Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The 1000th Post ~ To The Father's Glory

Here a young Ethiopian man stands near a brilliant icon of the Annunciation in his church. Notice that in order for us to venerate the icon, not  one, but two veils have been pulled back. In the Annunciation: the conversation Gabriel and Mary have concerning her pregnancy and God's advancing into our world in Christ - the veil between heaven and earth has been pulled back fully and for all time.

And this is the 1000th Pauca Verba post which began in March of 2013.  Since then there have been 426,000 page views from countries all around the world: Ireland, Great Britain, Mexico, France, Russia, China, Australia, Italy, Poland and all across Canada and the United States. Pauca Verba (a few words) began in the late 1990's as a column in a little Sunday bulletin for young people in their residential school. Later it morphed into a reflection page for parish weekend bulletins until friends pushed a bit and together we envisioned putting it up online. 

It's a blessed project for me because it has invited me to deeper learning, awareness, reflection and prayer. The folks who follow are 99.9% friendly - "not for nothing" in a contentious world where a single online word can start an ugly fight. 

The purpose of the blog is not to indoctrinate anyone but simply to point to ideas for prayer and places where we might encounter and ponder God. Indeed, in numerology the number 1000 signifies the Father's Glory: God's beauty, awesomeness, joy and delight, wondrous imagination and invitation. God's Glory is the humility God displayed in coming to us in Christ.

God is wonderful, and everyday there is something to experience which re-introduces us to God. I don't want to miss out on any of that. That's what I hope to point to here. 

A word about the Thursday Intercessions: I think of them as a great needle and thread pulling together the things of heaven and our weary world. Do they effect any change? Maybe. That's God's business. The purpose of the prayers is to bring my heart before God - a heart which I hope is increasingly defrosted and opened. God reads hearts. 

I send thanks, good wishes and a blessing to you and your homes. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Intercessions ~ Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Friday is the Feast of St. John Vianney,/ the patron saint of parish priests./ Awaken the clergy with gifts of conversion,/ creativity and a new love of the Gospel./ Heal the priests who are weary,/ spiritually dry,/ un-evolved,/ troubled or broken/ We pray to the Lord.

During the month of July,/ Pope Francis asks us to pray for lapsed Christians./ For those who have given up on the life of faith,/ who have turned away from the Gospel,/ or who no longer care to love God and neighbor./ We pray to the Lord.

The word crisis is appearing in American politics these days./ Restore and guide this land in the way of honesty and humility./ Forgive the nation where we are sorely divided,/ inhospitable,/ bitter or self-seeking./ We pray to the Lord.

Deepen our prayer./ Fill us with spiritual awareness and a love of praise and gratitude./ Free us from prayer that is superficial,/ bored or selfish./ We pray to the Lord.

Reassure those who are mourning,/ living in emotional or physical pain,/ desperate or fleeing for their lives./ Teach us continually the way of presence,/ careful listening and generosity./ We pray to the Lord. 

Every two minutes/ a child dies somewhere in the world due to unsafe drinking water or poor hygiene./ We pray to think rightly/ and to re-order our priorities/ so to be pleasing to God./ We pray to the Lord. 

We pray for those who have died this week,/ mindful of those who die terrible deaths in wars or because of exploitation,/ neglect,/ disaster or carelessness./ And that we would be given all we need for our own salvation./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Prunella Vulgaris and a Prayer for Healing

As many times I've walked along this dirt road I have never (before now) laid eyes on this humble July-flowering plant whose Latin name is Prunella Vulgaris. Its everyday name is Heal-all or Self-Heal. Prunella apparently gets the more friendly name from her wide use as an herbal remedy for throat ailments. Considering the plant's ability and will to heal, what an affront to its dignity that some sources call it "a common lawn weed." Huh! Along with the plant-discovery, I've also come across this lovely healing prayer in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. What a happy combination!

