Our Tender God

October 25, 2021
Monday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 68 which pictures a triumphant God, rising like the sun over the darkness of evil.

Arise, O God, and let your enemies be scattered;
let those who hate you flee.
Let them vanish like smoke when the wind drives it away; 
as the wax melts at the fire,
so let the wicked perish at your presence.

Psalm 68: 1-3

This psalm comforts us with a tender picture of God:

Protector of orphans, defender of widows,
the One who dwells in holiness,
who gives the solitary a home
and brings forth prisoners into freedom;
but the rebels shall live in dry places.

Psalm 68: 5-6

It is the same tenderness Paul presents in our first reading:

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear,
but you received a spirit of adoption,
through which we cry, “Abba, Father!”
The Spirit bears witness with our spirit
that we are children of God,
and if children, then heirs,
heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ…

if only we suffer with him
so that we may also be glorified with him.

And there we have the key line:
we are to live a life aligned with
the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ.

And what will that kind of life look like? It will look like our merciful Jesus of today’s Gospel – who stepped out to see, comfort, and heal the suffering around him.

Jesus recognized the crippled woman as “an heir of God, and joint heir with him” to the fullness of life in God. We are called recognize ourselves and all of our sisters and brothers in the same way.

Poetry: WOMAN UN-BENT (LUKE 13:10–17) – by Irene Zimmerman, OSF

That Sabbath day as always
she went to the synagogue
and took the place assigned her
right behind the grill where,
the elders had concurred,
she would block no one’s view,
she could lean her heavy head,
and (though this was not said)
she’d give a good example to
the ones who stood behind her. 

That day, intent as always
on the Word (for eighteen years
she’d listened thus), she heard
Authority when Jesus spoke. 

Though long stripped
of forwardness,
she came forward, nonetheless,
when Jesus summoned her.
“Woman, you are free
of your infirmity,” he said. 

The leader of the synagogue
worked himself into a sweat
as he tried to bend the Sabbath
and the woman back in place. 

But she stood up straight and let
God’s glory touch her face.

Video: Jesus Heals the Bent-over Woman

If you’d still like a little music, this one seems to fit: Spirit Touch by Joseph Akins

Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

May 19, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 68, some different verses for this second day:

Show forth, O God, your power,
    the power, O God, with which you took our part;
For your temple in Jerusalem
    let the kings bring you gifts.
You kingdoms of the earth, sing to God,
    chant praise to the Lord
    who rides on the heights of the ancient heavens.
Behold, God’s voice resounds, the voice of power:
    “Confess the power of God!”

Psalm 68 is a prayer that gives full voice to Israel’s gratitude for being God’s chosen people. And in that way, it is a challenging psalm to pray with today as modern Israel and Palestine descend into all out war which disproportionately affects the poor, elderly, women and children.

The contradiction of our psalm, placed against this war scenario, is deeply unsettling. Does God really want the nation of Israel to dominate a geography to the annihilation of other peoples?

What I remind myself of this morning is this: biblical Israel is not the same as the political state of Israel. After WWII, the political state was initiated as part of a partition plan in which both Palestine and Israel would be independent states. The plan didn’t work out, creating multiple ensuing conflicts. The current one is just the latest edition.

Biblical Israel, on the other hand, is not a physical territory but instead a relationship – the foundational heritage of all Abrahamic faiths. For Christians it is a heritage that led to our faith in Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. Although once rooted in a geography, that faith is now rooted in a universal love which reverences life for all people, particularly the poor, the orphaned, and the disenfranchised.

As I pray Psalm 68 today, I pray it with a woman named Arlette in my mind and heart. My friend Eileen McGovern introduced me to her friend, who wishes not to be named, with the following story. As we pray today, let this woman and all who suffer in war be with us.

I write for a friend who is voiceless. She lives in Bethlehem, Palestine.

I met her during a pilgrimage in October 2019, and we became friends. We have kept in touch and have grown to know and to respect one another. She is teaching me Arabic phrases. I am not a good student so we both laugh at my efforts. Or, we used to until the recent outbreak of violence.

