And when you call on My name I will not turn away
I am your God And I am here

Shine!

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 9, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are threaded on a theme of light, justice, and healing.

Is58_8wound

Isaiah writes to a formerly exiled community trying to restore itself after returning to Jerusalem. Tensions, meanness, and dissatisfactions tear at the community. Focus on religious rituals becomes excessive while communitarian practices are ignored.

It is a sad and fractious time for Israel.

Isaiah tells them they are missing the whole point.  The path to healing their national soul is not through empty religious words and practices.

If you remove from your midst
oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;
if you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday.


In our second reading, Paul writes to the Corinthian community similarly disturbed. He reminds the Corinthians that he came to build Christian community among them humbly and open to the Holy Spirit. Like Isaiah in the first reading, Paul now reminds his community not to miss the point:

I came to you in weakness …
so that your faith might rest
not on human wisdom

but on the power of God.


Jesus tells his disciples to let that power of God shine in them by virtue of their good deeds — the very same deeds Isaiah recommends to his listeners:

Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own.


In sum, our readings caution us that failures in charity and mercy wound us, both as individuals and as a community. Meanness kills – not only its object, but its subject as well.

When we remove all meanness from our actions, the Light shines, healing all our wounds.

Music:  Let Your Light Shine – Mike Balhoff and Darryl Ducote

The Unexpected within The Ordinary

The Epiphany of the Lord

January 5, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we travel with Isaiah, Paul, Matthew and the Three Kings into the revealed glory of the Lord!

Is60_1 splendor

It’s not always easy to find that glory though, is it?

Have you ever heard a troubled friend say, “I feel as if God has abandoned me! I can’t find God in my life!”? Well, I’d like to tell you a little story about that.

ducksOne spring morning, two country kids were walking to school across their local railroad tracks.  They had been drilled in the three essential steps before crossing: STOP, LOOK and LISTEN! On this particular morning, as they diligently executed these steps, they heard an unexpected, barely-audible sound.  Four tiny orphaned ducklings had taken refuge in a gully under one of the nearby ties.  What an epiphany!


Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany.  The word means much more than just “discovery”.  It means an unexpected revelation of divine grace within our ordinary circumstances.  The Unexpected within the Ordinary.

kings_gifts

When the Three Kings experienced the Epiphany, it was not simply “dumb luck”.  They had prepared for that moment throughout their entire lives, just never imagining where they would find it —  hidden in a cold stable.  Through study, prayer and living good lives, they had perfected the all-important practice:  STOP, LOOK and LISTEN to your ordinary life; to what is happening just underneath the surface, underneath appearances, underneath the silence. Allow yourself to follow the star and be surprised by God!

It is in the life underneath that God waits to be revealed to us everyday.  The revelation doesn’t come like a loud, anticipated train.  It comes in the unexpected whisper we would have missed had we not stopped, looked and listened to our lives.  It comes in the otherwise unspoken need of a friend, in the finally recognized destructive practice or relationship we must change, in the belated act of forgiveness, in the long over-due and grateful acknowledgement of our life as the blessing that it is.

Before we go too far in this New Year, think about this practice.  When we feel as if God or the Spirit is not part of our lives, we may not be looking in the right places.  Each morning and/or evening, give yourself at least fifteen quiet minutes to breathe.  Point a telescope to your day, and ask yourself “Where is God hidden in these moments?”  If we really STOP, LOOK and LISTEN, eventually, the Star of the Epiphany will rise for us!

Music:  Star of Wonder – lyrics and the music written by John Henry Hopkins, Jr. circa 1857; sung here by Jennifer Avalon

 

Prophecies and Dreams

Fourth Sunday of Advent

December 22, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our scripture readings lay down before our prayer the long line of salvation history. It is a line that we can walk in wonder, winding from Isaiah’s prophecy, through the House of David, down to Joseph dreaming in the Nazarene night.

line

It is a story filled with words we love because, ever since our childhood, they have carried to us the fragrant scent of Christmas. These readings are the thrilling stuff of prophecies and dreams, all the more wonderful because we know them now fulfilled.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign:
the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,
and shall name him Emmanuel.
Isaiah 7:14


Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.

For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.

She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.
Matthew 1:20


O Emmanuel

This long wick of Promise, burning slowly through the biblical years, bursts into light with the birth of Jesus Christ, the Fire of God.

Through our faith, that Divine Light kindles us – we who now, through our Baptism, carry the sacred DNA of Jesus into our times.

On this final Sunday of Advent, when the world’s “crazy Xmas” tries to hijack our  souls, let us be very intentional about the true meaning of these days. Let us take the time to “go into our heart cave” and prepare for Jesus. (Heart Cave poem to follow in a second post)

Music: Emmanuel – Tim Manion (Lyrics below)

Baby born in a stall.
Long ago now and hard to recall
Cold wind, darkness and sin,
your welcoming from us all.

 How can it be true?
A world grown so old now, how can it be new?
Sorrow’s end, God send,
born now for me and you

Emanuel, Emanuel
What are we that You have loved us so well?
A song on high, a Savior’s high, angel hosts rejoice
Thy glory to tell

 Lord, lead us to know.
You lay like a beggar, so humble, so low;
no place for Your head and straw for a bed,
the glory of God to show.

