Stirred, Not Shaken

Saturday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time 
October 9, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 97 which is built on two themes:

  • God reigns over all the earth
  • those who acknowledge God’s power have abundant reason to rejoice

This is good news for the people to whom Joel is preaching! Joel’s community has been devastated by locusts and drought. They are surrounded by adversaries. Life is just not easy for them. They have felt abandoned by God.

But Joel tells them that indeed God is annoyed, but still is always on the side of the faithful.

The LORD roars from Zion,
    and from Jerusalem raises his voice;
The heavens and the earth quake,
    but the LORD is a refuge to his people,
    a stronghold to the children of Israel.
Then shall you know that I, the LORD, am your God,
    dwelling on Zion, my holy mountain;
Jerusalem shall be holy,
    and strangers shall pass through her no more.


Psalm 97 reflects the same confident promise to all who suffer. Despite everything we are to rejoice!

The mountains melt like wax before the LORD,
    before the LORD of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim God’s justice,
    and all peoples see God’s glory.
R.    Rejoice in the Lord, you just!
Light dawns for the just;
    and gladness, for the upright of heart.
Be glad in the LORD, you just,
    and give thanks to God’s holy name.


So we are encouraged to heed Joel’s advice – to stir up our hearts in faith, to look around at all the faith-filled promises of nature mentioned in our first reading. We can learn:

  • from the sun which both rises and sets
  • from the moon which turns its mood but never disappears
  • from snow and rain which cycle invisibly through the years
  • from the leaves which hold the secret of eternal life

God abides with us, even amidst the “droughts” and “locusts”. And if we are faithful, all will be well.


Poetry: There are many wonderful images in Joel 4. One is that of the “Valley of Decision”, an image that has lent itself to many applications in art and literature. Here is one such poem:

OK — two of my “favoritest” actors!!!!

The Valley of Decision by John Oxenham

The World is in the Valley of Decision; 
It is standing at the parting of the ways; 
Will it climb the steps of God to realm elysian — 
Or fall on horror of still darker days? 

Will it free itself of every shameful shackle? 
Will it claim the glorious freedom of the brave? 
Will it lose the soul of Life in this debacle, 
And sink into a mean dishonored grave?

All the world is in the Valley of Decision, 
And out of it there is but one sure road; 
Eyes unsealed can still foresee the mighty vision 
Of a world in travail turning unto God.
 
All the world is in the Valley of Decision. 
Who shall dare its future destiny foretell? 
Will it yield its soul unto the Heavenly Vision, 
Or sink despairing into its own hell?

The World is in the Valley of Decision; 
— It is standing at the parting of the ways; 
Will it climb the steps of God to realm elysian — 
— Or fall on horror of still darker days?


Will it free itself of every shameful shackle?
— Will it claim the glorious freedom of the brave? 
Will it lose the soul of Life in this debacle, 
— And sink into a mean dishonored grave?
 
All the world is in the Valley of Decision, —
And out of it there is but one sure road; 
Eyes unsealed can still foresee the mighty vision 
— Of a world in travail turning unto God. 

All the world is in the Valley of Decision. 
— Who shall dare its future destiny foretell? 
Will it yield its soul unto the Heavenly Vision,
— Or sink despairing into its own hell?


Music: It Is Well – Kristene DiMarco

Memorial of Saint Monica

Friday, August 27, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 97, one of several psalms categorized as “enthronement psalms”. These psalms celebrate God as king, a king exponentially greater than any human sovereign.

But Psalm 97 shows us that this Divine Ruler is also exponentially different from the flawed and often oppressive human rulers Israel (and others throughout history)has/have experienced. 

For that reason, God is the only one who should rule our lives, and all human authority should mirror God’s perfect balance of love, mercy, and justice.


The psalm indicates how God is uniquely supreme:

JUSTICE – God’s reign is founded on justice, not domination 

The LORD is king; let the earth rejoice;
    let the many isles be glad.
   Justice and judgment are the foundation of his throne.

97:1-2

UNIVERSALITY – God’s power moves earth and heaven, beyond any human ability

The mountains melt like wax before the LORD,
    before the LORD of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his justice,
    and all peoples see his glory.

97:5-6

GOODNESS – God loves goodness, not evil; uprightness, not power plays

The LORD loves those who hate evil;
    he guards the lives of his faithful ones;
    from the hand of the wicked he delivers them.

97:10

JOY – God’s reign brings universal joy, not subjugation. It inspires gratitude, not fear:

Light dawns for the just;
    and gladness, for the upright of heart.
Be glad in the LORD, you just,
    and give thanks to God’s holy name

97:11-12

Psalm 97, though constructed on a metaphor that doesn’t speak to many of us, still has much to teach us.

  • How do we image God?
  • How does that image inspire, define, or control our behaviors and choices?
  • In whatever form we exercise authority, how do we reflect God’s authority?
  • Especially in our influence over younger, or vulnerable persons, what image of God would they learn from us?

