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Tobit: Prayers for Death . . . and Birth

Juan de Valdés Leal: The Archangel Rafael

Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 24, 2017

God hears the pleas of two desperate people in two distant places, and he sends his special messenger Raphael to guide Tobiah in the healing of Sarah and Tobit.  Tobiah is first the faithful son and later the courageous and abiding spouse.  Sarah sees no reason for her existence based on a series of marriages that fail because a demon has become enamored of her. She becomes separate from everyone in her intense and desperate grief.  Tobit, a good main who is faithful to his Jewish beliefs, has also become separate his blindness. Yearning for the light, he seeks death rather than continue in the darkness.  He, like Sarah, feels alone; they both search for the reason that God has visited punishment upon them when they know themselves to be innocent of doing wrong.  They stand judged by others because Old Testament thinking saw misfortune as a punishment for sin.  Some of us may from time to time feel like this man and woman.

Yesterday in chapter three, we read that Tobit and Sarah’s desperation has reached such depths that each, in distant privacy, prays for release from this world.  As they pray for death, their prayers rise to God intertwining like spirals of incense.  God hears these petitions and sends Raphael to accompany the faithful Tobiah in his journey to knit together these wounded souls.  God intervenes when we sometimes least expect it . . . and in very surprising and confounding ways.

Rembrandt: The Angel Rafael Leaving Tobit and his Family

The journey that Tobiah takes is a long and complicated one.  Yet he accepts his father’s request, finds a traveling companion (Raphael in disguise) and perseveres faithfully without fully understanding how his actions will result in anything good.  He continues, he obeys, he listens for and answers the call.  This is how we must live.  It is how we must act.  This is how we find consolation and healing. It is how we encounter God.  This is how we become wounded healers.  This is God’s plan.

So after reflection with the story of Tobit, we pray.

Sometimes we must reach the point of desperation in order to know what we truly hold sacred . . . and that we are sacred healers.

Sometimes we must fall into the abyss in order to find God’s abiding presence . . . and our own divinity.

Sometimes we must cry out from our aloneness in order to understand that true and deep hope is also bold and outrageous . . . and that God’s best hope lies in us.

Sometimes we must be victim to our darkest fears in order to lay aside our anxieties . . . for then we see them as prison bars that separate us from God.

Sometimes we must be blind in order to see.

Sometimes we must feel unloved in order to be loved and to love truly and deeply.

Sometimes we must reach the point of desperation in order to know what we truly hold sacred. And in that spot, in that distant place that is actually dep within, we will find our consolation, our birth in Christ.  Amen.

For a beautiful rendition of Angels We Have Heard on High, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5mdybeyLVc

Adapted from a reflection written during Advent 2007. Tomorrow, on Christmas Day, the Messiah arrives.

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Eustache Le Sueur: Christ Healing a Blind Man

Isaiah 40: Seek Consolation

Third Sunday of Advent, December 17, 2017

The End of the Exile

Be comforted, be comforted, my people, saith your God.  Speak ye to the heart of Jerusalem, and call to her, for her evil is come to an end, her iniquity is forgiven; she hath received of the hand of the Lord double for all her sins.  The voice of one crying in the desert: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the wilderness the paths of our God.  Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough ways plain.  And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh together shall see that the mouth of the Lord hath spoken . . .  Behold the Lord God shall come with strength, and his arm shall rule.  Behold his reward is with him and his work is before him.  He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and shall take them up on his bosom, and he himself shall carry them that are young . . .

From time to time we reflect on the ideas of exile and doom . . .  today’s dawn brings consolation.

Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and weighed the heavens in his palm?  Who has poised with three fingers the bulk of the earth, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance? 

After the darkness . . . comes the light . . . more revealing and more wonderful than we have ever imagined.

Do you not know?  Hath it not been heard?  Hath it not been told you from the beginning?  Have you not understood the foundations of the earth?  . . .  And to whom have ye likened me, or made me equal?  saith the Holy One.  Lift up your eyes on high, and see the one who has created these things . . . not one of them was missing.

The holy ones who wait and watch and witness . . . will receive their comfort . . . a consolation more intense and enduring than they have ever dreamed.

Youths shall faint and labor, and young men shall fall by infirmity.  But they that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall take wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. 

