Blog posts

ADVENT PRAYER: Thursday Of Advent I by Martin Shannon

December 7, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 97 The Lord reigns; let the Earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad! (v. 1) Psalm 97 is one of a group sometimes referred to as enthronement psalms, named for their use in celebrating not the coronation of a king but the sovereignty of Almighty God.  These psalms serve as liturgical reminders that the supreme ruler of the universe – of all that is seen and all that is unseen – has never been nor ever can be dethroned by any other power, no matter how strong it might appear.  Other enthronement psalms are 47, 93, 96, and 99.  The psalmist perceives God’s matchless strength in some of the most dramatic displays of nature – thunder and lightning, stormy seas, earthquakes, fire, floods, and winds.  [...]

WRITING: Introduction—What Has No Name by Pat Schneider

December 6, 2017

From How The Light Gets In Beyond the name there lies what has no name (Jorge Luis Borges) Those colors which have no name are the real foundation of everything. (Vincent van Gogh) I sit writing these words in an old library in Berkeley, California.  Around me, Gothic windows let in California sunlight, and if I were to walk outside, the Golden Gate Bridge would be visible in the distance.  Pacific School of Religion is a founding member of the Graduate Theological Union, a consortium of theological schools that share a common library for several Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and other centers of study, offering traditional histories of theology and also curricula that include Black studies, Gay and Lesbian [...]

POETRY: Advent In Michigan by Sarah Arthur

December 6, 2017

In time the sons of men filled the earth with their evil deeds. And God beheld the desolate wastes the soiled streets the bitter brown of barren fields and the sin of the world cut him to the heart. “I will blot from the earth the memory of these things. Behold, I will make all things new!” So he gathered up clouds from the four corners of the sky, billows pregnant with promise. He gathered them in great, dark piles on the horizon of hills while the weathermen watched grandmothers gazed schoolchildren pressed their noses against the glass. And God said, “Let there be snow.” First, small white flakes like lace, drifting. Then—wind driving snow before it, a blizzard hiding hills from view (and the tops of church [...]

ADVENT PRAYER: Wednesday Of Advent I by Martin Shannon

December 6, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 107 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. (vv. 6, 13, 19, 28) Psalm 107, which opens the fifth and final “book” of the complete Psalter, belongs to the type of psalms known as “historical” because it recounts events of God’s saving intervention in the lives of his people.  It is a story of God’s deliverance.  Indeed, it is four stories wrapped into one. The opening call to “give thanks to the Lord,” (1) is inspired by God’s steadfast love, a love that not only “endures forever” but also shows itself in very specific divine acts.  The psalmist illustrates the people of God being redeemed and gathered from the four compass points of the [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 21 by W. Robert Godfrey

December 5, 2017

From Learning to Love the Psalms Although Book Two of the Psalter focuses in important ways on Israel’s king in his kingdom, we have already seen that the subject of the king is by no means absent from Book One.  Psalm 21 is obvious proof of the importance of the king in this first part of the Psalter.  Here is a psalm that glorifies Israel’s king while always recognizing that all that he has comes from his God. This psalm again gives us insight into its meaning through its form.  At the center of the psalm stands the faith of the king: “For the king trusts in the Lord,” (v. 7).  The calling of the king is to rest in God, confident of his love and good purpose.  The king of this psalm is a man of faith who relies on God [...]

MEDITATION: Psalm 1:6 by Alan J. Hommerding

December 5, 2017

From Everyday Psalms The Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. We might think that the opposite of “wicked” is “good.”  But the scriptures offer us a different option: righteousness.  Acting righteously, in right relationship with the will of God and rightly toward others, is an active way of living, not merely a passive state of goodness.  How often is our passivity really the wickedness of inaction?  The scriptures have no time for those who are self-righteous, because the reign of God calls us to be God-righteous.   PRAYER Your will be done on Earth as in Heaven, O God our Father. Keep me steadfast and faithful in your way, turning away from wickedness, [...]

ADVENT PRAYER: Tuesday Of Advent I by Martin Shannon

December 5, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 85 For he will speak peace to his people, to his saints, to those who turn to him in their hearts. (v. 8) Something is amiss in the land.  Is it a drought?  Is it the threat of defeat at the hand of the enemy?  Is it some sudden national disaster?  All we know for sure is that something has gone desperately wrong, behind which the psalmist sees the hand of God’s divine judgment.  His appeal is simple yet fervent: “Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away thy indignation toward us!” Upon what does the psalmist base his petition?  He spends the opening verses of the song looking back upon multiple evidences of God’s faithfulness and love for his people: God has already been gracious in [...]

