Psalm 88: Outlook Gloomy

Memorial of Saint Jerome, Priest and Doctor of the Church

September 30, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 88. It’s supposed to be a gloomy, rainy day around here where I live, and Psalm 88 isn’t going to help! It is the desperate prayer of one who hears no answer from God:

But I, O LORD, cry out to you;
with my morning prayer I wait upon you.
Why, O LORD, do you reject me;
why hide from me your face?


Sorrowful Man – Vincent Van Gogh

According to Martin Marty, a professor of church history at the University of Chicago,
Psalm 88 is “a wintry landscape of unrelieved bleakness.”
Psalm 88 ends by saying:
You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; 
the darkness is my closest friend.
Indeed, in Hebrew the last word of the psalm is “darkness”.
~ from Wikipedia


Also from Wikipedia:

J.M.Neale and R.F. Littledale, writing in the 19th century, find that Psalm 88 “stands alone in all the Psalter for the unrelieved gloom, the hopeless sorrow of its tone. Even the very saddest of the others, and the Lamentations themselves, admit some variations of key, some strains of hopefulness; here only all is darkness to the close.”


Gratefully, I have seldom been in the place of this psalm … but that doesn’t mean never. Many of you, I imagine, could say the same.

So what do we do when life, by our choices or despite them, finds us irrevocably caught in spiritual darkness? What happens to us when we think God isn’t listening to our prayer, or maybe that there was never any God in the first place?

St. John of the Cross says this:

Live in faith and hope,
though it be in darkness,
for in this darkness God protects the soul.
Cast your care upon God
for you are His and He will not forget you.
Do not think that He is leaving you alone,
for that would be to wrong Him.

John’s further writings show us that this darkness, rather than alienate John from God, was the source of unparalleled union with God.

May we be blessed in the same way.🙏


One dark night, 
Kindled in love with yearnings—oh, happy chance!— 
I went forth without being observed, 
My house being now at rest.
In darkness and secure, 
By the secret ladder, disguised—oh, happy chance!—
In darkness and in concealment, 
My house being now at rest.
In the happy night, 
In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught, 
Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart.
This light guided me 
More surely than the light of noonday
To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me— 
A place where none appeared.
Oh, night that guided me, 
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover, 
Lover transformed in the Beloved!
~ John of the Cross

Poetry: Sorrow – Renee Yann, RSM

You must be alone
    with sorrow
    before you can leave it,
    or it will crush you
    like a dark, heavy rock.

    You must drive into
    the hollow of its face,
    under the ledges
    it projects against you.
    Feel its cold granite
    pressed to your grain.

    In time,
    it will allow your turning
    to rest your back
    within its curve.

    Only then,
    you will be free to leave it,
    walking lightly once again
    on yielding earth.

    When you return, it will be freely,
    on a pilgrimage,
    to touch the name you carved once
    in your heart’s anguish.

Music: Holy Darkness – John Michael Talbot

Psalm 63 A Passionate Prayer

Feast of Saint Mary Magdalen

July 22, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 63, a perfect prayer for the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalen, who longed for and loved God with all her heart.

My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.

Psalm 63, in the verses quoted today, is a love song. The psalmist longs for God, body and soul. Experience has taught her that without God her whole being is a desert.

O God, you are my God whom I seek;
for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts
like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.

And so she fixes her eyes on God, her heart on God. She looks for God’s Presence in the sanctuary of her life, in the temple of her soul.

Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary
to see your power and your glory,
For your kindness is a greater good than life;
my lips shall glorify you.

The psalmist promises to bless God – to be grateful and attentive to God’s affectionate grace in all the circumstances of her life:

Thus will I bless you while I live;
lifting up my hands, I will call upon your name.
As with the riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied,
and with exultant lips my mouth shall praise you.

In her serene and confident prayer, she is like the fragile hatchling, protected under her Divine Mother’s wing. She clings to God’s merciful hand, no doubt kissing it in a prayer of grateful love.

You are my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.
My soul clings fast to you;
your right hand upholds me.


Poetry: The Living Flame Of Love – St. John of the Cross
Some find John of the Cross’s poetry challenging, if not shocking because, as well as being deeply mystical, it is often clearly erotic. But we are both mystical and erotic human beings made so by God in Whom Love has infinite dimensions. John channeled all his mystical erotic power into his profound love for God. His poems may help us to open that holy power to God as well.

Songs of the soul in the intimate communication of loving union with God.

O living flame of love
that tenderly wounds my soul
in its deepest center! Since
now you are not oppressive,
now consummate! if it be your will:
tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!

O sweet cautery,
O delightful wound!
O gentle hand! O delicate touch
that tastes of eternal life
and pays every debt!
In killing you changed death to life. 

O lamps of fire!
in whose splendors
the deep caverns of feeling,
once obscure and blind,
now give forth, so rarely, so exquisitely,
both warmth and light to their Beloved.

How gently and lovingly
you wake in my heart,
where in secret you dwell alone;
and in your sweet breathing,
filled with good and glory,
how tenderly you swell my heart with love.

Music:  Living Flame of Love – John Michael Talbot

Oh, Living Flame of Love
Tenderly wound my soul
To its deepest inner heart
Without oppression!

Come consumate our love
Tear through the veil of our union
If it be your will, come and rend
The veil of the temple!

Oh, lamps of fire
In deep caverns of feeling
Once obscured and blind
Are now leading
In the warmth and the passion
Of your love
(x2)

Yet gently Your hand does wound
As You rend through the veil of my temple
Come and take this life that I give
So that I might come to live in this our dying

Oh, Living Flame of Love
Tenderly wound my soul
To its deepest inner heart
Without oppression!

