Psalm 85: Be A Neighbor

Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children

“A great prayer for life is urgently needed, a prayer which will rise up throughout the world. Through special initiatives and in daily prayer, may an impassioned plea rise to God, the Creator and lover of life, from every Christian community, from every group and association, from every family and from the heart of every believer.”

Evangelium vitae, 100

January 22, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 85, a Psalm we have prayed with seven times in the past six months. Have we wrung it dry, do you think?😉

Never! That’s the beauty of scripture and particularly of the Psalms. They speak to us in a new voice with each new day’s blessings and challenges.

The verse that grasps my heart this morning is this:

Near indeed is salvation to those who fear God
glory dwelling in our land.

Psalm 85: 10

What will “glory”, or well-being,
look like when it dwells in our land,
throughout our earth?


Walter Brueggemann, in his many writings about the Old Testament and the Psalms, stresses the concept of “neighborliness” as integral to communal well-being.

The well-being of the neighborhood, inspired by the biblical texts, makes possibleand even insists uponan alternative to the ideology of individualism that governs our society’s practice and policy. This kind of community life returns us to the arc of God’s giftsmercy, justice, and law. The covenant of God in the witness of biblical faith speaks now and demands that its interpreting community resist individualism, overcome commoditization, and thwart the rule of empire through a life of radical neighbor love.
(Description of Brueggemann’s book, God, Neighbor, Empire: The Excess of Divine Fidelity and the Command of Common Good)

Praying with Psalm 85, we might hear echos of President Biden’s Inaugural Address which called on our capacity for “neighborliness”:

History, faith, and reason show the way, the way of unity.
We can see each other not as adversaries but as neighbors.
We can treat each other with dignity and respect.
We can join forces, stop the shouting, and lower the temperature.
For without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury.
No progress, only exhausting outrage.
No nation, only a state of chaos.


The President also said this:

Many centuries ago, Saint Augustine, the saint of my church, wrote that a people was a multitude defined by the common objects of their love.
What are the common objects we love that define us as Americans?
I think I know.
Opportunity.
Security.
Liberty.
Dignity.
Respect.
Honor.
And, yes, the truth.


Thousands of years ago, the psalmist clearly described the glorious community which God promises to those who live in mercy, truth, justice and peace:

Mercy and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice shall look down from heaven.

The LORD  will give benefits;
our land shall yield its increase.
Justice shall walk before the Lord,
and salvation, along the way of God’s pattern.

Psalm 85

Prose: Here is the quote from St. Augustine referenced by President Biden, as well as the passage from Cicero which inspired Augustine

If one should say, ‘a people is the association of a multitude of rational beings united by a common agreement on the objects of their love,’ then it follows that to observe the character of a people we must examine the objects of its love.”

St. Augustine, City of God 19.24

A republic is a numerous gathering brought together by legal consent and community of interest. The primary reason for this coming together is not so much weakness as a sort of innate desire on the part of human beings to form communities. For our species is not made up of solitary individuals.

Cicero, Republic, 1.39-40 

Music: After Cicero and Augustine, a little music from our own modern philosopher, Mr. Rogers❤️

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 85: Transformed Landscape

Memorial of Saint Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

December 7, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our liturgy repeats yesterday’s verses from Psalm 85. That’s how important they are to our Advent prayer! So let’s pray with our psalm in the light of the readings which surround it today.

Today, in our first magnificent reading from the poet-prophet Isaiah, we read about the transformation God can accomplish even over the most broken and desolated landscapes. Isaiah encourages us to exuberant hope:

Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
make firm the knees that are weak,
Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
coming with vindication;
With divine recompense –
coming to save you.

Isaiah 35: 3-4

In our Gospel, Jesus transfigures both the inner and outer “landscape” of a young paralytic who has good and creative friends.

And some men brought on a stretcher a man who was paralyzed;
they were trying to bring him in and set him in his presence. 
But not finding a way to bring him in because of the crowd,
they went up on the roof
and lowered him on the stretcher through the tiles
into the middle in front of Jesus. 
When Jesus saw their faith, he said,
“As for you, your sins are forgiven.” 

Luke 5: 18-20

Our psalm reflects the transformative power in both readings as we pray:

I will hear what God proclaims;
the LORD – who proclaims peace to the people.
Near indeed is salvation to those who reverence God,
glory dwelling in our land.

Psalm 85:9-10

“Glory dwelling in our land”
– the land of our earth,
and the land of our hearts.
Let’s hope for it, believe it,
invite it in our prayer today.

Poetry: Rumi

And you?
When will you begin
that long journey into yourself?
Why do you stay in prison
when the door is so wide open?