 Babe on mother’s knee,
child so soon to be nailed to a tree;
all praise, till the end of our days;
O Lord, You have set us free

Gaudete! Rejoice!

Third Sunday of Advent

December 15, 2019

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Gaudete 2019

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate Gaudete Sunday, a name which comes from the first word of the Introit of today’s Mass:

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.

Our readings, too, counsel us to rejoice, and to do so with patience and honesty before God.


REJOICE:
Those whom the LORD has ransomed
…. will meet with joy and gladness (Isaiah 35:10)


BE PATIENT:
You too must be patient.
Make your hearts firm,
because the coming of the Lord is at hand. (James 5:8)


SPEAK HONESTLY WITH GOD:
When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ,
he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question,
“Are you the one who is to come,
or should we look for another?” (Matthew 11:2)


As we pray with these verses, we might ask, similarly to John the Baptist:

  • Is the coming of the Lord really at hand?
  • Is our long wait to be complete in God really over?
  • Hasn’t this gone on for 2000 years with no Second Coming? 

Well, it all depends on how we look at it.

time

 

With our feet and our experiences firmly planted in a time-bound world, it is hard for us to enter God’s timeless view of our salvation.

 

With God there is no waiting. We already live in the fullness of God’s eternal life.

Our time-bound life is our chance to open ourselves to that Fullness by allowing our experiences to fashion us in the image of Christ.

Every moment, every encounter, every experience carries the invitation to this Complete Love. Continually answering this invitation brings us into an ever deeper transparency with God.

transparent

 

When we see and live our lives this way, joy captures us. Circumstances may not always leave us happy or satisfied (I mean, look at John, he was imprisoned). But they cannot claim our joy, because we see patiently through time’s veil to the eternity already within us.

This sacred insight is the gift of our Baptism in Christ.

Today, we draw closer to the celebration of his presence with us in history by his birth on Christmas. But the deeper celebration is Christ’s continual rebirth in our lives of joy, patience and honest relationship with God.

Music: Patience People – John Foley, SJ (Lyrics below)

Patience, people, till the Lord is come.
See the farmer await the yield of the soil.
He watches it in winter and in spring rain.

Patience, people,
for the Lord is coming. Patience, people, till the Lord is come.
You have seen the purpose of the Lord.
You know of His compassion and His mercy.

Patience, people,
for the Lord is coming. Patience, people, till the Lord is come.
Steady your hearts for the Lord is close at hand.
And do not grumble, one against the other.
Patience, people, for the Lord is coming.

A River of Joy

Memorial of Saint Lucy, Virgin and Martyr

December 13, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Isaiah paints a poetic picture of the soul fully taught by God. He describes that sacred obedience, or heart’s listening to God, which leads to fullness of joy, peace and eternal life.

When looking for music to complement Isaiah’s passage, I found a hymn written in 1876 by Frances R. Havergal, an English Anglican poet and hymn writer.

Her hymn Like a River Glorious, although written in older style language, contains several beautiful metaphors, many reflective of today’s passage from Isaiah.

You might want to pray with one or two of these images today:

river
A river of grace – perfect, yet deepening

 

stand_anchor
Our hearts “stayed” upon God, anchored in faith

 

chick
Being hidden in the hollow of God’s hand

 

wind
“no blast of hurry” to disturb our peace (so appropriate to this busy season)

 

sundial
Our joys and sorrows falling like shadows across the sundial of our lives

 

I hope enjoy praying with this hymn, and the accompanying pictures, as much as I did.

Music: Like a River Glorious – Frances R. Havergal – 1876; performed here by the Parkview Mennonite Church. Follow the images and verses below.

river
A river of grace – perfect, yet deepening

 

Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace,
Over all victorious, in its bright increase;
Perfect, yet it floweth fuller every day,
Perfect, yet it groweth deeper all the way.

 

stand_anchor
Our hearts “stayed” upon God, anchored in faith

 

Refrain:
Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.

 

 

chick
Being hidden in the hollow of God’s hand

 

Hidden in the hollow of His blessed hand,
Never foe can follow, never traitor stand;

 

 

wind
“no blast of hurry” to disturb our peace (so appropriate to this busy season)

 

Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care,
Not a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.

 

 

 

sundial
Our joys and sorrows falling like shadows across the sundial of our lives

(Refrain then …)

Every joy or trial falleth from above,
Traced upon our dial by the Sun of Love;
We may trust Him fully, all for us to do;
They who trust Him wholly find Him wholly true.

Comfort the Lost

Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent

December 10, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we have the exquisite “Comfort” passage from Isaiah. Our Gospel gives us Jesus tenderly seeking the single lost lamb.

Isaiah40_1_11

The first and last words of these two readings – COMFORT, LOST – capture the whole intent of God’s message:
Life is a maze whose walls are heightened by our incivility to one another. Isaiah calls to be a leveler of walls, a straightener of twists, a bridge over deadly valleys; Jesus calls us to seek and carry the lost sheep. They call us to be Mercy.

The US southern border is one of the many places in our world crying out for these acts of mercy. Please listen to our Sister Anne Connolly describe the cry:

 


Music: Comfort Ye from Handel’s Messiah – sung by Jerry Hadley

As we pray this glorious music today, let us ask for the strength and courage to be Mercy for the world, to find the ways to comfort God’s people, close by and at life’s borders.