O God, our creator and preserver, we humbly beseech you for all sorts and conditions of humankind; that you would be pleased to make your ways known to us, your saving health to all nations. More especially we pray for your holy Church in every place; that it may be so guided and governed by your good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. Finally, we commend to your fatherly goodness all those who are in any ways afflicted or distressed, in mind, body or spirit, especially those for whom our prayers are desired; that it may please you to comfort and relieve them in their necessities, giving them patience under their sufferings, and a happy way out of their afflictions. And this we beg for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Psalm 147 ~ Praise God Who Heals The Brokenhearted

Verse 1: The psalm begins and ends with the word Alleluia, which resembles the sounds a baby makes. Before God everything we say is just a kind of babbling. It has also been said that Alleluia is the word we're privy to that angels use. Lovely. Alleluia means: Praise the Lord!

Native Americans found Christianity to be a too complicated religion of paper and books. One priest has written, "You can't understand Catholicism unless you understand metaphysics." What's that? Alleluia = Praise the Lord! = O God, how wonderful you are!

Verses 2-3: God rebuilds Jerusalem, gathers Israel and heals the brokenhearted. Notice the psalmist doesnt' say time heals, but rather, God heals. God heals the abandonment, the betrayal, the profound disappointment. Do I believe it? And then, when healed and put back together, I can be a source of compassion for others because I understand.

Verse 4: The stars! I love this verse. But it's not about movie-stars, rather, the stars we see in the photograph above. God knows how many there are and even has given them names. Can you imagine? Of course not. It's too wonderful! And if God knows the names of the stars, how much more God knows my name.

Verse 5: There's no limit to God's wisdom - God's thoughts, God's creative imagination, God's insights and knowledge. God's wisdom gives us everything in awesome variety - so many kinds of weather, plants, animals, landscapes, foods. Last fall I was in a fancy supermarket that had more than two dozen different kinds of apples displayed. Wow! But often we disdain human diversity. Why is that?

Verse 6: God casts the wicked to the ground. Really? I can battle discouragement when I hear about or see evil-doers seemingly win the day or get the upper hand. I'll accept this verse on faith but I don't like it when Christians offer up pious talk and worn out cliches to let God off the hook. But I'll do what I can to help God lift up the lowly. 

Verse 7: Sing to the Lord...make music. Good question for Catholics in church: Do you sing out? Or do you stand there, not even picking up the hymnal, hoping it'll be over in one verse. Shame on the priest who doesn't join in. Do you ever find yourself singing a hymn while you wait, or while you work? "But I don't have a good voice," Catholics say. What? Did God give voices only to Protestants? You've got the voice God gave you - delight God by using it. 

Verses 8-10: God gives clouds, rain, soil, grasses and all the green plants for the animals and for us. So yeah, "climate change" should be a major concern for the Christian. It's not a political issue, it's a religious/spiritual issue. How we insult God by ignoring the care of God's planet-gift!

Verse 11: God's not impressed with the strength of horses (ancient war machines) and all the ways humans pump up themselves. Some people might not like it because it gets in the way of their politic, but we've got to let this verse speak to our 21st century. God isn't impressed with military budgets and parades, uniforms, tanks, drones, rockets, jets, poisons and gasses, landmines, "mother-of-all-bombs, nuclear ramp up. Let's hear it again: God isn't impressed...

Verse 12: But the Lord takes pleasure. You know what's pleasing to God? When we allow our minds to be changed about someone: him, her, them. 

Verses 13,14: God blesses the children. Do we? Why is it so hard for a country that thinks of itself as 'the greatest' to be sure that every child is welcomed and loved? We can do anything and everything we set our national mind to. Then why are there children who live in desperate poverty, who can't read, who are lost and abandoned, who never see a doctor, who are ravaged by sex trafficking, who are shot dead on the street or in their classrooms?

Verse 15: God sets up peace on the borders. Is it just national borders? Aren't there also the borders of our minds, hearts, indeed our whole lives? I want there to be peace on those borders when I encounter any person. 

Verse 16: God's word runs swiftly. God is relational, continually reaching into our world with a sense of urgency born of love.

Verses 17-19: And God sends his word to melt the hoarfrost, the hail, the wintry winds and ice. But to think only in terms of the weather is to miss the bigger point. Some human hearts are in a deep freeze, a personal ice age. Oh God, it isn't just the winter airplane wings that need to be de-iced....