Last Christmas Day we read and reflected upon the beginning of Romans 11 in which St. Paul brings to us, God’s Remnant, the message of our creator’s Providence and Fidelity.  He reminds us that God understands the human condition and that he sends us his grace to overcome our fears and the darkness.  God also understands rupture and the deepest places of the heart that suffer from the pain of disconnection and separation . . . and God wants to heal this . . . to call us back . . . to gather us in his arms.  God wants to give us his Consolation.  God is the Forgiving Father of the Prodigal Son story.  We may be either the Straying Child who has spent his gifts carelessly, or the Remaining Child who is jealous and bitter at the Father’s generosity toward those who return.  Or perhaps we have found a place where we can numb ourselves . . . remain aloof . . . protect ourselves from the suffering and undergoing of life that we are meant to experience.  Or maybe we are Children of the Light . . . who struggle with self . . . who rise to the undergoing . . . who falter and stumble but who turn to God always as the first and last source and sustenance.  Most likely we are all of these . . . and we do well when we reflect that our true Consolation rests in openness to reconciliation with God and with others.  We do well to rely on God’s Providence and Fidelity and meditate on this idea, as we do on Christmas Day each year, that we are to be God to one another.

So on this Sunday of joy amidst darkness and waiting we, like God, are to abide with those who have broken faith with us.  We are to remain faithful, remain present but without participating in any dysfunction.  We are to be hopeful, to be open to the potential of something greater which God sends through his grace rather than our works.  We are to abide without fear, because God is with us, especially in our moments of deepest terror.  And we are to remain merciful, imitating Christ, because God always comes to his remnant, to those who wait, and hope and seek.

For a musical version of Isaiah 40, visit James Block’s recording at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RgsdhQzVfSQ 

From a reflection written on Christmas Day 2007.

 

 

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Ecclesiastes 1: Seek Trust

Blaise Nicolas Le Sueur: Solomon Before the Ark of the Covenant

Second Sunday of Advent, December 10, 2017

Vanity

This book was written not by Solomon as claimed, but by a writer who actually identifies himself “as a subject (4:13, 8:2, 9:14-16, 10:16-17 and 20), noting conditions of oppression (4:13), injustice (4:8, 5:8), and social upheaval (10:6-7).  The language . . . is a late form of biblical Hebrew, coming closest of any Old Testament book to post-biblical Mishnaic Hebrew.  The presence of Persian loan-words requires a date well after Israel’s release from exile in 539 B.C.E.  Fragments of the book found among the Dead Sea Scrolls of the Qumran community date to the mid-second century B.C.E.  Most scholars date the book’s composition between 300 and 200 B.C.E.”  (Meeks 986)  The Mishnah is a collection of oral literature of the early Hebrew people who appear to us as the first portion of the Torah.

We find the theme of this book laid out clearly in the first chapter: All is vanity that does not come from God.  It does not take any time at all for us to put this reading into the context of our own lives.  What does take some time is to determine what to do with this self-knowledge.

We have entered the season of Advent – an exciting, mysterious time in the liturgical calendar that we associate with a feeling of expectation – a time of promises and fulfillment.  We in the northern hemisphere also associate this time of year with the coming on of darkness and cold; while in the southern hemisphere, Advent is experienced as a time of lengthening days and rising temperatures.  I often think that the later is more apt.  Warmth, light, ease of days, promise . . . Christ.  The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that all else besides a life that acts in this promise is futile.  As followers of Christ, our example of living in hope is paramount for ourselves, for our community, and for the greater world.  We enact Christ when we put aside the vanity that we are all, and take on the understanding that The Promise is all.

As we move through this day and begin this week after spending a day or days of Thanksgiving for the bounty of the earth, we will want to pause to examine our spiritual bounty as well.  Just as we examine our relationships with family and friends, we will also want to examine our relationship with the Creator, the Redeemer and the Comforter.  We will want to unfold the miracle of this love so great that it overcomes all trials and injustices.  We will want to allow ourselves to step into that which is not in vain.  We will want to remember, we will want to trust, we will want to believe, we will want to hope.

We already know that there is nothing new under the sun . . . and so what we hope to experience is that which is new . . . that which is not in vain . . . and that which is worthy of every ounce of strength we have in body, mind and soul.