She was born in 1948 when Palestine was a French protectorate. French is her first language, one of four. Yet she is voiceless. Who will hear her?

As a young school girl she pledged allegiance to the French flag and sang La Marseillaise when her home was a French protectorate. When Transjordan was created, as a teenager she sang the Jordanian anthem as she struggled to learn Arabic. At age 40 she became a Palestinian with the creation of the Israeli and Palestine states. She still lives in the West Bank. She has not moved, but politics again have upended her life.

She loves children. Before the Covid-19 pandemic she volunteered at a school for deaf children. At Christmas she runs a charity to give poor Christian children a gift card and food so that their families can celebrate the feast with the traditional chicken dinner, a luxury they cannot afford. During the previous intifada she used to gather Palestinian children into her home and give them chocolates and tell them stories so they would not throw stones at Israeli soldiers.

She is a woman of peace who has seen too much war. She is haunted by the memory of looking out her window to see a man standing outside her house disappear in a phosphorescent flash. This morning she told me of watching TV and seeing men desperately digging, some with their bare hands, in the rubble of a Palestinian home where the cries of an infant girl could be heard. The men did not have heavy equipment so I do not know if they were able to save her.

Now she asks: “Who am I? The Israelis do not want us here. They want me to leave the home of my birth, but I am a devout Christian who loves this land, a sacred land, the Holy Land, the land of Jesus’ birth. I do not want to leave, and where would I go? Who wants Palestinians? No one wants us. I want only to live in peace and to see people of all faiths be able to come to Jerusalem without fear. I live in fear, especially for my son who can be taken from me at any time by Israeli police. I pray, but I am afraid to hope again.”

Music: Desert – Rasha Nahas is a Palestinian artist. Below is her song “Desert” which I find both profound and disturbing. It can be interpreted as a personification poem describing the experience of the Palestinian people in the story of a single individual.

Here is a link to learn more about Rasha from America magazine:

Please just take it all away
I am nobody I could name
My self
I float upon
Pearls some songs
They’ve been buried for years

My self
I’m a desert torn
I was born on the mountain by the sea
The west rapes east
My west disease
I’m a little beast
Hiding up the street
In a little room
With a little bed
On the dusty floor
Lies human flesh

Time melts out my eyes
As my heart is bleeding quarter tones
and I sail on this song

The dead sea
used to be alive
She had a woman and a child
And she couldn’t live at home she said
She wandered lost
and she wandered west
to the place where the bible spoke of gods
All their temples and their floods
They hung her on a cross
She is a language no one dares to talk
Sweet bleeding palms and the breeze of death
They buried her
She’s a roaring breath

Time melts out her eyes
As her heart is bleeding
Quarter tones and she sails on this song

Sweet bleeding palms
And the cheering men
They buried me
I am a roaring breath

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

May 18, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 68 which captures a solemn yet glorious theme running through today’s readings: in God’s time, things end and new things emerge.

A bountiful rain you showered down, O God, upon your inheritance;
    you restored the land when it languished;
Your flock settled in it;
    in your goodness, O God, you provided it for the needy.

Psalm 68: 10-11

This eternal dynamism of life-death-life is wrapped in multi-colored spools around the emotions of our lives. We can hear Paul negotiating his ebbing joys and sorrows in our first reading.

In Acts, Paul is facing his physical diminishment and impending death. Like others throughout all of time, he is retelling his life story, motivations, and achievements so that their significance may be stamped on the hearts of those he will leave behind. In all things, Paul gives the glory to God:

Yet I consider life of no importance to me,
if only I may finish my course
and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus,
to bear witness to the Gospel of God’s grace.

Acts 20:24

In our Gospel, Jesus is giving a similar summary and farewell. He prays aloud to the Father so that his disciples may be instructed by hearing his final prayer:

I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world.
They belonged to you, and you gave them to me,
and they have kept your word.
Now they know that everything you gave me is from you,
because the words you gave to me I have given to them,
and they accepted them and truly understood that I came from you,
and they have believed that you sent me.
I pray for them.

