Psalm 85: Rain Down, O Lord!

Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent

December 16, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 85 – a song filled with urgency and expectation!

When we pray this psalm:

We are desperately thirsty nomads who hear promise in the hint of thunder.
We are the parched leaves stretching up to catch the first rain.
We are the foundered boat lifted on the gathering flume.

Tomorrow, we begin the exclamations of our answered hopes — the great O Antiphons.

But for today, let us relax into the certainty that, indeed, the Savior is coming – just as sure as the clouds turn silver with the weight of rain.

What is it in your heart today
that reaches for the cloudburst of grace?

Poetry: Last Night, the Rain Spoke to Me – Mary Oliver

Last night
the rain
spoke to me
slowly, saying,
what joy
to come falling
out of the brisk cloud,
to be happy again
in a new way
on the earth!
That’s what it said
as it dropped,
smelling of iron,
and vanished
like a dream of the ocean
into the branches
and the grass below.
Then it was over.
The sky cleared.
I was standing
under a tree.
The tree was a tree
with happy leaves,
and I was myself,
and there were stars in the sky
that were also themselves
at the moment,
at which moment
my right hand
was holding my left hand
which was holding the tree
which was filled with stars
and the soft rain—
imagine! imagine!
the wild and wondrous journeys
still to be ours.

Music: Spirit of God, Rain Down – Nelson Jose

Psalm 1: Trust the Light

Friday of the Second Week of Advent

December 11, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 1 and its confident responsorial verse.

Last night we watched a public television Christmas special, “Rick Steves’s European Christmas“. From its many beautiful scenes, one in particular remained with me: a little group of friends tobogganing down a snow covered hill at night. Their only lights came from the small lanterns they held and the full moon’s generous luster against the white snow.

My first reaction to the scene was to wonder, “What if their light goes out?”. Then I realized that there was a light beyond them which would guide their way.


There are times in our lives when the light, if it doesn’t go out, at least flickers. I wrote about that awareness in this story a few years ago: 

She had arranged to visit with an old college friend. They had been separated too long by the distancing choices that life often demands. She wanted to reconnect to that rare experience of shared transparency found just once or twice in a lifetime – the gift of a real friend.

They sat on a porch overlooking a gentle pond. The day was bright, the coffee hot, the chairs comfortable. But the magic was gone.  Only half her friend had arrived for the cherished conversation. The other half – joy, adventure and the excess of youthful hope – had been lost. Somewhere in the intervening years, the light had gone out. Her friend had suffered a wound she did not share. This one afternoon would be too short a time to give that wound a name.

During our Advent journey, God is waiting in the seeming darkness to guide us. God already knows the wounds we carry. God sees where our heart’s light has dimmed. Holding our half-heartedness next to the Divine Heart, God yearns to rekindle us.


Today’s psalm reminds us that there is a always Light waiting beyond us to guide our way.

Blessed the one follows not
the counsel of darkness
nor walks in it ways,
nor remains in the company of the insolent,
But delights in the law of the LORD
and meditates on its Light day and night.

Psalm 1:1-2

Poetry: from Mary Oliver

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.

I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

Music: Christ, Be Our Light – Bernadette Farrell

Psalm 117: Praise the Lord

Feast of Saint Thomas, Apostle

July 3, 2020

One of my favorite past reflections on faith vs. doubt – for this Feast of Saint Thomas


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 117 which is the shortest of all the Psalms. But 117, also called the Laudate Dominum, still packs a huge spiritual punch.

The psalm is called a “doxology” which simply means it is a short prayer of praise, the type we often add at the end of longer prayers. We are very familiar with the following doxology:

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be
,
world without end. Amen


Psalm 117 follows the same pattern in that it has two complementary parts.

The first invites us to praise God:
Praise the LORD, all you nations;
glorify God, all you peoples!

The second tells us why God deserves our praise:
For steadfast is God’s kindness for us,
and the fidelity of the LORD endures forever.

Notable about Psalm 117 is the fact that this Old Testament invitation to praise goes out “to ALL nations”. Scholars interpret this as pointing to the fulfillment, in Jesus, of God’s promise that Abraham would be the father in faith of many nations. Psalm 117 is a treasured and often repeated prayer throughout the Judea-Christian traditions.


