Psalm 33: Unfailing Trust

Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist

August 29, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray again with Psalm 33. Today’s verses console us with the reminder that God is watching over us, as individuals and as communities.

Blessed the nation whose God is the LORD,
the people chosen for God’s own inheritance.
From heaven the LORD looks down;
seeing all humanity.

You know, sometimes I wonder! How can God see some of the things going on in the world and not intervene? How can God let innocence suffer? The psalm seems to promise that intervention, but does it really?

But see, the eyes of the LORD are upon those who fear God,
upon those who hope for God’s kindness,
To deliver them from death
and preserve them in spite of famine.

That last line is the zinger. It doesn’t say there will be no famine. It simply says that the God-fearing will be preserved despite the famine.


Hasn’t your life taught you that? We’ve all been through lots of things that we asked God to take away – pain, sadness, fear, loss. Probably most, if not all, of those burdens remained with us until we worked through them. 

By faith and God’s Grace, we came through the other side stronger, deeper, more faithful. If we can trust God, “wait on the Lord”, the way comes to us – a way that leads us more deeply into God’s freedom and joy.

Our soul waits for the LORD,
who is our help and our shield,
For in God our hearts rejoice;
in God’s holy name we trust.

Let’s pray for that kind of faith and trust for ourselves and for our beloveds. Let’s pray for the courage to learn it by unfailing prayer and practice.


Poetry: In Memoriam A. H. H. OBIIT MDCCCXXXIII: 54
by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Oh, yet we trust that somehow good 
         Will be the final end of ill, 
         To pangs of nature, sins of will, 
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood; 

That nothing walks with aimless feet; 
         That not one life shall be destroy'd, 
         Or cast as rubbish to the void, 
When God hath made the pile complete; 

That not a worm is cloven in vain; 
         That not a moth with vain desire 
         Is shrivell'd in a fruitless fire, 
Or but subserves another's gain. 

Behold, we know not anything; 
         I can but trust that good shall fall 
         At last—far off—at last, to all, 
And every winter change to spring. 

So runs my dream: but what am I? 
         An infant crying in the night: 
         An infant crying for the light: 
And with no language but a cry. 

Music: The Passion of John – Johann Sebastian Bach

This piece is not about John the Baptist. It is an excerpt from two hour meditation of the Passion narrative in John the Evangelist’s Gospel.

However, this beautiful excerpt fits so well with today’s reflection.

Psalm 36: Whew!

Thursday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 23, 2020

From 2016:
Today, in Mercy, we pray to be childlike. As life seasons us, it also sometimes hardens us with an impermeability that prevents continued spiritual growth. We pray for the gifts of trust, hope and faith to return our hearts to the openness of a child that we may respond joyfully to the Holy Spirit.


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 36, a praise hymn of David after a frightening encounter with an enemy.

I could have used this psalm last week. Someone immensely dear to me was hospitalized with suspicion of Covid 19. The fear, for him and for all who love him, was pretty overwhelming.

I did manage a prayer of abandonment before the negative diagnosis was returned about 36 hours later. But I’m rather sure that, like most of my attempts at abandonment, it was somewhat half-hearted. I really wanted my own will and hoped God’s Will was in alignment. Blessedly, it was.

But I would like to deepen in true trust and abandonment to God’s care for me and for all of us.


Psalm 36 gives us a chance to examine David’s prayer of abandonment, which drawing on a long history of God’s wisdom and favor, deeply trusts himself to God.

In our prayer today, we might recall God’s faithful care throughout our lives and release into God’s hands any worries we carry. Let us simply receive that infinite, refreshing fountain of grace pouring over all Creation.

Fountain of Life stained glass window at the Church of St. Maria del Mar in Barcelona,  copyright José Luíz Bernardes Ribeiro, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

Poetry:  Fountains in the sea by Marin Sorescu, translated by Seamus Heaney

Sorescu was a Romanian poet and playwright and one of the most popular figures to emerge from Romanian literary culture since the 1960s. He died in 1996, the year he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature

Seamus Heaney, who died in 2013, was an Irish poet, playwright and translator. He received the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Fountains in the sea

Water: no matter how much, there is still not enough.
Cunning life keeps asking for more and then a drop more.
Our ankles are weighted with lead, we delve under the wave.
We bend to our spades, we survive the force of the gusher.

Our bodies fountain with sweat in the deeps of the sea,
Our forehead aches and holds like a sunken prow.
We are out of breath, divining the heart of the geyser,
Constellations are bobbing like corks above on the swell.

Earth is a waterwheel, the buckets go up and go down,
But to keep the whole aqueous architecture standing its ground
We must make a ring with our bodies and dance out a round
On the dreamt eye of water, the dreamt eye of water, the dreamt eye of water.

