The Force of Compassion

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Here’s a little news item that bears repeating, I think. Sister Andre, a member of the Daughters of Charity in Toulon, France, is celebrating her birthday today. She’s 117 years old, the oldest European and the second oldest person in the world. (The oldest is also a woman, Kane Tanaka, who is 118.) Sister Andre will have a birthday feast of foie gras, capon fillet with porcini mushrooms and baked Alaska, washed down with a small glass of port wine (a daily “tonic”). Asked what she would say to young people, Sister Andre said, “Be brave and show compassion.” Good advice and something I have espoused for years. As a matter of fact, long ago I saved and framed a calendar page with the work of artist Mary Southard, a Sister of St. Joseph, because in addition to Mary’s beautiful art work it offers two quotes. I see it every day.

The first of the quotes is from Thomas Merton who speaks of the quality of compassion, saying, “Compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all living beings which are all a part of one another.” The second, from Meister Eckhart, is closer to my heart as it speaks of how we should all be acting. It says, “Whatever God does, the first outburst is always compassion.” I like the quote because while it speaks of a heartfelt virtue that would seem very peaceful in itself, it is very active and can’t be contained, bursting out of us with the force of a love that must be shared.

So as we celebrate Sister Andre today, let us redouble our efforts to be brave in these troubled times in which we’re living and redouble our commitment to compassion for the good of the world.

Thinking Out Loud…

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Because we are now again reading from the Book of Genesis, the stories about the creation of the world and today from the Garden of Eden give me pause. I understand the difference between history and story but I do wonder, when humans began to people the earth, how they learned to do the things that would help them to survive. I’m thinking about food and shelter…and how they came to know what was good for them and what was dangerous. Fast forward to 2021. How do scientists determine what makes up a vaccine that will work against a disease that is ravaging the world? And what about the means to communicate among the nations about what is good for us? How did languages develop? And religions? And a sense of family ties? How did people learn to love one another—or not? Trial and error…?

I am at the same time awed and concerned at the way the world is developing. It seems we have been given what we need of intellect and possibility to survive but I also have a feeling that humanity, having been given all that, must pay attention at a deeper level to what composes a life at this juncture in history. Where did thinking enter the scene? I mean deep thinking that inaugurated a new consciousness of responsibility for one another. The fact that the world has survived this long seems both a mystery and a miracle and seems the best reason to believe in a “Higher Power.”

Forgive my meandering this morning. I began with only the second creation narrative and traveled swiftly through the creation of humanity all the way to this moment in time. There are so many questions…and amazements! I just looked down at my hands—two identical sets of fingers that know how to type words in the English language that I have learned over the past 72 years to express my thoughts to send to you for your reflection. And I realize what a miracle it is that you may understand what I’m saying! So on we go…

The Gift of Creation

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I love Psalm 8, the lectionary gift of today. I know I often say, “That’s one of my favorites!” and really mean it, but this one is really special to me, my most favorite of all. Just listen to these few lines. Repeat them aloud:

Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth! When I behold your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you set in place—who are we that you should be mindful of us, that you should care for us? Yet you have made us little less than the angels and crowned us with glory and honor…

If you’ve ever looked out on a star-studded sky or watched a rainbow appear after rain…if you’ve ever seen a field of sunflowers turning toward the sun or smelled a rose in her fullness, you will understand my bow to beauty. If you have watched from a screened-in porch the power of a storm and heard it announce itself in peals of thunder, counting the seconds between it and the lightning to determine your distance from the eye of the storm, you will feel the exhilaration of nature’s power…or if you have stood ankle deep in the ocean or on the edge of a placid lake at sunset, you will know the peace that overtakes you. If you lean down to study an inch worm or watch a grasshopper jump, you may have been able to share a smile with God who is delighting in the creation much more than you, yourself. And then there is the possibility of looking into the eyes of someone who loves you and whom you love, finding there the wonder and deep meaning of the word “love.” Then you may be grateful as I always am when this psalm shows up in prayer, expressing the immensity of the Creator’s love, the One who plays in joy at the amazing diversity of the creation that is ours and offering it to us as gift.

