Monday, October 20, 2014

Your one wild and precious life (Mary Oliver)

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean –
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down –
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what it is you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
--Mary Oliver

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sunday Gospel Reflection, October 19, 2014: I have called you by your name...

What defines your relationship to God?

In our reading this Sunday from Isaiah, God has allowed a foreign king, Cyrus, to play a role in saving Israel.  The image is a powerful one:  God grasps Cyrus’s right hand, empowering the human king with new authority to accomplish God’s goals.  This gesture radically alters the Israelites’ understanding of their own relationship with God:  I am the Lord; there is no other.  It is a clear statement of monotheism:  our God is the God, the only God, a fact celebrated in Psalm 96:  For all the gods of the nations are things of nought; hence the people are called to Give the Lord glory and honor.

By Jesus’s time, monotheism has taken firm hold, but what it means to be in relationship with that one God is still subject to definition.  In their attempt to trap Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, the Pharisees in fact trap themselves.  Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?, they ask, providing the coin Jesus asks for and thus demonstrating they are guilty of the idolatry associated with carrying Caesar’s image.  Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar is Jesus’s way of saying, don’t get caught up with trivialities like coins; give Caesar his coins and give God your heart!  That is the mark of true relationship:  not that we quibble about arcane rules, but that we concern ourselves with grace, with God’s dwelling among us, paying close attention to our covenant relationship first and foremost.  All human politics are insignificant in comparison. 

That grace – God dwelling with us – is the very same that Paul wishes on the Thessalonians.  We can live under foreign domination – Cyrus, Caesar, whomever – so long as we allow the peace that comes from that indwelling of God to permeate us, so long as we open ourselves to the faith, hope, and love that will bear good fruit.  If God – the one God, Lord over all, rules our lives and governs our existence, then we will know the grace and peace of a strong relationship with the Lord, who calls us by name, every single day.

This post is based on Fr. Pat's Scripture class.
Image source

Monday, October 13, 2014

He will destroy death forever (Stellan Sagvik)

Swedish composer Stellan Sagvik has written a beautiful choral piece based on our reading from Isaiah this past weekend.  You can access the mp3 online, or see a video version by clicking here.  (The Youtube version wouldn't load to the blog, but the link below might also work in your browser.)

MP3 version
Fandalism video
Youtube video
Image source

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Sunday Gospel Reflection, October 12, 2014: Behold, I have prepared my banquet...

Have you RSVP’d to the eternal banquet yet?

Feasts pervade our readings for this Sunday, as we ponder the question:  what does it take to have a seat at God’s eternal banquet for us in heaven?   To start with, Matthew’s gospel presents yet another parable designed to disconcert the Pharisees:  Jesus tells the story of the king’s banquet, to which those who were invited were not fit to come, at which point said king opens his invitation to the entire community, bad and good alike.  It’s not enough just to show up, though:  the man who arrives without the appropriate wedding garment – the man who has not worked for right relationship with God – is cast out; he is not spiritually ready for salvation.  To wear the wedding garment is thus to demonstrate you have taken up the work of God, opening your heart to allow his love to flow through your life. 

Writing to the Philippians, Paul gives concrete witness to the love he has allowed to flow through him.  He has known abundance as well as want:  I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry.  What is that secret?  That, no matter the circumstances, God is there for him, so long as righteousness – right relationship with God – remains his goal.  Open to that relationship, Paul can anticipate the (to his mind, imminent) abundance of the end time without concern for the feasts or famine of his current circumstances:  My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

The prophet Isaiah’s description of this wonderful repast includes rich food and choice wines, a state of abundance where no one will want for anything.  Even the fear of death has been removed, for God will destroy death forever.  Psalm 23 extends this imagery to suggest God’s ultimate fulfillment of the covenant:  God as Shepherd provides ample food, water, and protection for his flock; then, the psalmist anticipates an abundant victory banquet reminiscent of Isaiah:  my cup overflows.  Thus may the psalmist know God’s goodness and kindness – when he has remained in right relationship to God, faithful to covenant. 

Are you ready to open your heart to right relationship with God?  Answering ‘yes’ to this question is tantamount to an RSVP in the affirmative:  let your love flow through me, o Lord, that I might dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come!

This post is based on Fr. Pat's Scripture class.
Image source

Monday, October 6, 2014

Your Brain on Prayer

How do prayer and meditation affect our brains?

Jesus, and St. Paul after him, urge faithful believers to turn their attention frequently to God, trying their best to see as God sees, to free themselves of anxiety as they rest in the arms of their Creator.  Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things, Paul tells the Philippians.

One might read these lines as an invitation to meditation:  to place oneself in the presence of God and to ponder the good and the beautiful, through scripture or nature or music…  When we do so, scientists tell us, there are actually measurable differences in our cognitive functioning!  For a fascinating video explaining how meditation and prayer affect the brain, click here.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Sunday Gospel Reflection, October 5, 2014: Think about these things...

By the time Matthew wrote his Gospel, Jesus had died, risen, and ascended, so Matthew’s community is fully aware that the son referred to in Jesus’ parable to the chief priests and elders this week prefigures Jesus himself, sent by the Father and killed by the tenants working in his vineyard.  In the gospel, the Pharisees are all too ready to kill God’s Son; they have turned their vision away from God and look only to their own comfort and gain.  Yet even here, Jesus is not condemning anyone:  he is simply inviting the people – and the chief priests and elders in particular – to rethink what they are doing, urging them to try to be true to God’s love for them, open to the grace God would like to bestow upon them.  But the Pharisees have set up walls that keep them from seeing God’s plan, barriers that block out all vision of Jesus himself, and so the kingdom of heaven will be taken away from them, and given to a people that will produce its fruit.

You would think that, if nothing else, the elders would understand Jesus’s quote from the Scriptures:  The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone (Psalm 118).  They are the erudite teachers and leaders; they should know that The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel (Psalm 80), and that, in spite of all God did for his vineyard in Isaiah’s time – he spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines – the vineyard would be destroyed because of the infidelity of the people of Israel.  But their vision is too cloudy to see even the texts through which they were educated.

Post-Resurrection, Paul’s message to the Philippians echoes that of Jesus to the chief priests and elders:  do not close yourselves to God behind walls of anxiety; rather, open yourselves daily to God’s ongoing care and grace, welcoming the peace of God and acknowledging all the good God’s love effects in your life.  Every deed, every word, every thought we enjoy must be rooted first and foremost in God’s excellence rather than in human understanding:  contemplate whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious.  Keep God always in your vision, and the kingdom of God, in your hands, will produce much fruit….

This post is based on Fr. Pat's Scripture class.
Image source

Monday, September 29, 2014

Only for You (Hxly Kxss)

(Hxly Kxss)

Do you remember
When we met in ’98?
You took my hand
Held it tight and kept me safe

Hold me close, keep me near
Though I was lost I’m now right here

Oh my soul sings only for You
Teach me Your path, lead me in the truth
Remember not the sins of my youth
Now my soul sings only for You

Do you remember
When I turned my back on You?
I was hiding in the shadows
But Your light kept shining through

Hold me close, keep me near
Though I was lost, now I’m right here

Oh my soul sings only for You
Teach me Your path, lead me in the truth
Remember not the sins of my youth
Now my soul sings only for You

Do you remember
When I came running back home?
Dirty rags washed clean
You’ve made me white as snow

Hold me close, keep me near
Though I was lost, now I’m right here

Oh my soul sings (repeated)

Oh my soul sings only for You
Teach me Your path, lead me in the truth
Remember not the sins of my youth
Now my soul sings only for You

Vocalist:  Emily Swingler
Video source
Lyrics source