What a great God is ours! Today Psalm 103 assures us of this fact with the refrain: The Lord is kind and merciful. We are told that God crowns us with mercy and compassion and that (in one translation) we swim in mercy as in an endless sea.* That understanding includes the concept of mercy as a fierce bonding love** and assures us that we are constantly blessed with that kind of love from the One who created the universe and all that is in it.
Who could ask for anything more?
*Ancient Songs Sung Anew: The Psalms as Poetryby Lynn Bauman
The relevance of the Psalms is timeless as the issues raised and the relationships considered apply to antiquity as well as to world situations in our own day. Following on yesterday’s post, we have Psalm 2 today that moves us from the individual to the universal and puts God squarely in the midst of world events and the clashes of nation with nation. At present the question of who will rule the world and how is filled with tension and dangerous rhetoric seems to escalate with each passing day.
In the midst of such a situation, the psalmist calls for the rulers of nations to turn to God for guidance. I found an interesting twist in Lynn Bauman’s translation of the last verses of the psalm which seems to me to relate directly to the situation at the southern border of the United States of America.
So listen well, you rulers of the peoples, be wise, pay heed to what you hear. Learn service to the God of earth and heaven, in humility and awe draw close, come near. Instead of fury, anger, fear and wrath, know blessedness. Learn to trust and live as a refugee in God. (Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p. 3)
How might living with that consciousness change things on the world stage?
This spring has been unusually cold and rainy. Today promises to be the only day this week with no rain but predictions also say we may be wet again by 6:00 this evening. Before I start to moan and groan about it I need to pay attention to Psalm 67 which today reminds me to look farther and deeper than my own back yard. As Lynn Bauman suggests, Our task as contemporary creatures is not simply to pray for ourselves, or narrowly for those around us who are dear to us, but to give voice for the whole earth…Imagine yourself as creation’s voice, as an instrument through which those without a voice can enter with praise the presence of God.
He is speaking, of course, about more than the weather although in some places the loss occasioned by that one element in the world has lately been monumental. He goes on to offer a challenge to us that carries us beyond the borders of our own lives and our own times to a larger vision. Listen:
Reflect upon your vision of the future for the world. There is often a wide gap between the the vision of beauty held out for the world and the experience of pain and ugliness we find within it. Those who pray hold these two regions together and will not let them fall apart.
As you pray this prayer (Psalm 67) imagine yourself praying for the voiceless creatures of earth, and for those human beings who have lost hope that such a future might even exist. (Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p. 166)
There are great images of God as Creator in today’s lectionary psalm. Reminiscent of the first two chapters of Genesis, Lynn Bauman’s translation of Psalm 93* addresses God and ties the Creator to the creation in a beautifully lyrical manner. Listen:
O sovereign Lord, O ruler over all, you wear beauty as a cloak, and bind yourself in power as with a belt. Immersed in strength you take the world and make it firm so we can never move it…And in its youth you covered earth with waters deep; its voice, the pounding waves was speaking loud…Your sacred presence touches everything, and holiness becomes your house for evermore. (vs. 1,2,4,6B)
In the commentary that follows, Bauman notes: “It is quite natural for our conception of God to be shaped by images we receive in the creation.” His question that follows is quite apt for this Spring season of beauty in the Northeast of the United States but could be fitting for any location of the globe in some way, I believe. He asks: “What images taken from nature speak to you most forcefully of the divine?”
I’m already one half-hour into my answer and I’m glad the question wasn’t asked in a way that asked for only one simple response! I will surely be finding new answers as I look around me all day long!
How does one know when God is speaking? Today the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar celebrates the willingness of Mary to acquiesce to God’s choice of her to be the mother of Jesus the Christ. In reading a commentary on Psalm 40, chosen for today’s feast, I read the following:
In this psalm we hear about the sense of waiting for God to act, and in the end God does so in a marvelous way for which the psalmist gives thanks. There is, however, another side to the experience which is also present in this psalm, the divine perspective. Does God act arbitrarily (only when God sees fit for some private reason), or is the divine act in response dependent upon the human condition? Sacred teaching speaks about “readiness.” When the heart is ready God acts swiftly, without delay or hesitation. God willingly gives the divine Self to an open and empty heart. This is the key. (Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p. 101)
Clearly this state of heart does not come without preparation. I can imagine Mary sitting in silence (or doing her daily chores with full attention) from early childhood, praying not just for herself but for her loved ones to be filled with love and the desire for God. My best guess of her prayer would approximate the lovely gospel acclamation of David Haas, Come now, OWord of God (because music lifts me beyond the capacity of the spoken word). Listen:
Fill our minds that we may hear Your wisdom. Touch our lips that we may speak Your truth. Hold our hearts that we may always follow You. Come now, O Word of God. (music on youtube)
Psalm 105 presents us today with a review of what we sometimes call “salvation history,” going back to Abraham and reminding us of all the great figures and stories of the ancient Hebrew people. What was most meaningful to me, however, as I read was the sense of connection – present to past – and the continuity of God’s actions in the life of the world, God’s faithfulness throughout all time, and even until now. It was the introductory verses that gave this sense of gratitude to me. Listen…
O God, we rise in thanks to call upon your name; we rise to spread the tidings of your deeds. We rise to sing you songs of praise, recounting every work and word in music’s voice. We rise to sing in honor of your holy name; let every seeker’s heart rejoice and search for you with all their strength until they stand before the beauty of your face, remembering.