Water: no matter how much, there is still not enough.
Come rain, come thunder, come deluged dams washed away,
Our thirst is unquenchable. A cloud in the water’s a siren.
We become two shades, deliquescent, drowning in song.

My love, under the tall sky of hope
Our love and our love alone
Keeps dowsing for water.
Sinking the well of each other, digging together.
Each one the other’s phantom limb in the sea.

Music: Your Love, Oh Lord – Third Day

Everything!

Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter

May 11, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Acts recounts some of the challenges Paul and Barnabas met as they continued spreading the Gospel. With such a reading, we see the beginnings of theological arguments in the unfolding teaching of the Church.

One might wonder what turned yesterday’s Jewish and Gentile listeners into a stone-throwing mob. One wonders it today regarding some of the acrimonious factions within the Church.

It is one thing to receive the Gospel with one’s heart and spirit. It is another thing to receive it with one’s mind. As human beings, we resist mystery; we long for logic. We are more comfortable with a problem we can solve than with a Truth beyond our comprehension. Rather than Infinite Surprise, I think most of us prefer predictability and control.


 

Jn14_26 Everything

The Gospel can be fearsome. It asks that we let go of our limited human “geometry”; that we entrust everything to the Inclusive Love who is Jesus Christ. It asks us to open ourselves to the Holy Spirit who, ultimately, will “teach us EVERYTHING”.


question

In our recent readings, we’ve seen Thomas, Philip, and today, Jude trying to reach this level of spiritual trust. It’s hard because such trust is more than human. It is a trust bred of the Holy Spirit within us. It is a trust born of living fully in Peace with that Presence.

 


It is a trust described like this in tomorrow’s Gospel reading:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.

Let us pray for trust and peace in ourselves, our Church, and world.


Music:  Wonderful Peace – an old Gospel song by Warren Cornell and William Cooper (1899), sung here by Don Moen 

Far away in the depths of my spirit tonight
Rolls a melody sweeter than psalm;
In celestial strains it unceasingly falls
O’er my soul like an infinite calm.

Peace, peace, wonderful peace,
Coming down from the Father above!
Sweep over my spirit forever, I pray
In fathomless billows of love!

Ah, soul! are you here without comfort and rest,
Marching down the rough pathway of time?
Make Jesus your Friend ere the shadows grow dark;
O accept of this peace so sublime!

What a treasure I have in this wonderful peace,
Buried deep in the heart of my soul,
So secure that no power can mine it away,
While the years of eternity roll!

I am resting tonight in this wonderful peace,
Resting sweetly in Jesus’ control;
For I’m kept from all danger by night and by day,
And His glory is flooding my soul!

And I think when I rise to that city of peace,
Where the Anchor of peace I shall see,
That one strain of the song which the ransomed will sing
In that heavenly kingdom will be:

Peace, peace, wonderful peace,
Coming down from the Father above!
Sweep over my spirit forever, I pray
In fathomless billows of love!

No Apples!

First Sunday of Lent

March 1, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we encounter themes of creation, life, temptation, sin, death, and repentance. I’d say that’s a pretty loaded Sunday!

apples

We start out with the simple, but heavily misinterpreted, story of Adam and Eve. This creation myth shared by Judea-Christian and Islamic religions serves as a foundation of these great faith traditions. 

The story is often the first we learn as we are introduced to our family’s faith practice. We imagine Adam and Eve as historically real personalities and the snake as a flesh and blood devil. Some of us never get beyond that elementary understanding of the story.

A and EA few decades ago, I taught New Testament Studies to a class of men aspiring to become deacons. During the session on today’s reading from Romans, a discussion arose about whether an entire human race could descend from just a “first man and woman”. When I pointed out that the creation story uses mythical elements to represent a broader reality, one man reacted adamantly. He could not imagine that there were not a specific “Adam” and “Eve”, but that instead these names represented humankind in their evolving relationship with God. The thought was so shattering to him that he dropped the class. 

That made me sad. But it also caused me to focus on the creation story myself to examine ways in which I might be missing or blocking its deep spiritual significance. Is it really just about temptation, sin, punishment, and death? Or is there a much deeper message for our faith?

One of my go-to theologians has helped me significantly. Walter Brueggemann says this about our consideration of the Creation Story:



Like the people in this narrative, our concern is not finally the danger of sex, the origin of evil, the appearance of death, or the power of the fall. It is, rather, the summons of this calling God for us to be his creatures, to live in his world on his terms.


We struggle throughout our lives to understand God and God’s ways – to live on God’s terms. We will never accomplish it.  We will always meet the “snakes” of questions like:
why

  • Why is there evil in the world?
  • Why does God let innocent people suffer?
  • Why is “this” (Whatever trial) happening to me?
  • Why did he or she have to die so young?
  • Why don’t the bad people die instead?
  • Why? Why? Why?