Verses 20,21: We live in the long line of faith-relatives. Here Jacob is brought to mind, the grandson of Abraham and Sarah.  And we're reminded that God has not done these things for any other nation. Hmm. All religions want us to think they're special to God, that they have a corner on the truth or they alone know what is pleasing to God. But when we start thinking and acting that way, bloodshed and flame pick up their heads.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Intercessions ~ Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Living in a dangerous world/ marred by violence and hatred,/ we entrust ourselves,/ our families,/ neighbors and parishes to God,/ asking for safety,/ and the change of heart God desires for each of us./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for all whose lives are disrupted by the vagaries of summer:/ drought,/ fires,/ floods,/ storms and heat./ And that we would care for one another/ not only in times of calamity, but everyday./ We pray to the Lord.

At the center of our Christian lives is the broken bread/ which is given away./ We pray for those who have no bread/ and that each of us who worship this weekend,/ would see to it/ for our part/ that someone is fed who would otherwise go hungry./ We pray to the Lord.

Wednesday is the Feast of Saints Joachim and Anna/ the parents of the Virgin Mary./ We ask the blessings of wisdom for parents around the world,/ and for the healing of families ruined by drug abuse,/ unemployment,/ anger or emotional problems./ We pray to the Lord. 

This Friday marks the start of the First World War in 1914./ We ask for world leaders who are intelligent and generously dedicated to creating a world that is at peace,/ which is a world of justice./ We pray to the Lord.

Our federal government is not functioning well these days;/ we ask for the healing of bitter partisan divisions,/ and behaviour that is foolish,/ prideful,/ disingenuous or dysfunctional./ Bless our leaders with a new desire to be of service./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Pilgrim Relics of Saint Nicholas

When Pope Francis met with Patriarch Kirill of  Russia in Cuba in February last year, Francis agreed to allow the relics of Saint Nicholas, Patron of Russia, to be brought to Moscow and St. Petersburg this summer. The saint's relics have been kept in Bari, Italy for over 900 years. 

There's lots of news about the United States and Russia these days. Maybe we can spiritually join the many thousands of believers in Russia and pray to Nicholas these summer months. 

Here is the Troparion (liturgical hymn) sung in honor of Saint Nicholas. Note: In Eastern icons the saint's head is large as it thinks the high and wonderful thoughts of  God. 

The truth of your deeds
has shown you to your flock
as a vessel of the faith,
an example of virtue
and a teacher of temperance. 
Wherefore by humility
you acquired greatness
and by poverty riches.
Father and Bishop Nicholas,
intercede with Christ our God 
that our souls may be saved.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Psalm 138 ~ Thanks for God's Goodness

When folks are asked, "What's your favorite psalm?" Psalm 138 comes in third place after Psalms 23 and 121. It's a prayer of mindfulness and gratitude for God's goodness. We might even learn it by heart. Click on the woodland path above to hear it read.

Verse 1: Notice the psalm says, I will give thanks..." Should we make anything of the world will? Maybe the psalmist is making a committment: "O God, all the way into the future, as long as I will live, you will have my heart." 

"Before the gods, I will sing your praises." The psalmist is thinking of little temple gods of carved stone and metal. But Americans have their own other gods: a political party, some politician's base, the military industrial complex, my to-die-for amendment, my "rights," the contents of the thingdom come stores...

Verse 2: "I will bow down at your temple." Bow down. This isn't a little nod of the head but a deep bow from the waist - what monks call a profound bow. A look-at-your-shoes bow. A get-down-on the-ground-head-to-the-floor bow. Why bow like this? Because God is faithful in love for us, who can be such spoilers. That's a very big love!

Verse 3: "Your word is above all things." God is always speaking God's Word.  I should be listening with the ears of my heart. You can't talk when you're bent over. You don't have the air for it. My father taught me to love words: God's Word is above all our yammering - our noisy, boisterous complaining. 

Verse 4: We may not always like what we hear - but God answers, and God gives strength. Many believing people can attest to that. The strength to hang in there while raising a family. The strength required to take care of the sick, the damaged, the elderly, the failing or dying. The strength not to quit on beating back an addiction. You name it.

Verses 5-6: All the earthly kings will praise God because they will learn the ways of God and see God's greatness. Instead of kings, we might substitute: presidents, senators, congressmen, governors, corporate heads, managers, supervisors...

