Sing A New Song

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I am always heartened when my “coffee time” is accompanied by a song – or even just a snippet of a familiar melody. Sometimes I walk all day long with one line playing in my mind and on occasion I hear myself saying: “All right, already! Can we please change the channel?!” Today, however, the song makes me smile and I am feeling somewhat redeemed by possibility.

Sing a new song unto the Lord! Let your song be sung from mountains high. Sing a new song unto the Lord, singing Alleluia! (How can I resist?)

Every day can be a day for a new song, depending on my attitude. What is your song for today? Are you willing to sing it?

Monday, Monday…

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Here we are in the second week of Easter, moving on (some of us) as if all had been resolved and we have come back to normalcy (as if we could even define what that means.) Christ is alive. We have assurance of that and of what it means from the Acts of the Apostles. (As they prayed, the place where they were gathered shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness…” Acts 4:30-31) But are we ready to get back to the place we left over a year ago when everything abruptly shut down and a new reality was presented to us? Is it even possible to do that?

In the midst of that musing, I opened Meg Wheatley’s little book, Perseverance, and found the exact word that we need to consider, I think, at this juncture. See if you don’t agree. The word was Grief and the reflection said the following:

If we are able to give ourselves to the loss, to move toward it—rather than recoil in an effort to escape, deny, distract, or obscure—our wounded hearts become full, and out of that fullness we will do things differently, and we will do different things. Our loss, our wound, is precious to us because it can wake us up to love, and to loving action. (Norman Fischer, Zen teacher)

Dive Into Mercy

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Today, Sunday in the Octave of Easter, was renamed in the year 2000 as “Divine Mercy Sunday” in the Roman Catholic Church. I didn’t pay much attention to the new attribution. I was much more interested in the continuation of the Easter season, which we know to be the 50 days stretching from Easter to Pentecost. I have been aware of the great popularity of this new designation and wondered at the reasons behind what seemed to mimic and then overshadow the event at Fatima in the early 20th century. Pope (now “Saint”) John Paul II moved quickly to canonize Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun (see internet accounts) whose visions have been verified by the Church and place a significant focus on the mercy of Christ.

As events of this new century have become more and more challenging, I have come to understand more deeply the popularity of this feast. A search of the word “mercy” in any lexicon is a worthy activity for a quiet Sunday afternoon… One can find all sorts of reasons to amplify the meaning of what some of us learned in our youth as a “beating of the breast” cry for God’s forgiveness of our sins.

My favorite definition, offered in this blog more than once and attributed to Cynthia Bourgeault’s study, leads us to an old Etruscan word, merc, having to do with some sort of exchange, as seen in words like merchant and merchandise. We can see it, as Cynthia did, as a “divine exchange,” growing into a “fierce, bonding love” that sees a connection with God that is unbreakable.

I am led today, therefore, to a fuller appreciation of the word and the importance of the quality of mercy in my life—both as a virtue to be practiced in my relationships with others, and a welcome gift from others when I fail to be my best self. If you need a guide for today, I recommend reflection on the first lectionary reading from the Acts of the Apostles (4:32-35):

The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that their possessions were their own, but they had everything in common…There was no needy person among them for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need.

Hiatus

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Dear Friends,

This has been a strange Lent into Eastertide. We are still in the season of Covid and in many ways are locked down. That reality seems both physical and spiritual sometimes. How many of us celebrated the rituals of Holy Week in our own living rooms? Happily, the wonders of technology were the gifts that allowed us to see, if not to reach out and touch, those we love and those with whom we share faith.

Are you one of the millions of Americans who have been vaccinated? (I am halfway there, thanks to Pfizer and the brilliance of the scientists who have concocted the vaccine.) We have lost many people during the past several months in our families and communities and yet we hope. The Scriptures for today call us to quiet ourselves and search for the fire in our spirits that will reinvigorate our ability to persevere. Look around outside. See the greening that is happening and the flowers appearing to give us hope. Everything is saying,”Hold on! Hold on!”

I ask you that for this ministry. The Sophia Center continues to be patient and to prepare for a new cycle of spiritual growth. We ask only that you “hold on” with us, choosing perhaps to join in the book studies and/or Lunch with the Psalms until such time as we can meet in person once again. I ask for your prayer as I offer mine to you each day.

