Tag Archives: Psalms

28 September, Season of Creation XXIX: Respecting the rhythms; Laudato Si’ XIII.

Ploughing in Sussex

Pope Francis describes how God and Creation, creation and humanity, and humanity and God are all intimately connected, and a breakdown in one relationship jeopardises the other two. We humans, of course, also undermine what should be loving relationships with each other. Is there one good person on God’s Earth?

70. In the story of Cain and Abel, we see how envy led Cain to commit the ultimate injustice against his brother, which in turn ruptured the relationship between Cain and God, and between Cain and the earth from which he was banished. This is seen clearly in the dramatic exchange between God and Cain. God asks: “Where is Abel your brother?” Cain answers that he does not know, and God persists: “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground” (Genesis 4:9-11). Disregard for a proper relationship with my neighbour, for whose care and custody I am responsible, ruins my relationship with my own self, with others, with God and with the earth. When all these relationships are neglected, when justice no longer dwells in the land, the Bible tells us that life itself is endangered. We see this in the story of Noah, where God threatens to do away with humanity because of its constant failure to fulfil the requirements of justice and peace: “I have determined to make an end of all flesh; for the earth is filled with violence through them” (Genesis 6:13). These ancient stories, bear witness to a conviction which we today share, that everything is interconnected, and that genuine care for our own lives and our relationships with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others.

71. Although “the wickedness of man was great in the earth” (Genesis 6:5) and the Lord “was sorry that he had made man on the earth” (Genesis 6:6), nonetheless, through Noah, who remained innocent and just, God decided to open a path of salvation. In this way he gave humanity the chance of a new beginning. All it takes is one good person to restore hope! The biblical tradition clearly shows that this renewal entails recovering and respecting the rhythms inscribed in nature by the hand of the Creator. We see this, for example, in the law of the Sabbath. On the seventh day, God rested from all his work. He commanded Israel to set aside each seventh day as a day of rest, a Sabbath, (cf. Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 16:23; 20:10). Similarly, every seven years, a sabbatical year was set aside for Israel, a complete rest for the land (cf. Leviticus 25:1-4), when sowing was forbidden and one reaped only what was necessary to live on and to feed one’s household (cf. Leviticus 25:4-6). Finally, after seven weeks of years, which is to say forty-nine years, the Jubilee was celebrated as a year of general forgiveness and “liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants” (cf. Leviticus 25:10). This law came about as an attempt to ensure balance and fairness in their relationships with others and with the land on which they lived and worked. “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field to its very border, neither shall you gather the gleanings after the harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner” (Leviticus 19:9-10).

72. The Psalms frequently exhort us to praise God the Creator, “who spread out the earth on the waters, for his steadfast love endures for ever” (Psalm 136:6). They also invite other creatures to join us in this praise: “Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created” (Psalm 148:3-5). We do not only exist by God’s mighty power; we also live with him and beside him. This is why we adore him.

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16 September, Laudato Si’ II, Creation XVII: we look for a change of humanity.

Monkey orchid, Kent.

After discussing statements on the environment and the misuse of Creation by popes over the last fifty years, Pope Francis continues by saying how scientists and other thinkers have contributed to church thinking.

7. Other Churches and Christian communities – and other religions as well – have expressed deep concern and offered valuable reflections on issues which all of us find disturbing. To give just one striking example, I would mention the statements made by the beloved Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, with whom we share the hope of full ecclesial communion.

8. Patriarch Bartholomew has spoken in particular of the need for each of us to repent of the ways we have harmed the planet, for “inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage”, we are called to acknowledge “our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation”. He has repeatedly stated this firmly and persuasively, challenging us to acknowledge our sins against creation: “For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins”. For “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”.

9. At the same time, Bartholomew has drawn attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems, which require that we look for solutions not only in technology but in a change of humanity; otherwise we would be dealing merely with symptoms. He asks us to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which “entails learning to give, and not simply to give up. It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs. It is liberation from fear, greed and compulsion”. As Christians, we are also called “to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbours on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet”.

Bartholomew and Francis are close to Blake’s vision:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour.