Music: Handel: Then Shall the Eyes of the Blind Be Opened / He Shall Feed His Flock

Psalm 85: Near But Not Yet

Second Sunday of Advent

December 6, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 85 which, sprinkled heavily with “will”s and “shall”s, is written almost completely in the future tense.

This psalm, though filled with hope, is italicized with a sense of “then, but not just yet”. In the midst of a long waiting, it fuels our patience with words like “near”:

I will hear what God proclaims;
the LORD— who proclaims peace to the people.
Near indeed is salvation to those who are awed by the Lord,
glory dwelling in our land.

Psalm 85: 9-10

Oh, my! Do we know how that long patience feels? 

The feeling recalls my Dad’s answer on any long journey when I repeatedly queried, “Are we there yet.”

Not yet. But near.
Not now. But soon.

The whole world shares a similar feeling right now. As we see the promise of a vaccine rising on the horizon, we still live in the worry and isolation of this pandemic. Are we safe yet?

Not yet. But near.
Not now. But soon.


Let us not miss the practical lessons nor the spiritual ones that emerge as we read the psalmist’s ancient words in our current stressful times.

The practical lessons for our situation are clear:

  • a vaccine is near
  • be patient, prepare
  • mask up
  • wash hands
  • stay home if possible
  • respect your bubble and everyone else’s

Some of the spiritual inspirations might be these.

  • Amazing Grace is always near to us
  • be patient, prepare
  • learn from your solitude
  • clear your spirit of any impediments to grace
  • find your home in God’s Presence
  • rest in that Presence until you are renewed

The psalm assures us that God is with us; that the Sacred Presence will appear as we open our eyes to God’s justice and mercy.

The LORD  will give us benefits;
our land shall yield its increase.
Justice shall walk before the Lord
and prepare the way of God’s steps.

Psalm 85: 13-14

Isaiah and Mark direct our hearts to the voice of the prophet John the Baptist who proclaims, “Prepare a way for the Lord!” That’s how near God is! Just on the other side of our soul’s expectation.

In our second reading, Peter reminds us of how to be ready for the moment when  “soon” becomes “now”.

But according to God’s promise
we await new heavens and a new earth
in which righteousness dwells.
Therefore, beloved, since you await these things,
be eager to be found without spot or blemish before the Lord, at peace.

2 Peter 3:13-14

Poetry: ADVENT (On a Theme by Dietrich Bonhoeffer) by Pamela Cranston

Look how long
the tired world waited,
locked in its lonely cell,
guilty as a prisoner.

As you can imagine,
it sang and whistled in the dark.
It hoped. It paced and puttered about,
tidying its little piles of inconsequence.

It wept from the weight of ennui
draped like shackles on its wrists.
It raged and wailed against the walls
of its own plight.

But there was nothing
the world could do
to find its freedom.

The door was shut tight.
It could only be opened
from the outside.

Who could believe the latch
would be turned by the flower
of a newborn hand?

Music: Soon and Very Soon written and sung by Andraé Crouch, accompanied here by Jessy Dixon

Andraé Edward Crouch (July 1, 1942 – January 8, 2015) was an American Gospel singer, songwriter, arranger, record producer and pastor. Referred to as “the father of modern gospel music” by gospel music professionals.

Jessy Dixon (March 12, 1938 – September 26, 2011) was an American Gospel music singer, songwriter, and pianist, with success among audiences across racial lines. He garnered seven Grammy Award nominations during his career.

Psalm 85: Listen!

Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

August 22, 2020

by Bartolome Murillo

Indeed, Mary herself was a song of hope to God, sung for us and for all generations. That passionate song opened her heart to receive the Word and to carry its redeeming power to each of us.

She was the greatest prophet of all time who not only proclaimed God but enfleshed him.

I will hear what God proclaims;
the LORD– Who proclaims peace.
Near indeed is salvation to those who fear God,
glory dwelling in our land.

As we pray to Mary today, let us ask for listening hearts and hope-filled spirits. Let us ask to enflesh love and hope in our lives in imitation of her. Let us ask to believe as she did:

The LORD himself will give his benefits;
our land shall yield its increase.
Justice shall walk before him, 
and salvation, along the way of his steps.


Poetry: Annunciation – Denise Levertov




Annunciation
_________________________________________
‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’
From the Agathistos Hymn, Greece, 6th century
_________________________________________
We know the scene: the room, variously furnished, 
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
       Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
courage.
       The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
         God waited.

She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.
                 ____________________
Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?

         Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
uncomprehending.
More often
those moments
      when roads of light and storm
      open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from

in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
                                 God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.
                  ____________________

She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child–but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.

Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
  only asked
a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
the astounding ministry she was offered:

to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power–
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light 

                     Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love–

but who was God.

This was the moment no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.

