Psalm 101

Here is my forever prayer:
I will sing of loyalty and of justice
To You, God, I will sing
Of Your loyalty and justice to me
I will study the way that is blameless
When shall I attain it?
I will walk with integrity of heart
Throughout my life
I will not set before my eyes anything that is base
I hate the times that I fall away
I will not let doubt cling to me
I will know nothing of evil
I will recognize when my thoughts turn against others
And I will pray those thoughts away
I will recognize my own pride and arrogance
My haughty attitude
And will pray that pride away
I will value faithfulness to You
And to my better strivings
And I will nurture those within me
I will seek the company of those who try themselves
To live in loyalty and justice
I will not lie, I will not deceive
I will banish lies and deceit from my life
Morning by morning, day by day, night by night
I will pray that You destroy my wickedness
That You deliver me from evil
That You make Your home in my heart. Amen

The Gift of No

A friend, who is a divorced Catholic, told me of having to leave a social gathering because she got so agitated when she realized one of the men was “working up the courage” to ask her out. “I didn’t know what to say to him,” she said. “I’m just not interested in dating.” I joked with her, “Let me teach you a two letter word to handle situations like that — NO. You can add ‘thank you’ but that is optional.”

I have been thinking about that on and off all week — about my own difficulties saying “No” (with or without the thank you) when I am asked to do something. A difficulty shared by many women and, maybe, especially by many older women in denominations like the Catholic Church.

And here was my personal insight this morning: The ability to say No is a gift that we give to others. It frees others to ask us without worrying that they will be imposing. I think of my friend and how careful I am about what I ask her to do because she will not say No unless it is literally physically impossible for her and even then she will apologize repeatedly and feel badly. So that shifts the burden of judging the appropriateness of a request to me.

Exercising the right and ability to say No is not just a matter of personal liberty (although it is most assuredly that), it is also a great and good gift that we give to others.

Third Grade Theologians

With my third graders last Sunday, I told the gospel story: Jesus’ parable of the two sons whose father asked them to work in the vineyard; one said “no” but then went and worked; the other said “yes” but never got around to going to the vineyard. Jesus asked, “Which one did what his father wanted?”

We talked about what Jesus meant to teach us. I asked how many had fathers who owned a vineyard. No one. How many went to work with their father every day? No one. So does this parable have anything to do with us?

“Well, God is our Father too,” offered one child, “so maybe Jesus is telling us not to just say prayers but to do God’s work.”

“That’s good. A good answer'” I said, “So the next question is, What is God’s work?”

This took some discussion to figure out. “Going to church?” “Helping poor people?” “Doing what our parents and teachers tell us to do?”

It took a while, but we got there. Together we decided, as one girl suggested, that God’s work is love.

“Yes,” I said, “God wants us to love God and love each other.”

“OK,” said Elise, “as long as that doesn’t include me loving my 5 year old brother. He’s impossible to love.”

“Why is he impossible to love?” I asked.

“Because he’s mean. He is always mean to me. He does mean things to me every day.”

“And when he is mean to you, are you mean back to him?”

“Not always. Not usually. Sometimes, but I try not to be.”

“Well, Elise, every time he is mean to you and you are NOT mean back to him, you are loving him.”

“Uh? But I never FEEL like I love him.”

“That’s OK. The love that God wants from us is not a feeling but an action. There’s a saying ‘Actions speak louder than words.’ God doesn’t care if you ever say or think ‘I love my little brother.’ God cares how you ACT.”

Of course, at that point, someone else wanted to talk about mean words, bullying words, and how sometimes people can act nice in front of others but sneaky say mean things to you. So that got us into a whole other discussion about words and actions, bullying and protecting, only seeming nice and really being nice.

Continuing to reaffirm my belief that third graders are the best theologians.

