Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Intercessions ~ Sixth Sunday in the Easter Time

English Daisy ~ Mary Love

Today is Orthodox Easter./ For the safeguarding of Eastern Christians/ and for their growth in Christ./ And for our divisions to heal well by love./ We pray to the Lord.

May is Mary's Month./ We ask for the gift of her pride-defeating humility/ and that our prayer would be bold and confident,/ as was hers./ We pray to the Lord.

Especially mindful of the children who have been robbed of safety and joy,/ we pray for the strengthening of all who are losing hope/ and consolation for those who are heart-sick./ We pray to the Lord.

As Earth Day was observed last week,/ we pray for our stressed planet,/ and that we might follow more closely Christ's mandate to own little./ We pray to the Lord. 

As May begins we pray for those who keep birthdays,/ anniversaries and other days of remembrance./ We pray for those who will receive their First Communion,/ or who will be confirmed, / ordained or married./ We pray to the Lord.

For the poor who are unable to pull themselves up./ For those whose lives are ruined by fighting,/ hatred or disaster./ We ask endurance for peacemakers and healers./ We pray to the Lord. 

We pray for those who are overwhelmed by sickness or special needs./ For travelers,/ care-providers and the unemployed./ And for those who have died to see Jesus/ in the brightness of his Resurrection./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Mother of God Intercessor ~ and the Sunday Prayers

This gold and blue mosaic, created in the year 1000, is titled Virgin Orans and is found in the Church of Saint Sophia, Kiev. Orans means ~ interceding in prayer.

Mary's arms are stretched up and out, as if in her prayer she is uniting heaven and earth. Indeed, her gesture forms a kind of cup or vessel. Mixtures take place in vessels, here: visible and invisible, earthly and spiritual, seen and unseen. Sometimes the icon is called: Mother of God ~ Broader than the Heavens - that the prayers of the Mother of God know no limit, are as vast as the longings that fill human hearts.

And this is the method of the Intercessions that are posted here each Thursday in anticipation of Sunday. Those intercessions seek to pray about everything that's truly needful, including the things some people would say are just impossible. So the question is not, Do these prayers work but rather, In my own prayer does my vessel-like-heart hold the life of this planet?

Notice that while Mary interfaces with us in the great mosaic, her eyes don't meet ours. Perhaps she is looking over the great crowd of humanity all the way to the back where the most forsaken people are found, like the little Publican in the gospel who keeps his eyes to the ground, praying from the back of the temple (Luke 18:9-14). Mary sees humanity burdened and degraded - all the living things of the planet greedily exploited. She models the disposition of our own prayer.

Have we read it mindfully? Mary's Magnificat prayer is bold (Luke 1:46-55) and so the Sunday intercessions are bold - like any mother's heart-requests on behalf of her child, especially when that child is sick, leftout, ridiculed, fearful, falling behind, lost, threatened or abused. 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Searcher of the Perishing ~ And Her Highlights

This icon is titled Mother of God ~ Searcher of the Perishing. Icons are painted on wooden boards using multiple layers of translucent egg tempera paint. The darkest layers are applied first with the light, lighter, lightest colors building up until the final bright highlights are applied. The entire process reflects humanity coming up and out of darkness, evolving into light. Can you see these last divine sparks under Mary's decorated collar and on her veil and on the Holy Child's sash?

The light doesn't come from an outside source: a lamp, a candle, a sunny window, but from her interiority, where God dwells. Remember the Genesis story where God breathes or exhales into Adam God's own animating divine life (Genesis 2:7). And the wind of Pentecost echoes that divine gift, but now it is Christ-Spirit blown into us so to create a new kind of human person. (Acts 2:2)   This should even shock us! We were told at our Baptism: "You have become a new creation..." What does that mean? What does that look like? 

Never just walk on by an icon. Megan McKenna writes in her foreword to The Bride: Images of the Church by Daniel Berrigan, that the icon calls us to stop. 