Like the audience of Ecclesiastes, we who have returned from exile will want to reunite in intimacy with our God and so we might try to spend more time this season with this book of wisdom, parsing out its verses to complement our days.  In this way, we might hope to be full of God’s wisdom rather than our own, we might hope to live in God’s love rather than our own, and we might hope to be Christ rather than an empty vanity of vanities.

To celebrate this Second Sunday of Advent, we join voices with this traditional hymn, O Come, O come, Emmanuel at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xtpJ4Q_Q-4 

Meeks, Wayne A., Gen. Ed. HARPERCOLLINS STUDY BIBLE (NRSV). New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1989. Print.  

A Favorite from November 30, 2009.

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The Nativity of Jesus

Isaiah 9:6: Seek Wholeness

First Sunday of Advent, December 3, 2017

For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

In this special time of year we may well want to consider where and how to find the wholeness we seek; and we need do nothing more than remember God’s gift of self in the form of a vulnerable child.

We can easily imagine how easy it is to reject the idea that an infant might be a Wonderful Counselor and yet Jesus reminded us that we will want to be innocent as children if we want to enter the New Kingdom. How might we surrender to God’s care of us this week?

It is equally impossible to think of the child as Mighty God when we see him in swaddling clothes in a poor stable because there is no room for him in a proper inn or home. How might we rely on God’s strength in us this week?

An Everlasting Father has the power to save, to renew and transform. Again, we wonder how a child might rescue us from a strange and conflicted world. How might we trust in God this week as we unburden ourselves to the Creator?

As Prince of Peace Jesus brings healing and consolation. Yet again, we marvel at these simple gifts that are freely given. How might we seek wholeness this week as we reveal our worries and woes, our pain and suffering to this small yet marvelous child?

Each day this week, we reflect on the concept of Wholeness in God, in Christ and in the Spirit as we enter this first dark week of the Advent Season.

To watch the London Symphony Orchestra from Handel’s Messiah, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MS3vpAWW2Zc

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Deuteronomy 5:15: Our God

Friday, September 16, 2016sabbatday

The writer of Deuteronomy records Moses’ words faithfully.

Don’t ever forget that you were slaves in Egypt and God, your God, got you out of there in a powerful show of strength. That’s why God, your God, commands you to observe the day of Sabbath rest. (MSG: The Message)

Through Moses, God calls us to rest in the Lord each Sabbath day.

Remember that you were slaves in Egypt, and that I, the Lord your God, rescued you by my great power and strength. That is why I command you to observe the Sabbath. (GNT: Good News Translation)

Through his prophet, the Lord reminds us that we were once slaves, rescued by God.

Remember that thou also didst serve in Egypt, and the Lord thy God brought thee out from thence with a strong hand, and a stretched out arm. Therefore hath he commanded thee that thou shouldst observe the sabbath day. (DRA: Douay-Rheims)

Through the voice of scripture, the Lord calls us to rescue others just as we are rescued.

And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and that Jehovah thy God brought thee out thence with a powerful hand and with a stretched-out arm; therefore Jehovah thy God hath commanded thee to observe the sabbath day. (Darby: Darby Translation)

Through the work of Christ among us, through the consolation and power of the Spirit, the Lord Our God asks that we show mercy to all, as the Lord has shown mercy to us.

You are to remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and Adonai your God brought you out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore Adonai your God has ordered you to keep the day of Shabbat. (CJB: Complete Jewish Bible)

When we refrain from gossiping we free others from the personality we have set in stone with our unkind words. We make room for growth in ourselves and others.

When we speak for those who have no voice we free others from the curse of invisibility. We nurture hope in the darkness.

When we include those excluded by others we open our lives – and the lives of all – to the outrageous possibilities engendered by God’s healing love. We embody mercy and compassion.

You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day. (NRSV: New Revised Standard Version)

God, Adonai, Jehovah, the Living One, this is whom we find when we compare varying translations of this verse. God’s wisdom, Jesus’ strength, the Spirit’s compassion, these are gifts we receive and share when we consider how enormous is the love of Our God.  

As we consider these verses, we might listen to Chris Tomlin’s HOW GREAT IS OUR GOD at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBD18rsVJHk 

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Psalm 23Shepherding

Thursday, April 21, 2016psalm23_1024

A Favorite from April 10, 2011.