Praise for Creation

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This morning’s lectionary psalm (104) walks in tandem with the Genesis creation reading that precedes it. Having, however, a different purpose, it offers us a reason to pause and reflect—as if looking back on how we’ve appreciated what God has made. Immediately, as the psalmist opens his mouth, praise and purpose come forth: Rise up. my soul, and speak this blessing to your God...What follows is a reminder of the greatness of God’s generosity and how we have or have not appreciated the gift.

Today would be a good day to look up the totality of this song of praise or simply to see and consider how we have appreciated its content in how we have used and/or abused the creation. Look around. (I say this as the sun peeks out from behind the hills to wash us and to melt the snow.) Think more about the creation and how we have helped it manifest (like plantings and the vegetables that are in season) rather than how we have used—and sometimes abused—these natural resources. Make whatever offering of prayer comes to you while thinking on these things and conclude with the final verses of the psalm that speak our praise:

So while I live and have my breath, all this shall be my song. And may the poetry of heart and word I speak rise up as joy to bless the Lord…for we would ever bless you, God, our hearts remembering all you are to us, both now and ever more…Amen and Hallelujah. (Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p. 262-3)

God’s Song: Us!

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The Psalm for today’s liturgy is personalized by Lynn Bauman in a lovely way. Just reflecting on the first six verses, translated in a much more personal and lyrical manner than traditional English, gives us pause. See if you don’t agree. (Read aloud and stop to reflect on what is said, bringing our life situation now into the meaning, if you will.)

Hallelujah! My whole being longs to be a song in which you, my God, are always the refrain. So let this canticle of praise which is my life bring honor to your name. The music for this song began in ages past when you, O God, drew back the exiles from afar, when you rebuilt your ancient city called Jerusalem. And now it sings the healing of our shattered hearts, the binding up of all the wounds our world has caused. The chorus of stars, each named by you, sings out and adds its voice. It sings the majesty of God and wisdom’s boundless name. For God steps down and raises up in tenderness all those who live in grief; and just as surely God subverts all wickedness and casts the wicked in defeat upon the ground. (PS 147: 1-6, Ancient Songs Sung Anew)

(Can’t you just see God stepping down somewhere in the sky, picking you up out of whatever sadness clings to you and calling you – softly smiling – by your name…?)

Sisters on a Mission

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Up at 6:30 because I was awake and already had a “to-do list” growing in my brain…I have been up now for over an hour watching the wind push the clouds out of the way in promise of a very blue, sunny sky. It’s like a race to the east where some grey clouds are still holding the lead in the south but a very energetic tree keeps urging on the blue and white to what is predicted as a win for today….Armchair quarterbacking was about all I could muster for my first hour so I made a list that became 20 tasks for today. There is no possibility that all will be accomplished but just making the list is a start and tomorrow, as we all know, is another day!

Last night I was on a zoom call with 186 Sisters of St. Joseph. It was an introduction to a Lenten process of assessing our “Sharing of the Heart and Order of the House,” a practice that our first Sisters in 17th century France created to assure a weekly assessment of their lives together. It helps a group—living together or not at this moment in time—to talk about what it means to “move always toward profound love of God and love of neighbor”—assuming that talking about it will become a means for achieving the goal, if even “one step at a time.” It’s a bit more daunting for us than it was for those six Sisters who sat to do the practice in a kitchen in LePuy, France in the mid-1600s. Not only do we have more people to deal with but we live from Japan to New York and Peru to Minnesota…Chile to Hawaii and many points in between. It’s a monumental task that we will hope to achieve, meeting weekly in groups of six—native speakers of our languages serving as translators as necessary—all to bring us closer in service to a world in need.

Just the thought of this process gives me a motivation to achieve today. Certainly every item on my list will not be checked off by nightfall but the clouds are racing faster across the sky, the tree is waving them on and the sun has just arrived in my bedroom full-force! And with all of that motivation, my first item on the list is completed. This blog post is ready to go. May your day hold the deep peace of God’s grace for you.