But Blake is not sentimentalising. He goes on to catalogue some sins against Creation, specifically cruelty against animals. If we saw a Heaven in a Wild Flower we would accept the world as a sacrament of communion, and not act in this way:

A Robin Red breast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.
A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons
Shudders Hell thr’ all its regions.
A dog starvd at his Masters Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State. 
A Horse misusd upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood.
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear.
A Skylark wounded in the wing 
A Cherubim does cease to sing.
The Game Cock clipd & armd for fight
Does the Rising Sun affright.

William Blake, Auguries of Innocence.

Lord open our eyes!

psalm_121_1_2

And here is the link to Sister Johanna’s final reflection on the Psalms:

I am never alone when praying the psalms, and this is not just because I pray them in the liturgy and in community.  Many people pray the psalms privately, and they, too, are not alone.  This is because the psalms, you might say, “refashion” the heart of the person praying. 

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15 September, Laudato Si’ I: our Sister cries out. Season of Creation XVI.

As we approach the Feast of Saint Francis on 4 October, we have been looking at aspects of Creation and our part in it as co-workers with God, the mistakes the human family have made, and that you and I continue to make. We read C.S. Lewis telling us that we have to go beyond warm-feeling nature religion and engage in serious theology if we want to have the right idea about God. So let’s get serious and read what Pope Francis says about the crisis in our corner of creation, the corner we have responsibility for. Here is the opening.

1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.

2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Romans 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Genesis 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

Note that the Pope uses the language of the Bible, which also inspired the poet Walter Savage Landor’s verse ‘content to sink into her lap when life is spent.’ The realisation of our earthliness is a first step to caring for our sister as God intended from the beginning of humanity.

Continuing Sister Johanna’s reflections on the Psalms; click here.

I’d like to say a few words about singing the psalms.  From my personal perspective as an ex-ballet dancer, music is highly important to me, and I am so grateful that this long tradition of singing prayer exists. 

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14 September:The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

When did the Church come into being? Egyptian Christians say the first Church was in their land, when Joseph led Mary and Baby Jesus to exile in what is now Cairo; others point to Pentecost, the day when the tongues of fire came down upon the 120 core members of the Church of Christ’s followers, women and men, including the Apostles and Mary his mother. You could suggest also the calling of the twelve, the sending out of the seventy, among many other key moments in the development of the community that took over Jesus’s mission; but one I had not considered was the taking down of the crucified corpse of the Lord, and the hurried burial in the garden tomb.

The Visual Commentary on Scripture recently published a reflection on this event, titled The Birth of the Church. At this critical moment, the Church had to come together to do what needed doing for his Body; the Church that was now his Body, led by two previously marginal men, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.

Paul Anel addresses this short moment through three works of art, by Rublev, Caravaggio and Michelangelo, and both the reflections and the art can be found by clicking on the link above.

And this link connects to Sister Johanna’s next reflection on the Psalms as personal prayer.

What about the angry psalms – often called the cursing psalms – where the psalmist is ranting and raving and just lets it rip against his enemies?  What about them?  Should we be embarrassed about them, and try to hide them in a dark corner where no one will notice them?

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13 September: Leaves, Creation XV.

 Leaf after leaf drops off, flower after flower, 
Some in the chill, some in the warmer hour: 
Alike they flourish and alike they fall, 
And Earth who nourished them receives them all. 
Should we, her wiser sons, be less content 
To sink into her lap when life is spent?

                                               Walter Savage Landor.

Landor was born in 1775, the year that Johnson sailed and preached on death. Landor’s take is rather different, but does not quite address Johnson’s point. Why, rather, should we be content simply to sink into earth’s lap? Is our existence then ultimately meaningless, vanity? Is there any point in repairing some of the damage that’s been done to our Mother Earth?

Christ intervened to restore meaning to human life, to answer such questions as these. He lived and died a perfect life but still cried out, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ The stoical acceptance Landor espouses here is another matter altogether and ultimately nihilist. True wisdom is more than intellectual; there is wisdom in love, in care for others, in care for creation: we have reason not to be content to sink into Mother Earth’s lap when we consider how much of our life has done her harm.

You are invited to click on this link and so continue reflecting on the Psalms with Sister Johanna of Minster Abbey:

When we pray things like “O God whom I praise, do not be silent, for the mouths of deceit and wickedness are opened against me” (108:1), or “When I think I have lost my foothold, your mercy Lord, holds me up” (93:18), or “I am beset with evils…” (39:13) and so on, the “I” in any given psalm can become our “I” when we’re praying, no matter what our mood might be at that particular time.