Practicing this pattern of prayer can enrich our personal prayer life as well. I like to pray like this as soon as I wake each morning. Glancing out my window, I might say,

“I praise You in the sunrise, my Beautiful Creator.
Thank you for the gift of my life.”

Beginning the day with our own “doxology” gives us a head start on living joyfully and gratefully in the Presence of God for our next circuit of the sun.


Poetry: Morning Poem – Mary Oliver

Every morning 
the world 
is created. 
Under the orange
sticks of the sun 
the heaped 
ashes of the night 
turn into leaves again
and fasten themselves to the high branches— 
and the ponds appear 
like black cloth 
on which are painted islands
of summer lilies. 
If it is your nature 
to be happy 
you will swim away along the soft trails
for hours, your imagination 
alighting everywhere. 
And if your spirit 
carries within it
the thorn 
that is heavier than lead— 
if it's all you can do 
to keep on trudging—
there is still 
somewhere deep within you 
a beast shouting that the earth 
is exactly what it wanted—
each pond with its blazing lilies 
is a prayer heard and answered 
lavishly, 
every morning,
whether or not 
you have ever dared to be happy, 
whether or not 
you have ever dared to pray

Music: Laudate Dominum – Mozart, sung by Barbara Hendricks

Psalm 98: Nice Job, Lord!

Memorial of Saint Barnabas, Apostle

June 11, 2020

Click here for readings

psalm 98 strings
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 98, one of a small knot of psalms whose point is to shout praise over and over to God. It is a hymn psalm, and one of the ten Royal Psalms themed with “kingship”.

As we pray this exultant psalm, in Latin called “Cantate Domino” (Sing to the Lord), we can almost visualize the psalmist and fellow praisers clapping God on the back and chanting, “Great job! Nice work!”.

All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise.


psalms
Walter Brueggemann has written extensively about the Psalms. He says this about the act of praise:

Praise articulates and embodies our capacity to yield, submit, and abandon ourselves in trust and gratitude to the One whose we are. … We have a resilient hunger to move beyond self. God is addressed not because we have need, but simply because God is God.
(Israel’s Praise: Doxology against Idolatry and Ideology)


We don’t have to be as articulate as the psalmist to weave praise into our prayer. 

Sometimes when we catch the sunrise at a morning window, we might quietly say, “Great job! Thank You, Radiant God”

When we look at the magnificence of a natural wonder like the Grand Canyon, we might abandon words and simply let our breathing be praise.

When we study the finely-aged face of a beloved elder, we might praise the monument of grace God has worked in her/his life.

When we finger the strings of our own faith history, we might, in our own words, echo the psalmist:

I sing You a new song in every moment, Lord
for You have done wondrous deeds;
Your loving hand has strung grace through my life,
your generous heart has blessed me amazingly.


Poetry today from Mary Oliver who rejoices in the redbird’s morning praise:

All night my heart makes its way
however it can over the rough ground
of uncertainties, but only until night
meets and then is overwhelmed by
morning, the light deepening, the
wind easing and just waiting, as I
too wait (and when have I ever been
disappointed?) for redbird to sing
― A Thousand Mornings

Music: Cantate Domino – Claudio Monteverdi 

On Thy Wondrous Works I Will Meditate (Psalm 145)

 

seashore

by Mary Oliver

1.
All day up and down the shore the
fine points of the waves keep on
tapping whatever is there: scatter of broken
clams, empty jingles, old
oyster shells thick and castellated that held
once the pale jewel of their bodies, such sweet
tongue and juice. And who do you
think you are sauntering along
five feet up in the air, the ocean a blue fire
around your ankles, the sun
on your face on your shoulders its golden mouth whispering
(so it seems) you! you! you!

2.
Now the afternoon wind
all frill and no apparent purpose
takes her cloud-shaped
hand and touches every one of the
waves so that rapidly
they stir the wings of the eiders they blur
the boats on their moorings; not even the rocks
black and blunt interrupt the waves on their
way to the shore and one last swimmer (is it you?) rides
their salty infoldings and outfoldings until,
peaked, their blue sides heaving, they pause; and God
whistles them back; and you glide safely to shore.

