Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 98, the scripture which inspired “Joy to the World”.
Psalm 98 describes God’s redemption of Israel and the jubilation that will ensue. In other words, it is a song of “rejoicing in the future tense”. When the community sang it for their great occasions, they had not yet seen the Savior. But their profound faith allowed them to celebrate in spirit what they believed would be accomplished – as the psalm’s concluding verse asserts:
In righteousness shall God judge the world and the peoples with equity.
We too are called to let our lives sing to the Lord in hope and confidence because we know that what we believe is true. That kind of faith in action is called “witness”. And we, my dears, in ALL circumstances of our lives, are charged to be WITNESSES!
Like the seas who sing in either still or storm
Like rivers who clap in ebb or the neap
Like the mountains who sing in all seasons
Let the sea and what fills it resound, the world and those who dwell in it; Let the rivers clap their hands, the mountains shout with them for joy.
Like our hearts that believe even through life’s intermingled joys and sorrows
Poetry: Flickering Mind – Denise Levertov
Lord, not you it is I who am absent. At first belief was a joy I kept in secret, stealing alone into sacred places: a quick glance, and away -- and back, circling. I have long since uttered your name but now I elude your presence. I stop to think about you, and my mind at once like a minnow darts away, darts into the shadows, into gleams that fret unceasing over the river's purling and passing. Not for one second will my self hold still, but wanders anywhere, everywhere it can turn. Not you, it is I am absent. You are the stream, the fish, the light, the pulsing shadow. You the unchanging presence, in whom all moves and changes. How can I focus my flickering, perceive at the fountain's heart the sapphire I know is there?
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 98, a prayer filled with hints of joyful thanksgiving and exuberant music.
At first reading, the psalm is a surprising companion to our other readings.
In the passage to the Corinthians, Paul doesn’t sound like he’s singing. He cites the struggles a committed disciple will face in order to spread the Gospel:
We cause no one to stumble in anything, in order that no fault may be found with our ministry; on the contrary, in everything we commend ourselves as ministers of God, through much endurance –
2 Corinthians 6:3-4
He then offers quite a catalog of endured tests.
Jesus isn’t singing either in our reading from Mark. Instead, he enumerates the list of trials to be endured, if necessary, to live a radical commitment to the Gospel – even including lost eyes and teeth, multiple slaps, indentured clothing and service, and self-effacing generosity.
Feel like singing yet?
But here’s the thing. Praying with these passages allows us to break through their surface to understand their heart, as our Alleluia Verse explains:
A lamp to my feet is your word, a light to my path.
Jesus and Paul remind us that all our experiences, good and bad, are transformed in the light of the Word. That transformation calls us to respond to our lives from a well of radical faith which contradicts the deceits and interpretations of the world.
And if we answer the call to discipleship, where will it lead us? What decisions and partings will it demand? To answer this question we shall have to go to him, for only he knows the answer. Only Jesus Christ, who bids us follow him, knows the journey’s end. But we do know that it will be a road of boundless mercy. Discipleship means joy.
Deep faith allows us to see things, such as the listed trials, from a “new” perspective.
It is when we get to that place of freedom in our spiritual lives that we can truly “sing a new song unto the Lord”!
Poetry: Unconditional by Jennifer Paine Welwood
Willing to experience aloneness, I discover connection everywhere; Turning to face my fear, I meet the warrior who lives within; Opening to my loss, I gain the embrace of the universe; Surrendering into emptiness, I find fullness without end. Each condition I flee from pursues me, Each condition I welcome transforms me And becomes itself transformed Into its radiant jewel-like essence. I bow to the one who has made it so, Who has crafted this Master Game; To play it is purest delight - To honor its form, true devotion.
Music: I Want to Sing a New Song – BJ Putnam and the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 98, an exuberant celebration of God’s predilection and fidelity toward Israel. But at the same time, it is a call to recognize God’s love for ALL Creation:
The LORD has made his victory known; has revealed his triumph in the sight of the nations
If we read the whole psalm, we might imagine all Creation assembled like a magnificent choir and orchestra – something like a supersized Mormon Tabernacle Choir. As the psalm progresses, the choirmaster-psalmist incorporates successive components into an awakened awareness until there is one universal melody of praise.
First, in a theme we met recently, the call to a NEW song:
Sing a new song to the LORD, who has done marvelous deeds… ..remembering mercy and faithfulness toward the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
Psalm 98: 1-3
Next, the vocals and the instruments
Shout with joy to the LORD, all the earth; break into song; sing praise. Sing praise to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and melodious song. With trumpets and the sound of the horn shout with joy to the King, the LORD.
Psalm 98: 4-6
Then nature’s “orchestra”
And even the suggestion of tambourine dancers along the river’s edge
Let the rivers clap their hands the mountains shout with them for joy, before the LORD who comes, who comes to govern the earth, To govern the world with justice and the peoples with fairness.
Psalm 98: 8-9
This inclusive psalm serves our other readings so well. The early Church in Acts has folded the Gentiles into the chorus.
