God, please …

Thursday, March 14, 2019

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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

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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

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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

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

A Sacrifice of Praise

Monday, July 2, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/070218.cfm

sacrifice of praise

Today, in Mercy,  our readings are harsh. We don’t want to think about our sinfulness, do we? We’re doing the best we can. Right?

Well, maybe not. 

Our Old Testament brethren thought they were doing fine, too. But today’s reading from Amos lashes out at the societal sins of Israel: slavery, prostitution, systemic oppression of the poor, obstinate immorality, and idolatry. Beloved Israel – the nation that God had delivered from Egypt – had lost its way! 

The prophet Amos demands that the people look in a mirror to see what they have become. He tells them that they are not doing OK, that they are a selfish mess, that they face the crushing wrath of God!

Today’s psalm reinforces the dire warning:

~  You use religion to justify your misdeeds
~  You deal with thieves and adulterers
~  You lie and provoke violence by your words
~  You slander and spread rumors in order to keep power over others
Remember this, you who never think of God!

Sounds kind of familiar, maybe? Describes our 21st century reality too, doesn’t it? 

Many of us read these passages and think, “Thank God I’m not doing any of this terrible stuff!” But that’s not enough. What we must ask ourselves is how we passively contribute to any of these societal sins by a myopic faith, plastic morality, prejudiced politics, and unexamined cultural choices. 

Do we approve, or at least stay silent, when religion is used to ostracize people? When political power crushes the rights of those we disagree with? When our entertainment relies on violence and dehumanization of people? 

It is painful and difficult to do this deep examination of conscience. We might all find ourselves complicit, in some way, with the evils we hate and fear. 

Let the closing words of today’s psalm encourage us:

“Consider this, you who forget God,
lest I rend you and there be no one to rescue you.
The one who offers a sacrifice of praise glorifies me;
and to the one that goes the right way I will show the salvation of God.”

Music: Sacrifice of Praise ~ Alvin Slaughter

Lord I lift a song of worship
For Your glory and Your grace
Let my heart reveal all my words fail to say
Lord receive this sacrifice of praise

On the mountain in the valley
As I wait in my secret place
I will trust trust in the name of the Lord
Now receive this sacrifice of praise
Now receive this sacrifice of praise

You’re my shield. You’re my shelter
From the storm and from the rain
Cover me beneath the shadow of Your wings
Lord receive this sacrifice of praise

Hallelujah hallelujah
Hallelujah to Your name

For all You’ve done
You are and evermore will be
Lord receive this sacrifice of praise
Lord receive this sacrifice of praise
Lord receive this sacrifice of praise

What Matters

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/062018.cfm

Mt6_6

Today, in Mercy, Jesus tells us how to pray and do good. He says that it is our deep-hearted intention that matters in these things. It is there, in the hidden heart, that God dwells with us and reads our love for its sincerity.

God is not impressed with any bling in our words or actions. Not impressed with the big, loud, or wow of what we do. God knows whether we truly love, and it is that which touches Him.

Let the words of Jesus today take you to that inner heart-room where God knows and loves you like no one else can. In that precious quiet, enter the silence of prayer. Listen to God with the soul’s ear that needs no sound. Speak to God with the humble love that needs no words.

Music:  Yo Yo Ma playing Meditation from Thaïs by Jules Massenet

But WHY, for God’s Sake?

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/061918.cfm

Today, in Mercy, Jesus continues to instruct  us in the way of Christian perfection. As we look back over history, and contemplate the present, we realize that these are instructions many Christians have chosen to ignore.

Love your enemies.
Do good to those who hate you.

But WHY, for God’s sake??? Why should we love our ENEMIES???

And that’s exactly the answer: for God’s sake.

Jesus tells us that this is the way God loves, and that if we want to be like God, we must love that way too.

sun on good

God lets his rain – his grace – pour out to everyone. God does not withhold the hope for good from any creature. It doesn’t mean that God, or we, don’t recognize evil and sin in another. It means that we love despite it.

We may have a few people in our hearts whom we consider so evil or mean-hearted (people who hurt us or the world so egregiously) that we have withdrawn our respect and love from them.

These are the very people Jesus tells us to pray for today. May they be opened to God’s grace. May they be healed by Love. And may we.

Music: Tender Hearted~ by Jeanne Cotter

 

Whispers of God

Friday, June 15, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/061518.cfm

Whisper 6_15_18

Today, in Mercy, our first reading continues to follow the journey of Elijah, one wild and crazy guy – with a holy obsession for God.  Elijah is so frustrated with the hard-heartedness of the Israelites, that he whines constantly to God about it. God calls Elijah to Mt. Horeb (the same place where He first chatted with Moses) to talk the situation over. Elijah tries to find God’s voice there in a howling wind, an earthquake and a huge fire. No dice!

Elijah is so like us in this! Don’t we call on God in our troubled times, asking Him to fix things in a flash and glam? It is one of the ways we try to deal with the presence of evil in the world. We would love the security of a “Superman” God Who dramatically intervenes to reverse reality according to our comfort.

But how rare are such miracles! Instead, God abides quietly and steadily in the unfolding of our life, both in sorrow and joy. God whispers the directions to eternal life, deep under the noise of our human challenges – even evil, even death.

God’s word did come to Elijah eventually, not in the fiery demonstration he expected. It came in the gentle breeze of mercy, patience, fidelity and hope which most truly reflects the omnipotent nature of God.

Divinity is so quietly vibrant in all life. We must become equally quiet in our prayer and awareness to hear God’s whispers for us.

Music:  The Whispers of God ~ Marilyn Baker