These faces of the friends of God question us: and question us in such a way that what is posed, proposed to us, is at root unanswerable. Do you know who you are? Do you know who you belong to? Do you know what you were made for? Do you know how to live, to suffer, to die? Do you want communion, holiness, and ultimate freedom from death? You see - all these images sound us out silently. They are truth-tellers, revelations and confessors intent on laying bare our raw and well-concealed places of spirit and soul that hide and refuse to grow gracefully.

As I'm gathering and writing about these things, I'm sitting in the doctor's office waiting room. People are staring blankly at the large television screen hanging on the wall. There is no escaping the full-volume sound. The  contestants have to guess the right price for the items on display: a snow cone maker, an electric can opener, a weather alert radio, a nail care system, a food chopper, a snow blower and a "brrrraaaand new car."

The TV audience screams out the prices they think are closest; the show's host works everyone into a shopping frenzy. And for all the noise and energy, rather than being summoned into the experience of a transformed humanity, with our own translucent highlights, we're lured into a very deep coma.

I feel the contrast. Last week Pope Francis traveled to an immigrant camp on the island of Lesbos in Greece where thousands of Syrian and Afghani refugees are presently living, hoping to be allowed to re-settle in safety. Francis shook hundreds of hands, ate lunch with refugees, and listened to their stories.

One woman told of days at sea clutching her two year old son: the terrifying, total cold-blackness at night and the awareness that thousands have drown attempting the same voyage in flimsy rubber rafts. 

Then, like the highlights suffusing the Mother of God's veil, the pope had the idea (ideas can be like divine sparks) of offering to take a dozen refugees back to the Vatican with him. Three families boarded the pope's return flight to Rome: six adults and six children.

"Forgive society's fearful, closed-mindedness and indifference," Francis said. Then when the plane landed, the pope got off first, not for prestige, but so he could greet each of the refugees personally as they descended the stairs: "Welcome, you are not alone."

The Searcher of the Perishing icon: Highlighted Mary and Her equally bright Child - is an image of us too. Robert Lax (friend to Thomas Merton) wrote:
"We are all meant to shine  as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same." 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Intercessions ~ Fifth Sunday in the Easter Time

Pope Francis Visits Our Lady of Quinche ~ Ecuador

As the Jewish people enter the Passover time,/ we pray for the world to pass over from the experiences of deep darkness to a new light./ We pray to the Lord. 

We pray for the countries of Ecuador and Japan where devastating earthquakes have caused great suffering this week./ We pray to the Lord.

We ask for our prayer and Eucharistic worship to transform us to order and inner harmony./ We pray to the Lord.

In this political time we can speak and act poorly./ For a return to intelligent conversation,/ civility,/ and a desire for the common good./ We pray to the Lord.

For those who have lost their sense of purpose and direction./ For children who have lost their security./ And for ourselves/ where we face difficult challenges or unknowns./ We pray to the Lord.

For the safety of travelers,/ the healing of loved ones who are sick or troubled./ For this world where there is menace,/ terrorism or threat./ We pray to the Lord.

For those who have died recently in war,/ disaster/ or by neglect./ And for those who bury the dead or mourn them./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Virgin Mary with Pomegranate

Virgin Mary with Pomegranate 15c by Fra Angelico

O Queen of heaven, be joyful, alleluia!
For he to whom you once gave birth, alleluia!
Is now risen, as he foretold, alleluia!
Pray for us to the Father, alleluia!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Saint Andrew on the Vuoksa River

This is the little temple of Saint Andrew the Apostle built in the year 2000 on a stone outcrop in the River Vuoksa, Russia. For those of us who live in a drive-up-window-world, there might be something gentle-ing about having to row up to the chapel.

Some photographers happened upon the miniature river-church, then returning many times over the years they discovered it anew in each of its seasonal surprises. But beneath the natural beauty there is the chapel's vulnerability. It is a wooden church, exposed to the elements. It sits in a river, clinging to rock; a great rush of water could take it away. Far from the city's surveillance cameras, thieves could plunder it.