Verse 7: A lovely contrast here - while God is high, God cares for the lowly. We can imagine God bent over the world's thrown away people, those hidden away in filth, despair and sadness. There are millions and millions of them. God sees the haughty from a distance - the ones who make policies, plans, deals and budgets that ignore the littlest and the voiceless.The haughty create the distance, not God.

Verse 8: The verse refers to God's right hand twice. It is a poetic image of God's omnipotence. So why doesn't God use his omni-power as I think he should? I'll have to ask God about that if heaven's beautiful gate is opened to me. Meanwhile, I let God be God. But for me, God's right hand means, God has me pulled in real close, the way parents do with their children when there's sadness, worry or danger. And the greatest danger for us? Anything that would cause us to become indifferent or hateful.

Verse 9: God doesn't abandon. Humans are fickle, bellicose, resentful, fearful, destructive, greedy consumers. But the psalmist testifies that God doesn't give up on us -  again - like those parents who don't give up on their children who can make some very wrong, even perilous choices. 

God created each of us as an original idea. Each person is created with a God-inspired purpose. A radio preacher-man said this week, "The two most important moments in our lives are: the moment when I was born and then, the moment when I discover why I was born."

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Intercessions ~ Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

July ~ Lion Heart Tango Lily

Saturday is the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalen/ the Easter Witness/ and called the Apostle to the Apostles./ That our religious lives would be a spiritual way/ affording us enduring joy./ We pray to the Lord.

Christianity was never really embraced by Native Americans because they found the European Christians to be quarrelsome about religion./ We pray to find our peace in the blessed assurance of God's love for us in Christ,/ and thereby help to heal a fractious world./ We pray to the Lord.

For soldiers and civilians traumatized by war./ For people who are damaged,/ addicted or who live with special needs./ For the uneducated,/ unemployed,/ unwanted./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the repentance,/ healing and restoration of prisoners./ For those who have been victimized by crimes./ For the families of those imprisoned,/ remembering especially the children./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those who worry for their loved ones,/ worry about money or job,/ worry about health care or the weakening of a relationship./ For their inner rest and reassurance./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for ourselves and for one another this week./ That we may grow in gratitude,/ patience and heart-awareness./ We ask for health,/ safety and strength where we are challenged,/ burdened or feeling weak./ We pray to the Lord.

Let us pray for the sixteen Marines who died this week in Mississippi./ For their fellows and their families./ We pray as well for soldiers and sailors all around the world,/ asking boldly for a world at peace./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

"Who gave you authority...?"

They came once more to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple court the chief priests, lawyers, and elders came to him and said, 'By what authority are you acting like this? Who gave you authority to act in this way?' Jesus said to them, 'I will ask you one question; and if you give me an answer, I will tell you by what authority I act. The baptism of John: was it from God, or from men? Answer me.' This set them arguing among themselves: 'What shall we say? If we say, "from God", he will say, "Then why did you not believe him?" Shall we say, "from men"?  - but they were afraid of the people, for all held that John was in fact a prophet. So they answered Jesus, 'We do not know.' And Jesus  said to them, 'Then neither will I tell you by what authority I act.'  Mark 11:27-33

Verse 27:  This is a most serious conversation as it takes place just outside the great temple in Jerusalem. Indeed, these religious heavy-hitters  have turned the temple court into a courtroom! They have had their heads together conspiring how to deal with Jesus, which usually means how to trip him up so they can have something to hold against him. Humanly speaking, it's a very ugly scene. We're all aware of sinister back room deals, off stage plotting, when people get together secretly in the dead of night.

Verse 28: Put-out by the recent actions of Jesus: curing the blind man, turning the temple salesroom upside down, even 'cursing' the fig-tree: they open their cross examination in a rather condescending way - as if they were speaking to a child, outsider or new comer: "Who made you the boss" or "Who left you in charge" It's very testy. I remember once the pastor was out of town for some days and I was left in charge. When I asked a little parish group about what I considered to be a rather wasteful decision their reaction to me was indignant and contentious. "This isn't what the pastor meant when he left you in charge." I feel for Jesus.

Verse 29: But Jesus is smart (smarter than I) and he never answers a testy question directly, but always by asking a question of his own. I think he did this because he's a good teacher and good teachers don't fill the heads of their pupils with information but they draw out of people what they either already know or can discover for themselves. That's the best way to learn. 

