Monday, July 31, 2017

Psalm 32

"You are a hiding place for me;
you keep me safe from distress." 
Psalm 32:7
The Ecumenical Grail Psalter  

The end of the month is often a quiet time for me and I am grateful.  I recently became so engrossed in tending to my garden that I lost track of time, enough so that I almost forgot my dentist appointment. It is a gift to be able to go to the dentist relaxed, and probably made for an easier time for the whole office.   

Brother Victor often writes of finding contentment in the garden. In his July 30 entry, he writes, "Contentment and serenity go hand in had to make us feel as if time has disappeared. This is a paradox, for in one way we are rooted and grounded in time, yet as we begin to experience something of the eternal, we sense that time and all earthly realities have been transcended...Contentment grants us the freedom to be totally absorbed in whatever we are involved at that moment, be it prayer, work, reading, cleaning, making music, writing, gardening, cooking, or any other creative activity. This absorption renders us unaware of the hours, days, or months. It transcends time and finds its rest in eternity."  
While Psalm 32 does not mention gardens or contentment, it is a psalm of instruction about the blessings that can be found when we ask for forgiveness. I have recently completed the order of worship for a Presbyterian service I will be leading on August 13th. It has been a blessing for me to return to the writing the prayers of confession and assurance of pardon. I always miss this tradition in communal worship - the confession of where we have fallen short as children of God, and the assurance that no matter what, that love is never taken from us.   
We too often overlook the blessings that are always present. We do not have to search for them or work for them, but rather simply make room for them. Our lives then become our temple, highly visible, but yet also a sacred" hiding place" where God abides.   
May this last day of July bring you an unburdened spirit and much contentment.  

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Psalm 31

"Still I trust in You, O Love, 
I repeat, 'You are my Life.'
My life is in your hands; 
deliver me from the fears 
which separate me. 
Let your face shine on me; 
save me in your steadfast love. 
Let me know your forgiveness, 
O Love, 
for I call upon You; 
let my fears be cast out, 
let them be transformed. 
Let me speak in truth, Beloved, 
that I might live with integrity, 
offering songs of praise to You." 

Psalm 31, Psalms for Praying, 
Nan C. Merrill    
The psalms are about finding the courage and resolution to press forward in faith, even when faith needs some shoring up.  If you are feeling beleaguered and surrounded by fears and concerns, pray Psalm 31.   My prayer this morning is that when you reach the end of the psalm, you will hear - and experience - these words: "So, be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you, who would know Love."  
Most of St. Benedict's monks were probably illiterate. When I think of their chanting the entire Psalter week after week, I am humbled.  That means a continual dipping down into the deep emotions, and coming up with offerings of praise and absolute trust.  Learning to standing fast, day and night.  Sister Joan Chittister writes, "Here is a prayer life that is serious, not superficial; concentrated not comfortable; full of witness, full of faith."    
Let us take heart and journey on in love. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Psalm 30

Psalm 30 is very personal for me. I have come to understand that I am subject to bouts of depression.  My temptation is to push this aside and keep going. Of course, strong arming is effective for just so long. However, once I recognized it and called it by name, I could make the lifestyle changes to help me understand that it had something to teach me.  I needed to spend more time with exercise, gardening, art, care with what I eat and drink, and friends. Leading worshiping in long term care communities where there is little pretense has long been a balm for me, and meditation in a group also helps make me feel whole with others just as I am.  For all of this, I am deeply grateful.     
I think most of us have known something of "the pit" of which the psalmist sings, and we learn there is little "profit" when we stay there too long. Yet, sometimes we must stay. Hopefully in this landing, we can garner some wisdom as we explore that dark territory. Fortunately, God calls us ever on, returning us to dance in the light, even when the physical body completely dissolves. Death is not our enemy, but certainly denial and fear deserve a wary eye.   
"I will extol you, LORD, for you have raised me up,
and have not let my enemies rejoice over me.
O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, 
and you have healed me. 
O LORD, you have lifted up my soul from Sheol, 
restored me to life from those who sink 
into the pit. 
Sing psalms to the LORD, you faithful ones, 
give thanks to God's holy name. 
Divine anger lasts a moment, but favor 
all through life. 
At night come tears, but dawn brings joy. 
I said to myself in my good fortune: 
'I shall never be shaken,'
O LORD, your favor had set me 
like a mountain stronghold. 
Then you hid your face, 
and I was put to confusion. 
To you, O LORD, I cried, 
to my LORD I appealed for mercy: 
'What profit is my lifeblood, 
my going to the grave? 
Can dust give you thanks, 
or proclaim your faithfulness?'
Hear O LORD, and have mercy on me: 
be my helper, O LORD. 
You have changed my mourning into dancing, 
removed my sackcloth and girded me with joy. 
So let my soul sing psalms to you 
and not be silent. 
O LORD my God, I will thank you forever."  
Psalm 30
The Ecumenical Grail Psalter   

