Daniel 5The Writing on the Wall

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

This famous scene of Daniel interpreting the writing on the wall is familiar to all of us. So familiar that the phrase is part of our idiom catalog. How many times have we seen “the writing on the wall,” or wished that someone else would!

This book is full of ideas and stories that we have assimilated fully into our North American thinking. This particular chapter is a mini-drama which comes to a full meaning if you have a study Bible with good notes. The three letters of the alphabet which are written by an unseen hand on the wall of the Babylonian court where the wild partying is happening with the vessels from the Jerusalem temple are: mene, tekel, and peres. They are the Aramaic names of Middle Eastern measures, weights and monies: the mina, the shekel (a 60th part of a shekel), and the parsu (a half-shekel). Daniel interprets them in the following manner: mene, connecting with the verb “to number,” tekel, the verb “to weigh,” and peres, with the verb “to divide.” And the New American Bible footnotes also tell us that peres is a further play on the word for Persians.

Rembrandt: Belshazzar’s Feast

Daniel warns the Babylonians that their days are numbered, that they have been measured and found wanting, and that they will be divided. All bad news. And this prophecy is fulfilled swiftly at the end of the chapter. Looking forward into Chapter 6, we can see that Daniel, who has been elevated to a place of high standing because of his closeness with God and his ability to understand and interpret God’s message, is brought down by jealous courtiers. He is subjected to a trial in the den of lions but is saved by God. And this trial makes him all the more valuable to the new king, Darius. Once again we see the theme of reward through suffering. Once again we see that God’s discipline, to which we subject ourselves through obedience and fidelity, serves to transform us in a mystical way. Once again we hear that when we trust in God and follow his call, all will be well. In fact, it will be better than well . . . it will be more than we could have imagined. We are not only restored to a former self, we are amplified many times over.

We must let go of the tiny things of this world, and we must let go of our ego with which we trick ourselves into thinking that we are in control. We must let go of any worldly idea or object which we worship more than God. We must see that we are wanting if we do not walk in total concord with God’s request that we love one another, even those who attack us. We must put aside our anxiety, our worry, our willfulness, and our pride-of-self in order to best receive The Word which saves and restores.

And so we pray, heavenly Father who guides and protects us. Listen to our prayer. Number our days with you in eternity as infinite ones, measure our intention rather than our actions so that when you measure us we may not be found wanting, and bring us union with all members of your Mystical Body. We ask this through the intercession of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Images from: http://www.thepropheticscroll.org/home/index.php/component/content/article/50-general/172-edition-71.html and http://www.thepropheticscroll.org/home/index.php/component/content/article/50-general/172-edition-71.html 

To learn more, click on the images and follow the links or go to: http://www.bibleinsight.com/menep1.html or the Daniel – God Calls the Faithful and the Faithless page on this blog.

A re-post from February 12, 2012. 

1 Kings 19God is in the Whisper of the Wind

Monday, February 11, 2019

Elijah’s Cave

Written on February 8, 2008 and posted today as a Favorite . . .

Elijah has just served as God’s instrument in the destruction of the gods of Baal.  Jezebel and Ahab are furious with him and they seek revenge in the most ruthless of ways . . . and Elijah knows this.  As we read Jezebel’s words at the opening of the chapter we can see that she throws her entire existence into seeking the end of Elijah.  The prophet, exhausted, pleads to his God for his own end.  He is drained.  He has done as God has asked, and now he feels empty.  But even as he seeks escape, Elijah turns to God . . . and God sustains him with cakes and water.  Elijah rests and sleeps in the shade offered by a desert broom tree.  An angel of God abides with him.  The angel bids him to rise and go and so he walks for forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Mt. Horeb, Mt. Sinai where Yahweh spoke to Moses.  And there Elijah curls into a cave to await his end.  But the unexpected happens.  Yahweh does speak to this tired prophet . . . not in the fierce and thrusting wind, not in the powerful and destructive earthquake, not in the consuming and searing fire.  The Lord speaks in the tiny whispering wind, and he brings news of restoration and legacy.  His words bring hope.