Vulnerability means no power: a newborn, a nest of eggs, the earliest spring flowers, a candle flame, snow on a pine bough. During an evening of television shows and commercials we hear the word power beyond counting: power-up, cleaning power, spending power, political power, celebrity power, athletic power, the vehicle's power, muscle-drink power, vitamin power, movie characters vying for power. 

Archbishop Anthony Bloom wrote: 
The Church must never speak from a position of strength. It ought not to be one of the forces influencing this or that state. The Church ought to be, if you will, just as powerless as God himself, which does not coerce but which calls and unveils the beauty and the truth of things without imposing them. 
Christians don't talk much  about our personal connection to power. The thought of discovering how infected we are might terrify us. And so this spiritual work remains to be undertaken today by first-world Christians. Why? Because at some point in the Gospels the miracles of Jesus stopped, and the people turned on him, disappointed that he wasn't going to be the kind of Messiah who would liberate them from Roman power. So they heaped abuse on him and crucified him, reducing him to absolute weakness. Jesus' only remaining power was the word of love he spoke to those under the cross who gave no evidence of love. 

We may not like this, may even defend against it rationalizing another way, looking for the wiggle room, but in his book A Life of Jesus, Shusaku Endo has written:
"A person begins to be a follower of Jesus only by accepting the risk of becoming himself one of the powerless people in this visible world."

We might end with this little meditation: I imagine myself rowing alone on the Vuoksa River at dawn, the Easter hour in the morning mist. Only the birds, the frogs, the fishes, the insects and I are awake. I tie up, step out onto the rock island and enter the chapel in its solitary and vulnerable beauty. I understand: all the displays of power I witness in person, or through media and even within myself, are theater. 

And in the meditation I may light a candle before the icon of the powerless Christ. I am alone in this fragrant space; there is no one to hear my prayer but heaven. Perhaps I pray for the salvation of those who menace the world with the illusion of power. Then I pray for my own divestment:

Volumne-d words,
curses and imaginings,
signs and insignia,
credentials and schemes,
looks and posturings,
refusals and obstructions,
threats and delays,
curriculum vitae,
snob appeal,
dropping names,
the very high quality of my accumulations...
and, O Christ, that the vacuum would be filled with love.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Intercessions ~ Fourth Sunday in the Easter Time

Bless those who work to relieve suffering and pain./ Grant insight to those who work to remove the underlying causes of terrorism,/ violence and war./ We pray to the Lord.

Give to the Church shepherds whose leadership springs from the Gospel-way of Jesus/ in humility,/ reconciliation/ and a gentle love for people./ We pray to the Lord. 

The Gospel speaks of Jesus as shepherd/ but all the more it speaks of us as his flock./ We pray to live/ not in isolated individualism,/ but in solidarity and communion with each other,/ especially in our great diversity./ We pray to the Lord.

The needs of the world's children must always be up front in our minds and hearts./ And so we pray for them in their weakness,/ vulnerability and fear./ We pray for a world which places the needs of children ahead of everything./ We pray to the Lord. 

In our hemisphere/ we have begun to feel a change of season./ And so we ask for Christ to change us:/ building us up in hope,/ courtesy,/ civility and trust./ Heal us where we are pitifully divided and at odds with each other./ We pray to the Lord. 

We pray for the sick,/ mindful of the need for minds,/ souls and relationships to be healed./ For those who care for others at home or professionally,/ and for those who in their illness are left without help./ We pray to the Lord.

For those who are in mourning/ to hear the Easter-Angel's greeting of Christ's Resurrection./ And for those who have died/ to experience heaven's gladness./ We pray to the Lord. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Young People Pray

Looking for new ideas to incorporate into the Sunday Intercessions I asked a friend who teaches middle school Earth Science if she could find a way to ask her classes for insights. As these are public school teenagers (basically 13 years old) the question would have to be posed delicately.

So she showed them a short film about a town that had been leveled by a tornado. An elderly woman was interviewed who had survived by hiding in the bathroom of her home with her dog in her arms. After the tornado came through which lifted her up and threw her outside, she was found lying in the wreckage, calling for the dog, but there was no response. 