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September 12, 1775: A most pleasing effect on my mind. Season of Creation XIV.

An Island ferry docked at Mallaig.

Two Hundred and forty six years ago, Dr Johnson and James Boswell were on the Isle of Raasay in the Hebrides, making for Skye and thence for home. No regular Calmac ferry then! Indeed they had waited in the islands for clement weather to allow the rowing boats to set out. Now the conversation grew serious; can one die contented? Johnson’s answer is comprehensive, and reminds me of the old catechism answer: God made me to know him, love him and serve him in this world, and to be happy with him forever in the next. We rely on his mercy for the latter.

More of Boswell’s idiosyncratick spelling!

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 12. It was a beautiful day, and although we did not approve of travelling on Sunday, we resolved to set out, as we were in an island from whence one must take occasion as it serves. Macleod and Talisker sailed in a boat of Rasay’s for Sconser, to take the shortest way to Dunvegan. M’Cruslick went with them to Sconser, from whence he was to go to Slate, and so to the main land. We were resolved to pay a visit at Kingsburgh, and see the celebrated Miss Flora Macdonald, who is married to the present Mr. Macdonald of Kingsburgh; so took that road, though not so near.

All the family, but Lady Rasay, walked down to the shore to see us depart. Rasay himself went with us in a large boat, with eight oars, built in his island; as did Mr. Malcolm M’Cleod, Mr. Donald M’Queen, Dr. Macleod, and some others. We had a most pleasant sail between Rasay and Sky; and passed by a cave, where Martin says fowls were caught by lighting fire in the mouth of it. Malcolm remembers this. But it is not now practised, as few fowls come into it.

We spoke of Death. Dr. Johnson on this subject observed, that the boastings of some men, as to dying easily, were idle talk, proceeding from partial views. I mentioned Hawthornden’s Cypress-grove, where it is said that the world is a mere show; and that it is unreasonable for a man to wish to continue in the show-room, after he has seen it. Let him go cheerfully out, and give place to other spectators.

JOHNSON. ‘Yes, Sir, if he is sure he is to be well, after he goes out of it. But if he is to grow blind after he goes out of the show-room, and never to see any thing again; or if he does not know whither he is to go next, a man will not go cheerfully out of a show-room. No wise man will be contented to die, if he thinks he is to go into a state of punishment. Nay, no wise man will be contented to die, if he thinks he is to fall into annihilation: for however unhappy any man’s existence may be, he yet would rather have it, than not exist at all. No; there is no rational principle by which a man can die contented, but a trust in the mercy of GOD, through the merits of Jesus Christ.’

This short sermon, delivered with an earnest tone, in a boat upon the sea, which was perfectly calm, on a day appropriated to religious worship, while every one listened with an air of satisfaction, had a most pleasing effect upon my mind.

From “Life of Johnson, Vol 5 Tour to the Hebrides (1773)” by James Boswell.

Keeley Psalms devotions_30
Follow this link for Sister Johanna’s Psalm reflection for today, again bearing out CS Lewis and Thomas Merton:

‘In the psalms we have theology expressed poetically.’ 

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11 September: Vague religion versus Theology, Season of Creation XIII.

Times were hard in 1944. A religion that could not attempt some sort of explanation of the war that was still ongoing was no use to CS Lewis. In this extract he makes clear why. Much as Pope Francis did with Laudato Si’. There are good Christian reasons for studying the ways we are invited to prepare for the future without burning carbon, it’s not an add-on, it’s part of our share in creation, and it’s serious hard work.

A vague religion – all about feeling God in nature and so on – is so attractive. It’s all thrills and no work; like watching the waves from the beach. But you won’t get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic that way, and you won’t get to eternal life by just feeling the presence of God in flowers or music. Neither will you get anywhere by looking at maps without going to sea. And you won’t be very safe if you go to sea without a map.

In other words, Theology is practical … if you don’t listen to theology, that won’t mean you have no ideas about God. It’ll mean that you’ll have a lot of wrong ones.

C.S. Lewis, Beyond Personality, Geoffrey Bles, 1944.

Thomas Merton felt that more listening to Scripture was also part of the picture. He congratulated Ernesto Cardenal on his translation of the Psalms into Spanish, at a time when the Divine Office was recited in Latin: ‘These are the versions we should really be chanting in choir. How few monks think of the real meaning of the Psalms. If priests knew what they are reciting every day.’