Verses 30,31: But because they have a hidden agenda - their hearts are not clean and they dissolve into arguing among themselves. They're threatened that the people are ignoring them and following Jesus. 

Verses 32,33: They want the authority - the divine commission - and resent any suggestion that Jesus might have it. Or worse yet, that they had LOST God's commission. They can't handle this, and as people often do when they are confronted with the truth about themselves, they resort to anger. They can't answer Jesus' question because it clearly requires some real soul-searching, some self-examination. 

The truth about ourselves is sometimes difficult to face. I mean, how many people, not a few of whom are religious, carry a lot of arrogance, anger and hate inside? It's not fun confronting that. But Jesus says, "The truth will set you free." John 8:32  Some people would want to reduce "the truth" to the truth of their doctrines. I'd suggest it's much bigger than that. Indeed, debating the truth of doctrines could be a handy way of getting self-examination off my own plate. But that's how we come to wholeness and wellness. These religious guys will have none of it. I imagine Jesus smiled (not unkindly) and turned from them with a little shrug of his shoulders.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

A Prayer For Humility

First, what humility is not. An eighteen year old young woman was sitting in front of her bedroom mirror getting ready for her high school prom night when her mother walked in and said, "What's all the fuss about, no one's going to be looking at you anyway." The sick and damaging remark was carried well into the girl's adult years. However pervasive that kind of thinking is in the minds of not a few religious people, it's not humility.

Then there is Pope Francis, who the day after his election as pope went to visit the icon of the Mother of God in the Roman Basilica of Saint Mary Major, to say thanks and to ask heaven for help, while leaving a few flowers. 

We notice that the pope made his gift in person - no underling was sent to represent him. We also notice that the gift is small, not a great spray of fabulous imported blooms in a golden vase, but a little bowl of yellow and white roses, much as a boy would give his mother (perhaps with the help of his father).

There are more than a few men who wouldn't understand the gesture. But Francis knows who he is. It's not unlike the young dad who pushes the baby stroller with both hands. Not cool in this world of exaggerated masculinity. 

Humility comes from the Latin word humus, which means good earth. The humble person is down to earth about himself/herself. Humility means, I have a lot to learn. Humility asks for help; it doesn't get ahead of itself. Humility is another word for getting real about myself. 

Cardinal Merry del Vall (1865-1930) wrote a Litany of Humility which perhaps inspired Father Alexander Men who composed is own shortly before he was martyred in 1990,  at the end of the Soviet years in Russia. I'd like to share that prayer with us, making some changes here and there that it might be more accessible to us. There are four of my own footnotes to nuance the prayer-idea.

Jesus, gentle and humble of heart, that I would have a heart like your own.

Jesus, deliver me from minding little slights and offenses.
Jesus, deliver me from the desire to force my own opinion.
Jesus, deliver me from resenting those who don't heed my advice.
Jesus, deliver me from the need to be praised.
Jesus, deliver me worrying about the respect I'm given.
Jesus, deliver me from the need to be first.
Jesus, deliver me from requiring signs that I am loved.
Jesus, deliver me from resenting that I have to wait.

From the fear of being forgotten, deliver me, Jesus! *1
From the fear of being under suspicion, deliver me, Jesus!
From the fear of being unknown, deliver me, Jesus!
From the fear of being misunderstood, deliver me, Jesus!
From the fear of being not chosen or featured, deliver me, Jesus!
From the fear of being talked about, deliver me, Jesus!
From the fear of being made fun of, deliver me, Jesus! *2

When others are appreciated more than I
  Help me, Jesus, to bear it in love.
When I am overlooked
  Help me, Jesus, to bear it in love.
When my birthright is given to another. *3
  Help me, Jesus, to bear it in love.
When others are considered more upright than I
  Help me, Jesus, to bear it in love.
When others are celebrated and loved more than I
  Help me, Jesus, to bear it in love.

That I would not seek high positions.
That I would not think, This work is beneath my dignity.
That I might see God's will in the directions of others.
That I would detect the desire for power within myself.
That I would be ready to forgive the mistakes and weaknesses of others.
That I would treat others with courtesy and a genuine desire for their good.
That I would be ready and willing to say, I am so sorry. *4
That I would worry less about my own poverty and loss of dignity.