But during the interview the camera woman saw the dog trapped underneath the house-debris. When the dog was freed and given back to the owner she said, "God already answered my prayer that I'd survive and now has answered another prayer, that I'd find my dog alive."

After the film the young people formed groups to discuss the woman's response to surviving and having her dog returned alive. In one group there was a Muslim boy wearing a round cap, a Sikh boy wearing a turban and a Hindu girl. These are the American-born sons and daughters of immigrants from India, Pakistan, Philippines, China, Vietnam, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Jamaica West Indies, Puerto Rico, Mexico and even one from Romania. 

The teacher asked: "If you were going to pray, what would you pray or wish for? Write what you want, but don't pray that your favorite team will win. And no one else will know what you've written." Some of the teens have a larger world view already while others see the world smaller, more immediate and close. We might read between the lines and detect school fears and learning issues, depression, distraction and anxieties. Here are their prayer-concerns.

  • for happiness in my family
  • for people who are sick and who will never get better
  • for cures for diseases
  • for a cure for cancer
  • for terrorism to end
  • for no more bombings
  • to see my family again
  • for people who have no food
  • to keep my family safe and together
  • for world peace
  • for friendships to last
  • for the people whose house burned down
  • for people not to talk behind your back
  • to be happy
  • for wars to end
  • for kids in hospitals
  • for people with autism
  • to feel safe
  • to be a good person
  • for people to be nice to each other
  • to stay in one place
  • to feel normal

I think these prayer concerns are amazing in their sensitivity and awareness. Some people ask if prayer works. That sounds magical to me. For me, the first thing prayer does is it awakens the heart. That's all I care about - that our hearts come out of the alluring coma. We hope that each generation will somehow be better than the one before. I feel hope here.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Rue Anemone and Easter Expectation

This delicate Rue Anemone is blooming along the edge of the woods here. Its range spans from east to west about a third of the country and comes in pure white or white with pink tints. I feel lucky to have the pink-tinted kind. 

Rue Anemone is frequently found in the stories of ancient mythology and is sometimes called wind flower as it is imagined to open only in breezes and winds. But it further symbolizes expectation, which is lovely for the Easter Season we're in these days. I'm thinking of the priest's Mass-prayer, Libera Nos, prayed immediately after the Our Father. The old translation is linguistically more accessible:

Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

As we wait in joyful hope. Joyful expectation. And for the Christian this means: I trust that God has won. Remember the Easter hymn?

The strife is o'er the battle done;
Now is the Victor's triumph won;
Now be the song of praise begun:

Death's mightiest pow'rs have done their worst,
And Jesus has his foes dispersed;
Let shouts of praise and joy outburst:

He closed the yawning gates of hell;
The bars from heav'ns high portals fell;
Let hymns of praise his triumph tell:

On the third morn he rose again,
Glorious in majesty to reign;
O let us swell the joyful strain:

We live with the Easter myrrh-bearing women who came to the tomb at sunrise. Sunrise is symbolically the time of the greatest contest - a cosmic contest - when light pushes the darkness away. It is a time of great tension, but surety as well. 

To live on this planet is to live in that tension. But if we believe that Jesus is risen from the dead in his body, that his Resurrection is not a hallucination or wishful thinking, then everything is different for us. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Intercessions ~ Third Sunday in the Easter Season

Pope Francis is planning a trip to Greece/ to draw attention to the plight of refugees/ and to encourage a ceasefire in the Middle East./ Bless the world with a desire for peace/ and the strength to set out creatively to achieve it. We pray to the Lord.

In the Year of Mercy,/ Pope Francis has asked every Catholic Diocese to establish a new project of mercy:/ a hospital,/ drug rehab center,/ nursing home,/ refugee or homeless shelter./ We pray for a generous response to the pope's request./ We pray to the Lord. 