Lovingly,
Sister Lois

And Then the Blazing Sun…

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It was 7:43 EDT this morning when I saw the outline of the sun through the trees on our back hill. I don’t know whether to call it a mountain or not. It seems very high and I don’t know what it would take to scale it—or how to get around it and where I would be if I found myself on the other side. I often think about that but go no further than my thoughts because if I asked someone and got an answer of how to get around it, the mystery would be gone and I would not know what to do without the wonder of it all. This way, the way of not knowing, was swallowed up this morning in a blaze of glory as the full sun moved into focus and became the only light. The brilliance was all I could see and the shining was all that was left. Normally I (and others) would pull a curtain to minimize the light—but I have no curtain hanging there now as I’m in the midst of shifting elements of my bedroom. (And really, why would I ever want to miss anything happening outside?) I could have moved my chair but that would call for more shifting and still the light might obscure everything.

So I just sat until the sun had moved past the perimeter of the window (knowing, of course, that it is I who was moving as the earth moves around the sun). It was a metaphor, to be sure, and I have often been “blinded” by the sun. Today, however, I sat and consciously experienced what was happening as I sat surrounded by darkness. The shimmering brilliance was all that I could see and it was difficult to stay in it—in the way we are told not to look directly at the sun without special glasses during an eclipse. I thought about all the places in Scripture that speak of apparitions: the Transfiguration of Christ on the mountain, for example, where Peter, James and John were blinded by the light and when they looked up, they saw “only Jesus.” Can I say I am changed by this experience of light? Will I remember how nothing else was visible but darkness in the presence of that light? Who can say what awaits…maybe if I ask about or try to scale the mountain. What might I learn to see then?

A Nice Quiet Dinner…

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Knowing what we do about this week in the story of Jesus, I was happy to see the gospel for today that began this way:

Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him…(Jn 12:1-11)

I’m always glad to be reminded of the fact that Jesus had a family that extended to some of his closest friends and that—as in “normal” days in our lives—Jesus had celebratory meals with those people and got a chance once in awhile to “put his feet up” and relax. This scenario was enhanced with Mary’s desire to make Jesus more comfortable by anointing his feet with an expensive oil, adding a lovely fragrance to the house and a restful ambiance to the gathering. It was, I think, a telling “moment” about relationship for Jesus. Unfortunately, the feeling was shattered by the shift caused by Judas, complaining about the cost of the oil. Thus did the lovely moment pass and we are thrown back into the scene that is unfolding as a precursor to what is to come.

I choose today, however, to pause and consider this scene. It’s mostly conjecture, as we don’t have much to go on except Mary’s willingness to give such a generous gift to the Master. But who were the other people, named or not, whom we believe to have been in attendance at this meal. We know, at least, Jesus, Judas, Mary, Martha, Lazarus. Clearly we are familiar with all those people to whom we have already assigned roles: Judas holds the role of money-changer and is what we might call “a skinflint.” (There is clear evidence from the text that he is seen as “a thief.”) Martha is, as usual, in charge of the kitchen and Mary takes care of Jesus, making him as comfortable as possible. There are perhaps other friends as well, since it seems as if they are always together. And then there’s Jesus who speaks on Mary’s behalf with a striking statement after Judas complains about the money spent on the oil. Jesus says, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you but you do not always have me.” (Undoubtedly a foreshadowing of what is to come.)

I suggest creating the scene: the people, their placement in the room, their movements (mostly those of Martha, the always-busy one), the interactions of Mary and Jesus…Whose feelings can you imagine? The frustration of Judas and, perhaps, of Jesus…the compassion and tenderness of Mary…the surprise of everyone at the words of Jesus….

See what happens if you begin with some silence and then recreate the scene. Do you learn anything new about anyone? Can you put yourself in the scene? How does that change things—for you or the others gathered there? There are only days before the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Can you feel the tension building?

Holy Silence

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As we move into this week that we call “Holy” I have no words of my own so I search Thomas Merton’s Book of Hours for a message leading to silence. I feel that is the way to go in this week as much as possible, giving God the chance to speak. Here is Merton’s prayer:

Keep me, above all things, from sin. But give me the strength that waits upon You in silence and peace. Give me humility in which alone is rest, and deliver me from pride which is the heaviest of burdens. And possess my whole heart in the simplicity of love. Occupy my whole life with the one thought and the one desire of love, that I may love for You alone. (p. 55)

On the Cusp of Holy Week

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Some time ago I wrote about an approach to Lent that suggested letting go of “do’s and don’ts” in a manner of speaking, and rather focusing on life in the present moment. This morning I read a page in the book, A Deep Breath of Life, that offers a similar—if not matching—message. Maybe it is just the one we need as we prepare to enter Holy Week tomorrow.