We must still our over-active lives; find a space of quiet in our hyper-speed days.  We must each day seek out a broom tree in the desert whose roots sink deep into the earth to find the rivers that flow beneath the sun-baked and wind-blown dryness.  We must find daily sanctuary in a small cave on God’s holy mountain of our busy world.  That is where we are fed, that is where we will tune ourselves to the voice that speaks in the whisper of the wind, the voice that speaks within, the voice that calls us to unity with the creator and creation.

A re-post from February 11, 2012. 

Image from: http://www.elijahscave.org/

1 Kings 10 and 11The Wealth and Sins of Solomon

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Johann Freidrich August Tishbein: The Queen of Sheba Kneeling before King Solomon

Written on February 5, 2008 and posted today as a Favorite . . .

Solomon had such a good beginning.  When he first became king, Yahweh asked him what it was he wished for.  He wisely answered that he sought wisdom rather than fame, wealth or land.  Yahweh was so pleased with this response that he granted the young king wisdom  . . . and also all that he had not sought.  What happened to such potential?  It may have been the visit of the Queen of Sheba.

When we have time to meander through the story of Solomon, we can see the promise he embodied.  And we can see that he was designated by Yahweh as the one who would build the beautiful temple on the mount in Jerusalem . . . a fitting priestly, noble house for Yahweh.  This kingdom of Twelve Tribes which was guided and guarded by Yahweh had become renowned for its fidelity to their God, its strength in battle, its design and construction of the most beautiful temple ever built to a god . . . their God . . . the One True God.  Solomon, as the head of this kingdom, was visited by many diplomats, married many wives to form alliances . . . and eventually succumbed to the siren song of too much success.  He becomes fuddled by the voices of a world which would bring him down rather than raise him up.

My young son-in-law said to me several years ago: Why is it . . . what is it . . . that causes successful people to shoot themselves in the foot?  And he answered his own question:  There is too much success.  They lose sight of what was important in the first place.  Several years later he came to me with a personal dilemma . . .and the answer I gave to him was the one he had already given me.  To his credit, he has stopped listening to those siren voices and he has put his eye back on the proper horizon: living a life well-lived, living in awe of the Lord, living as if nothing else mattered but God . . . because this is the only way to live.  God is the only thing that matters.

Solomon succumbed to the songs sung by his jealous competitors, spouses, courtiers and servants.  As our eyes move over the verses, we can see the end of this tale coming at lightning speed.  Before he knows it . . . Solomon has lost all . . . kingdom, fame, wealth and wisdom.  And perhaps this is the greatest lesson which we can learn from this man.  When we allow ourselves to be called astray by a relativistic, self-satisfying world where pleasure reigns and joy is lost . . . when we begin to stop our daily chats with God because we have no time or no desire . . . we will know that we have taken a wrong turning.

So we may want to think on this . . . if the Queen of Sheba comes to call . . . it is time to focus on the true horizon . . . and resist being swayed by those who do not have Yahweh as the focus of their lives.

A re-post from February 10, 2012. 

Image from: http://www.artexpertswebsite.com/pages/artists/tischbein_fa.php 

Genesis 31: Connivance

Genesis 31Connivance

Saturday, February 9, 2019

William Dyce: The Meeting of Jacob and Rachel

Written on February 16, 2009 and posted today as a Favorite . . .

Everyone – men and women alike – seems to be trying to outwit one another as we read these old, old stories in this first book of sacred scripture.  It is no wonder that our long story of relationship with God can be seen as a protracted struggle in which we attempt to bend God to our own wishes; and in this conflict God, of course, always wins.  Today we see the struggle between Jacob’s wives to gain control over him and to bear children alongside the contortions in Jacob’s relationship with Rachel’s family.  It seems that no one is honest or open about who they are, what they represent, or what they honestly desire.  This story, along with so many others from scripture, reads like a script for a weekday afternoon soap opera.  After reading this chapter in the life of Jacob – a man who, with his mother’s help cheats his brother of his birthright – we have the opportunity to reflect on our own relationship with God, and to remind ourselves how so often with God the very thing one plots and connives against another is brought home to act on us.  Later in Genesis, Jacob is himself cheated out of many years of a life with his favored son, Joseph.  We see in this story of Jacob a conniving son who through the connivance of his own sons in cheated out of time with his favored child, Joseph.  My mother would say: The chickens will always come home to roost, or Let the chips fall where they may.  God, as always, is in control; and God teaches us well through our own actions.  We call this kind of conniving reward for a schemer Divine Justice.  And so it is, for God’s method of discipline in this way teaches us as no other lesson can.  It is a basic truth that we only see a true image of ourselves when measuring life with a measuring stick of our own making.