Heal and restore our families/ where we are discouraged,/ anxious,/ tired,/ sick or sad./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the children of the world and for their safety/ where they are enslaved,/ exploited,/ uneducated,/ afraid or hungry./ For adults who will protect and care for them./ We pray to the Lord.

We ask for the Church to be deeply rooted in the Gospel of Jesus/ and to correct ourselves where we have become distracted,/ non-reflective or lazy./ We pray to the Lord. 

We pray for parents and care providers,/ those who await the birth of a child,/ for the unemployed,/ the home-bound and the elderly who are abandoned or without support./ We pray to the Lord. 

For the sick./ For those in chronic pain or whose illness is incurable./ For mourners/ and those who have died,/ aware that many die lonely deaths,/ without family or friends./ We pray to the Lord. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

Annunciation: With Fra Angelico's Help

The Feast of the Annunciation has been moved to today, March 25 having fallen on Holy Saturday this year. And here is Fra Angelico's (1437-46) depiction of this well-known gospel scene: 
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. He went in and said to her, "Rejoice, you who enjoy God's favour! The Lord is with you." (Luke 1:26,27ff)

Fra Angelico painted at the start of the Italian Renaissance, which means his paintings give birth to completely new ideas. We see Mary seated outside (a new idea) on a patio surrounded by arches. This cloister setting would have been familiar to the Dominican friars for whom the painting was created, making the image immediately accessible to them on an emotional level. 

The stone columns, serve as frames, the figures of Gabriel and Mary separate and distinct, but also joined into one as heaven and earth come together in the Annunciation. Even the thin, horizontal metal bar which runs through the tops of the columns, while serving the practical purpose of architectural support, all the more symbolizes the coming together of the divine and human. 

There is a wooden fence, to the left behind Gabriel, which in symbology means that Mary in her virginity is like an enclosed garden. But I think it's much more than that. I'd suggest that in this painting we are allowed entre into Mary's interior vision - her inner graced life of contemplation.

Dominican friars take vows of poverty and so there is nothing imperial about this Mary. Instead of a gilded throne, she sits on a low wooden stool, as if she were going to milk a cow or sit in a circle of kitchen girls to peel potatoes. Her pink dress echoes the angel's robe; her blue mantle suggests her elevated or royal status.

The only fussiness is seen in Gabriel's highly decorated wings. Maybe Fra Angelico didn't want Gabriel to look like a winged bird, or maybe he just couldn't handle the bare, unadorned reality of what's happening in the scene. Maybe he felt that somehow love has to be decorative. No matter. 

We notice too, that while Gabriel clearly has his eyes fixed on Mary, not a word has been spoken. The two lean into each other, their hands folded across their chests. Already, in silence, there is the language of  intimacy and heart.

A friar's little room is called a cell. Behind Mary is just such a room, but I would say the window placed there symbolizes Mary herself. It is through Mary, open in the littleness of  her youth, simplicity and humility that God has found incarnating access into our world.

There is nothing extraneous or overtly symbolic in the painting: no vase of white lilies, no prie dieu to kneel upon, no open prayer book, no Holy Spirit dove in the sky, no rays of light - only a  lawn of little spring flowers. Something new, fragrant and lovely is beginning here for us!

A key word in all of this is new: God's new idea depicted by an artist in a new way in a new (Renaissance) time. Often in religion we wind up just admiring what's old. Any ideas for yourself, your family, your parish ? Something new and life-giving!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Sunday in the Easter Octave: "As stars illumine the night..."


Lot's of people write about the sadness they feel living in a world that's so dark and fearsome. Sister Faustina (1905-1938) wrote her diary as Hitler (German Chancellor 1933-45) was gearing up and accruing power to himself. She wrote in her diary:

"Chosen souls are, in my hand, lights which I cast into the darkness of the world and with which I illumine it. As stars illumine the night, so chosen souls illumine the earth. And the more perfect a soul is, the stronger and the more far reaching is the light shed by it. It can be hidden and unknown, even to those closest to it, and yet its holiness is reflected in souls even to the most distant extremities of the world."