Friday, July 28, 2017

Psalm 29

I remember sitting on a balcony some years ago watching a storm rise up over the Gulf of Mexico. It was exhilarating, but also a reminder that we cannot control the weather.  I still remember feeling the gentle breeze on my face that would eventually become so strong that I needed to head indoors. Yes, the thunder roared, the lightening flashed, and the rain came in great abundance. We were grateful for  shelter.     
The psalmist in Psalm 29 encourages us to see God in all this uncontrollable glory, in the flashes of fire and the mighty wind that shakes the wilderness with power and majesty. In all of that, there God is. If you find yourself in a storm today, take heart. Perhaps, like Elijah, God is coaxing us out of our fear filled caves and into this wild world. 
"Ascribe to God, O heavenly beings, 
ascribe to God glory and strength. 
Ascribe to God the glory of God's name; 
worship God in holy splendor. 
The voice of God is over the waters: 
the God of Glory thunders,
 God, over might mighty waters. 
The voice of God is powerful; 
the voice of God is full of majesty. 
The voice of God flashes forth 
in flames of fire.   
The voice of God shakes the wilderness; 
God shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. 
The voice of God causes the oaks to 
whirl, and strips the forest bare; 
and in God's temple all say, 
God sits enthroned over the flood, 
God sits enthroned as ruler forever. 
May God give strength to the people!
May God bless the people with peace!"  
Psalm 29:1-4, 7-11
New Century Psalter    


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Psalm 28 and a Mary Oliver Poem

I do not have a picture of a redbird, but I think this dahlia can do.  My thanks to Joe Riley for sending the Mary Oliver poem today.  Earlier this week I talked with a man who felt so adrift. My heart ached. When dementia takes root, anxiety can be so difficult to address. If you can celebrate anything at all today, do so. Let your song fly for those who simply cannot find the strength to believe in love.  Your boldness will help us all.   
Brace yourself. It is dahlia season, and the dahlia is San Leandro's official city flower. You will see more. 
"The LORD is my strength and my shield;
in God my heart trusts. 
I was helped; my heart rejoices, 
and I praise God with my song.  
The LORD is the strength of the people, 
a saving refuge for God's anointed. 
Save your people and bless your heritage. 
Shepherd them and carry them forever." 
Psalm 28:7-9  
The Ecumenical Grail Psalter 

Red Bird Explains Himself
“Yes, I was the brilliance floating over the snow
and I was the song in the summer leaves, but this was
only the first trick
I had hold of among my other mythologies,
for I also knew obedience: bring sticks to the nest,
food to the young, kisses to my bride.

But don’t stop there, stay with me: listen.
If I was the song that entered your heart
then I was the music of your heart, that you wanted and needed,
and thus wilderness bloomed that, with all its
followers: gardeners, lovers, people who weep
for the death of rivers.
And this was my true task, to be the
music of the body.  Do you understand? for truly the body needs
a song, a spirit, a soul.  And no less, to make this work,
the soul has need of a body,
and I am both of the earth and I am of the inexplicable
beauty of heaven
where I fly so easily, so welcome, yes,
and this is why I have been sent, to teach this to your heart.”
~ Mary Oliver ~
(Red Bird)

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Psalm 27: 6-14

Because of God's love, the beleaguered and dismayed psalmist garners enough strength to simply lift his head. This is a reoccurring theme, not only in the psalms but in our very own lives. I certainly witness this in skilled nursing.  This simple movement often takes more conviction than most of us can understand. Until, of course, we, too, know loss, sorrow, and illness.

Yet, the psalm leads up to a beautiful resolution. God's goodness will be known right here in the land of the living. Our heads are lifted. We await further instruction, but for now, let us sing. 
"And now my head shall be raised 
above my foes who surround me, 
and I shall offer within God's tent
sacrifices full of exultation. 
I will sing and make music for the LORD. 
O LORD, hear my voice when I call; 
have mercy and answer me. 
Of you my heart has spoken, 
'Seek the face of God.'
It is your face, O LORD, that I seek; 
hide not your face from me. 
Dismiss not your servant in anger; 
you have been my help. 
Do not abandon or forsake me, 
O God, my Savior! 
Though father and mother forsake me,
the LORD will receive me.    
Instruct me, LORD, in your way: 
on an even path lead me 
because of my enemies. 
Do not leave me to the will of my foes, 
for false witnesses rise up against me, 
and they breathe out violence. 
I believe I shall see the goodness of the LORD 
in the land of the living. 
Wait for the LORD; be strong: 
be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD!"    
New Ecumenical Psalter 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Psalm 27, Part 1