I attended a memorial service yesterday preceded by a celebration of the life of the deceased.  These things are never easy.  Part of the service was the comforting 23rd Psalm, the Old Testament reading was from Proverbs 3 (wisdom as a feminine force) and the New Testament was John 14 (Do not let your hearts be troubled . . . I am going to prepare a place for you.)  Scripture has the power to heal . . . if we allow it.

I am struck by how often we turn to the divine seeking solace – expecting the comfort and wisdom of the words to be instant much like our meals in the microwave, our movies on demand, and our relationships which must fulfill some purpose for us in order to be profitable.  The sermon today was given by Bishop Newman and he spoke of his time as pastor at the Cathedral of Mary our Queen when he asked a sound engineer to find the places in the immense building that did not receive sound well.  He referred to these places as “dead areas” and he asked us to think of the dead places in our lives that were like the deadness of Lazarus which we had heard in today’s Gospel (John 11:1-45).  He asked us to think of the “little deaths” we experience: addictions that govern us, work losses that discourage us, damage to relationships, troubles in a marriage that gnaw at us; and he asked us to think of how we resolved these problems or how we stirred ourselves to address these dead places.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives . . .

As he spoke, I thought of the dead zones in my life, and I thought about the opportunities I have been given for resurrection and redemption.  Surely we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever . . .

We must be persistent and fearless in our pursuit of God’s understanding and in our practice of God’s love.  I will fear no evil, for you are with me . . .

We must be courageous and creative in our determination to resolve the problems that create dead zones in our lives.  Your rod and staff comfort me . . .

We must always take all problems with our enemies to God, remembering that God alone can deal with betrayal and deceit.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies . . .

We must remember that God constantly seeks new ways to love us and to bolster us on our journey.  You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows . . .

We cannot hear God through the cacophony of our days.  We must make a quiet place where we might allow rest and restoration because he makes me lie down in green pastures . . .

We must look for our imperfections, confess them, and ask God to heal them for God is more powerful than any force we know, even death.  He called the dead Lazarus from the tomb, and so he calls us to come to him for healing.  The extent of our “deadness” or the number of the “little deaths” in our lives is unimportant.  God is more powerful, and more loving, and more present than we have imagined.  The Lord is my shepherd . . .

I love Marty Haugen’s version of this Psalm from the GATHER hymnal which we so often sing, and which I use as an opening prayer in my classes during this time of year: Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life . . .

Let us rejoice that God is among us always to comfort, to heal, to restore, to transform and to redeem.   And let us open ourselves more to God’s wise and merciful shepherding.

Listen to the Marty Haugen setting of the 23rd Psalm at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L55J02iTGjM   

Tomorrow, crossing the Jordan.

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Psalm 27: Fearless Trust

ark

A rendering of the Ark of the Covenant

Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 17, 2016

The followers of Yahweh erected a tent to house the ark they created to hold their tangible remnants of their relationship with the Lord: stone tablets holding God’s ten pronouncements of the Mosaic Law, manna provided by the Lord during the Hebrews’ desert wanderings, and the staff that Aaron used to mystify Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt whom the enslaved people of God escaped. The Israelites replaced the tent with a glorious Temple to house the ark, sacred scrolls of God’s word to them. More than once this Temple was overrun, brought down, and reduced to rubble and a single, solemn wall of prayer. Today followers of Christ carry this tent, this Temple within; and it is in this sacred interior space that we find courage, hope, strength, faith, persistence, peace and joy. As we move through Eastertide, we bolster ourselves for the journey ahead as we continue our pilgrimage.

The New American Bible gives a wonderful title to these verses: A Psalm of Fearless Trust in God. We might benefit from the grace of this special prayer if we reflect carefully on its words as we pray them.

moses tabernacle

A depiction of the Moses Tent


When we are anxious or troubled, we recall . . .

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
    I will fear no one.
The Lord protects me from all danger;
    I will never be afraid.

When we are overwhelmed and distraught, we remind one another . . .  

Even if a whole army surrounds me,
    I will not be afraid;
even if enemies attack me,
    I will still trust God.

When we are lost or abandoned, we remember . . .

I have asked the Lord for one thing;
    one thing only do I want:
to live in the Lord’s house all my life,
    to marvel there at his goodness,
    and to ask for his guidance.