Sacred Scripture, Cherished Words

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Sometimes when I read the Bible verses for the day it’s difficult to choose what to comment on because what was written in the Scriptures centuries ago is so apt and/or uplifting for the very day that we are living. Today there is much to ponder. I have chosen the most precious to me. See if you don’t agree.

  1. Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels. (HEB 13)
  2. Be content with what you have for He has said, I will never forsake you, or abandon you. Thus we may say with confidence: The Lord is my helper, and I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me? (HEB 13)
  3. The Lord is my life’s refuge; of whom shall I be afraid? (PS 27)
  4. Blessed are those who have kept the Word with a generous heart, and yield a harvest through perseverance. Alleluia! (LK 8)

A Word from Richard Rohr

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Having no worthwhile thoughts of my own this morning, I opened Richard Rohr’s book, The Divine Dance. Choosing at random a title from this mountain of creativity, I got just what I needed. The title was “The Delight of Diversity.” (I have loved alliterations for a very long time.) Here’s what I read that I offer to you for today.

“Goodness isn’t sameness. Goodness, to be goodness, needs contrast and tension, not perfect uniformity. If Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all God yet clearly different, and we embrace this differentiation, resisting the temptation to blend them into some kind of amorphous blob, then there are at least three shapes to pure goodness. (And, of course, probably more.)” p. 61.

Chew on that for awhile, will you, especially if you are unhappy or frustrated with your “companions on the journey” today. If you can’t delight in the fact that others are diverse rather than just like you, try to love them anyway. Won’t you, please?

Stream of Consciousness

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I have been awake for almost two hours now, much of the time just sitting with the cat looking out the window at the birds eating seed on the deck. She is so focused, she puts me to shame. I—on the other hand— have been watching my thoughts wander through many streams: an internet article on snowflakes—more information than I thought possible but quite interesting, (especially because it appeared spontaneously—I clicked nothing to receive it!), how much snow has fallen and how much more is expected, tasks to be completed today including my 2:00 zoom call, the Scripture readings for today—the Baptism of the Lord—and sometimes…no thought at all.

The most engaging of this conglomeration was a brief part of the today’s Psalm, a question that asked (quite appropriately) “Who is this God whose beauty streams to us in majesty so strong?” (PS 24:8*)

Just looking out my window causes me to pause and bow—at least internally—in wonder at the beauty of what I witness. I did not ask for or cause the snow to fall. I can do nothing about it except to watch it. I need to surrender to the beauty, the interruption it causes in the day, the plans of everyone in this area of the country, the disappointments and frustrations of those who can do absolutely nothing about it. And always, for me, the beauty.

I think of Teresa of Avila and her wisdom. She understood the flow of life and the reality—the necessity—of surrender to what is. Her prayer has been with me for 55 years and the truth of it becomes clearer all the time and gives me peace. She says: Let nothing disturb you, nothing frighten you. All things are passing, God never changes. Patient endurance attains all things, s/he who possesses God lacks nothing. God alone suffices.

Yes, indeed.

(*Ancient Songs Sung Anew: The Psalms as Poetry, p. 56)

A New Beginning

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Somewhere along the way in my life, someone told me that “It is said…” (I always want to ask: “BY WHOM?”) No matter…It is said thatsnow is a new beginning.” Perhaps that thought was occasioned at the end of a storm where & when everything was covered in white and all seemed pristine (ever new, unspoiled, in its original condition). As I look out my window today, I can see the logic of that thought and it puts me in mind of the creation of the world when “the earth was formless and void and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” I had just read a prayer by St. Augustine that might be just the thing for our reflection today. See what you think.

Breathe into me, Holy Spirit, that my mind may turn to what is holy.
Move me, Holy Spirit, that I may do what is holy.
Stir me, Holy Spirit, that I may love what is holy.
Strengthen me Holy Spirit, that I may preserve what is holy.
Protect me, Holy Spirit, that I may never lose what is holy.