Intertwined in these stories of deception, betrayal and falsehood is the counterpoint to this human experience: in the face of so much suffering is the constancy of God’s love and concern for us.  God never abandons.  God never gives up.  God never gives in.  With his love he reassures us.  With his patience he waits with us.  With his courage he endures for us.  Despite our fickle and whimsical ways – today I support you, tomorrow I may not, today I love you tomorrow I may notGod calls, God resides, God heals and cures, God saves – you are mine and despite your foibles I love you, you are mine and despite your straying I forgive you, you are mine and despite your missteps I seek intimacy with you. 

God and humanity – creator and created – lover and loved – savior and saved – this is the relationship we have, and it is the relationship we cannot change despite our trying.  God in his marvelous way allows us to see what we do to others . . . through our own actions.  When we curse, we are cursed.  When we bless, we are blessed.  When we believe, we are believed by those who matter.  When we love with a love that endures despite all . . . we are loved with a love that lasts for all of time.

After reflecting on the story of Jacob, his wives and his family, we learn a marvelous lesson: God’s Justice is our own justice come back to visit us; God’s patience is our own endurance come back to bolster us; God’s love is our own love come back to us a million fold.  God takes what we give . . . multiplies it . . . and returns it back to us.  Deceit for deceit.  Truth for truth.  Connivance for connivance.  Love for love.  This story is quite simple after all.

A re-post from February 9, 2012.

Image from: http://www.artknowledgenews.com/2009_07_10_22_07_03_william_dyce_discovery.html

Deuteronomy 28How Big is God?

Friday, February 8, 2019

Written on February 10, 2010 and posted today as a Favorite . . .

“So we go to our religious services and make sure we read the latest popular inspirational books and attend all kinds of psychological wellness retreats and conferences.  And we come away feeling good.  But without the willingness to be spiritually challenged, we cannot and will not change.  Without the will to give up whatever is asked of us in order to meet a bigger God, we find that our understanding and experience of the Divine cannot and will not grow.  Try taking that to your prayer and meditation time, and see what happens”.

This citation is from a book that I am reading by Paul Coutinho, S.J. entitled HOW BIG IS YOUR GOD?  It is challenging and humorous at the same time and I highly recommend it.  I am smiling as often as I frown.

Today’s Noontime is about the black and white consequences of our obedience.  We may pretend that we follow God . . . or we may truly follow God.  The Old Testament view is that when we do what we are called to do we will prosper physically; when we fail to do what God asks, we suffer.  The Book of Job, however, tells us that this black and white view of the world does not fully serve us because our reality tells us that too frequently the innocent suffer through no fault of their own.  This is a challenge that Coutinho opens to us today: Is it not a very small God who punishes people for misdeeds?  Is it not a very large God who forgives, calls and is infinitely patient?

In the prologue of his book Coutinho writes: “I invite you now to ask yourself: Am I looking to meet a big God, a God without limits?  Do I have the will to experience the Divine – in all its wondrous and infinite possibilities?  He explains that we might begin where Ignatius Loyola began: “by questioning our lives, questioning the world around us, questioning our relationships, questioning our family life, questioning our work, and questioning our passions.  Let’s also question our relationship with God”. 

This is what the Hebrew people confront in today’s Noontime reading:  Everything they do, everything they are has been thrown into question.  At first reading we see this to be a bad thing – they suffer and question.  On second thought we might see this as a good thing . . . they have been given the opportunity to know their God better.  They have the chance to see . . . how big is their God?

