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.

Choose Your Kingdom

Second Sunday of Advent

December 8, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Our readings counterbalance each with other peace and urgency.

HicksJPG
A Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks

Isaiah, on the one hand, describes the Peaceable Kingdom where:

the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra’s den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.
There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord
As water covers the sea.


Matthew, on the other hand, presents us with John the Baptist, who preached a fiery message. No doubt shocking in his camel hair tunic, a scrap of leather holding it in place, John railed at the pompous Pharisees for their deceitful, pretentious lives:

You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.
And do not presume to say to yourselves,
‘We have Abraham as our father.’

For I tell you,
God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.

Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.

Mt3_10 ax

The message of this Second Sunday is clear for us. We may have lived a half-hearted faith at times in our lives and gotten away with it. Those times are over.

For the One is coming who will “baptize with the Holy Spirit and with Fire”. 

“Fake” will not hold up against his mighty gaze.

So this Second Sunday is a time to test the sincerity of our faith as proven by our actions. It is a time to check what kind of fruit we bear for the world. As we pass through the circumstances of our lives, do we leave a trail of peace, wisdom, counsel,and all the other blessings Isaiah envisions?

We can do this only by uniting ourselves in prayer and actions to the One rising today from the Root of Jesse, the One to whom both Isaiah and John tied their souls in unquenchable hope.

Music: A song of peace (Charles Villiers Stanford, (30 September 1852 – 29 March 1924) an Irish composer, music teacher, and conductor.) Lyrics below

1 And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse,
and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:

2  And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord;

3  And he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes,
neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:

4  And with righteousness shall he judge the poor,
and reprove with equity the meek of the earth:
and he shall smite the earth: with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.

5  And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins,
and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.

6  The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
and a little child shall lead them.

9  They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain:
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord,
as the waters cover the sea.

10  And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse,
which shall stand for an ensign unto the people;
and his rest shall be glorious.

The Promise of Wholeness

Memorial of Saint Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Saturday, December 7, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Isaiah – in glorious prophecy – promises God’s People better times.

hope

Oh my, don’t we all long for the fulfillment of that promise! Sometimes, I can’t even watch the news anymore because the world is in such seemingly irreversible pain!


Perhaps we can use our prayer within these readings today to call on God for the healing they promise.

It is a healing that requires our cooperation. Isaiah says that we must name our pain to God – for ourselves and for all who suffer in our world:

The Lord will be gracious to you when you cry out,
as soon as he hears he will answer you.

Is30_21 Walk

The prophet says that this crying out will change us. We will see the Lord with us in our suffering. God will lead us through that suffering by our acts of faith, hope, love, justice and mercy:

No longer will your Teacher hide himself,
but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher,
While from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears:
“This is the way; walk in it,”
when you would turn to the right or to the left.


 

Christ_Healing_the_Mother_of_Simon_Peter’s_Wife_by_John_Bridges
Healing Peter’s mother-in-law by John Bridges, 19th century

Our Gospel tells us that we are called to be Christ’s disciples, and that disciples are healers. By letting our lives become sources of healing in the world, Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled for our time.

Jesus sent out these twelve after instructing them thus,
“Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons.

Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”

How we do these wondrous deeds in the world is an ongoing revelation. When I was very young, I took the proclamation quite literally. I soon lost confidence that I would ever really “cure” someone of anything!

Life has blessed me with the realization that there are many degrees of healing. There  many ways in which living people are caught in deadly lives. There are all kinds of “lepers ” in our society, rendered so by the prejudices of others. Certainly, many of us carry all sorts of crippling demons.

Acknowledging the pain in ourselves and others, and trusting that God wants us to be healed and whole, is the work of true discipleship. Let’s keep our eyes on Isaiah’s promise to give us a generous, merciful courage for our call! Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus as he shows us the way.

Music: (Can you take a little hint of “country” this morning?)

Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus – written by Helen Howarth Lemmel (1863-1961) and sung here by Alan Jackson, one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold over 75 million records.

Ask to See

Friday of the First Week of Advent

December 6, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we stand with Isaiah on the rim of hope. We wait, trusting that “in a very little while”, the Lord will make Creation whole.

Is29_18 blindJPG

It’s a precipitous place, this cliff called “Hope”. It requires that we risk ourselves solely on the promises of a God we cannot see. It invites us to leap into a mist we cannot control.

Or can we?

In today’s Gospel, Jesus invites the blind men to the cliff’s edge by asking them:

Do you believe that I can do this?

Well, that’s everything, isn’t it? If our answer is “No”, “Maybe”, or “Kinda’”, we might as well just lie down on this side of the Promise.

faint

 

But if our answer is brave, like the Gospel blind ones, we too may have our vision cleared to see that there is no leap required. We already stand beside God.

When his children see
the work of my hands in his midst,
They shall keep my name holy;
they shall reverence the Holy One of Jacob,
and be in awe of the God of Israel.
Isaiah 29:23

Music: Amazing Grace sung by Il Divo

Sing with God

Thursday of the First Week of Advent

December 5, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Isaiah promises the people that they will sing a song in the land of Judah.  It will be a song that celebrates confidence in God, justice, enduring faith, peace and trust.

Is26_1 strong city

Do you ever sing to God when your heart is filled like that? I don’t mean Church-singing or words somebody else wrote. 

I mean that sweet, indecipherable whisper a mother breathes over her child, or the mix of a hundred half-remembered melodies we hum when we are lost in the fullness of our lives.

Madonna-Child-Sassoferrato-L

And I don’t just mean the happy songs.

I mean the songs of loss and longing, awe and wonderment at life’s astounding turns. I mean even the sounds of silence when the refrain within us cannot be spoken.

When your heart is really stuck, unable to find the words to express the depth of your joy, longing or sorrow, try singing to God like that. So many times, I have done this while out on a solitary walk, or sitting by the water’s edge, or even driving on an open road. Sometimes, God even sings back!😉

(In a second post today, I will share a lovely poem which reminds me of a special prayer time in nature.)


Isaiah’s people were able to sing their song because they held on to faith and acted in justice. In our Gospel, Jesus tells us that this must be the way of our prayer too. He says that simply saying, “Lord, Lord” won’t cut it!

Real prayer is not just words. It is a life given to hearing God’s Word and acting on it. Real prayer is about always singing our lives in rhythm with the infinite, merciful melody of God.

Music: Bless the Lord, My Soul – Matt Redman

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