Psalm 16: A Night Prayer

Memorial of Saint Anthony of Padua, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Saturday, June 13, 2020

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psalm16 path2

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray once again with Psalm 16. Verses 1-10 strike me as a perfect “nighttime” prayer.

In his musical Phantom of the Opera, Andrew Lloyd Weber lyricizes about the “beauty of the night”.  

It’s a soulful song, and in itself could be used for prayer, especially when we pray in times of spiritual darkness or unknowing. In many ways, it reminds me of John of the Cross’s poem, “The Dark Night”. (Verses below for our poetry today).


All of us have times when our prayer seems to echo back to us without a response from God. Our faith may be tested and our trust stretched very thin. God seems so distant that we wonder what happened to cloud the relationship! We linger in a spiritual darkness that is dry and disconcerting.

Dali John of Cross
Christ of St. John of the Cross by Salvador Dali (1951) – Kenmore Art Gallery, Glasgow

These times in the spiritual life were experienced and described by writers like John of the Cross and the author of “The Cloud of Unknowing”. They are times when our experiences and prayer invite us to a new and deeper understanding of God. They ask us to let go of our intellectual certainties and abandon ourselves to God without demands.


Recently, while describing how disappointed he was in God, a friend told me that he had “lost” his faith long ago. Well, obviously, he hadn’t because he still held expectations of the “God” who was disappointing him. I told him that I had lost my faith a few times too, and that every time I got it back, it was new and deeper than the one I had lost. My “septuagenarian God” is very different from the one I came to follow when I was eighteen!


Our minds and souls are so small next to God’s Infinity. But slowly, through a life of prayerful fidelity and loving service, God stretches our capacity to know and return a Love which is beyond reason.

But the stretching times can be dark – times when Psalm 16 is a comforting prayer.

I like to pray with this transliteration by Steven Mitchell – A Book of Psalms

Unnamable God,
I feel you with me at every moment.
You are my food, my drink,
my sunlight, and the air I breathe.
You are the ground I have built on
and the beauty that rejoices my heart. 

I give thanks to you at all times
for lifting me from my confusion,
for teaching me in the dark
and showing me the path of life. 

I have come to the center of the universe;
I rest in your perfect love.
In your presence there is fullness of joy
and blessedness forever and ever.

Music: Path of Life – The Dameans

Poetry: The Dark Night – Stanzas Of The Soul

( Some people find John of the Cross surprising, if not strange or shocking, in his imagery. He was a grace-filled mystic and poet whose images of God expanded beyond the boundaries we might be accustomed to. And that very extravagance is John’s beauty — he invites us to a place we might not otherwise think to go.)

1. One dark night,
fired with love’s urgent longings
— ah, the sheer grace! —
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.

2. In darkness, and secure,
by the secret ladder, disguised,
— ah, the sheer grace! —
in darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled.

3. On that glad night,
in secret, for no one saw me,
nor did I look at anything,
with no other light or guide
than the one that burned in my heart.

4. This guided me
more surely than the light of noon
to where he was awaiting me
— him I knew so well —
there in a place where no one appeared.

5. O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.

6. Upon my flowering breast
which I kept wholly for him alone,
there he lay sleeping,
and I caressing him
there in a breeze from the fanning cedars.

7. When the breeze blew from the turret,
as I parted his hair,
it wounded my neck
with its gentle hand,
suspending all my senses.

8. I abandoned and forgot myself,
laying my face on my Beloved;
all things ceased; I went out from myself,
leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.

Do You Love Me?

Third Sunday of Easter

May 5, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Jesus asks Peter an open-ended question, the kind that leaves us very vulnerable to the answer:

Do you love me?

Jn21_17

Wow! What if Peter says “No”, or “Sort of” or worse yet, just stares off into the distance in silence?

And the question is kind of scary for Peter too. Maybe he’s thinking, “OK, this is it. Jesus wants me to lay it all on the line. Am I ready?”.

The Gospel poses questions to each of us today as well:

  • Who and what do I really love?
  • How does my primary love drive my life choices?
  • Are there places in my life that lack love – places where prejudice, blindness, selfishness or hate have filled in the emptiness?
  • Where is God in my loves?

St. John of the Cross wrote this:

At the end of our lives we will be judged on love.
Learn therefore to love God as God wishes to be loved.

More than enough to pray on today.❤️

Music: Where Charity and Love Prevail – a lovely English translation of Ubi Caritas, written in Gregorian chant.

We Will Be Judged on Love

Friday, December 14, 2018

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John of the Cross

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of St. John of the Cross, a great mystic of the 16th century, one of the 36 Doctors of the Church, and an influential Spanish writer. 

John, with Teresa of Ávila, founded the Discalced Carmelites. His poetry and prose recount the journey of the soul as it grows more deeply into God. 

Much of his poetic writing can surprise, perhaps even shock, with its passionate tone. But John’s love for God is so profound that he uses the symbols of deepest human intimacy to convey his passion. These are the most beautiful images he has to express his total gift of self to the Divine.

Through the darkness of profound personal suffering, John found Light by nurturing this extraordinary spiritual intimacy with God.

John is a perfect inspiration for the Advent journey as we move through darkness to the Light of Christmas.

Many of us will have favorite passages from this prolific and passionate writer.  Mine is this:

“In the evening of our lives,
we will judged on love.
Learn, therefore, to love God
as God wishes to be loved.”

Music: John Michael Talbot tries to capture the mysticism of John’s writings.