John 17: 6-9

Both Paul and Jesus have brought the “abundant rain” of Psalm 68 to their ministries. But now it is time for others to carry on the work:

God is a saving God for us;
    the LORD, my Lord, controls 
the passageways of life and death. 

Psalm 68:21

As the tides of God’s eternity rise and ebb through our lives, we too at times must hand over and/or receive that eternal heritage of grace. May we exercise these rituals with the greatest of reverence and awareness.

Blessed be the Lord day by day,
God, our salvation, who carries us.
Our God is a God who saves;
deliverance from death to life 
belongs to God.

Psalm 68: 20-21

Like Jesus and Paul, may we open our stories in faith and love to the community that surrounds us. Especially as we mature both in years and experience, may we share our truth with grace and the gift of encouragement to others. And may those younger ministers take up new responsibilities with reverence, joy, and trust.

Poetry: When Someone Goes Away – Nikola Madzirov

In the embrace on the corner you will recognize 
someone’s going away somewhere. It’s always so. 
I live between two truths 
like a neon light trembling in 
an empty hall. My heart collects 
more and more people, since they’re not here anymore. 
It’s always so. One fourth of our waking hours 
is spent in blinking. We forget 
things even before we lose them – 
the calligraphy notebook, for instance.
Nothing’s ever new. The bus 
seat is always warm. 
Last words are carried over 
like oblique buckets to an ordinary summer fire. 
The same will happen all over again tomorrow— 
the face, before it vanishes from the photo, 
will lose the wrinkles. When someone goes away 
everything that’s been done comes back.

Music: Music by Giovanni Marradi – several hours of beautiful music. You may wish to listen for awhile.

Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter

May 17, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 68, an assertive call for God to show up and do something about evil in the world:

Arise, O God, and let your enemies be scattered;
let those who hate you flee.
Let them vanish like smoke when the wind drives it away; 
as the wax melts at the fire,
so let the wicked perish at your presence.
But let the righteous be glad and rejoice before you;
let them also be merry and joyful.

Psalm 68: 1-3

Haven’t we said a similar prayer many times in our lives? Doesn’t it rise up in us now as we watch war erupt in the Middle East, as we see India overwhelmed by COVID 19?

Don’t we want God to just fix things!

But the psalm itself reveals the only way healing and peace come into the world – it is through the triumph of justice in each of our hearts. Ultimately, God has made us the means to peace:

But the just rejoice and exult before God;
    they are glad and rejoice.
Sing to God, chant praise to his name
    whose name is the LORD. 

Psalm 68: 4-5

The psalmist prays for communal wholeness by describing God’s active Mercy:

Protector of orphans, defender of widows,
the One who dwells in holiness,
who gives the solitary a home
and brings forth prisoners into freedom.

Psalm 68: 6-7

But God can only touch the suffering through our hands, prayers, and actions of justice. When we allow God to do that, then we can rejoice.

Sing to God, O dominions of the earth;
sing praises to the Lord.
You ride in the heavens, the ancient heavens, O God;
sending forth your voice, your mighty voice into our spirits

Psalm 68: 32-33

Poetry: Come to Dust – Ursula LeGuin

Spirit, rehearse the journeys of the body
that are to come, the motions
of the matter that held you.
Rise up in the smoke of palo santo.
Fall to the earth in the falling rain.
Sink in, sink down to the farthest roots.
Mount slowly in the rising sap
to the branches, the crown, the leaf-tips.
Come down to earth as leaves in autumn
to lie in the patient rot of winter.
Rise again in spring’s green fountains.
Drift in sunlight with the sacred pollen
to fall in blessing.
                                   All earth’s dust
has been life, held soul, is holy.

Music: Let There Be Peace – Vince Gill

Sorry, it’s the non-inclusive version, but the pictures are so pretty😇