A re-post from February 8, 2012.

Image from: http://storagenerve.com/2009/09/17/cloud-the-quest-for-standards/cloud-question-mark-cloud-computing/

Paul Coutinho, S.J., HOW BIG IS YOUR GOD? Loyola Press.  Watch Paul Coutinho at: http://www.mycatholicvoice.com/media/i8icLh   and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozevDJf9q9U

Daniel 9:20-23Gabriel Comes to Daniel

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Angel Gabriel

Written on February 3, 2008 and posted today as a Favorite . . .

We know the story of Daniel so well . . . the boys in the furnace . . . Daniel with the lions in their den . . . the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream . . . the handwriting on the wall . . . this bright young man lives in captivity yet never leaves his God . . . and his God never leaves him.

Today’s reading is brief yet it calls us to reflect on the many stories in this book.  Who brings the wonderful visions to Daniel which he records?  Gabriel.  The Announcer The first angel in scripture to be described as arriving with wings . . . who comes to tell Daniel that their captivity will be even longer than they had anticipated.  Rather than the 70 years of waiting which Jeremiah described, God’s people must remain in exile 70 times 70 . . . 490 years.  And how are they to abide during such a long time?  How are they to know that God is with them?  Daniel demonstrates even as Gabriel arrives.  He prays, he examines his own conscience and the collective conscience of his people, he petitions God, he seeks the meaning of the things that Yahweh has revealed to him, and he awaits the wisdom of God with a patient and open heart.

It is difficult to wait for justice.  It is painful to ache for mercy and compassion.  Yet this so many times is the human condition.  If Gabriel were to appear before us this very minute to announce that some long-awaited intercession would indeed arrive . . . but in God’s time and plan rather than our own . . . would we react as Daniel does?  Are we truly good and loyal servants?

Patience is difficult when we see something floating just beyond our own reach.  Yet if we believe that God creates all, loves all, and wants justice for all, there is no other way to live.  We must be open vessels which the Holy Spirit fills.  We must be clean temples where Christ may act as high priest.  We must be like the five faithful virgins who wait outside the inn in the quiet darkness for the bridegroom, conserving their oil, preparing their lanterns and knowing that the day and hour of his coming are a mystery.

Titian: The Annunciation – Gabriel and Mary

If the angel of the Lord were to appear before us in rapid flight at the time of the evening sacrifice, would we be as open as Daniel?  Would we be as willing?  Would we be as patient?

When the evening hour approaches, as we go to God in humble yet joyful prayer and petition, let us ready our hearts, let us still our minds, and let us call on the wisdom of God.  And if the message which our God sends to us on swift angel wing is a message which tells us that we must wait beyond all waiting, then let us give joyful reply to God.  Let us answer him.  Amen.

A re-post from February 7, 2012.

Images from: http://www.crystalinks.com/angels.html and http://www.squidoo.com/heavenly-angels?utm_source=google&utm_medium=imgres&utm_campaign=framebuster

Titus 2:1 to 3:7In Conflict with Reality

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Titus was one of Paul’s companions during the evangelization of the island of Crete, and Paul left his young follower to administer to the churches they established there.  In this letter, Paul encourages Titus and gives him an outline for 1) how to best minister to these new communities, and 2) how to maintain the truths brought to them by Christ in the Gospel story1.  This would have been a huge task for anyone but we can guess that it was particularly tricky for Titus who would find that every action he took and every word he spoke would be in direct conflict with the reality of the times.  We might identify with this conflict between doctrines and philosophies we know to be correct, and the accepted practices and activities in our own families, communities and workplaces.  We might want to use Paul’s words to Titus as our own manual for Christian behavior.

In a reflection posted on his website for Sunday, February 05, 2012, Fr. Richard Rohr describes living life fully while at the same time accepting reality In part he writes: “Living and accepting our own reality will not feel very spiritual. It will feel like we are on the edges rather than dealing with the essence.  Thus most [human beings] run toward more esoteric and dramatic postures instead of bearing the mystery of God’s suffering and joy inside themselves. But the edges of our lives—fully experienced, suffered, and enjoyed—lead us back to the center and the essence”.