A breath unbreathed,
                                Spirit,
                                          suspended,
                                                            waiting.
                  ____________________

She did not cry, ‘I cannot. I am not worthy,’
Nor, ‘I have not the strength.’
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
                                                       raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans,
                                  consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
                               and the iridescent wings.
Consent,
              courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.

Music: Tota Pulchra Es, Maria

Psalm 85: A Bridge

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 9, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray again with beautiful Psalm 85, so famous for its described eschatological “kiss”.

I thought this painting captured the Kiss of Mercy and Justice. I could not find an attribution.

On this 19th Sunday, our psalm serves as a bridge connecting Elijah’s gentle whisper with Paul’s impassioned wish and Jesus’s invitation to walk on water.

These powerful readings will carry a personal message to every one of us if we take time to listen. As Psalm 85 confirms:

I will hear what God proclaims;
the LORD — Who proclaims peace.
Near indeed is salvation to those who stand in awe of God,
glory dwelling in our land.

Psalm 85: 9

We are shaped by our personal experiences
as well as the culture of our times.
For each of us this morning,
these realities carry a message
to our praying heart. 

  • Like Elijah, how is God whispering to me today?
  • Like Paul, what great desire for faith and blessing rises in my prayer?
  • Like Peter, what invitation to profound faith is God speaking to me?

Poetry: from Babette’s Feast by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen)

There comes a time when our eyes are opened.  And we come to realize that mercy is infinite.  We need only await it with confidence and receive it with gratitude.  Mercy imposes no conditions. 

   And, lo!  Everything we have chosen has been granted to us.  And everything we rejected has also been granted.  Yes, we get back even what we rejected.  For mercy and truth are met together.  Righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another. 

the character General Lowenhielm


Music: When God Whispers Your Name – Matthew West



When nobody listens
When nobody cares
When you lie wounded
And no one is there
When darkness surrounds you
And when your best friend is fear
When the words "I love you"
Are all you long to hear


That's when God whispers your name
He's never ashamed
To call you His own
Tha's when God whispers your name
In your darkest night
You'll never be alone
When God whispers your name


For the tired and weary
For the hopelessly lost
His arms will surround you
His blood has paid the cost
When all you hold onto
Is slipping through your hands
When there's no one to turn to
And no one understands

That's when God whispers your name
He's never ashamed
To call you His own
That's when God whispers your name
In your darkest night
You'll never be alone
When God whispers your name

Listen
A still, small voice
Calling
Calling

That's when God whispers your name
He's never ashamed
To call you His own
That's when God whispers your name
In your darkest night
You'll never be alone
When God whispers your name

Psalm 85: Believe a New World into Being

Tuesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 21, 2020


Return from Babylon by Julius Schnoor von Carolsfeld

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 85. In Judaism, it is called “a psalm of returned exiles” as it reflects the experience of the Jews returning to their ravished land after the Babylonian exile. Things are a mess, and they have to start all over again to rebuild their Abrahamic nation. 

But they pray as if it is already accomplished.

Despite their suffering and captivity, the people have not lost hope in the promise of Yahweh. They expect its fulfillment and call on God to make it happen.

You have favored, O LORD, your land;
you have brought back the captives of Jacob.
You have forgiven the guilt of your people;
you have covered all their sins.
You have withdrawn all your wrath;
you have revoked your burning anger.


This is the power and beauty of a pure and faithful heart. It is free to “believe” God into action. We find this prayerful power expressed over and over in the Psalms. It is answered by God’s almighty and active desire for our good.


The Psalms mediate to us the great promise keeper whose resolve guarantees that the world is not a closed system. Creation, instead, is a world very much in process, sure to come to full shalom. Despair is the fate of a world “without god,” where there are no new gifts to be given. The Psalms refuse that world, knowing that God is not yet finished. Consequently, the Psalms can gather all the great words of the covenant and apply them to the future …

Walter Bruggemann

During these pandemic times, don’t prayer and promises like these speak to our hearts?

I find myself wondering what the world will be like when we finally “return” – come out of our “Covid exile” – what it will be like to see and hug the family, friends and community we love and miss right now, or to fully mourn those we have lost – what it will be like to resume our soul’s unworried dance with Creation and Time.


As we imagine that world, how might we hope for it to be more reflective of God’s dream for us than the world we closed down last March, than the “Babylon” we are experiencing? How will our prayers and actions for merciful justice “believe” God’s promises into reality for all God’s People?

Will you not instead give us life;
and shall not your people rejoice in you?
Show us, O LORD, your kindness,
and grant us your salvation.

I picture some ancient Jewish woman or man standing amidst the rubble of the ruined Temple. How deep did that person have to reach to find the faith and hope to move God?