It’s a story about monkeys and nuts, and, of course, people trying an experiment. The important item was the container for the nuts—a glass jar with a rim smaller than the base, making the monkeys unable to get to the nuts, if and until they were smart enough to tip the jar on its side instead of struggling to fit their hand into the jar. Jungle lore called that “making use of ease rather than force.”

The lesson offered by the author is stated as follows: “If you are trying to clutch onto something that won’t fit into your life naturally, that’s when you get caught. Accept what shows up, and you are free. Take advantage of the tide of events, and life will support you in ways that you could not manipulate through serious struggle. Build on what is rather than what isn’t and you will be one with life.” (Alan Cohen)

Rather than adding tasks to this coming week to earn the favor of God, why not just notice what comes into view in your life and respond to opportunities to “flow” in ways that you may not have done before. Cohen’s brief concluding prayer says this: Show me how to live. Help me move with energy that I may be free and happy. (I think God would be happy with that as well…)

A Prayer on the Day of Battle

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There have been reports of tornadoes in the Southeastern states overnight and even in Buffalo, NY—near the Great Lakes—the danger is real from wind and rain. Psalm 18 cries out: It is you I call, my God, in this dark hourThe roaring waves of death surrounded me, destroying floods overwhelmed my soul. In trouble and in fear I call out to you.

This is a very long psalm (51 verses) and intertwines our inner struggles with the elements of nature. “I love you, O God, my strength, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer!” The clouds are racing across the sky outside and the sun plays hide-and-seek with the blaring wind: in and out, in and out. It mimics the fear that makes us hide in cellars or in our bathtubs when the wind comes up in gusts (up to 60 mph today). The trees have now joined the fray shaking their heads as if saying “No, no…calm down! You need to pay attention to the storms inside you.” I stop to get in touch with that warning.

Last week I watched a podcast with Al Gore and John Kerry discussing climate issues. I was amazed at their vast knowledge and understanding of the issues and embarrassed at my ignorance of the same. I wonder if we are past the point of saving the world as I remember the commercial from years ago with a picture of a Native American warrior standing on the bank of a polluted stream. On his cheek was a single tear. I don’t even remember the words on the screen but I will never forget that face.

All these disparate images call me to consciousness and to a self-inquiry…I purport to love nature in all her beauty and wildness and to desire her safety from destruction, but right now I am asking myself (as the trees outside still shake their heads at me): What exactly are you willing to do—really—to assist in saving the planet? Can you honestly say, “I love you, O God, my strength, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer?”

God-Bearer

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Today is the feast of the Annunciation, the day when we celebrate God’s choice of Mary to be the mother of Jesus. Difficult to understand on a human level, even Mary questioned God about the possibility. “How can this be?” she asked the angel sent to let her know what was to be her work in the the world. I can imagine a more distressing reaction, something in the neighborhood of:

WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT??? THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING!! I’M A VIRGIN, FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE!!!”

Of course, the Scriptures paint a different picture. Mary was steeped in love for God and willing to do whatever she was called to do for God. It’s difficult to know how she felt on that day – and perhaps the days that followed. We have only one clue about those days following this pronouncement. Mary left her home and traveled into the hill country to the house of her kinswoman, Elizabeth, who was an older relative with whom she could share this news, try to understand what God was doing and find the support that she needed to agree to God’s plan.

There is a prayer in Thomas Merton’s Book of Hours, taken from his Asian Journal, p. 318-19, that I like to think might have been Mary’s “acceptance speech” when she came to terms with God’s choice of her as Mother of the Christ. Listen, and consider what she was agreeing to as her life’s work.

Oh, God, in accepting one another wholeheartedly, fully, completely, we accept You, and we thank You, and we adore You, and we love You with our whole being, because our being is in Your being, our spirit is rooted in Your spirit. Fill us then with love as we go our diverse ways, united in this one spirit which makes You present in the world, and which makes You witness to the ultimate reality that is love. Love has overcome. Love is victorious. Amen.