We don't talk much about our souls anymore. And that's a shame because soul is our innermost part. We could say it's the part of us that is most real. But distracted as we are by so much outer life, our souls are often unattended and un-evolved. But Faustina uses the word soul generously in her writing. In this entry she likens souls to stars shining in a dark world. What did she know about the spreading darkness coming out of Germany? She died in 1938, the year before her country, Poland, was invaded by Germany.

I have an extra thought though about Faustina's use of the word chosen. As if some souls are chosen and other souls not? I'd say, as God's children, we're all chosen to be lights in a dark world. But we're free to do with that divine honor as we will. So, as stars illumine the night...

let your compassion shine.
let your generosity shine.

let your smile shine.
let your eyes shine.
let your hospitality shine.
let your availability shine.

Like Paul Simon sings in The Only Living Boy in New York, "Hey, let your honesty shine, shine, shine..."

And then let God do with it as God wills.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Saturday in the Easter Octave: "And God made the seasons."

Warm and Bright ~ Photograph: Jeriff Cheng

And God said, "Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth."  (Genesis 1:14)

This verse recounts the fourth day of creation in the Book of Genesis: God created the seasons. We might think the author had in mind the four seasons we're accustomed to: Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. But an ancient agricultural Chinese Calendar,  watched the movements of nature so closely it envisioned twenty-four seasons. And while it acknowledged solstices and equinoxes, it looked more deeply, seeing movements within the water, air, the animals and plants. China is a vast country and so the calendar was not accurate for all parts of the country. We can imagine local adjustments were made. 

This calendar invites us to be more observant and reflective. Here are the approximate dates and the lovely seasonal names assigned to each bit of time and change: 

January 6 ~ the cold begins
January 20 ~ the coldest time
February 4 ~ spring begins
February 19 ~ the rains begin
March 5 ~ the insects and animals awaken
March 20 ~ night and day are of equal length.
April 4 ~ the time of warm and bright
April 19 ~ the rains helpful to grow
May 5 ~ summer begins
May 20 ~ the seeds of summer begin to grow
June 5 ~ the wheat grows ripe
June 21 ~ the longest day and the shortest night
July 7 ~ slight heat
July 22 ~ thunder storms begin ~ the hottest time
August 7 ~ autumn begins
August 23 ~ the heat hides
September 7 ~ dew begins
September 22 ~ the middle of autumn
October 8 ~ the dew is very cold
October 23 ~ frost descends
November 7 ~ winter begins
November 22 ~ the lesser snow
December 7 ~ the greater snow
December 21 ~ the shortest day ~ the longest night

I'm thinking of the yellow Coltsfoot of yesterday's post - it blooms only for a short time. We could call that flowering time a season. A season could be marked by the spring sound of the peepers which began chirping like clockwork last night (check out the post for April 14, 2015). We could create our own personal seasons of gratitude.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Friday in the Easter Octave: The Moral Hint of Coltsfoot

This is Coltsfoot which might be mistaken for the common dandelion. Coltsfoot spreads by rhizomes which are horizontal stems running on, or just under, the surface of the soil, sending out new roots and shoots along the way. The Audubon book of Native Plants reports that Coltsfoot grows along roadsides and in waste places. 

That having been said, I welcome Coltsfoot every year as it seems to be the earliest flower detected in March, and even February if the conditions are right. Coltsfoot brings a bright yellow-joy to marginal or useless situations. And Jesus said, "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." (John 15:11) My joy...your joy.

I remember once seeing a badly behaved and emotionally stuck teenaged girl dissolve into convulsive tears, and when the staff member asked in frustration, "What do you want?" she blurted out, "I just want to be happy." Isn't that what every human person wants - to be happy and not to suffer? 

So here's a simple thought for our everyday morality as we'll each make hundreds of decisions and choices today: to bring alleviate suffering - maybe especially to those places and persons deemed miserable, negligible, barren, non-productive. We might scroll back up to the top now to have a more meditative look at the Coltsfoot plant which blooms bright yellow along roadsides and in waste places.