3.
One morning
a hundred pink and cylindrical
squid lay beached their lacy faces,
their gnarls of dimples and ropy tentacles
limp and powerless; as I watched
the big gulls went down upon
this sweetest trash rolling
like the arms of babies through the
swash—in a feathered dash,
a snarl of delight the beaks fell
grabbing and snapping; then was left
only the empty beach, the birds floating back over the waves.

4.
How many mysteries have you seen in your
lifetime? How many nets pulled
full over the boat’s side, each silver body
ready or not falling into
submission? How many roses in early summer
uncurling above the pale sands then
falling back in unfathomable
willingness? And what can you say? Glory
to the rose and the leaf, to the seed, to the
silver fish. Glory to time and the wild fields,
and to joy. And to grief’s shock and torpor, its near swoon.

5.
So it is not hard to understand
where God’s body is, it is
everywhere and everything; shore and the vast
fields of water, the accidental and the intended
over here, over there. And I bow down
participate and attentive
it is so dense and apparent. And all the same I am still
unsatisfied. Standing
here, now, I am thinking
not of His thick wrists and His blue
shoulders but, still, of Him. Where, do you suppose, is His
sage and wonderful mind?

6.
I would be good—oh, I would be upright and good.
To what purpose? To be shining not
sinful, not wringing out of the hours
petulance, heaviness, ashes. To what purpose?
Hope of heaven? Not that. But to enter
the other kingdom: grace, and imagination,
and the multiple sympathies: to be as a leaf, a rose,
a dolphin, a wave rising
slowly then briskly out of the darkness to touch
the limpid air, to be God’s mind’s
servant, loving with the body’s sweet mouth—its kisses, its words—
everything.

7.
I know a man of such
mildness and kindness it is trying to
change my life. He does not
preach, teach, but simply is. It is
astonishing, for he is Christ’s ambassador
truly, by rule and act. But, more,
he is kind with the sort of kindness that shines
out, but is resolute, not fooled. He has
eaten the dark hours and could also, I think,
soldier for God, riding out
under the storm clouds, against the world’s pride and unkindness,
with both unassailable sweetness, and tempering word.

8.
Every morning I want to kneel down on the golden
cloth of the sand and say
some kind of musical thanks for
the world that is happening again—another day—
from the shawl of wind coming out of the
west to the firm green
flesh of the melon lately sliced open and
eaten, its chill and ample body
flavored with mercy. I want
to be worthy—of what? Glory? Yes, unimaginable glory.
O Lord of melons, of mercy, though I am
not ready, nor worthy, I am climbing toward you.

Music: Vangelis – Dreams of Surf

Climbing Toward God

Friday of the Tenth Week  in Ordinary Time

June 14, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, Paul, follows on yesterday’s magnificent passage about

the Gospel of the glory of Christ,
who is the image of God.

The power of this Gospel is the “treasure” about which Paul writes in today’s first reading.

2Cor4_7

In this passage, Paul describes the miracle of contradiction in us who believe. We carry the  infinite light of God’s Glory in the fragile, imperfect vessels of our existence. By the power of God, the omnipotent sublime shines from within the ordinary.

We see, in these lines, Paul the humble and tested preacher. He has grown in his deep understanding of himself as God’s imperfect instrument.

All of us who want to live the Gospel are called to experience a deepening like Paul’s. The poet Mary Oliver reflects such a transformation in her poem On Thy Wondrous Works I Will Meditate (Psalm 145). Here is the last delightful stanza, which may inspire our prayer today. (I will send the full poem a little later.)

Every morning I want to kneel down on the golden
cloth of the sand and say
some kind of musical thanks for
the world that is happening again—another day—
from the shawl of wind coming out of the
west to the firm green
flesh of the melon lately sliced open and
eaten, its chill and ample body
flavored with mercy. I want
to be worthy—of what? Glory? Yes, unimaginable glory.
O Lord of melons, of mercy, though I am
not ready, nor worthy, I am climbing toward you.

Music: Earthen Vessels – John Foley, SJ

At the River Clarion ~ Mary Oliver

river

1.

