Turn, Turn, Turn!

Thursday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

February 13, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, our readings leave me wondering about what makes God tick.

In our first reading, God exacts justice for Solomon’s unfaithfulness, but He does it sort of like a prosecutor in a plea bargain.

I will deprive you of the kingdom … but not during your lifetime
It is your son whom I will deprive … but I won’t take away the whole kingdom.

What’s going on with God in this reading? Well, it’s more like “What’s going on with the writer as he tries, retrospectively, to interpret God’s role in Israel’s history?

The passage is much more than a report on exchanges between God and Solomon.

It is a testament to Israel’s unwavering faith that God is intimately involved in their lives. In every circumstance, the believing community returns to the fact that experience leads to God and not away from Him.

So “Solomon … had TURNED his heart to strange gods”
BUT God had not turned from Solomon.
Nor would God EVER turn because
God has CHOSEN Israel.


In our Gospel, the Syrophoenician woman tries to get the favor of Jesus to turn toward her. And actually, Jesus sounds pretty mean and stingy about it.

Again the writer Mark is portraying, retrospectively, a significant time in Christ’s ministry. Jesus has really gone into hiding in a remote place. Apparently, he wants space to figure some things out. The story indicates that one of those things might be whether or not his ministry should embrace the Gentiles.

The persistence of this woman’s faith is a turning point for Jesus Who evolved, as we all do, in his understanding of his sacred role and meaning in the world.

These passages encourage us to constantly turn toward God Who lives our life with us. Such conversation helps us to grow spiritually. As we become bigger in heart and soul, so does our concept of God and what God’s hope is for us.

Music: Perfect Wisdom of Our God – The Gettys (See poem after music video)


All this “turning” brought to mind some favorites lines from T.S. Eliot:



At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.



I happened across a website where Eliot himself reads “Burnt Norton”, the poem from which these lines are taken. Eliot fans might enjoy this. Eliot’s poems take time and work as well as simple reading.  But the effort is so worth it!

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
Quick, said the bird, find them, find them,
Round the corner. Through the first gate,
Into our first world, shall we follow
The deception of the thrush? Into our first world.
There they were, dignified, invisible,
Moving without pressure, over the dead leaves,
In the autumn heat, through the vibrant air,
And the bird called, in response to
The unheard music hidden in the shrubbery,
And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses
Had the look of flowers that are looked at.
There they were as our guests, accepted and accepting.
So we moved, and they, in a formal pattern,
Along the empty alley, into the box circle,
To look down into the drained pool.
Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,
And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.
Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.
Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

II

Garlic and sapphires in the mud
Clot the bedded axle-tree.
The trilling wire in the blood
Sings below inveterate scars
Appeasing long forgotten wars.
The dance along the artery
The circulation of the lymph
Are figured in the drift of stars
Ascend to summer in the tree
We move above the moving tree
In light upon the figured leaf
And hear upon the sodden floor
Below, the boarhound and the boar
Pursue their pattern as before
But reconciled among the stars.

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving,
Erhebung without motion, concentration
Without elimination, both a new world
And the old made explicit, understood
In the completion of its partial ecstasy,
The resolution of its partial horror.
Yet the enchainment of past and future
Woven in the weakness of the changing body,
Protects mankind from heaven and damnation
Which flesh cannot endure.
Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.

III

Here is a place of disaffection
Time before and time after
In a dim light: neither daylight
Investing form with lucid stillness
Turning shadow into transient beauty
Wtih slow rotation suggesting permanence
Nor darkness to purify the soul
Emptying the sensual with deprivation
Cleansing affection from the temporal.
Neither plentitude nor vacancy. Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time,
Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs
Time before and time after.
Eructation of unhealthy souls
Into the faded air, the torpid
Driven on the wind that sweeps the gloomy hills of London,
Hampstead and Clerkenwell, Campden and Putney,
Highgate, Primrose and Ludgate. Not here
Not here the darkness, in this twittering world.