Thomas Merton & Ernesto Cardenal, From the Monastery to the World, Berkeley, Counterpoint, 2017

Here is the link to Sister Johanna’s Psalm reflection for today.

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Psalms

What is it like to use the psalms for prayer every day and many times a day?  By God’s grace, my experience of praying the psalms daily now stretches over nearly four decades.  I shall try to say a little about what I have learned during this time.

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10 September, Season of Creation XII: Enter his gates with thanksgiving.

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. 
Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing. 
Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; 
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: 
be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; 
and his truth endureth to all generations.
Ps 100

The psalms give us some of the most difficult prayers – Sister Johanna wrote about how to pray these vengeful psalms a while ago: her series begins here. This might be a good time to reread her wise words, so we will provide a link to each post every day for a week.

Sister also looks at the more benign Psalms, thanking God for creation; here is one of them. Short and sweet, easy enough to get by heart, especially in the hymnal version, ‘All People that on earth do dwell’.

If you cannot get to a Harvest Festival Thanksgiving this month, sit down to some local food – fruit or local bread, say – and thank God for the food he provides.

And think of those going without.

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4 August: Traherne XLIII: I will delight.

Knowing myself beloved 
and so glorified of God Almighty in another world, 
I ought to honour Him in this always, and to aspire to it.  

At midnight will I rise to give thanks unto Thee 
because of Thy righteous judgements. 
Seven times a day will I praise Thee, 
for Thy glorious mercy. 
Early in the morning will I bless Thee, 
I will triumph in Thy works, 
I will delight in Thy law day and night; 
at evening will I praise Thee. 

I will ever be speaking of Thy marvellous acts, 
I will tell of Thy greatness, 
and talk of the glorious majesty of Thy excellent Kingdom; 
these things ought ever to breathe in our souls.

“Knowing myself beloved” – how many of us would dare to start writing with such a bold statement? Knowing implies more than just holding an opinion, or feeling optimistic of getting to heaven to be glorified in that other world. It’s a knowledge that transcends how Traherne feels. He may be tired, hurt or ill, but he will praise God regardless of how he himself feels today. He may feel quite different tomorrow but that does not alter God’s greatness, nor his glory, nor his kindness to humans.

Traherne used the Psalms in composing this reflection. They form the basis of the Church’s seven prayers a day, which can be found free on-line at universalis.com for anyone wishing to pray them.

(Apologies that this reflection has fallen out of sequence. Sometimes a more topical piece turns up and things get moved around.)

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27 June: A shared table.

I had been sitting at the garden table, taking tea with Mrs Turnstone and Grandson No 2, but they had to go to find his parents. I sipped on.

I feel I have short-changed you, dear readers, because the central character in this story does not appear in the feature photograph, but she would have been even more camera shy than Mrs T is, and I was enjoying her company too much to send her packing by pulling out my phone.

She is one of the hen sparrows that nest in the roof of next-door-but-one. The landlord could do with fixing the roof but will have to wait now until the breeding season is over. The sparrow flew down to the table and attacked one side of the sliver of cake; these was a waspy looking creature opposite who probably would have posed for a photo, but Mrs Sparrow is not that bold, so what you get to see is a sliver of cake, slightly ragged at the edges. I got a shared meal with Mrs Sparrow, an uninvited guest.

Not that she sees it that way. As far as she is concerned, we humans are part of God’s providence (Luke 12:6). Food was provided, and food was accepted. She tucked in herself before taking a beakful home. At some point later the cake fell to the floor and was scattered across the flagstones; but it grew too dark for photography, and by the time a tardy human drags himself downstairs tomorrow morning, the crumbs will be gone.

I expect this bird is one of those that help themselves to Mrs Turnstone’s sphagnum moss, leaving her hanging baskets denuded; I daresay, too, she knows about the flowers pecked to ribbons for their sweet petals and nectar. Some things just have to be forgiven.

Other translations have swallow for turtle; turtle being the turtle dove of course. Not as noisy as our local collared doves, I imagine.

How lovely are thy tabernacles, O Lord of host! 
My soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord. 
My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God. 
For the sparrow hath found herself a house, 
and the turtle a nest for herself where she may lay her young ones: 
Thy altars, O Lord of hosts, 
my king and my God. 

Psalm 83(84) 2-4

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