Psalm 119:Acrostic Prayer

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 26, 2020


Today, in Mercy, we pray with young Solomon, as God asks him to carry the weight of leadership. Of all that Solomon might have asked from God, he requested only wisdom, which is described in James 3:17. “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, teachable, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” We pray for wisdom for ourselves in the discharge of our responsibilities. We pray for this gift for all who hold power in our world.

from 2017 – 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 119, the longest psalm, and a meticulously constructed poem. It is one of about twelve acrostic poems in the Bible, employing the twenty-two characters of the Hebrew alphabet to teach a lesson about love of the Torah, the Law.

Acrostic poems have been popular throughout history because they let the reader examine a theme from multiple, memorable perspectives. Although often tricky to compose, they are simple to read, and sometimes so commonplace as to be transparent.

Here is an example of an acrostic poem from 19th century America


So why did the psalmist take the trouble to compose a complicated verse like Psalm 119? The answer seems apparent, I think. The love of the Law was that important to the writer. It was the one true treasure, and he wanted others to share the treasure.

The theme of “treasure” ties together all of our Sunday readings.

In our first reading, young Solomon could have asked God for anything. But Solomon already treasures the Wisdom of God:

The LORD was pleased that Solomon made this request.
So God said to him:
“Because you have asked for this—
not for a long life for yourself,
nor for riches,
nor for the life of your enemies,
but for understanding so that you may know what is right—
I do as you requested.


Our second reading confirms that those who love God, like Solomon did, are blessed with the treasure of confidence and peace:

We know that all things work for good
for those who love God.


Matthew’s Gospel tells us to seek that treasure buried in the field of our lives. When we find it, we should give everything to make it our own:

When he finds a pearl of great price,
he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.


Praying Psalm 119 allows us to appreciate the treasure of God’s Law, God’s heartbeat, in our lives. It holds the Word up before us, facet by facet, the way we would lift a diamond to the Light. When we come to love Wisdom/Word/Law as Solomon did, we give everything to possess it fully.


Poetry: Last Hike Before Leaving Montana by Patricia Traxler.
In this poem, the poet is ostensibly talking about a bear, but listen a little deeper and she is talking about God.

Late winter, almost spring. It's like finding a diamond;
now I don't want to leave. I sit in the dirt and put my hands
in your tracks. For the first time in a long time I don't
doubt. Now I know I always knew you were here. You
are the beginning of disclosure, the long-felt presence

Suddenly incarnate. Behind me my friend warns, If we
see the bear, get into a fetal position. No problem,
I tell her, I'm always in a fetal position—I was born
in a fetal position. Did you know, she says, the body
of a shaved bear looks exactly like a human man?
I skip a stone, feel a sudden bloat of grief, then laugh.
I ask her, Who would shave a bear? We climb

Farther up Rattlesnake Creek, watch winter sun glitter
off dark water. No matter how high we go I look higher.
Sometimes absence can prove presence. That's not exactly
faith, I know. All day, everywhere, I feel you near at hand.
There's so much to understand, and everything to prove.
Up high the air is thin and hard, roars in the ears like love.

Music: Lord, You Are More Precious Than Silver – Divine Hymns

Midnight Miracle

Saturday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

November 16, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we are blessed with some of the most gloriously imaginative images in Scripture:

wis18_midnight

Although the passage is a poetic recounting of the Exodus experience, it always makes me think of Christmas. 

  • Midnight on a starry night
  • Peaceful stillness over the earth
  • The all-powerful Word transformed 
  • Appearing among us like a comet in our darkness
  • Hope renewed for an otherwise doomed land

Praying with the passage this morning, I realize that my “Christmas lens” on the reading is right on target.

The Christmas event begins our Exodus story, a story completed in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ.

Just as the God of Moses reached into ancient Israel’s life to free them, transform them and make them God’s People, so God reaches into our lives. God does this not only on Christmas, but in every moment of our experience.

As our media and consumer culture bombards us, all too early, with all the secularized images of Christmas, let today’s verses bring us back to the true startling grace of our own Christ/Exodus stories:

We are not alone in the midnights of our lives.
Listen underneath all the distractions
to the, at first, softly emerging sound of Love
humming under all things.
Watch for the small lights of heaven
longing to break into our human darkness.
Give yourself to their Light.

No matter where we are in our lives right now,
no matter the joy or pain of our present circumstances,
God wants to use these realities to be with us
and to teach us Love.
Let us invite God
into our willingness
to learn that Love,

to become that Love.


Music: Winter Cold Night – John Foley, SJ

Lyrics below (yes, it is an Advent/ Christmas song. But it fits so perfectly. Please forgive me if I am rushing the season too.🤗)

Dark, dark, the winter cold night. Lu-lee-lay.
Hope is hard to come by. Lu-lee-lay.
Hard, hard, the journey tonight. Lu—lee-lay.
Star, guide, hope, hide our poor, winter cold night.