*1 I told a friend in seminary that I wondered if I should go to be a hermit monk at the Charterhouse in Vermont. He said, "You'd leave after a week, waking up one morning and worrying that you'd been forgotten." That cleared the air for me.

*2 Bullying is a serious problem today in our country. Some bullies are dangerous. As we grow in self-respect we might worry less about it. But we should be aware of and attentive to those who might cause real trouble. The prayer is not suggesting we be cavalier or a victim.

*3 Money causes untold problems. Being cheated out of a will or something that is my due can be very painful. "Letting go" of this one can be a real test. But it can be done: Saint Francis of Assisi said to his religious brothers, "Better for you to go outside and kiss donkey dung than to even touch money." Whoa! But that's the difference between just admiring the saints and trying to actually be one.

*4 I'm sorry, let alone, I'm so sorry - these words stick in the throats of many people. Maybe especially between spouses? Or parents towards their children?

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Intercessions ~ Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Saint Kateri Tekawitha

Friday is the Feast of Saint Kateri Tekawitha, called the Lily of the Mohawks./ We ask for the protection of native populations in every place,/ and that reparations would be made to them where justice requires it./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those who form the different levels of government in our country:/ may their consciousness serve the needs of all;/ may their consciences be informed by the truth./ We pray to the Lord.

We entrust to the God of good purpose and conversion:/ conmen, dealers,/ manipulators,/ murderers,/ liars,/ thieves,/ haters and obstructionists./ We pray to the Lord.

For our families and friends,/ we pray for safety,/ health,/ gratitude and acceptance./ For those who are out of work,/ who can't make ends meet,/ who are down on their luck,/ feeling sad or hopeless./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for summer travelers,/ For those who work outdoors,/ whose work is dangerous or exhausting./ For those who get no time off during the summer./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray that every child would be welcomed and loved./ For those who work on behalf of children  who are orphaned,/ thrown away,/ injured,/ out of school,/ exploited or trapped./ We pray to the Lord.

For those we have known or loved over the years who have died,/ those who die un-mourned or with no prayer offered for them./ For those who die a sudden or sad death./ And that we would be given all we need for our own salvation./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Gratitude in the Details

"If you've got gratitude, you've got the whole of the spiritual life." But we have a tendency to complicate things - even the spiritual life. "Keep it simple," AA says. That's good advice.

Some images have the power to elicit from us memories and associations good and bad. I came across this display of zinnias in a Mennonite nursery this spring and was immediately taken back to my boyhood and the first garden I kept which was a sandy 10 X 10 plot behind our suburban home. 

Our house was built in the early 1950's on what had been a potato field on Long Island. The good farm-soil had been taken away and all that was left was yellow carpenter's sand. But somehow, zinnia's grew and flowered. I investigated online and even found a picture of the vintage zinnia seed packet I could buy in a catalog for pennies. 

Does the picture above bring anything to mind for you - scenes or awareness-es that invite micro-gratitude (gratitude in the details). And where does that take you interiorly? For me...

  • Gratitude for the doctor and nurses who were in the room when I was born.
  • Gratitude for Miss O'Mara who calmed me down the first day of kindergarten.
  • Gratitude for Miss Slomiak who taught me to read.
  • Gratitude for Sister Vincent who prepared me for First  Communion.
  • Gratitude for the Mrs. Balbo who taught us how to identify types of clouds.
  • Gratitude for my mother the afternoon she taught me to tie my shoe.
  • Gratitude for my father who taught me how to genuflect one night in church.
  • Gratitude for my parish which held an outdoor May Crowning each spring.
  • Gratitude for Oberlee's Greenhouse which grew long-stemmed  carnations for 25 cents. 
  • Gratitude for the nun who gave me my first paper icon.
  • Gratitude for the brass sanctus bells I rang at the Consecration.
  • Gratitude for safety the night our family was saved from a terrible car accident.
  • Gratitude for the first time I saw the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.
  • Gratitude for my first visit to Saint Patrick's Cathedral and lit a candle.