Descend lower, descend only
Into the world of perpetual solitude,
World not world, but that which is not world,
Internal darkness, deprivation
And destitution of all property,
Dessication of the world of sense,
Evacuation of the world of fancy,
Inoperancy of the world of spirit;
This is the one way, and the other
Is the same, not in movement
But abstention from movement; while the world moves
In appetency, on its metalled ways
Of time past and time future.

IV

Time and the bell have buried the day,
the black cloud carries the sun away.
Will the sunflower turn to us, will the clematis
Stray down, bend to us; tendril and spray
Clutch and cling?
Chill
Fingers of yew be curled
Down on us? After the kingfisher’s wing
Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still
At the still point of the turning world.

V

Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is only living
Can only die. Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.
Not the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts,
Not that only, but the co-existence,
Or say that the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.
And all is always now. Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Will not stay still. Shrieking voices
Scolding, mocking, or merely chattering,
Always assail them. The Word in the desert
Is most attacked by voices of temptation,
The crying shadow in the funeral dance,
The loud lament of the disconsolate chimera.

The detail of the pattern is movement,
As in the figure of the ten stairs.
Desire itself is movement
Not in itself desirable;
Love is itself unmoving,
Only the cause and end of movement,
Timeless, and undesiring
Except in the aspect of time
Caught in the form of limitation
Between un-being and being.
Sudden in a shaft of sunlight
Even while the dust moves
There rises the hidden laughter
Of children in the foliage
Quick now, here, now, always —
Ridiculous the waste sad time
Stretching before and after.

A Queenly Message

Wednesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

February 12, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, the Queen of Sheba visits Solomon. It’s another Solomon story worthy of the big screen where, in fact, it has been loosely fictionalized and adulterated many times.

sheba

Many trusted scripture scholars question the historicity of the story. Several agree that Solomon never rose to the kind of material glory described in the passage. The two books of Kings were written 500 years after Solomon lived. In many aspects, the writings offer a reflection on the meaning of his reign in Israel’s covenanted life rather than a strict account of his life.

So what might we glean from today’s passage on the mysterious queen. The story demonstrates that Solomon is so accomplished that a revered leader will come to learn from him. Once she arrives, she is overwhelmed by his material successes and strength. Solomon has constructed a dominant, rich and subservient culture.

But wait. Is there a bit of ironic judgement and, perhaps, prophetic reminder woven into the Queen’s accolades? Shifting the focus from an increasingly arrogant Solomon back to Israel’s God, she says:

Blessed be the LORD, your God,
whom it has pleased to place you on the throne of Israel.
In his enduring love for Israel,
the LORD has made you king to carry out judgment and justice

In fact, the great wealth and power of Solomon’s kingdom was built, not on justice and judgement, but on the backs of the poor and excluded. For example, Walter Brueggemann says this:

(Solomon’s kingdom) … was an economy of extraction that regularly transferred wealth from subsistence farmers to the elite in Jerusalem, who lived off the surplus and the device and the strategy for that extraction was an exploitative tax system.

When the Biblical scribe puts the words judgment and justice into the Queen’s remarks, it may be intended to forecast the miserable end Solomon will meet because he has abandoned his responsibilities to care for all the people according the the Lord’s covenant.

This glorious, shining realm which so impressed the Queen is a kingdom built on corruption, greed, militarism, and manipulation of the poor.

The lessons for our world are obvious.


As Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel, it doesn’t matter whether we’re gilded in gold on the outside and spin our words in glorious promises. What matters are the true intentions of our hearts and the compassionate actions they inspire:

But what comes out of the person, that is what defiles him.
From within, from the heart,
come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder,
adultery, greed, malice, deceit,
licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.

Ultimately, the great Solomon misses the boat on this. May his story help us not to do the same.


Also, as we pray, we may want to remember the devastated people of Yemen, the land identified as the historical Sheba. For some background on the current crisis in Yemen, see this article from Catholic Bishops


Music: La Reine de Saba – Raymond LeFevre