And on earth, peace, good will among men.

Lean, lean, the livin’ tonight. Lu-lee-lay.
Star seems darker sometimes. Lu-lee-lay.
Unto you is born this day a Savior.
Pain, yes, in the bornin’ tonight. Lu lee—lay.
Star, guide, hope, hide our poor, winter cold night.

The Word

Thursday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

October 3, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Ezra and Nehemiah gather all the People for a gargantuan spiritual renewal! It is the People themselves who request this renewal, realizing that they have drifted from the Law and desiring to ritualize their return to it.

It seems fitting that this reading comes just after the Jewish celebration of Rosh Hashana (from sundown on Sunday, September 29 until sundown on Tuesday, October 1, 2019.) This feast marks the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days.

For more on these biblically rich celebrations, click here.


One of the lessons Christians can take from today’s passage is awareness of the great power and gift of God’s Word. Ezra’s community was changed by listening to that Word with open, repentant hearts.

word of God

In our Gospel, Jesus sends his disciples out to preach that Word, now transformed by the power of his Incarnation. He tells them to preach that “the Kingdom of God is at hand!”

Just this week, Pope Francis has taken steps to rekindle our appreciation of the Word. By declaring the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time as the Sunday of the Word of God, our Pope wants to help us grow in love and devotion to Sacred Scripture.

(Personally, I welcome this focus. At the time of the Second Vatican Council, there was a new and deepened awareness of the gift of Sacred Scripture. As a young religious, that awareness was central to my spiritual formation. Since that time, there seems to have been an unfortunate shift away from that emphasis. I see the Pope’s declaration as a welcome corrective to that shift.)

Pope Francis has designated the day “to the celebration, study and dissemination of the word of God “ so as to help the Church “experience anew how the risen Lord opens up for us the treasury of his word and enables us to proclaim its unfathomable riches before the world’.

May we gratefully respond!

(See below the music : If you are interested, I have copied a very good excerpt from Pope Francis Apostolic Letter.)

Music: We Come to Hear Your Word – Chris Jubilee

Below is an excerpt from the Pope’s Apostolic Letter APERUIT ILLIS -INSTITUTING THE SUNDAY OF THE WORD OF GOD. I found it to be helpful in understanding the Pope’s intent with this feast:


With this Letter, I wish to respond to the many requests I have received from the people of God that the entire Church celebrate, in unity of purpose, a Sunday of the Word of God. 

It is now common for the Christian community to set aside moments to reflect on the great importance of the word of God for everyday living. The various local Churches have undertaken a wealth of initiatives to make the sacred Scripture more accessible to believers, to increase their gratitude for so great a gift, and to help them to strive daily to embody and bear witness to its teachings.

The Second Vatican Council gave great impulse to the rediscovery of the word of God, thanks to its Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, a document that deserves to be read and appropriated ever anew. The Constitution clearly expounds the nature of sacred Scripture, its transmission from generation to generation (Chapter II), its divine inspiration (Chapter III) embracing the Old and New Testaments (Chapters IV and V), and the importance of Scripture for the life of the Church (Chapter VI). 

To advance this teaching, Pope Benedict XVI convoked an Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in 2008 on “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church”, and then issued the Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, whose teaching remains fundamental for our communities.[1] That document emphasizes in particular the performative character of the Word of God, especially in the context of the liturgy, in which its distinctively sacramental character comes to the fore.[2]

It is fitting, then that the life of our people be constantly marked by this decisive relationship with the living word that the Lord never tires of speaking to his Bride, that she may grow in love and faithful witness.

Consequently, I hereby declare that the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time is to be devoted to the celebration, study and dissemination of the word of God. This Sunday of the Word of God will thus be a fitting part of that time of the year when we are encouraged to strengthen our bonds with the Jewish people and to pray for Christian unity. This is more than a temporal coincidence: the celebration of the Sunday of the Word of God has ecumenical value, since the Scriptures point out, for those who listen, the path to authentic and firm unity.

The Word is Near You

Sunday, March 10, 2019

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Mt4_4 Word

Today, in Mercy,  our reading from Romans tells us:

The word is near you,
in your mouth and in your heart.

How is the Word of God near us, with us? 

Certainly, our sincere study and prayer with scripture is one way. Sitting quietly with scriptural passages, letting them speak to us, inviting them to inform our lives is a life-giving discipline.

Sometimes, we might choose just one word or phrase from a beloved reading, turning it over and over, gently in our prayer. How has this precious word informed our lives, inspired us, called us, comforted us? How is it speaking to us in this moment?

As we move more deeply into the “words” of scripture, we move closer to the Word – the Incarnate God. John writes: 

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.

Through him all things were made;
without him nothing was made that has been made.

Perhaps today in our prayer, we can commit ourselves to a deepening love of scripture, of the Word given to us there.

