Holding Hands with God

Picture two people, who love each other deeply, walking along a quiet beach. They may be a child and parent, committed spouses or devoted friends. They are walking, fully in each other’s presence. But at times, one or the other may wander off to study a shell or watch a sandpiper while the other continues slowly walking. Still, they are completely with each other and will often reconnect to share snatches of thought and imagination. In many ways, this image captures the meaning of the epistolary admonition, “Pray always.” On the beach of our lives, we are walking with God always.


But there are times in that walk when, for some reason, we will reach for the other’s hand. We will intensify and focus our attention to each other. The reason may be an awareness of something beautiful, poignant, frightening, joyful or overwhelming. We will remember these moments as specific experiences such as:

  • • “It was the time we saw the magnificent sunrise.”
  • • “It was the time we were frightened by the unexpected storm.”

In our lifelong walk with God, this reaching for and holding each other’s hands is a good image for the act of prayer. It may be initiated by God or by us, or perhaps by both at once. It may be vocal or silent. It is an experience which has a beginning and an end. Like the shared moments on the beach, these acts of prayer are definite moments, for example:

  • • “It was the time I was overwhelmed with gratitude for God’s gift of my family and prayed that gratitude as I watched them around our family table.”
  • • “It was the time I became aware of the call to greater generosity and service and prayed aloud for God’s guidance and support.”

These acts of prayer change us. They open us to greater depth in our journey with God. They deepen the sense of God’s presence within our total experience. They thin the veil which separates us from the Divine.

To become pray-ers like this, we must first become constant listeners. God is whispering to us in every moment and experience of our lives. As we learn to hear God in our own lives, we become better at hearing God in other’s hearts. Our prayers become a response to that Voice which first and constantly speaks to us.

Some music for you all:

Tony O’Connor – Whispering Sea

Prayer

February 26, 2022
Saturday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, each of our readings encourages us to live a life of prayer – with fervor, perseverance, and childlike simplicity

The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.

James 5:16

O LORD, to you I call; hasten to me;
hearken to my voice when I call upon you.
Let my prayer come like incense before you;
the lifting up of my hands, like the evening sacrifice.

Psalm 141:1-2

Let the children come to me; do not prevent them,
for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

Mark 10:14

Rather than make any theological comment on prayer, I thought I might simply offer some of my own poetry-prayers today, if you would care to pray with them.


Awaking

Sunrise paints 
the hedge's morning side
rosy gold.
But I choose
the western side.
There, midnight's purple leaves
awake in lazy grey, 
then stripes
of green and silver.
There, the awesome 
grace of living
rises slowly in the heart,
a liquor savored,
a prayer lingering
In genuflected silence

Photo credit: Mary Pat Garvin, RSM

Prayer

Still ourselves,
we are more one
than separate now,
Heart over heart,
heart within Heart,
like a word's meaning
held within its sound.
I drink from that union
like the verdant earth drinks
from its deep reserve of water.
It is Your color
that flushes
every blossom
sprung from me.
But that water, once tasted
precludes satiety
by any other water.
There is
no return for me now
to a season
not fed by You.
What I have given You, then
is the whole seed of my life.
Love it in that way.

Music: Inside This River – Gary Schmidt

How Long, O Lord?!

October 27, 2021
Wednesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 13, a powerful lesson in prayer.

The psalm is one of my favorites because it feels so “real”. The one who prays, presumably David, needs an answer to his prayer- and is not perceiving one. (emphasis on “perceiving”)

So the psalmist sounds a bit like someone desperately calling customer service to see why a life-saving order has not arrived😉:

How long, LORD? Will you utterly forget me?
How long will you hide your face from me?
..
Look, answer me, O LORD, my God!
Give light to my eyes that I may not sleep in death

Psalm 13: 2, 4

But as the psalmist continues to pray, an evolution of grace and understanding occurs. There is a realization that the kind of answer expected is one according to human measurement … one that will make the pray-er look triumphant in the eyes of his enemies:

Answer me, Lord my God …
Lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed,”
lest my foes rejoice at my downfall.

Psalm 13: 4-5

But the depth of our relationship with God is not determined by what our enemies think … or even our friends. That sacred relationship is rooted in our grateful recognition and trusting immersion in God’s ever-present mercy and love for us:

But I trust in your mercy.
Grant my heart joy in your salvation,
I will sing to the LORD,
Who has dealt bountifully with me!

Psalm 13: 6-7

God always answers us. We may not have the capacity to perceive the answer because it is not the one we expected or wished for. But the truth is that through whatever “answer” unfolds to our prayer, God is leading us deeper into God’s heart.

Can we trust that? Can we yield to it? That is the “salvation” the psalmist ultimately prays for:


Sometimes we might hear a person say that they don’t know how to get started talking with God in prayer. They seem to feel it’s kind of like a blind date where you end up realizing you have nothing in common with each other.