I don’t know who God is exactly.
But I’ll tell you this.
I was sitting in the river named Clarion, on a water splashed stone
and all afternoon I listened to the voices of the river talking.
Whenever the water struck a stone it had something to say,
and the water itself, and even the mosses trailing under the water.
And slowly, very slowly, it became clear to me what they were saying.
Said the river I am part of holiness.
And I too, said the stone. And I too, whispered the moss beneath the water.
I’d been to the river before, a few times.
Don’t blame the river that nothing happened quickly.
You don’t hear such voices in an hour or a day.
You don’t hear them at all if selfhood has stuffed your ears.
And it’s difficult to hear anything anyway, through all the traffic, the ambition.

2.

If God exists he isn’t just butter and good luck.
He’s also the tick that killed my wonderful dog Luke.
Said the river: imagine everything you can imagine, then keep on going.
Imagine how the lily (who may also be a part of God) would sing to you if it could sing,
if you would pause to hear it.
And how are you so certain anyway that it doesn’t sing?
If God exists he isn’t just churches and mathematics.
He’s the forest, He’s the desert.
He’s the ice caps, that are dying.
He’s the ghetto and the Museum of Fine Arts.
He’s van Gogh and Allen Ginsberg and Robert Motherwell.
He’s the many desperate hands, cleaning and preparing their weapons.
He’s every one of us, potentially.
The leaf of grass, the genius, the politician, the poet.
And if this is true, isn’t it something very important?
Yes, it could be that I am a tiny piece of God, and each of you too, or at least
of his intention and his hope.
Which is a delight beyond measure.
I don’t know how you get to suspect such an idea.
I only know that the river kept singing.
It wasn’t a persuasion, it was all the river’s own constant joy
which was better by far than a lecture, which was comfortable, exciting, unforgettable.

3.

Of course for each of us, there is the daily life.
Let us live it, gesture by gesture.
When we cut the ripe melon, should we not give it thanks?
And should we not thank the knife also?
We do not live in a simple world.

4.

There was someone I loved who grew old and ill
One by one I watched the fires go out.
There was nothing I could do
except to remember
that we receive
then we give back.

5.

My dog Luke lies in a grave in the forest, she is given back.
But the river Clarion still flows from wherever it comes from
to where it has been told to go.
I pray for the desperate earth.
I pray for the desperate world.
I do the little each person can do, it isn’t much.
Sometimes the river murmurs, sometimes it raves.

6.

Along its shores were, may I say, very intense cardinal flowers.
And trees, and birds that have wings to uphold them, for heaven’s sakes–
the lucky ones: they have such deep natures,
they are so happily obedient.
While I sit here in a house filled with books,
ideas, doubts, hesitations.

7.

And still, pressed deep into my mind, the river
keeps coming, touching me, passing by on its
long journey, its pale, infallible voice
singing.

 “At the River Clarion” by Mary Oliver, from Evidence: Poems, Beacon Press.

Music to accompany your reading: Pachelbel ~ Canon

The Word Will Teach Us

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011919.cfm

Today, in Mercy, our first reading describes the penetrating, all-seeing, all-discerning Word of God.  

heb4_2 word

Reading this, some of us may find it startling to think how well God knows us! The truth is God knows us fully, much better than we know ourselves.  And God loves us fully, again even better than we love ourselves.

God already knows and understands the secrets we are slow to share, the hurts we have buried, the angers we try to shackle. God knows the fears we will not face, the regrets we cannot abandon, the sadness we cannot forget, the hopes we hesitate to speak.

God knows and loves it all.

Being present to the Word of God can help us learn to love and accept ourselves as God does.  

This Word can come to us in reading and listening.  It can come in images, nature  and silence. God’s Word is not bound by print or sound.  It speaks to us in every circumstance of our lives.

Today, we pray to have a deep love of God’s Word given to us in Scripture, spiritual reading, music, poetry, the beauty of Creation, and the wonder of life.  The Holy Word sees and loves us completely.  In that complete Love, may we come to know ourselves and to be fully ourselves in God’s Presence.

( In a separate email, I have cited a favorite poem by dear Mary Oliver who died yesterday. She was a Master of the Word! The words she lifted for us became sacraments where we could discover the sacred.

Having read her poems so often and for so long, I feel I have lost a precious friend even though I have never laid eyes on her. This is a long poem, but well-worth your reflection perhaps on this stormy weekend.)

Music: Two Elegiac Melodies ~ Edvard Grieg