It's said, "Hindsight is 20/20." My childhood and teen years were not idyllic, but this gift of the zinnias in the Mennonite nursery invited me to take a look back and to remember again where God was close in the moments that were beautiful, truthful and good. We might all try it out today.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Psalm 121 ~ A Psalm of Reassurance

Click on the mountain view to hear Psalm 121 read. Some spiritual commentary follows that might spark our own reflection. These are difficult days - we need some reassurance and reason for hope.

Verse 1. We don't know who the speaker is, but we do know it's someone who feels the need for help. Maybe the psalmist has in mind an enemy who is harassing him. I might need help with some health or family problem, or help with loneliness, depression, anxieties, personal loss, addiction, anger, or feeling the inability to let it go. Name it!

And while feeling this need for help, the psalmist lifts up his/her eyes to the mountains, which is the biblical place where we meet and encounter God uniquely. We remember: Mount Sinai, Mount Zion, the Sermon on the Mount, Mount Tabor, the Mount of Olives, Mount Calvary. Looking up to the mountains and hills, the psalmist cries out for divine help. 

Some religious people go around with their heads down all the time. "You should hang your head in shame" we might have heard while growing up. "Maintain custody of the eyes" the young nun was taught. But even today at Mass, "Bow down your heads and pray for God's blessing." I don't know about that, why not look up for God's blessing, not to be nosey, but to see what God has in store for us. Perhaps a wonderful surprise!

Verse 2. My help comes from the Lord. This is a statement of great trust. We have lots of help available to us: self-help books, the doctor, the therapist, the rehab center (if needed), the concierge in the hotel lobby, the Internet, the parole officer, the teacher or principal. But when all is said and done, the psalmist declares that God is  Helper. Folks in AA know this. 

The gospel woman with the hemorrhage, Mary at the Cana-wedding, the centurion with the sick servant, Blind Bartimaeus - they all know it too. God is a helper, the God who created heaven and hearth. And God, who made each of us with care, isn't likely to forget us.

Verses 3 and 4. God won't allow our feet to be moved. There are many people who would be happy to share how God has kept them on their feet when the stresses and troubles of life wanted them down for the count. 

And that God watches, but watches like a mother with children at the beach. She wants her children safe and secure. Pope John Paul I prayed: God, you are our father, yet all the more like a mother, who wishes us no harm and has our best interests in mind. 

The psalmist continues that our prayers don't wake God up, as if God is asleep on the job. God is like the night watchman - attentive in the dark times. The psalmist even goes further, God not only doesn't sleep, but God doesn't slumber - which means God isn't even distracted, or negligent or lazy in God's attentions.

Some folks are cynical about God who they say, watches and does nothing. I'd say that sounds much more like us. We're the ones who watch and do nothing: while God's garden-paradise becomes a garbage heap, the stabilizing forests are chopped down, the cities are blown up, the children are killed, the people are starving and thirsty - and now the whole thing is out of control and it's getting too late even to  talk reasonably about how to remedy it. We needn't blame God; we're the ones who've been just watching for a very long time. Why do you think Jesus in the gospels is always saying, Stay awake! Watch!

Verses 5 and 6. God is shade which is a place of relief, recovery, safety and preservation. The desert mother-bird spreads her wings over the nestlings to keep them from being scorched. Have I ever felt that God had me covered?  

And shade at my right hand. God has me pulled in close. I'm not a strange face in the crowd. I'm not anonymous. It matters to God that I exist.

Verses 7 and 8. The Lord shall preserve you from all evil. Oh, I want this to be true. Or better yet, I want to feel and trust more the truth of this little verse. A news commentator said recently: "We live in a dangerous country." Who's packing a gun? Who's crazed or stoned while driving? The commercials want me to have the latest security system against intruders. What's in the water, the air, the food? Is it safe to get on plane, ride the subway, take a walk in a park? 

And while I hope for that safety, all the more I want to be kept safe from anything that might take me away from God - spiritual dangers: indifference, selfishness, entitlement, ingratitude, "I've got what I need; the heck with you." What AA calls, "Stinking thinking."

And finally, the Lord watching over my going out and my coming in. This is God with me in the ordinary, the hum-drum, the tedious , the routine and every day. I am never alone. "Look up and see" - that's good spiritual advice.