Rohr continues to explain how we must open ourselves in order to allow God to move into us, in order to allow God to act in and through us.  He makes his point clear that we do not make our own lives but rather it is our lives that form us . . . once we allow ourselves to suffer in Christ.  He writes that as we search for God, God finds us:  “We do not find our own center; it finds us. Our own mind will not be able to figure it out. Our journeys around and through our realities, or ‘circumferences,’ lead us to the core reality, where we meet both our truest self and our truest God. We do not really know what it means to be human unless we know God. And, in turn, we do not really know God except through our broken and rejoicing humanity”.  (Adapted from Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer, pp. 17-19 by Richard Rohr)

As we read Paul’s message to Titus today, we hear the encouraging words that we need as well for as we move through our own reality we will want to know how to find the courage to stand tall against the thinking of the day when we know this thinking is defective.  We will want to have the hope that God will convert false realities into kingdom promises.  We will want to know where to find the faith and patience we will need, when to act with the love and justice that we will require, and how to work with others in charity . . . even those who put obstacles in our way.

Paul describes for Titus how he might guide others as they transform their own lives and their world.  Rohr reminds us that the work is difficult and that we must stand with one foot in the reality of this world and the other in the reality of God’s Kingdom . . . just as Jesus does.

We cannot allow ourselves to be discouraged from this kingdom work for it is the only work that matters.  We must rely on God, follow Christ’s model, and live in the Spirit.  So let us bear the mystery of God’s suffering and joy inside ourselves . . .for this is the only way we will be successful when we find ourselves in conflict with the reality we see around us.

1 We will want to remember that the prescription for Christian living that Paul sends to Titus was written two thousand years ago when the treatment of women and slaves as possessions was a philosophy woven through the thinking of their times.  Slaves were seen as natural possessions of their masters; women were subject to the men in their lives.  For more on slavery and Paul, see the Philemon – The Challenge  and the Titus – Church as Community pages on this blog.

A re-post from February 6, 2012.

Image from: http://travel.ninemsn.com.au/world/655272/off-the-beach-in-crete

Psalm 119:9-16With All Our Heart

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Imagine the love we will spawn when each of us is able to honestly say to God . . . I love you with all my heart . . .

Imagine the fortitude we will engender when each of us is able to truthfully say to God . . . I have sought you with all my heart . . .

Imagine the humility we will experience when each of us is able to openly say to God . . . let me not stray from your commands . . .

Imagine the trust we will feel when each of us is able to solemnly say to God . . . I treasure your promise in my heart . . .

Imagine the joy we will sense when each of us will enthusiastically say to God . . .  I rejoiced to do your will . . .

Imagine the goodness we will produce when each of us is able to earnestly say to God . . . I will ponder all your precepts and consider your paths . . .

Imagine the patience we will personify when each of us is able to sincerely say to God . . . I take delight in your statutes . . .

Imagine the fidelity we will embody when each of us is able to fully say to God . . . I will not forget your word . . .

Jesus teaches with authority and the crowds are amazed at his wisdom. Matthew 7:28-29. 

Jesus does not seek to control those who follow him.  Indeed, he is moved with compassion for them.  Mark 6:34.

Those who know Jesus do not stray far from him.  Crowds of people come to him, and as is his custom, he teaches them.  Mark 10:1

He teaches in their synagogues and everyone praises him. Luke 4:15

He enters Nazareth where he is well-known yet the people are furious.  They drive him out of their town.  Luke 4:29

Jesus tells us that he does nothing on his own but does all through the Father who has sent him; he teaches what the Father has taught him.  John 8:28 

Jesus heals many; he transforms the harsh circumstances of life.  Those who wish Jesus gone plot against him.  Matthew 12:14

When Jesus stands before the High Priest on the night he is accused he reminds all of us that he does nothing in secret but comes to us openly.  John 18:20

We are never given the guarantee that life will be without suffering.  We are never told that each day will end in happiness.  We are never fed with lies or pampered with pretense.