Paul – in our reading from Romans says – no, wait a minute. God is already within you simply by the nature of your creaturehood. You are made of the very stuff of God. In fact, the Spirit of God deep within our souls is like the fiery magma from a volcano. It erupts from our love and prays for us to the Creator – if we will only let it.


Poetry: Praying by Mary Oliver

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

Music: Spirit Seeking Light and Beauty – by Janet Erskine Stuart, interpreted here by the Daughters of St. Paul (Lyrics below)

Spirit seeking light and beauty,
Heart still longing for your rest
In your search for understanding,
Only thus can you be blest,

Through the vastness of creation,
Though your restless thought may roam,
God is all that you can long for,
God is all creation’s home.

Taste and see God, feel and hear God,
Hope and grasp the unseen hand;
Though the darkness seem to hide you,
Faith and love can understand.

Loving Wisdom, guiding Spirit,
All our hearts are made anew.
Lead us through the land of shadows
‘Til we come to rest in you.

Let the Spirit Pray in Your Heart

Wednesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

October 30, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our Gospel tells us that our life is about getting to know God ever more intimately. Otherwise, when we come to our final moments, we may not be recognized by our Lord and Master.

Could this be possible? Could God not recognize the work of his own hands, the one made in God’s own image?

Probably not. But what I think the Gospel suggests is that if, throughout our whole lives, we have never prayed or drawn closer to God, God’s own image in us may be quite obscured after that disconnected lifetime.

Sometimes we might hear a person say that they don’t know how to get started talking with God in prayer. They seem to feel it’s kind of like a blind date where you end up realizing you have nothing in common with each other.

St. Paul says no, wait a minute. God is already within you simply by the nature of your creaturehood . You are made of the very stuff of God. In fact, the Spirit of God deep within our souls is like the fiery magma from a volcano. It erupts from our love and prays for us to the Creator – if we will only let it.

Rm8_26 groanings

Let us give the Spirit the space, time and invitation to rise up in our hearts, praying with us and through us. In the deep love of that relationship, we will know ourselves to be recognized and loved. We can trust that all things are working together for our good.

Music: Spirit Seeking Light and Beauty – by Janet Erskine Stuart, interpreted here by the Daughters of St. Paul (Lyrics below)

Spirit seeking light and beauty,
Heart still longing for your rest
In your search for understanding,
Only thus can you be blest,

Through the vastness of creation,
Though your restless thought may roam,
God is all that you can long for,
God is all creation’s home.

Taste and see God, feel and hear God,
Hope and grasp the unseen hand;
Though the darkness seem to hide you,
Faith and love can understand.

Loving Wisdom, guiding Spirit,
All our hearts are made anew.
Lead us through the land of shadows
‘Til we come to rest in you.

God, please …

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings talk about prayer – a particular kind: the prayer of supplication. 

As children, many of us learned this acronym for the types of prayer: ACTS
Ollie_pray

Adoration – Contrition – Thanksgiving – Supplication

The mnemonic has been helpful to me as an adult too. It reminds me to communicate with God only many levels, not just to ask for something. I know how I feel about someone who never talks to me unless they need something. I don’t want to be that way with God.

In our first reading, Esther prays a prayer of supplication for the deliverance of her people from death. Her prayer is not a simple, passing, “Please”. The passage tells us:

She lay prostrate upon the ground,
together with her handmaids,
from morning until evening, (praying)

In our Gospel, Jesus describes the prayer of supplication :

Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.

My prayers of supplication haven’t always seemed to get the results Esther got or that Jesus describes. Ever feel that way … that your prayer really hasn’t been answered?

Faith assures us that all our needs are met … even before we present them to God. God is acting in our lives whether or not we speak with God about it.

Our prayer, as it becomes deeper and truer, allows us to enter God’s action with faith, hope, love and courage. This is the perfect prayer of supplication – it allows us to float, content, in the water of God’s will always flowing around our lives.

ask-Receive

David Foster Wallace created a parable you may have heard:

Two young fish are swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and says, “What is water?”

Foster explains, “The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.”

Our reality is that we exist in the “water” of God’s life and presence. May our “asking” of God lead us to understand that our life in God is already the answer.

Music: Prayer Is the Soul’s Sincere Desire – James Montgomery (1771–1854)

Montgomery wrote the lyrics at the request of Edward Bickersteth, who wanted them for his book Treatise on Prayer. Montgomery called this “the most attractive hymn I ever wrote.”

( I have included all the Lyrics below. Quite beautiful, I think.)

Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
Unuttered or expressed;
The motion of a hidden fire
That trembles in the breast.

Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
The falling of a tear
The upward glancing of an eye,
When none but God is near.

Prayer is the simplest form of speech
That infant lips can try;
Prayer, the sublimest strains
That reach the Majesty on high.

Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath,
The Christian’s native air,
His watchword at the gates of death;
He enters Heav’n with prayer.

Prayer is the contrite sinner’s voice,
Returning from his ways,
While angels in their songs rejoice
And cry, “Behold, he prays!”

The saints in prayer appear as one
In word, in deed, and mind,
While with the Father and the Son
Sweet fellowship they find.

Nor prayer is made on earth alone;
The Holy Spirit pleads,
And Jesus, on th’eternal throne,
For sinners intercedes.

O Thou by whom we come to God,
The life, the truth, the way,
The path of prayer Thyself hast trod:
Lord, teach us how to pray.

Jesus Prayed

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, Mark’s Gospel allows us to spend a day with Jesus during his early ministry. 

After “church”, so to speak, Jesus and his buddies go to Simon’s house for a meal. Where Simon’s wife was we’re not told, but his mother-in-law seems to have been chief cook and bottle washer. Unfortunately, on that day, she’s not feeling well. However, with but a touch from Jesus, she’s restored and begins waiting on the guys. 

It seems like Jesus and his friends hung out through the heat of the day. As evening cool descends, neighbors begin arriving with their sicknesses and troubled spirits. Jesus cures many of those gathered. Can you just imagine the scene!

pray

The next morning, even before dawn, Jesus goes off to a quiet place to pray. No doubt he wants to discern, with his Father and the Holy Spirit, the things that are happening in his life. Again can you imagine that conversation!

We know that, when asked, Jesus gave us the human words of the “Our Father” to teach us to pray. But how did Jesus himself pray in the solitude of his heart? 

Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity
focused in relationship to one another
and yielding a Love
too immense for description!

In our own humble prayer today, may we lean against the heart of Jesus as he immersed himself in the Presence of the Creator and Spirit. May we pray in Christ’s pregnant silence.

Music: a very simple, yet very profound hymn: Father, I Place into Your Hands

Come and See

Friday, January 4, 2019

Click here for readings

Jn 1_39

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Feast of St. Elizabeth Anne Seton, the first American born saint.

Elizabeth Seton was born on August 28, 1774, of a wealthy and distinguished Episcopalian family. She was baptized in the Episcopal faith and was a faithful adherent of the Episcopal Church until her conversion to Catholicism.

She established her first Catholic school in Baltimore in 1808; in 1809, she established a religious community in Emmitsburg, Maryland. After seeing the expansion of her small community of teaching sisters to New York and as far as St. Loius, she died on January 4, 1821, and was declared a saint by Pope Paul VI on September 14, 1975. She is the first native born American to be canonized a saint.

(from CatholicCulture.org)


In our Gospel, we find the first disciples encountering Jesus. They are curious about him because the Baptist has just described him as “the Lamb of God”.

We can picture Andrew and his unnamed buddy trailing behind Jesus, watching him, listening to him. Finally they hazard a question, “Rabbi, where do you live?”

It’s kind of a loaded question. What it might really mean are things like these:

  • Where did you come from all of sudden?
  • Could you possibly be the Messiah if you’re walking around looking just like us?
  • Do you go back to heaven at night or are you really one of us?
  • Can we just hang out and find out more about you?

Their faith is tentative, hopeful and maybe just a little bit suspicious. Does your faith ever feel like that? 

When we pray, are we convinced that God hears us? When we suffer, do we believe God abides with us? When we choose, act or respond, do we trust that God cares about our actions? Do we believe, in these and all circumstances, that the power of God is present in our lives?

To have that kind of faith, we have to “learn” Christ, to become as close and comfortable with him as with an intimate friend. In our Gospel, Jesus tells us how to do that: “Come and see.” 

In other words:

Spend time with me.
Talk with me about ordinary things.
Watch sunsets and sunrises with me.
Tell me your secrets.
Let me tell you mine.
Laugh with me.
Be silent with me.
Trust that you are never separate from me.

If we do these things, even slowly and steadily as the first disciples, we will eventually say with Andrew, “l have found the Messiah” – and he is living right within my life!

Music: Come and See – Bob Bennett

In God’s Hand

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

          Readings:  http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/092518.cfm

Today, in Mercy, our readings instruct us on what it means to really belong to God – heart and soul.

Proverbs tosses out a series of minstrel-like two-liners that could easily be overlooked for their beauty and depth. For example, the first couplet says: 

Like a stream is the king’s heart
in the hand of the LORD;

wherever it pleases him, he directs it.

Would we all not desire that kind of heart, where our thoughts and choices are so directed by God’s power and grace – held and guided into freedom by God’s loving hand? How confident, peaceful and joyful our lives would be!

Psalm 199 discern

Today’s Psalm 119 is a passionate prayer to be guided through an entangling world by our deep loyalty to God’s own truth, learned by meditating day and night on God’s goodness.