Then Peter proceeded to speak and said, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.”
Acts 10: 34-35
And Jesus gives us the underlying truth that, in his Love, we are ALL part of this cosmic symphony:
“As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.
Poetry: Shoulders – Naomi Shihab Nye
A man crosses the street in rain, stepping gently, looking two times north and south, because his son is asleep on his shoulder. No car must splash him. No car drive too near to his shadow. This man carries the world's most sensitive cargo but he's not marked. Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE, HANDLE WITH CARE. His ear fills up with breathing. He hears the hum of a boy's dream deep inside him. We're not going to be able to live in this world if we're not willing to do what he's doing with one another. The road will only be wide. The rain will never stop falling.
Music: OK – it’s not the Mormon Tabernacle 😀 but it captures the spirit for me! I hope it puts you in the rhythm too, beloveds!
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 98, an invitation to believe and rejoice in God’s Presence in our lives.
O Lord, You have made known the victory, You have openly showed your righteousness in the sight of the nations
Psalm 98: 2-3
In our first reading, as many Jews reject the invitation to Christian faith, the Apostles turn to the Gentiles with their evangelization:
The Gentiles were delighted when they heard this and glorified the word of the Lord. All who were destined for eternal life came to believe, and the word of the Lord continued to spread through the whole region.
Acts 13: 48-49
But our Gospel passage reminds us that the exercise of faith demands an openness to God’s presence. Poor Philip seems to be missing the fact that Jesus – God – is right there with him!
Philip’s statement, “Show us the Father and it will be enough for us” translates like this for me: prove everything and then we can believe. I smile at Philip’s simplicity but then realize I am not that different from him. I often ask for proof of God’s Presence in my circumstances completely forgetting the fact that God is already and always there!
When thinking about faith, these two complementary passages both challenge and sustain me. I pray with them often:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
But hope that is seen is not hope. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
This kind of Resurrection faith and hope allow us to receive and rejoice in the Good News the Apostles preach in Acts today, and to proclaim it as encouraged in our Psalm:
Sing a new song to the Lord, who has done marvellous things, whose mighty hand and holy arm have won the victory. O Lord, You remember your mercy and faithfulness toward us, and all the ends of the earth have seen your victory, O God. Shout with joy to the Lord, all you lands; lift up your voice, rejoice and sing.
Psalm 98: 1-4
Poetry: Flickering Mind – Denise Levertov
Lord, not you
it is I who am absent.
belief was a joy I kept in secret,
into sacred places:
a quick glance, and away -- and back,
I have long since uttered your name
I elude your presence.
to think about you, and my mind
like a minnow darts away,
into the shadows, into gleams that fret
the river's purling and passing.
Not for one second
will my self hold still, but wanders
everywhere it can turn. Not you,
it is I am absent.
You are the stream, the fish, the light,
the pulsing shadow.
You the unchanging presence, in whom all
moves and changes.
How can I focus my flickering, perceive
at the fountain's heart
the sapphire I know is there?
Music: Prayer- From Moses in Egypt, an oratorio by Giaocchino Rossini
In the opera, Moses in Egypt, Moses leads the community in a prayer of hope before the crossing of the Red Sea.
I couldn’t find a suitable English translation, but the original Italian is below. As with many gorgeous operatic arias, I am just as happy not to translate. The music itself speaks and often the actual words pale in comparison. Hear what “speaks” particularly to you in this lovely music.
Dal tuo stellato soglio, Signor, ti volgi a noi! Pietà de’ figli tuoi! Del popol tuo pietà! Pietà de’ figli tuoi! Del popol tuo pietà! Se pronti al tuo potere Sono elementi, e sfere, Tu amico scampo addita Al dubbio, errante piè! Pietoso Dio! ne aìta’: Noi non viviam, che in Te! In questo cor dolente deh, scendi, o Dio clemente, e farmaco soave tu sia di pace almen! Il nostro cor che pena deh! tu confronta almen!
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 98 which, once again, enjoins us to “sing a new song”.
Sing to the LORD a new song, Who has done wondrous deeds; Whose right hand has won victory, by the holy arm.
You know what? We’re trying, aren’t we? God knows, we need a new song! And the coming of the New Year gives us the push to find it in ourselves. Right?
Because that’s where it has to come from — within each one of us.
Other people can sing with us, accompany our song, or applaud our a cappellas. But our song is not out there somewhere. Our song is deep within us, breathed there by a virtuoso God at our creation. It was meant to be sung – and sung by us.
Sing praise to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and melodious song.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn shout with joy to the King, the LORD.
Let the sea and what fills it resound, the world and those who dwell there.
Let the rivers clap their hands, the mountains shout with them for joy,
The beauty of our song is that it can change to adapt to the tone of our days – sometimes an aria, sometimes a dirge. Sometimes an anthem, sometimes a ballad. Sometimes a canticle, sometimes a lullaby. A requiem, a Kyrie, a Sanctus, an Alleluia!
Each song is inspired by the One Divine Song, whose voice is sounded in Creation by the consecration of our own song, given in sincerity and love.