We are always protected by God who turns all harm directed against us into good.  We are always lead by Jesus who brings the love of the Father into flesh.  We are always accompanied by the Spirit who celebrates our very existence.

God surrounds us continually and constantly with heart images to remind us of how much he loves us.  Once we rely on God alone for our internal peace and the will to do as he asks, we will experience true security, honesty and openness not only with God but with all those with whom we interact.  God shows us his kingdom each day, yet we are so occupied saving ourselves that we do not see.  God sends us his love each day, yet we are so overwhelmed with the minutiae of the life we have created for ourselves that we do not hear.  God’s love is planted in us each day, yet our worry and anxiety is so intense that we do not feel.  Imagine if we could put the world aside for a time each day . . . to say the simple words to God that we often say to others . . .

Imagine the kingdom we will build with God when each of us is able to boldly say to our creator . . . I love you with all my heart . . .

 To read more about the human heart and hearts we find in nature, click on the images and follow the links. 

Images from: http://muslima61.hubpages.com/hub/The-Beautiful-Heart-Appearances-Can-Be-Deceiving

A re-post from February 5, 2012.

Micah 7: Teachability

Micah 7Teachability

Monday, February 4, 2019

Written on February 3, 2010 and posted today as a Favorite . . .

Tanner: The Savior

Today we read about a people who find themselves in such dire straits that no one is to be trusted but God – not even a dear friend or a family member.  I am thinking of the times in my life when I have allowed myself to be wrongly steered by companions and relatives – and this kind of miss-steering usually comes out of both their fears and my own.  At times like these, Micah tells us, we are to turn to God for this all-knowing, all-seeing justice, mercy, and wisdom are the only tools we will need.  They are the sole valid markers in circumstances where the culture of the day reigns rather than the spirit of God. The eternal serenity that comes from acting in humility and meekness – and by this I mean teachability – is the only remedy for extreme or grim conditions.

It is painful to realize that a loved one has been lenient with us and even pampered us in fear of losing our friendship.  It is humiliating to know that while we have been in a relationship of trust, a friend or kinsman has been less than truthful out of their own fear of conflict.  Yet it is precisely these conditions which always offer us the opportunity to draw nearer and closer to the one source that understands us better than any person in our present life.  It is only God who knows what is best to do.  And we can only hear the teaching we will need for these circumstances when we allow ourselves to be teachable.

Henry Ossawa Tanner: Christ and his Mother Studying Scriptures

We do not often think of Christ as a child but I like to remember a painting I saw in a Baltimore exhibit of paintings by Henry Tanner.  This site will show you some of his work but it does not contain my favorite . . . a sun drenched yet shady scene of the Blessed Mother with the child Jesus at her side.  The scroll she is using to teach has unfurled at their feet, and they bend to their work.  This is the image of Christ I hold before me when I am trying to learn from difficulties in my life.  Christ looking on as his mother points to figures and pronounces their sounds.

Joseph taught Jesus the craft of carpentry.  This is inferred from scripture and taught by tradition.  In the garden at Gethsemane Christ allowed himself to be taught by the father in heaven.  As he moved toward his crucifixion he kept his mind open to the messages the humanity in him needed to hear in order to perform the tasks required of his divinity.  We too, share this task of using all that is human in us to reach out for what is divine.  This is difficult work and yet we must not think that we are alone in this.  For the one who made us and saved us and comforts us is with us still.  In all circumstances, on all days, throughout all nights, at all times.

And so we pray . . . Sweet and gentle God, when we are confused and feeling lost, teach us just as your mother and father taught you.  When we are exhausted and knowing not which way to turn, bring us to you, wrap us in your gentle arms, tell us how to pray, teach us what we are to do and how we are to act.  We place all trust in you.  Keep us ever with you.  Amen. 

A re-post from February 4, 2012.

Images from: http://negroartist.com/negro%20artist/Henry%20Ossawa%20Tanner/index.htm and http://negroartist.com/negro%20artist/Henry%20Ossawa%20Tanner/index.htm 

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