Remember, remember everything you can recall; remember every work and wonder, remember every word God speaks to you in wisdom. Remember too that you are children of the Blessed One… (Ancient Songs sung Anew, p. 265)
Suddenly, it seems, we stand on the threshold of Lent. Who has had time to prepare? I realize I am speaking for myself here. Between planning for travel, re-orienting from different time zones and calculating what the weather will be like tomorrow or next week even if I’m not leaving town, I could easily say I am not ready for the upcoming 40 days. And yet I have only to look at Psalm 50, the psalm response in the lectionary readings for today, that states clearly a pattern for correct practice, a way of living that does not change but only deepens with determination and desire.
The psalmist speaks for God and says, This is what I want from you. Offer me a grateful heart. Fulfill the vows that you have made…I’ve made my case, here’s what I want, a sacrifice of thankfulness in all that honors me. (Ancient Songs Sung Anew: the Psalms as Poetry, p.125)
It seems to me that the world is desperately in need of kindness and positive behavior so that a Lent during which we live in right relationship, not only with God but with our neighbor, is the perfect choice. (How could we love one without the other?) And it is clearly a choice. We cannot honor God and leave our neighbor in the lurch. It will be necessary, I think, to remind ourselves of the practice of inclusive love several times a day – maybe when we look at our watch or phone with the question, “What time is it?” Maybe it will be enough for some to rise with the sun and offer the day in praise and good works to God as the light returns. You know yourself. Do it your way.
But just one more necessary component: do it all, in whatever way, with a smile.
Beginning with the Prophet Isaiah today, we have laments in every age about our imperfections. He starts us off by describing a vision of God seated on “a high and lofty throne” with angels all around and proclaims, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips!” What follows is testimony to God’s willingness to choose him – even in his weakness – and to cure him. (IS 6:1-8) Similarly in the second reading, St. Paul acknowledges that he was not fit to be called an apostle because he had been diligent in persecuting Christians. “By the grace of God,” however, he acknowledges that “I am what I am and God’s grace has not been ineffective.” (1COR 15: 1-11). Finally we have Simon Peter doubting the effectiveness of the directive Jesus gives to the fishermen who have been all night at their task and caught nothing. Perhaps his saving grace was that although he expressed his doubt about going back out “into deep water” and lowering the nets again, he said to Jesus, “but at your command I will lower the nets.” You know the story (LK 5: 1-11). The nets were almost breaking with all the fish! Peter’s response: to fall at the knees of Jesus and say, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” In each of these cases, the imperfect servant comes to know a sort of greatness in humility.
The lesson in each of these readings is captured in Psalm 138, tucked in the center of it all. “Your right hand saves me…your kindness, O Lord, endures forever…” Lynn Bauman’s translation of this psalm gives a beautiful expression of encouragement to us, letting us know that in spite of our human frailty God is just waiting to give us what we need.
For when I spoke your sacred name, your word of answer swiftly came as source of all the strength I know within. O peoples of this earth, know this, you too can hear this voice and speak the name. You too can know the music of this song revealing God’s beauty in fullest splendor. For though God is high beyond this earth, as swift as wind God stoops to hold the lowly close, the proud afar…(Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p.354)
A strange thing happened just now as I went to the USCCB website for the lectionary readings of the day (always my first stop upon arising). When I clicked on the calendar, an empty space appeared. Thinking it was my recalcitrant phone, I did the same with my computer. Same result: empty page. I clicked on February 4th and 6th and both showed the readings of the day but today was empty. I’m supposing it was some kind of a glitch at the Bishops’ office but decided to treat it as “reader’s choice.”
I opened my trusty Ancient Songs Sung Anew – not exactly at random. Today I am participating in an event at the Dominican Retreat and Conference Center in Schenectady, NY, a place where I spent several graced weekends leading retreats some years ago. One of my favorites was based on Psalm 46. As I opened to it this morning, I was not disappointed to find the title, God’s Presence in a World Torn Apart. Here are some of the hopeful lines.
God is for us a place of refuge and a mighty strength always present to us in our time of need…Though storms may blow and the seas themselves begin to foam, and the foundations of the world are shaken to their core…like a stronghold to our ancestors, our God is with us now…And like the light of morning, God’s presence breaks as dawn, and nothing is ever shaken there or broken down…Be silent, then, and in the stillness know the transcendence of our God. Know too the immanence of the One present in each being…Like a stronghold to our ancestors, our God is with us now. (p. 115)
I will hope to remember these words as I watch the State of the Union address this evening.
Psalm 8 is a lyrical reminder of our place in creation, calling us again today to our duty and privilege as “caretakers” of all God has made. In one lovely but haunting translation that calls us to recognize “the book of beauty that God’s fingers wrote,” the psalmist asks: “Who are we to stand before all this and see?” The answer comes as gently as the question that has been asked.
We are mortal beings set in this world, below the splendor of transcendent space…You placed us here and gave the earth into our care. You bid us cherish all this that’s ours, all the beasts and creatures of the wild. The birds of air, the fish of sea, the plants and everything that lives and moves are we here to know and love…*
My question as the images of all these creations pass before my inner eye is one of evaluation, knowing the effects of global warming and destruction of habitats causing the increased extinction of entire species. How well have we cared? Who are we in the role we have been given? Who are we?