We want KNOWLEDGE – just what the “serpent” facetiously offered from the forbidden tree!


But this beautiful creation story teaches us that what God desires from us is not knowledge but rather TRUST – trust to live in the unfolding, but never fully-unfolded, mystery of God’s faithfulness to us.

So much in us wants to pluck the magic apple that will make us the “gods” of our existence, controlling life as we would like it to be.

God says instead that we should trust, and delight in sitting under the mysterious, nurturing tree of God’s irreversible, covenantal love – the same love Jesus trusts in today’s challenging Gospel.

Music: Nothing I Hold on To – Will Reagan ( Listen to it like a mantra and let your breathing synch to it. Breathe in Love. Breathe out Trust. No apples necessary.)

Even in Darkness, TRUST!

Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent

December 11, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, folks in Isaiah’s reading are exhausted! He’s written a plethora of words to convey that God’s People are just about done in! He uses the words “faint”, “weary”, and “burden” at least a dozen times! We get it! The image would be something like this:

burden

But Isaiah encourages the people to look up from the weight of their burdens:

Do you not know
or have you not heard?
The LORD is the eternal God,
Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint nor grow weary,
and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny.
He gives strength to the fainting;
for the weak he makes vigor abound.
Though young men faint and grow weary,
and youths stagger and fall but …

wings

Some of you, dear readers, carry heavy burdens just now, in yourselves and in your dear ones: illness, aging, sorrow, disappointment, the confusions of life, the passing of beloveds, unfulfilled dreams, an unmerciful world. 

Know this:
God is with us in any darkness,
and God’s light will prevail.

This is the whole meaning of our faith-filled journey through Advent. Trust the Promise of our Incarnate God to be with us, given in today’s tender Gospel:

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,

for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.

Music: On Eagles’ Wings – Michael Joncas

Do Your Best. Leave the Rest.

Memorial of Saint Vincent de Paul, Priest

Friday, September 27, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, a name some of us know only by the writing on the side of the charity pick-up truck. But there’s a reason that name was chosen.

St. Vincent de Paul
St. Stephen’s Cathedral Saint Vincent establishing Daughters of Charity by Jean-François Faure (Toulouse Cathedral [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D)
Vincent was a French priest, recognized for his deep compassion, generosity, and love for poor persons. He founded two religious orders dedicated to these values: the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians) for priests and brothers, and (with the assistance of St. Louise de Marillac) the Daughters of Charity for women religious. He and the men and women who followed him have blessed the world with immeasurable Christian charity.

Vincent encountered many seemingly insurmountable obstacles in his ministry pursuits. But he continued on. He wrote this in one of his letters:

Let us allow God to act;
God brings things to completion
when we least expect it.


Vincent’s advice is not very different from the encouragement Haggai offers the Israelites in today’s reading. They have taken up the task of rebuilding the Temple. But it’s hard, and it looks like their results will pale when compared to the glory of the First Temple. Some of their elders remember that glory and they are crestfallen at the currents efforts. Discouragement begins to overwhelm them.

Haggai2_5JPG

But Haggai refocuses the community, reminding them that this is God’s work, not theirs.

And take courage, all you people of the land,
says the LORD, and work!
For I am with you, says the LORD of hosts.
This is the pact that I made with you
when you came out of Egypt,
And my spirit continues in your midst 
do not fear!

In striking poetic symbolism, God then promises to fill the house with glory!

As good people, we try throughout our lives to do things right and well for God. Sometimes our efforts disappoint ourselves and others. We get discouraged. We think the work belongs to us and that we have done it poorly.

Today’s passage is for us. As Haggai speaks in God’s voice: Take courage and work. Leave the rest in God’s accompanying hands.

Music: In God’s Safe Hand – Skjulte Skatter

Ask and Receive

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 28, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are connected by two often oppositional themes: BARGAINING and TRUST.

The Genesis passage is a familiar story, mainly because “Mrs. Lot” later gets turned into a pillar of salt. But the beginning of the story, today’s reading, is all about Moses bargaining with God to spare the inhabitants of sinful Sodom and Gomorrah. 

The Divine conversation is painted in very human terms, a ping-pong match of “what if”s and “OK”s between Moses and God. Moses finally bargains God down to the hope of finding just ten good men in these depraved cities. And Moses trusts God to be merciful, a trust delivered in the salvation of Lot and his family.

In the second reading from Colossians, Paul reminds us of our own deliverance through baptism and sharing in the Resurrection of Christ. This is the infinite gift in which we put our hope and trust as believers.