In his book, “ The Bible Makes Sense”, Walter Bruggemann says this:

The Bible is not an “object” for us to study but a partner with whom we may dialogue. It is usual in our modern world to regard any “thing” as an object that will yield its secrets to us if we are diligent and discerning. And certainly this is true of a book that is finished, printed, bound, and that we can buy, sell, shelve, and carry in a briefcase or place on a coffee table…[But] reading the Bible requires that we abandon the subject-object way of perceiving things… [If we do,] the text will continue to contain surprises for us, and conversely we discover that not only do we interpret the text but we in turn are interpreted by the text… We may analyze, but we must also listen and expect to be addressed.

Music: Word of God Speak – Mercy Me

Word

Sunday, January 27, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings focus on Scripture as the revealed Word of God.

lk1_scroll word

Ezra, from our first passage, lived almost 500 years before Christ during the Babylonian captivity, a time when much of the population of Judea was deported to what is modern day Iraq. When the Persian King Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon, the Jews were permitted to return to Judea.

During the sixty-year enslavement, many Jews lost touch with their culture, language and religion. Our reading describes Ezra’s efforts to restore the Jewish character of the community by reintroducing them to the Torah. He has to read to them, translating the Hebrew for those who no longer speak it.

In a gesture foretelling the liberating ministry of Jesus, Ezra unrolls the scroll – symbolic of bringing to light that which has been hidden or buried.

In our Gospel, Jesus too unrolls the scroll. In doing so, Jesus reveals the heart of faith which had been buried within the Law. Jesus preaches in a new “language” – the language of God’s all-inclusive mercy, forgiveness, and love.

For us who believe, the holy scriptures are a Living Word which, through thoughtful prayer, will continually reveal God’s heart to us. It is worth our time and attention to become friends with these sacred messages.

Many of you, dear readers, will be familiar with the ancient prayer practice of “lectio divina”. In her book “Too Deep for Words”, Sister Thelma Hall describes the practice:

… a wholistic way of prayer which disposes, opens, and “in-forms” us for the gift of contemplation God waits to give, by leading us to a place with him at our deepest center … It begins this movement by introducing us to the power of the Word of God in scripture to speak to the most intimate depths of our hearts …

Sister Thelma Hall’s Book, a classic, is available on Amazon for those who might enjoy exploring Lectio Divina. I highly recommend it. My copy, nearly 30 years old, is beginning to show its age, but then again, so am I! 😂 I would never part with it. 

Click here for Amazon

Music:  Word of God Speak ~ Mercy Me

The Word Will Teach Us

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011919.cfm

Today, in Mercy, our first reading describes the penetrating, all-seeing, all-discerning Word of God.  

heb4_2 word

Reading this, some of us may find it startling to think how well God knows us! The truth is God knows us fully, much better than we know ourselves.  And God loves us fully, again even better than we love ourselves.

God already knows and understands the secrets we are slow to share, the hurts we have buried, the angers we try to shackle. God knows the fears we will not face, the regrets we cannot abandon, the sadness we cannot forget, the hopes we hesitate to speak.

God knows and loves it all.

Being present to the Word of God can help us learn to love and accept ourselves as God does.  

This Word can come to us in reading and listening.  It can come in images, nature  and silence. God’s Word is not bound by print or sound.  It speaks to us in every circumstance of our lives.

Today, we pray to have a deep love of God’s Word given to us in Scripture, spiritual reading, music, poetry, the beauty of Creation, and the wonder of life.  The Holy Word sees and loves us completely.  In that complete Love, may we come to know ourselves and to be fully ourselves in God’s Presence.

( In a separate email, I have cited a favorite poem by dear Mary Oliver who died yesterday. She was a Master of the Word! The words she lifted for us became sacraments where we could discover the sacred.

Having read her poems so often and for so long, I feel I have lost a precious friend even though I have never laid eyes on her. This is a long poem, but well-worth your reflection perhaps on this stormy weekend.)

Music: Two Elegiac Melodies ~ Edvard Grieg 

Receive the Word

Friday, August 17, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/081718.cfm

Today, in Mercy, our readings focus on the covenant between God and God’s People. 

1 Thess2 Word

Ezekiel recounts the infidelity of Israel which is met with the infinite fidelity of God. In our Gospel, Jesus parries with the Pharisees as they test him with questions about fidelity in marriage. Both readings reference “the word” which comes to us carrying truth and revelation. Today’s Alleluia Verse directs us to receive the Word of God with openness.

How will the Word of God come to us today? Will it be a single message, mysteriously hidden somewhere in the voluminous activities and distractions of the day?

No, instead it will be hidden in plain sight in ALL those activities and distractions. The Word of God is the abiding presence of Love which sustains our lives at every moment. It is the language that only a faithful heart can hear, a language throbbing in all Creation. We learn this language by silence, prayer and loving service of others.

May we be open to receive the Word of God as it comes to us, clothed in the lights and shadows of this day.

Music: Your Word ~ Hillsong Worship