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A model of the Jerusalem Temple

When all seems lost and dark, we remind one another . . .

In times of trouble God will shelter me;
    God will keep me safe in the Lord’s Temple
    and make me secure on a high rock.

When we are alone or bereft, we call out . . .

So I will triumph over my enemies around me.

    With shouts of joy I will offer sacrifices in his Temple;
    I will sing, I will praise the Lord.

Hear me, Lord, when I call to you!
    Be merciful and answer me!

When we falter, we encourage one another . . .

When you said, “Come worship me,”
I answered, “I will come, Lord.”

The Wailing Wall, Jerusalme today

The Western Wall of the Temple in Jerusalem today (The Wailing Wall)

When the world closes in and we find no exit from sorrow, we pray . . .

 Teach me, Lord, what you want me to do,
    and lead me along a safe path,
    because I have many enemies.

Don’t abandon me to my enemies,
    who attack me with lies and threats.

 When we are rescued, we rejoice . . .

I know that I will live to see

      the Lord‘s goodness in this present life.

Trust in the Lord.
    Have faith, do not despair.
Trust in the Lord.

woman-praying-darkWhen this present life seems as though there is no evidence of God’s presence, let us remember Christ’s temple of light and peace that we carry within.

Psalm 27, one of my favorites, has been set to music by many. As we pray today we might listen to the Shane and Shane rendition at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndZsEDuCVAQ or a version by James Block: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJDF6z2EuPQ

If there is time in the next several hours, enter the word TEMPLE into the blog search bar and consider how God’s plan has brought us from enslavement through the desert to a solid place where we rejoice . . . and yet remains with us when great loss or great sorrow overtake us. It is God’s abiding love that brings us this fearless trust in the temple of God that remains within. When we reflect on these images or listen to these or other audios as we pray, we allow this fearless trust in God to rest in us today. Wishing all of you peace and joy on this day and all days.

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Choir-Medieval-Ladies

Jan Van Eyck: Heavenly Choirs (detail)

Philippians 4:4-7: Celebrate!

Third Sunday of Advent, December 13, 2015

Gaudete Sunday

Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!

If only we might celebrate that the Light of the World is among us in this way. If only we might live our lives as a demonstration of our belief that the Healer of all walks with us. If only we might call others to rejoice that the Rescuer from fear, anxiety and desperation lives in us.

waitsDon’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

Visit the links below and explore other renditions of this ancient celebration of the coming of Christ. Send the link of your favorite performance to family and friends and encourage them to celebrate with you!

Aúna: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbKWk6RzaiM

Choir of Clare College Cambridge: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1NgHonWNE0

Prima Luce: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DFtppysEl-k

The King’s Singers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KSxg9Ij5r8 

Libera: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=447ZTXdDODQ 

To learn about Medieval Music, click on the musicians image or visit: http://www.medieval-life-and-times.info/medieval-music/waits.htm 

vaneyck_lamgods_engelen

Jan Van Eyck: Heavenly Choirs

 

 

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James 4:4-6: God’s Jealous Love

Sunday, October 18, 2015jealous love

You’re cheating on God. If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way.

When James speaks of God’s jealousy, he is not describing God as an envious lover; rather, James describes the limitless, deep, abiding love that God has for each of us.

And do you suppose God doesn’t care? The proverb has it that “he’s a fiercely jealous lover.” And what he gives in love is far better than anything else you’ll find.

There is a striking difference between envy and jealousy and in Old Testament references to God we often find images of God as a jealous lover. For a deeper explanation about what this means and how it has impact on our lives, we can go to: https://bible.org/seriespage/21-jealous-god, or http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/hey-jealousy Today, James asks us to consider just what God’s love for us looks like, and how we allow that love to temper our lives.

In his song THROUGH ALL OF IT, Colton Dixon describes how God has accompanied him through all the turmoil life presents. The lyrics begin: There are days I’ve taken more than I can give, and there are choices that I made that I wouldn’t make again. I’ve had my share of laughter, of tears and troubled times. This has been the story of my life . . . and you have been my God through all of it.

Today, let us give ourselves the gift of time to consider the nature of God’s “jealous love” and how this love might change us. We might listen to Dixon’s lyrics and music at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnuGXvO_l8w

Tomorrow, a solution to turmoil.

 

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