If you struggle with the enemy language (and goodness knows none of us should be blase about evil) try thinking of the social ills that all humanity experiences: violence, addiction, hunger, displacement, enslavement, and corporate greed.  Cynthia Bourgeault contends that when we embrace the more difficult psalms, we are releasing our shadow side. When that happens, we become more courageous, free, and whole. No, not free to do anything we want. Free to share our love and care with all.   
I will be exploring Psalm 27 over two days.  This morning I found a poem by Kabir (1440-1518) that I also want to share. In it, I find guidance for the psalms, and a reminder that we are seeking less of ourselves and more of God. 

I Had to Seek the Physician  

I had to seek the Physician 
because of the pain this world 
caused me. 
I could not believe what happened when I got there -
I found my Teacher. 
Before I left, he said, 
"Up for a little homework, yet?" 
Okay, I replied. 
"Well, then, try thanking all the people 
who have caused you pain. 
They helped you come to me." 
"The LORD is my light and my salvation; 
whom shall I fear? 
The LORD is the stronghold of my life, 
whom shall I dread? 
When those who do evil draw near 
to devour my flesh, 
it is they, my enemies and foes, 
who stumble and fall.  
Though an army encamp against me, 
my heart would not fear. 
Though war break out against me, 
even then would I trust. 
There is one thing I ask of the LORD, 
only this do I seek; 
to live in the house of the LORD 
all the days of my life, 
to gaze on the beauty of the LORD, 
to inquire at his temple.  
For there I am safely sheltered 
in the day of evil:
God hides me under cover of a tent;  
setting me high upon a rock." 
Psalm 27:1-5, The Ecumenical Grail Psalter 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Psalm 26

"I wash my hands in innocence 
and take my place around your altar, 
singing a song of Thanksgiving 
recounting all your wonders. 
O LORD, I love the house where you dwell, 
the place where your glory abides."  
Psalm 26:6-8 
The Ecumenical Grail Psalter   

Friday, July 21, 2017

Psalm 25

A humble prayer. 
"O LORD, make me know your ways. 
Teach me your paths. 
Guide me in your truth, and teach me; 
for you are the God of my salvation. 
I have hoped in you all day long."    
Psalm 25:4-5
The Ecumenical Grail Psalter  

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Psalm 24

Psalm 24 is a hymn of entrance. The psalmist begins by singing, "The earth is the LORD's and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it; for God has founded in on the seas, and established it on the rivers."  Then we are reminded that only those with clean hands and pure hearts can enter the temple to be with those who seek the face of the God of Jacob. This week, I have been pondering the story of Jacob: his flight from his brother's anger and a night of sleeping "rough."  Yet, it was there, with only a stone pillow for his head, where he had a dream and received a promise from God. God does not turn away from the rocky parts of our lives, but simply asks that we trust.   
Then, the psalm changes tone, and between verse 6 and 7 we have that mysterious mark, "Selah."  I remember very clearly sitting in my room during Inquirer's weekend at San Francisco Theological Seminary and finding it impossible to believe that I belonged in seminary. In fact, I felt I should leave that very moment. Yet, the staff had wisely placed Bibles in all our rooms. I came across verse 7, and I knew I had my answer, intimidating though it was.  It was time to lift the old, creaky doors to my heart, and let God in. I knew in that moment there was work to be done, and that I had an ally to see me through the difficulties, even though I was (and am) far from pure.  Doubts and rocky places continue, but fortunately, the God of Jacob and all of us all is quite patient.    
"Lift up your heads, O gates, 
and be lifted up, O ancient doors! 
that the King of glory may come in. 
Who is the King of glory?
The LORD, mighty in battle. 
Lift up your heads, O gates! 
and be lifted up, O ancient doors! 
that the King of glory may come in."   
Psalm 24:7-10, NRSV   