PRAYER: Hope—Openness For Surprise (Part One) by Brother David Steindl-Rast

December 4, 2017

From: Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer A Passion For The Possible In moments when we are truly alive, we experience life as gift.  We also experience life as surprise.  Faith is the heart’s response to life as gift.  The heart’s response to life as surprise is hope, as we shall see.  The more the insight that life is freely given takes hold of us, the more our life will be a life of faith, a life of trust in the Giver.  Of course, that trust itself is gift: God gives us faith to respond to God’s own faithfulness.  And so we come to understand faith as an aspect of God’s own life within us.  Hope is another aspect of that same fullness of life.  The more the insight that life is surprising takes hold of us, the more our [...]

MUSIC: The Perfect Registration by Thomas H. Troeger

December 4, 2017

From: Music As Prayer I have always enjoyed hearing organists search for the perfect registration when they sit down to practice a piece of music.  Sometimes I am playing my flute with them; other times they are playing with a choir or entirely alone.  Often, they will talk to themselves, as if they were two people at once: the performer and an independent critic making judgments about the timbre and blend of the sounds.  “Let’s try this,” they say as they pull out a particular mixture of stops.  Then a few measures later, they lift up their fingers and feet, exclaiming: “No, that will never do.  Too much bass.  We need a little more brightness.”  They push in some stops and pull out new ones.  This time they play farther [...]

ADVENT PRAYER: Monday Of Advent 1 by Martin Shannon

December 4, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 67 May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us. (v. 1) Aaron and the Levitical priesthood were instructed to bless the people of Israel with these words: “The Lord bless you and keep you: The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you: The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace,” (Numbers 6:24-26).  Psalm 67 is a prayer of blessing that comes out of the same tradition.  It sees the blessing of God as the very source of life and health, without which there is no hope for prosperity or peace. A rich tone of thanksgiving is prevalent throughout the psalm, and this probably explains why it was used at the great autumn Feast of Sukkot, or [...]

SERMON: On The Advent Of Our Lord And Its Six Circumstances by Bernard of Clairvaux

December 3, 2017

Today we celebrate the beginning of Advent. The name of this great annual commemoration is sufficiently familiar to us; its meaning may not be so well known. When the unhappy children of Eve had abandoned the pursuit of things true and salutary, they gave themselves up to the search for those that are fleeting and perishable. To whom shall we liken the men of this generation, or to what shall we compare them, seeing they are unable to tear themselves from Earthly and carnal consolations, or disentangle their minds from such trammels? They resemble the shipwrecked who are in danger of being overwhelmed by the waters, and who may be seen catching eagerly at whatever they first grasp, how frail whatsoever it may be. And if anyone strive to [...]

ADVENT PRAYER: First Sunday Of Advent by Martin Shannon

December 3, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 33 Our soul waits for the Lord. (v. 20) The first word of Psalm 33 is one of six words for “praise” used by the author of this song.  It first appears in scripture in the book of Leviticus to describe the response of the Jewish assembly when the fire of God came down from Heaven and consumed the offerings made by Moses and Aaron in the tent of meeting.  When all the people saw the glory of the Lord unexpectedly appearing in this way, “they shouted for joy and fell facedown,” (Leviticus 9:24).  This was a spontaneous cry of rejoicing, elicited by an extraordinarily dramatic sign of God’s presence come among them. Psalm 33 is a call to praise and worship.  Unlike many psalms that were written in [...]

ADVENT PRAYER: Introduction by Martin Shannon

December 2, 2017

From My Soul Waits In his rule for monastic life, Saint Benedict wrote that the life of a monk should be like a continuous Lent (chapter 49).  He acknowledged that not everyone has the strength to do this (how’s that for understatement?), so, at least during the liturgical season, he wanted his monks to take on some additional and intentional acts of self-denial, all the while never forgetting that the essential aim of Lent is to look forward to Easter with joy and longing.  Life has plenty of asceticism built in already (most of it unexpected), and it is nothing if not a hope and desire for resurrection in the end.  So, even though he didn’t, perhaps Benedict could have said something similar about Advent. I live in an [...]

THE HOLY SPIRIT: Be Paracletes by Raniero Cantalamessa

December 1, 2017

From: Come, Creator Spirit So it is that in the term Paraclete we reach in a certain sense to the apex of revelation concerning the Holy Spirit.  He is not merely “something,” but “Someone.”  The Spirit is one who dwells in us, a presence, one who speaks on our behalf, a defender, a friend, a consoler, the “sweet guest of the soul,” as the Sequence for Pentecost says.  The Spirit was the “inseparable companion” of Jesus during his Earthly life, and now wants to be just that to each one of us.  All that one person might hope for of another, of what is best and of what is delightful, we can find, and infinitely more, in the Spirit.  What “Paraclete” conveys to us opens up for us an inexhaustible field for our [...]