The Lord has remembered us In mercy and faithfulness All the ends of the earth have seen the power of our God. So shout with joy to the LORD, all the earth; break into song; sing praise.
Psalm 98: 3-5
Let’s listen to God singing over us today, so that we can respond with our own heart-song:
The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; The Lord will rejoice over you with gladness; will quiet you with love; will exult over you with passionate singing.
Poetry: Every Riven Thing by Christian Wiman
God goes, belonging to every riven thing he’s made
sing his being simply by being
the thing it is:
stone and tree and sky,
man who sees and sings and wonders why
God goes. Belonging, to every riven thing he’s made,
means a storm of peace.
Think of the atoms inside the stone.
Think of the man who sits alone
trying to will himself into a stillness where
God goes belonging. To every riven thing he’s made
there is given one shade
shaped exactly to the thing itself:
under the tree a darker tree;
under the man the only man to see
God goes belonging to every riven thing. He’s made
the things that bring him near,
made the mind that makes him go.
A part of what man knows,
apart from what man knows,
God goes belonging to every riven thing he’s made.
Sing to the LORD a new song, Who has done wondrous deeds; Whose right hand has won victory, God’s holy arm.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, as we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we pray with Psalm 98, a song foreshadowing Mary’s prophetic Magnificat.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked with favor on His humble servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed, the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name. He has mercy on those who fear Him in every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm, He has scattered the proud in their conceit.
Sister Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, describes the Mary’s Magnificat like this:
… in the line of the great biblical singers Miriam, Moses, Deborah and Hannah, Mary launches into divine praise. Her spirit rejoices in God her Savior, for poor and common woman though she may be, the powerful, living, holy God is doing great things to her. Not to her only but to all the poor, bringing the mighty down from their thrones, exalting the lowly, filling the hungry with good things, sending the unrepentant rich away empty all of this in fulfillment of the ancient promise. In her very being this is happening, for she embodies the nonentities on whom God is lavishing rescue. This great prayer, a revolutionary song of salvation, places Mary in solidarity with the project of the coming reign of God whose intent is to heal, redeem and liberate.
Psalm 98 focuses us on the point that our prayer today with Mary is about God’s power for the poor, the lowly, the hungry, the bereaved, frightened, lost, lonely and sorrowing — all the beloved aching children of God.
Mary says there is a Power much greater than the one that oppresses any of us. Look to that Power with hope. Draw strength from that Promise.
The LORD has made his salvation known: in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice. He has remembered his mercy and his faithfulness toward the house of Israel.
Psalm 98: 2-3
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation by our God. Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands; break into song; sing praise.
Psalm 98: 3-4
Poem:Segments of a poem “A New Magnificat” by Hillary Watson, Pastor of Shalom Community Church, Ann Arbor, MI.
And why should I not be smiling,
knowing what I know now
about what comes after all this
when all the evil falls down,
when justice bursts like a sweet flood through the streets
and all the pennies thrown into all wishing wells
rise up like miracles?
Let me tell you the Good News:
There is Good News.
goodness, somewhere, rushing toward us
in the place where future meets present tense.
Hope unwinds across the fragile world
and whispers its nightmares away.
There is a good day coming, I can see it,
when the walls built up between countries
crumble back into the earth they rose from
and all the people run free where they want
like every contour of every nation was shaped by the same God,
there’s a day coming when bullets freeze themselves
in the policeman’s guns, when all the Border Patrol cars
stall out in one breath, their guns and tasers
melt into plows and paintbrushes,
and the children trapped in desert camps
sing down the walls that hold them,
they sing back the road to their mothers and their fathers.
Music: The Magnificat- sung by the Daughters of Mary
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, on this feast of the great St. Teresa of Avila, we pray with Psalm 98.
Our psalm is the exultant song of a joyful and triumphant people – a people grateful and blessed by the Lord’s Presence among them.
Sing to the LORD a new song, Who has done wondrous deeds; Whose right hand has won for us the victory of peace.
We have all experienced these types of moments when we feel “delivered”.
We might have been praying for someone’s health, or our own.
We might have been caught in a difficult decision.
We might have been waiting for an acceptance letter or call.
We might have been hoping our apology would be accepted, or that one would be given.
We might have been aching for an inspiration, a thread of hope, or a new understanding.
And then —- Light!
We know what it feels like when the Light comes. But often, it is not the light we had expected. True “deliverance” comes not from shedding a worrisome circumstance. Instead, it comes from being incorporated into an unshakable faith and trust, as St. Teresa of Ávila describes it:
May today there be peace within. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content knowing you are a child of God. Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.
Poem: Nada Te Turbe – Teresa of Ávila
Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you, All things are passing: God alone is changeless. Patience obtains all things. Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.
Nada te turbe, Nada te espante. Todo se pasa. Dios no se muda. La paciencia Todo lo alcanza. Quien a Dios tiene, Nada le falta. Solo Dios basta.
Music: Voice in My Heart – Iris Koh
A beautiful reflection in Spanish from the Discalced Carmelite Sisters