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Psalm 23

This translation of Psalm 23 really lends itself to chanting and if you have never chanted, you may want to try a simple monotone chant. In my ministry we recite this great psalm of life often.  Even in homes dedicated to the care of those with dementia, the familiar words often come readily to the residents, so I almost never introduce a new translation. My call is not to create more confusion, so The Common English Bible, which has traveled with me for almost ten years, is about as far afield as I feel I can venture. Yet, I am grateful when I can explore new translations of the psalms. Often just a change of a word or two can enliven and inspire us as we continue the journey of trying to listen and respond to the Christ among us.   
My gratitude to all of you who have taken a moment to let me know that you using these postings in your daily devotionals. I so much appreciate your presence as we walk and pray these paths together.   
"The LORD is my shepherd:
there is nothing that I shall want. 
Fresh and green are the pastures 
where you give me repose.
Near restful waters you lead me;
to revive my soul. 
You guide me along the right path, 
for the sake of your good name. 
Though I should walk in the valley
of the shadow of death, 
no evil would I fear, for you are with me,
Your crook and your staff will give me comfort. 
You have prepared a table before me
in the sight of my foes. 
My head you have anointed with oil;
my cup is overflowing. 
Surely goodness and kindness shall follow me
all the days of my life. 
In the LORD's own house shall I dwell
for length of days unending."    
Psalm 23, The Ecumenical Grail Psalter    
If you want to learn more about chanting the psalms, I recommend a book that a  friend recently recommended to me, Chanting the Psalms by Cynthia Bourgeault. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Psalm 22

Psalm 22 begins in anguish, suffering, and fear. It is the psalm of Jesus on the cross and all who find themselves there. It is the psalm of one who knows firsthand just how terrible deep suffering is, that it can rip us apart and devour us. 
Yet, despite the desperation, like most psalms, it is ultimately a psalm of hope.  That one day the poor will eat and be satisfied. The psalmist gathers his courage and speaks that he will live to again praise God in the sanctuary, and this praise will be carried to the end of the earth by "all hearts."  It is as if the psalm is one deep stabilizing breath. Fear and panic are breathed in, and the conviction, "I shall live for God," is breathed out. 
While I will not include the entire psalm here, reading Psalm 22 is a journey worth taking. Strengthened by this spiritual exercise, we can face what we need to face. We come to believe that the green pastures and restful waters of Psalm 23 are just around the corner, and that no matter what, God will lead us there.   
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 
Why are you so far from helping me, 
from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest. 
But I am a worm, and not human; 
scorned by others, and despised by the people. 
All who see me mock me; 
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads. 
O God, do not be far away! 
O my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword, 
and my life from the power of the dog! 
Save me from the mouth of the lion! 
From the horns of the wild oxen 
you have rescued me. 
I will tell of your name  
to my brothers and sisters; 
in the midst of the congregation 
I will praise you; 
From you comes my praise  
in the great congregation; 
my vows I will pay before those 
who fear God. 
The poor shall eat and be satisfied, 
those who seek God shall praise God.
May your hearts live forever."
Psalm 22 (adapted), New Century Psalter 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Phasing In and Out, Psalm 21

"People do not become useless simply because they do not have the strength or stamina of middle age. Life is a series of phases, each of them important, all of them worthwhile. Nothing must ever deter that, not even religious rigor or pious fervor." 
Sister Joan Chittister    
God is where we are.  Blessed be.    
"In your strength I rejoice, 
O My Beloved, 
and in your Presence my heart finds rest.
You root out my fears;  
standing firm beside me as 
I face the shadows within. 
For You put fears to flight, 
that love and justice might reign.  
All praise be yours, O Wondrous One!
Forever I will sing and honor your saving grace.
Psalm 21 
Psalms for Praying, Nan C. Merrill 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Psalm 20

"May the One who created you in wholeness
 meet your needs when you call. 
May the Name of Love be your protection
and rise up in your heart as a tower of strength."
Psalm 20 
Psalms for Praying, Nan C. Merrill   


Friday, July 14, 2017

Psalm 19

"The heavens declare God's grandeur 
and the radiance from which they arise. 
Each dawn tells of God's beauty; 
each night shines with God's grace. 
Their testimony speaks to the whole world
and reaches to the ends of the earth. 
In them is a path for the sun, 
who steps forth handsome as a bridegroom
and rejoices like an athlete as he runs.
He starts at one end of the heavens
and circles to the other end, 
and nothing can hide from his heat. 
God's universe is perfect, 
awing the mind. 
God's truth is subtle, 
baffling the intellect. 
God's law is total, 
quickening the breath. 
God's compassion is fathomless, 
refreshing the soul. 
God's justice is absolute, 
lighting up the eyes. 
God's love is radiant 
rejoicing the heart, 
more precious that the finest gold, 
sweeter than honey from the comb.
Help me to be aware of selfishness 
but without undue shame or self-judgment. 
Let me know that you are always present, 
in every atom of my life.  
Let me keep surrendering my self
until I am utterly transparent. 
Let my words be rooted in honesty 
and my thoughts be lost in your light.
Unnamable God, my essence, 
my origin, my life-blood, my home." 
Psalm 19
A Book of Psalms, Stephen Mitchell  
A beautiful morning prayer. Blessings wherever you find yourself waking today.