POETRY: Indoors by R. S. Thomas

December 1, 2017

It was easier to come out with you Into the fields, where birds made no claim On my poor knowledge and flowers grew With no thought but to declare God. Within I had the old problems To cope with: turning from the Book’s Comfortable words, I came face to face With the proud priests and their intolerant [...]

SURRENDER: God’s Hand Present Everywhere, by Jean-Pierre de Caussade

November 30, 2017

From The Joy of Full Surrender All creatures are living in the hand of God.  The senses perceive only the physical causes, but faith sees God’s hand in all things.  Faith believes that Jesus Christ lives in all things, that his divine operation continues to the end of time, and that every passing moment and the tiniest atom contain a portion of this hidden life and mysterious action.  The physical creation is a veil concealing the profound mysteries of the divine work.  After the Resurrection, Jesus took his disciples by surprise in his various appearances.  He showed himself to them under forms that they did not recognize, and, in the very act of making himself known to them, disappeared from their sight.  This same Jesus, ever [...]

WISDOM STORY: The Monk’s Three Sins by Nathalie Leone

November 30, 2017

From: Christian Stories of Wisdom A monk felt resentment toward the abbot of the monastery.  Unable to rid himself of this aggression – rather the reverse – he brooded over it, justifying it, and making excuses; thus, the hatred increased rapidly.  In the solitude of his cell he was assailed by a terrible thought: He wished to see the abbot dead. Hardly had this thought taken root in his mind than the abbot had an apoplectic fit.  He collapsed and died forthwith.  That very evening the Devil appeared to the monk.  He greeted the monk, but the poor brother did not reply.  He moaned, wrung his hands, rolled on the ground, and blamed himself for this vile act. The Devil deployed all his artifices, but the monk could not be [...]

MYSTICISM: The Nature Of Mysticism—A Heuristic Sketch (Part Two) by Bernard McGinn

November 29, 2017

From The Foundations of Mysticism The Nature Of Mysticism—A Heuristic Sketch (Part One) Inspired in part by the seminal work of Joseph Maréchal, but especially by my reading of the texts that have been accepted as mystical classics in the history of Christianity, both East and West, I have come to find the term “presence” a more central and more useful category for grasping the unifying note in the varieties of Christian mysticism.  Thus we can say that the mystical element in Christianity is that part of its belief and practices that concerns the preparation for, the consciousness of, and the reaction to what can be described as the immediate or direct presence of God. The ways in which this special form of encounter with God have [...]

POETRY: Immersion by Denise Levertov

November 29, 2017

There is anger abroad in the world, a numb thunder, because of God’s silence. But how naïve, to keep wanting words we could speak ourselves, English, Urdu, Tagalog, the French of Tours, the French of Haiti… Yes, that was one way omnipotence chose to address us—Hebrew, Aramaic, or whatever the patriarchs chose in their turn to call what they heard. Moses demanded the word, spoken and written. But perfect freedom assured other ways of speech. God is surely patiently trying to immerse us in a different language, events of grace, horrifying scrolls of history and the unearned retrieval of blessings lost for ever, the poor grass returning after drought, timid, persistent. God’s abstention is only from human dialects. The holy voice [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 18 by W. Robert Godfrey

November 28, 2017

From Learning to Love the Psalms Psalm 18 is a psalm of David, a song celebrating “the day when the Lord rescued him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul.”  This psalm, the longest of Book One, praises God for his deliverance.  It is also recorded, with slight differences, in 2 Samuel 22.  At the center of this psalm is a strong confession of faith: “With the merciful you show yourself merciful,” (v. 25). This psalm begins (vv. 1-6) and ends (vv. 46-50) with praise offered to God.  It is praise filled with love and thanksgiving for God’s protection from enemies and from death.  The praise rejoices in the victories God has given his king and his people – victories displayed before the world. The [...]

POETRY: The Sleep by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

November 28, 2017

Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep. (Psalm 127:1-2) Of all the thoughts of God that are Borne inward unto souls afar, Along the Psalmist’s music deep, Now tell me if that any is, For gift or grace, surpassing this: “He giveth his beloved—sleep?” What would we give to our beloved? The hero’s heart to be unmoved, The poet’s star-tuned harp to sweep, The patriot’s voice to teach and rouse, The monarch’s crown to light the brows? He giveth his beloved—sleep. What do we give to our [...]

PRAYER: Faith And Beliefs—From Fear To Faith by Brother David Steindl-Rast

November 27, 2017

From: Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer There is no telling how many times in the course of a lifetime we may have to go through this process of creative dying.  (The more creatively we live, the more often we shall have to die, I suppose.)  But one thing is certain: in the end, no one can be spared this passage.  There is a staggering variety of dishes set out on the banquet table of life.  Each one of us gets a different menu.   The final course, however, is the same for all of us: It is one big rock.  “Sorry,” says our Host, “but now it’s time to die.”  Will we be ready by then to “swallow up death”?  If so, it will be a dying into fullness of life.  We know this.  We know it, not because someone else told us [...]