Our Gospel reading from Luke opens with the Our Father, the ultimate prayer of trust. Jesus goes on to tell us that we can always trust God’s care for us.

Ask and you will receive;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives;

and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Jesus isn’t talking about magic, where we just say the word and automatically get what we imagined, or where we bargain with God as if we had something to offer. 

Lk11_12 Ask_Egg

Jesus is talking about that fundamental trust which believes in God’s faithfulness to us in all circumstances. He will not “hand us a serpent when we ask for an egg”. But it may be a very different “egg” (outcome) from the one we expected. Trust allows us to crack it open to find the unimagined grace inside.

Music: I Will Trust in You – Lauren Daigle

Being Ourselves with God

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Click here for readings.

Today, in Mercy, our readings invite us to spiritual honesty with its accompanying transparency.

husksJPG
In a fabulous metaphor, Sirach tells us that under stress, the measure of our honesty will be evident:

When the sieve is shaken,
the husks appear.

Don’t we try to hide our weaknesses, fears, worries, and doubts? Sometimes we even hide them from ourselves! And God! But under stress, these “husks” rise to the surface and affect our behavior and interactions. Sometimes we create a life-long attitude that attempts to conceal these negativities but causes people – even ourselves – to wonder why we’re so mean, aloof, distracted or angry all the time.

Luke likens this concealment to a “plank”in our inner eye, a blindness which will not let us see ourselves as we are before God – beautiful, beloved and whole. We myopically see instead all our own and other’s annoying fragmentations.

Corinthians tells us that this kind of negative thinking is death-dealing; that it is a product of living only by law and not by spirit. Paul says:

The sting of death is sin,
and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God who gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ

Lk6_43 fruit

These readings help us to deepen our understanding that only when we open our lives to God will we fully be open to ourselves. Then, as our Psalm explains:

The just one shall flourish like the palm tree,
like a cedar of Lebanon shall they grow.
They that are planted in the house of the LORD
shall flourish in the courts of our God.

They shall bear fruit even in old age;
vigorous and sturdy shall they be,
Declaring how just is the LORD,
my rock, in whom there is no wrong.

Music: O God, You search Me and You Know Me By Bernadette Farrell

Rely on the Lord

Thursday, February 28, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Sirach advises us to rely on the Lord and nothing else – not our own strength, not endless forgiveness for our poor choices, not deceitful wealth. These, the reading admonishes, will not help when we are judged.

Sirach5_trust

Our Psalm confirms that we should place our reliance – our HOPE – in God:

Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
They are like trees
planted near running water,
That yield fruit in due season,
and whose leaves never fade.
Whatever they do prospers.

Mark describes what happens to those who choose a merciful life, and to those who don’t!

Neither of these readings spares any harsh words. They are so confronting that we may be tempted to “read over them”, not really engaging their message to our lives. 

Do we have any hard choices to make about 

  • where we place our confidence?
  • the integrity of our choices?
  • how we use our wealth and resources?
  • how we respond to others’ needs?
  • the example we are offering for those who depend on us?

I know I want to do all I can to avoid any millstones around my neck! Right? 

Let’s take a deep look at our hearts today for any trace of merciless choices or sinful self-reliance, thinking we might even know better than God! Sometimes, when we are frightened or unsure, we forget to lay it all down before the Lord. But we can trust God completely, and doing so will bless us. What we have to learn is that God may take us, by a different route, to our joy.

Music:  Trust in the Lord

The Ark of Your Hearts

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021919.cfm

duck
Sent to me this morning by my beautiful niece in Atlanta where they are having rain

Today, in Mercy, and for the next few days we have the story of Noah. It’s both a terrifying and delightful story. 

It is frightening to think of the earth inundated by flood, all Creation wiped out because of the Creator’s disappointment! 

But it is delightful to think of these thousands of animal couples, holding hands, paws, fins or tentacles and skipping into Noah’s big boat.

In this passage, the writer imbues God with the same emotions and responses we have when our project fails mightily. We crumple it up, press delete, throw it in the garbage disposal, or smash it on the ground. In Genesis, God decides to “erase by flood”.

Despite the woeful drama, the story is filled with hope. God has not completely given up. He just wants to start over again.

Throughout the voluminous rest of scripture, God starts over with us innumerable times. Think of the Prodigal Son, the Adulterous Woman, Joseph and his Brothers.  Forgiveness and new beginnings are the story of our relationship with a God Who loves us too much to let us fail.

So, if your faith life is a little stormy just now, take refuge in the “ark of your heart” – your trust, hope and faith in God. Pray for fairer weather and believe that God will send it. Ask for the eyes to recognize it when it comes.

Music: Eye of the Storm ~ Ryan Stevenson (a little bit country, but the message works)