Our Gospel, in an often misinterpreted incident, shows us how Jesus considers his true disciples as close to him as his own mother and family.

So today, to deepen our own closeness to God, let us practice making our ordinary life into a constant prayer – allowing it to flow, like water, through God’s tender, guiding hand. 

We can do this by gratefully noticing God’s Presence in nature, in our companions, in the opportunities for kindness, honesty and service  that come to us today. 

Or, sadly, our experiences today might cause us to notice God’s absence in these places. This offers us an incentive to invite, beg and pester God to transform the desert places in our lives and world.

Whichever approach we take, it will open up a constant conversation with God about our life as we experience it at each moment. We begin to listen better to the Word of God revealing itself in our daily life. We begin to live more consciously in God’s Presence… in God’s dear family.

God’s Law is already written deep in the fabric of our lives. We pray for discernment to discover that guiding grace by opening our hearts to God’s Presence in our every experience.

Music: I Belong to You ~ Hillsong

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=WV6_nPD2sG4

Demons

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Readings:  http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071018.cfm

Today, in Mercy, Jesus cures a demoniac who is mute. 

In Jesus’ time, the connection between ordinary disease and demonical possession was quickly drawn – perhaps too quickly. As we read some of the Gospel cures, our modern understanding recognizes epilepsy, glaucoma, cataracts and mental illness in the people Jesus touched and healed. But two thousand years ago, these conditions were assigned to demons.

Demons

This doesn’t mean demons don’t exist. Remember the Gerasene miracle where Jesus cast demons into pigs who then threw themselves into the sea? Dramatic evidence that demons are real!

Demons are real in our world too, embodiments of the evil that is always competing for control of Creation, that is always resisting the supremacy of Goodness and Love.

These demons masquerade in various costumes of power, prestige and pleasure. But they are all eventually exposed as addictive, self-consuming and destructive.

How dangerous and deceptive these demons are! The word itself comes from the same Greek root as the word “genius”. And they do have a genius for rendering us:

  • blind to narcissistic motivations
  • crazed with exaggerated self-importance
  • crippled by deceptive rhetoric
  • mute in the face of systemic evil
  • deaf to the cries of the suffering
  • dead to the power of transforming Mercy in our own souls

Even as you read this list, faces and moments of history and current events are flashing before your eyes.  Circumstances in your own life, family and work suggest themselves. Bring these to your transforming prayer today. The touch of Jesus can deliver us from such demons. We pray for that touch in our own hearts and in our world.

Music: Our Father – Leontyne Price

 

God Bless America

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/070418.cfm

bike wheel

The Fourth of July in 1955 looked like this to me:

• red, white and blue crêpe paper strung through my bicycle wheels
• an open fire hydrant at the height of the hot afternoon
• about six firecrackers, fizzling off a neighbor’s doorstep
• hot dogs, Kool-Aid and catching fireflies after sunset

We gathered our families, hoisted the flag, prayed for loved ones lost in a war too fresh to reflect on. We listened to music by John Philip Souza. We felt safe, strong, comfortable and grateful to be Americans. But my 10-year old America was very small.

It was an America before Civil Rights, Medicare and Medicaid; before the Kennedy and King assassinations, Vietnam, Watergate. It pre-dated Roe v. Wade, drug wars, mass shootings, 9/11, global warming, and marriage equality. It was a world without internet, cable news and Twitter.

It was a simple, circumscribed world that we will never see again. So we should stop trying, because it was not a perfect world.  Its wounds and warts were about to fester. We have spent the intervening half-century doctoring ourselves for its recurring symptoms, never able to acknowledge the systemic cause of our pain.

For what it’s worth, here’s my diagnosis: Americans are afraid of God, and it’s making us sick.

But why are we so afraid?

Contrary to the long-held opinions of some, modern evidence suggests that God is not male, not white, not a warrior, not rich, and not even American! And this scares some of us to death! We need that kind of God to justify our greed, domination and global arrogance.

Zora

So we keep creating the God we need. He carries an AK-47 and has a nuclear button under his fingertip. He builds walls to control people who are poor, hungry, and shades of brown. He stratifies people based on wealth, whiteness and worth to the system. He believes America should be first, and the rest of the world last. He reshapes religion into a vehicle for his own heartless caricature.

If we could just gain our independence from this idolatrous God, we might have better reason to celebrate the Fourth of July.

Today’s reading from the Book of Amos tells us what this liberating God wants:

Seek good and not evil, that you may live;
Then truly will the LORD, the God of hosts, be with you as you claim!
Hate evil and love good, and let mercy prevail at the border;
Then it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will have pity on you.

I hate, I spurn your feasts, says the LORD; I take no pleasure in your solemnities;
Your false prayers I will not accept. Away with your noisy songs!
But if you would truly honor Me, then let justice surge like water,
and mercy like an unfailing stream.

Music: God Bless America