MUSIC: Escaping The Hubris Of The Present Moment by Thomas H. Troeger

November 27, 2017

From: Music As Prayer How easily we are tempted to think that our present generation is superior to the generations that have preceded us.  We learn about cruel practices of the past and judge them as barbaric while congratulating ourselves on being more civilized.  We read about the ignorance of the past and dismiss it as folly while priding ourselves on how knowledgeable we are.  We study tools and machines from the past and describe them as primitive while reveling in the sophistication of our technology.  We see fashions from the past and assess them as quaint and dated while admiring the newest style as chic and smart.  It all adds up to what I call the hubris of the present moment, an arrogance that fails to see that we share [...]

PRAYER: The Empty Chair (an exercise in prayer) by Anthony de Mello

November 27, 2017

I developed this exercise as a result of hearing the story of a priest who went to visit a patient in his home.  He noticed an empty chair at the patient’s bedside and asked what it was doing there.  The patient said, “I had placed Jesus on that chair and was talking to him before you arrived.  For years I found it extremely difficult to pray until a friend explained to me that prayer was a matter of talking to Jesus.  He told me to place an empty chair nearby, to imagine Jesus sitting on that chair, and to speak with him and listen to what he says to me in reply.  I’ve had no difficulty praying ever since.” Some days later, so the story goes, the daughter of the patient came to the rectory to inform the priest [...]

POETRY: The Inner History Of A Day by John O’Donohue

November 24, 2017

No one knew the name of this day; Born quietly from deepest night, It hid its face in light, Demanded nothing for itself, Opened out to offer each of us A field of brightness that traveled ahead, Providing in time, ground to hold our footsteps And the light of thought to show the way. The mind of the day draws no attention; It dwells within the silence with elegance To create a space for all our words, Drawing us to listen inward and outward. We seldom notice how each day is a holy place Where the eucharist of the ordinary happens, Transforming our broken fragments Into an eternal continuity that keeps us. Somewhere in us a dignity presides That is more gracious than the smallness That fuels us with fear and force, A dignity that trusts [...]

POETRY: Thirst by Mary Oliver

November 22, 2017

Another morning and I wake with thirst for the goodness I do not have. I walk out to the pond and all the way God has given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord, I was never a quick scholar but sulked and hunched over my books past the hour and the bell; grant me, in your mercy, a little more time. Love for the earth and love for you are having such a long conversation in my heart. Who knows what will finally happen or where I will be sent, yet already I have given a great many things away, expecting to be told to pack nothing, except the prayers which, with this thirst, I am slowly [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 8 by W. Robert Godfrey

November 21, 2017

From Learning to Love the Psalms Psalm 8 is another song of David, but it is very different from Psalm 3.  Psalm 8 is one of the small number of psalms in Book One that do not express distress on the part of God’s people.  Instead, it represents a psalm that celebrates the great creative work of God.  The psalmist uses this celebration of the glory and power of God as a way to build confidence in God. The focus in the psalm is very much on God and his splendor.  Again, the form of the psalm makes that point clear.  The first and the last declarations of the psalm are the repeated praise of God: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the Earth!”  In this verse, we hear an echo of Genesis 1.  Genesis 1:2 tells us [...]

POETRY: In Pilgrim Life Our Rest by Edwin Sandys

November 21, 2017

For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled. Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance. For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told. The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath. So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. Return, O Lord, how long? and let it repent thee concerning thy servants. O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all [...]

ANGELS: Worship God by Martin Shannon

November 21, 2017

From: All God’s Angels The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.  Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near. (Revelation 1:13) We began these reflections with the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible and the book of beginnings.  We end with the Revelation to John, the final book of the Bible and the book of new beginnings.  The author, who identifies himself as John, is thought to have been living in [...]

PRAYER: Faith And Beliefs—The Faithfulness At The Heart Of All Things by Brother David Steindl-Rast

November 20, 2017

From: Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer The idea behind all this [living by the Word of God means feeding on it] is one of the deepest insights in the Bible: God speaks.  What does this mean?  It is image language, of course.  But what experience stands behind the idea that God speaks?  It is the experience of listening with our heart.  For there is an aspect to that experience which we overlook all too easily.  When we truly listen with the heart, we do not merely overhear something that is going on “out there,” with or without us, regardless.  No. We find ourselves addressed.  We realize in a flash: Whatever is “out there” concerns us, because it is somehow concerned with us, it is “toward” us in some mysterious [...]