Tag Archives: Psalms

20 January: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2022, Day III.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2022

Original photo of Nablus (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0): Dr. Michael Loadenthal

‘We Saw His Star in the East’.

King Herod was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him

Reflection
Christ’s coming disturbs the ways of the world. He comes in humility, denouncing the evil of injustice and
oppression that accompanies the ambition for power, wealth and status. Jesus calls for a change of heart and a transformation of life, which will bring liberation from all that dehumanises. This creates disturbance precisely because he rocks the boat of those who seek only their own interests and neglect the common good. But for those who work for peace and unity, Christ’s coming brings the light of hope.

We are invited to commit ourselves to act constructively to make justice a reality, acknowledging where we have strayed from God’s ways of justice and peace. Then the answer to our prayer for Christian unity becomes visible as others recognise in us Christ’s presence in the world. We can bring the light of hope to those living in the darkness of political unrest, social poverty, and structural discrimination. The Good News is that God is faithful, always strengthening and protecting us, inspiring us to work for the good of others, especially the victims of oppression, hatred, violencand pain.

Prayer
Lord, you led us out of darkness to hope in Jesus.
Unite us in our commitment to establish your reign of love, justice and peace,
bringing light to those living in the darkness of despair and disillusionment.
Shine your light upon us and surround us with the warmth of your love.
Lift us up to you, so that our lives may glorify you,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Amen.

Readings

Psalm 2:1-10 Why do the nations conspire…?
2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5 But the Lord is faithful, he will strengthen you


Go and do
(see www.ctbi.org.uk/goanddo)
Global: Covid-19 turned the world upside down and provided an opportunity to reimagine how things could be. Find out more about and get involved in the campaign to crack the crises and ensure this opportunity for transformation is not lost.
Local: Consider as churches together what situations of injustice or exclusion exist in your locality. Work with others in your community to challenge and change the systems that need turning upside-down.
Personal: Take time today to sit in stillness and discern what injustice most disturbs your conscience, spend time praying, researching and planning how you can take action about it (if you are not already involved in doing so).

Verse / Poem
In the school Nativity Play
they cast the class bully as Herod.
Inspired.
No acting required.

Jesus, you ask
which role shall I play
in my world, your world, today.

And you will me to seek first
your holy inspiration
that I might be just
myself.

Questions
Global: Where have you seen the values of the Church disturbing
society’s values for the common good?
Local: Is your church or group of churches too comfortable in a
discomforting world? How could your church or group be disturbed into
real action?
Personal: When have you been disturbed into doing what was right?

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11 December: Bin Ladies of New York: Creation XXXVII

Maggie Terry: "It is crazy to think about just how much we consume and how little we care about it." (Caila Rentz)

Maggie Terry: “It is crazy to think about just how much we consume and how little we care about it.” (Caila Rentz)

From the wild places under the stars to the city that never sleeps: quite a step! But it’s Christmas shopping time so we ought to give some thought to the waste that activity entails. it’s all part of stewardship of creation: being set over the works of God’s hands, as we read in Psalm 8 yesterday. This article on dumpster diving shows how some people are pushing back against the appalling waste they see all around them: food, furniture, clothes, toys, and more. It comes from the National Catholic Reporter; the link will take you to the full article. There are many differences between United Kingdom and the USA, but we too are guilty of tremendous waste: what are we doing about it?

Maggie Terry’s idea of a great night out in New York City is a little different from many of her peers’. Rather than heading to her couch or a cocktail bar to unwind after a day of work, she looks forward to something else: dumpster diving.

The 24-year-old elementary school teacher and her husband, Michael, spend their evenings (“every day but Saturday,” Terry says) digging through the trash for salvageable goods. Their finds are wide-ranging, from $400 worth of KitKats in a Walgreens dumpster one night to an antique Hartmann chest circa 1890 pulled from residential trash and valued at $3,000 the next.

The duo keeps what they can use — the Hartmann chest now serves as their coffee table — and redistributes the rest, by way of donation to food banks, charities, or just leaving goods out for free on their front stoop, where most items are taken by neighbors within 24 hours.

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25 November: Falling through the night sky, Creation XXXVI.

Another reflection on the stars by a writer who loves the wild places where dark skies are more likely, the stars more visible. Robert Macfarlane is moved, almost physically, by gazing up - or is it down? into the night sky. 

The unconverted and limitless nature of the night sky ... is given a depth by the stars that far exceeds the depth given to the diurnal sky by clouds. On a cloudless night, looking upwards, you experience a sudden flipped vertigo, the feeling that your feet might latch off from the earth and you might plummet upwards into space... Our estrangement from the dark [due to street lighting] was a great and serious loss.
Robert Macfarlane, THE WILD PLACES, London, Granta, 2007.

A similar emotion struck David, who must have spent many a night under the stars:

For I will behold thy heavens, the works of thy fingers: the moon and the stars which thou hast founded.
What is man that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man that thou visitest him?
Thou hast made him a little less than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honour:
And hast set him over the works of thy hands.
                                                                                           Psalm 8:4-7

Before we get carried away in gratification, let Macfarlane remind us that the loss of the night sky to urban dwellers is serious and stunting.

About the photograph: Image of the night sky above Paranal, Chile on 21 July 2007, taken by ESO astronomer Yuri Beletsky. A wide band of stars and dust clouds, spanning more than 100 degrees on the sky, is seen. This is the Milky Way, the galaxy to which we belong. At the centre of the image, two bright objects are visible. The brightest is the planet Jupiter, while the other is the star Antares. Three of the four 8.2-m telescopes forming ESO’s VLT are seen, with a laser beaming out from Yepun, Unit Telescope number 4. The laser points directly at the Galactic Centre. Also visible are three of the 1.8-m Auxiliary Telescopes used for interferometry. They show small light beams which are diodes located on the domes. The exposure time is 5 minutes and because the tracking was made on the stars, the telescopes are slightly blurred.

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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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