For Christians, Psalm 97 points to a most contradictory “king”, one who loves the “beatitude person” and is willing to suffer and die for them. The psalm so clearly foreshadows Christ that it is the psalm prayed at Mass on Christmas Day.

In Christmas the Church does not simply celebrate the birth of a wondrous baby. Through that birth we celebrate the cosmic reality that God has entered the process of the world in a decisive way that changes everything toward life. The entry of God into the process of the world is the premise of the poem in Psalm 97.

Walter Brueggemann, Psalm 97: Psalm for Christmas Day

Poetry: The Kingdom – R. S. Thomas

                 It’s a long way off but inside it
                 There are quite different things going on:
                 Festivals at which the poor man
                 Is king and the consumptive is
                 Healed; mirrors in which the blind look
                 At themselves and love looks at them
                 Back; and industry is for mending
                 The bent bones and the minds fractured
                 By life. It’s a long way off, but to get
                 There takes no time and admission
                 Is free, if you will purge yourself
                 Of desire, and present yourself with
                 Your need only and the simple offering
Of your faith, green as a leaf.

Music: The Servant King – Graham Kendrick

Psalm 97: Ordinary?

Monday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

January 11,2021


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 97 which reminds us that, as Jesus begins his earthly ministry, he is accompanied by the unseen powers of heaven.

The heavens proclaim his justice,
and all peoples see his glory.
Let all his angels worship him.

Psalm 97: 6-7

The psalm is reflective of the glorious passage from our first reading describing the Divinity of Jesus:

The Son of God is…
the refulgence of God’s glory, 
the very imprint of God’s being,
who sustains all things by his mighty word.
When he had accomplished purification from sins, 
he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
as far superior to the angels
as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

Hebrews 1: 3-4

These seem perfect readings to begin a season described as “Ordinary Time” because they remind us that the power of Jesus Christ is far from ordinary.

And our days do not feel like ordinary times, do they? They are both fraught with threat and charged with hope.

They are times belabored by pandemic struggle, political vitriol, climate dissolution, global strife and systemic oppression.

But they are also times bristling with breakthrough discovery, civic renewal, social consciousness, communal courage and spiritual awakening.


Just as in our Gospel on this first day of “Ordinary Time”, Jesus asks his disciples to “Come”, dream extraordinary dreams with him, so he asks us. 

He asks us to believe
that there are unseen angels attending us.
 
He asks us to remember that we, like him,
are made in the refulgent image of God.


He calls us, like Simon and Andrew, to believe
that our “ordinary time” is actually the “time of fulfillment”:

This is the time of fulfillment.
The Kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the Gospel.

Mark 1:15

Poetry: Maya Angelou – Touched by an Angel

We, unaccustomed to courage,
exiles from delight,
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.

Love arrives
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.

We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love's light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.

Music: Ordinary Time – Marie Bellet

There will come a day for quiet kitchen mornings
Lunches with the girls, book clubs in the afternoon
There will come a day for chintz flowers on my sofa
Just the perfect lipstick, matching purse and shoes.

There will come a day without constant interruption
Confusing all my senses, my reason and my rhyme
But for now I trip on the backpacks in the hallway
Scrub the crayon from the walls that mark this ordinary time.

There will come a day for uneventful dinners
When no one drops their fork or spills their milk upon the floor
There will come a day, I’ll be wiser, I’ll be thinner
I will finish conversations before running out the door.

Well, isn’t that the way it is for all those happy women
Who smile at me from magazines there in the checkout line?
What about the tired, the simple and forgotten?
Blessed be the ordinary here in ordinary time.

He said “Who will feed my sheep?
Who will heed their cry?”
I said “I am vain and weak
But surely I will try.

You know everything
And You know that I’m
Just an ordinary woman 
here in ordinary time”.

There will come a day when everything is order
And I will be the queen of everything I see
But how my heart will leap to find one backpack in the hallway
With the promise of a face, and a story just for me.

So may I never yearn for those cocktail conversations
Clever observations made for fashionable minds
May I finally learn to be happy and have patience
With the constant changing rhythm of this ordinary time,
The constant changing rhythm of this ordinary time.

Psalm 97: Majesty

Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

August 6, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, on this glorious Feast of the Transfiguration, we pray with Psalm 97 which prophesies the messianic era when God will reign supreme over the earth. Its verses announce God’s sovereignty, establishment of justice, and universal joy.

Transfiguration by Giovanni Bellini

Our Gospel describes the moment when Jesus gave his three disciples a glimpse of that future glory in order to sustain them through the sufferings to come.


As we pray Psalm 97 today, we might think of our experiences of God’s beauty, tenderness, and joy. Remembering and storing these small, accumulated revelations helps us to hold faith in times of darkness or trouble.

In Martin Luther King’s final speech the night before he was assassinated, he spoke of his own such transfiguring moments and the courageous faith they inspired in him:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.


Also in our prayer today, we are mindful of the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, an event which represents the complete inversion of God’s will for the Peaceful Kingdom. 