I picture us standing in a very sick and dysfunctional world. Can we reach that deep ourselves by praying in the childlike, confident spirit of the Psalms:

Lord, show us your mercy and love.


Poetry: Antidotes to Fear of Death – by Rebecca Elson, a gifted Canadian–American astronomer and writer. Elson was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 29. With treatment, it went into remission, and in 1996 she married the Italian artist Angelo di Cintio. However, the cancer returned soon afterwards. Elson died of the disease in Cambridge in May 1999, at the age of 39.

A volume of wide-ranging poetry and essays she wrote from her teens until shortly before her death was published posthumously as A Responsibility to Awe in 2001 in the United Kingdom, and in 2002 in the United States. 

Antidotes to the Fear of Death

Sometimes as an antidote
To fear of death,
I eat the stars.

Those nights, lying on my back,
I suck them from the quenching dark
Til they are all, all inside me,
Pepper hot and sharp.

Sometimes, instead, I stir myself
Into a universe still young,
Still warm as blood:

No outer space, just space,
The light of all the not yet stars
Drifting like a bright mist,
And all of us, and everything
Already there
But unconstrained by form.

And sometime it’s enough
To lie down here on earth
Beside our long ancestral bones:

To walk across the cobble fields
Of our discarded skulls,
Each like a treasure, like a chrysalis,
Thinking: whatever left these husks
Flew off on bright wings.

Music: Going Home– based on Antonin Dvořák’s Largo from New World Symphony, lyrics by William Arms Fisher, sung here by Alex Boyé with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Psalm 85: The Kiss

Saturday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 4, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 85, a testament to hope for the future. Couldn’t we all use a dose of the right now?

Glancing through Twitter last night, I came across a tweet asking for prayers because the writer had “begun to lose hope in the future”. I thought of and prayed for that person this morning when I read Psalm 85, a song of unmitigated hope and trust.


Despite the destruction of the Temple and their exile into Babylonian captivity, the Israelites remained convinced that God had promised them a future of blessedness.

I will hear what God proclaims;
the LORD–for he proclaims peace to his people.

Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him,
glory dwelling in our land.

Trusting in God’s fidelity, they are freed to imagine and wait for that future’s slow and mysterious fulfillment. Note the future tense of the verbs in these verses:

Mercy and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice shall look down from heaven.

Early 16th C. depiction of the Four Daughters of God: Mercy, Truth, Justice, and Peace (Angel in the middle)

The Israelites trusted God’s desire and will for their good. They so strongly believed in a blessed future that they were able to access it even in the midst of a disappointing present.

By faith, we too enter the timelessness of God’s love, finding – even in life’s challenges – the path to joy and peace. The “shalls” in the above verse are achieved through our belief in, and action for them. This is the power of the covenant between God and us.


Our faithful lives invite: 

  • God’s kiss of justice and peace
  • God’s springing forth in truth
  • God’s gaze of justice and mercy over Creation

God and we walk beside one another on the way to a sacred future where the journey is also the destination.

The LORD himself will give his benefits;
our land shall yield its increase.
Justice shall walk before him,
and salvation, along the way of his steps.


May we be given
the grace to believe
that we already live
within the wholeness of God.
May our life be
a hopeful and joyful witness
to that wholeness.


Poetry: Grace – Wendell Berry

Even though written as an autumn poem, these verses fit today’s reflection. Wendell Berry’s thoughts grace evoke a sense of hope and patience.

The woods is shining this morning.
Red, gold and green, the leaves
lie on the ground, or fall,
or hang full of light in the air still.
Perfect in its rise and in its fall, it takes
the place it has been coming to forever.
It has not hastened here, or lagged.
See how surely it has sought itself,
its roots passing lordly through the earth.
See how without confusion it is
all that it is, and how flawless
its grace is. Running or walking, the way
is the same. Be still. Be still.
“He moves your bones, and the way is clear.”

Music:  Mercy Like Rain, written by Rory Cooney, sung here by Alma deRojas

Let me taste your mercy like rain on my face;
here in my life, show me your peace.
Let us see with our own eyes your day breaking bright.
Come, O Morning; come, O Light!
 
What God has spoken I will declare:
Peace to the people of God everywhere.
God's saving presence is close at hand:
glory as near as our land!
 
Here faithful love and truth will embrace;
here peace and justice will come face to face.
God's truth shall water the earth like a spring,
while  justice will bend down and sing.
 
God will keep the promise indeed;
our land will yield the food that we need.
Justice shall walk before you that day,
clearing a path, preparing your way.
 
Let me taste your mercy like rain on my face;
here in my life,  show me your peace.
Let us see with our own eyes your day breaking bright.
Come, O Morning; come, O Light!