Majesty, turned inside out by our sin, becomes terror.

Robert Oppenheimer, one of the designers of the atomic bomb, reflecting on the bomb’s first test, said that as he watched the huge blast wave ripple out over the New Mexico desert, a line from the Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita came to mind: “Now I am become Death the Destroyer of Worlds.


Psalm 97 reminds us that all Creation belongs to God:

The LORD is king; let the earth rejoice;
let the many islands be glad.
Clouds and darkness are round about him,
justice and judgment are the foundation of his throne.

If, by faith, we learn to see and reverence God’s glory in all things, we can be delivered from the terrors of war, racism, and every other deathly weapon which threatens us. As Psalm 97 so encouragingly closes:

You who love the LORD, hate evil,
God protects the souls of the faithful,
rescues them from the hand of the wicked.
Light dawns for the just,
and gladness for the honest of heart.
Rejoice in the LORD, you just,
and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.


Poetry: Origami by Joyce Sutphen 

In Hiroshima’s Peace Park there is a statue of Sadako Sasaki lifting a crane in her arms. Sadako was two years old when the atomic bomb was dropped; she was diagnosed with leukemia ten years later. The Japanese believe that folding a thousand origami cranes brings good fortune. Sadako spent the last months of her young life folding hundreds of paper cranes. She folded 644 before she died.


Origami

It starts
with a blank sheet,
an undanced floor,
air where no sound
erases the silence.

As soon as
you play the first note,
write down a word,
step onto the empty stage,
you've moved closer
to the creature inside.

Remember—
a square
can end up as frog, cardinal,
mantis, or fish.
You can make
what you want,
do what you wish.

Music: Our God Reigns – James Kilbane

How lovely on the mountains

Are the feet of him

Who brings good news,good news

Announcing peace, proclaiming

News of happiness.

Our God reigns; our God reigns!

Chorus:

Our God reigns!

Our God reigns!

Our God reigns!

Our God reigns!

He had no stately form;

He had no majesty,

That we should be

drawn to Him.

He was despised,

and we took no account of Him,

Yet now He reigns

With the Most High.

Out of the tomb He came

With grace and majesty;

He is alive, He is alive.

God loves us so see here His hands,

His feet, His side.

Yes, we know

He is alive.

Psalm 97: Who’s in Charge Here?

Thursday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

June 17, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 97, one of the six “enthronement psalms”.  These hymns identify God as “king” whose power is above all. Such power evokes awe and praise which form the repeated acclamations of the psalm.

The “enthronement” of God in Israel’s worship means that all other “gods” (power, prestige, influence, money, etc.) are now subject to the policies, attitudes and judgments of Yahweh – Who REIGNS and Who is covenanted to us with irrevocable love.

Everything we encounter in life is to be received with that understanding.


We know how the psalmist feels – what it’s like to be awed by God’s power – and left with nothing but stunned silence or quiet whispering praise.

  • Both magnificent and delicate natural phenomena can inspire such a prayer. 
  • Life events over which we have no control can also bring us to humble praise like this.
  • The intricacies of a newborn’s face, the graced windings of an elder’s life story, the unfathomable reality of death, the mystery of a human love that mirrors God’s…. All such mysteries and miracles can cause us to proclaim with the psalmist:

The LORD is king; let the earth rejoice;
let the many islands be glad! …
Light dawns for the righteous, 
and joy for the upright in heart. 

Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous, 
and give thanks to his holy name

(Ps. 97:2, 10–12)

Or, as transliterated by Minister Christine Robinson:

Highest in Heaven
Deepest in Nature
Holy One

Be Glad
Lights up the world
Purifies the heart
Gathers the peoples
Rejoice.


Whether or not we’re comfortable with “king” language, may we still embrace the image of God, invited to our heart, made at home, praised and unfailingly worshipped. Enthroned!

Today, let us praise our King, Lord, Dear One or however we inadequately attempt to name our Divine Creator.

Poetry: I Am Bending My Knee from the Carmina Gadelica, the work of Alexander Carmichael. Carmina Gadelica is a compendium of prayers, hymns, charms, incantations, blessings, literary-folkloric poems and songs, proverbs, lexical items, historical anecdotes, natural history observations, and miscellaneous lore gathered in the Gaelic-speaking regions of Scotland between 1860 and 1909. (Wikipedia)

I am bending my knee
In the eye of the Father who created me,
In the eye of the Son who purchased me,
In the eye of the Spirit who cleansed me,
In friendship and affection.
Through Thine own Anointed One, O God,
Bestow upon us fullness in our need,
Love towards God,
The affection of God,
The smile of God,
The wisdom of God,
The grace of God,
The fear of God,
And the will of God
To do on the world of the Three,
As angels and saints
Do in heaven;
Each shade and light,
Each day and night,
Each time in kindness,
Give Thou us Thy Spirit.

Music: Our God Reigns – Studio Musicians