Psalm 102

Hear my prayer, O my God, let my cry come to You
Don’t leave me, I beg You, in distress and despair
Listen to me, hear me, see my need, my desperate need
You know my darkness
The days when my hope drifts away like smoke
When my faith burns away in fiery doubt
When my love shrivels like dry grass
When my hunger for You disappears into anorexic torpor
My spirit groans, even my body aches
With the pain of abandonment, desertion
I am reduced to a small creature of desert wastelands
My peace has taken flight
I lie sleepless and discontent
Wondering why I cannot be better than my worst parts
“My days are like an evening shadow
I wither away like grass”
Wondering why You cannot make me better
You could, You know, if You wanted to
Do I have to remind You that You are God Almighty
I capitalize Your name and even Your pronouns
To remind myself
You are God forever, almighty forever, my Savior forever
You do not forget me, You do not ignore me
Though many are the times when I find that hard to believe
I am of Your people; You are my God
You are victorious, glorious
You do hear me, see me, love me
Let me record it here and now: God loves me, saves me
God knows me, hears me, frees me
So I will praise and worship God and God alone
Some days, I feel as old as the earth that You created
As alone as the stars that You made
I will die, but You endure
I will die, but I live forever in and through Your love
You are steadfast in love, enduring in faithfulness, eternal
And so I will be secure, I will be established in Your presence
I will be holy as You are holy
In the meantime, hear me and help me, O my God. Amen.

My Mary

An angel describes,
How great her son will be.
A teenager asks,
“Aren’t you forgetting one thing –
I’m a virgin.”

A mother speaks to her grown son,
Gives him THAT LOOK.
He sighs,
And takes care of the wine problem.

A woman stands erect and unmoving,
Defying Romans, Jews and grief itself,
To watch her son die a criminal.

The church statues?
No time for them.
The meek mild ever virgin?
No need for her.

Mary the impudent,
Mary the importunate,
Mary the brave,
She is my Mary.

Psalm 103

Bless God, O my soul, and all that is in me
Bless God’s holy name
Bless God and make sure to remember
All that God does for me
God forgives me
God heals me
God redeems me
God crowns me with Her own steadfast love and mercy
God satisfies me with good all my life
God renews me
(And yet, and yet, so often
I feel unworthy
I feel sick
I feel abandoned
I feel unloved
I feel old and worn out
I feel, even, that my faith is but a delusion)
I return to the psalmist who tells me that
God brings vindication and justice to the oppressed
God’s people know God’s ways and acts
God is merciful and gracious
God is slow to anger
God is abounding in steadfast love
And I can claim all, all for myself
This is why the psalmist blesses God’s holy name
(This is what I sometimes do with my whole heart
And sometimes struggle to believe it even a little)
I go back again to the psalmist who tells me more
God will not accuse me
God will not be angry with me
God will not deal with me according to my worst
God will not exact vengeance for my doubts
God’s steadfast love, love for me
Is higher than the heavens
God’s forgetfulness and forgiveness of my worst
Encompasses my whole world
Separates me completely from my failings
(Really? Am I then still me?)

As a parent loves and knows the limits of a child
God loves me and knows my limits
(Though sometimes my fear is not fear of God
But fear that God does not exist)
Ah, but God knows, better than me
That I am but dust
(And you can’t expect too much from dust)
My days are like grass
Once I bloomed strong and bright like a flower
But the wind of my days blows ever faster
My flower droops
The psalmist says, so what
You may fail, but God’s steadfast love
Is from everlasting to everlasting
God’s righteousness is mine to claim
All the days of my life
While I try to keep God’s covenant
And love as God commands me to love
God is sovereign over all
So with saints and angels
Let me bless God
Let me be among those who do God’s bidding
Let me listen to – let me hear – God’s Word
Let me join God’s hosts, God’s ministers, God’s faithful
Let me join that great crowd of witnesses
Let me join the universe, God’s creation
(Oh, please, with the humble peace that passes feeble understanding)
Bless God, O my soul. Amen

Psalm 104

The psalmist blesses God, Creator of the world
The psalmist worships God by naming God’s creations
Extolling God’s achievements
God is honor and majesty and bright light
God created everything
Heavens and light, clouds and wind
Fire and flame
The strong foundations of the earth
The deep waters of the seas
The edges and boundaries
Mountains and valleys
Water to quench thirst
Branches to shelter birds
Grass and food plants
Wine “to gladden the human heart”
Oil and bread
Trees, the psalmist’s beloved cedars of Lebanon
The psalmist goes on and on
Reminding God of this incredible creation
Storks and goats and rabbits
The moon and the sun
Lions and their prey alike
How ecstatic is the psalmist
Verse after verse
Creation after creation
“In wisdom You have made them all”
Earth and sea
Creeping things and Leviathan
God gives and God takes away
Blessed be the name of God
God creates with God’s own spirit
God takes away breath, and we die
And return to dust
“May the glory of God endure forever”
May God rejoice in Her works
In wisdom, in glory
Yes, but, my mind whispers
The God of the cedars of Lebanon
Is also the God of the plagues of Egypt
The God of wondrous creation
Is also the God of famine and flood
Disease and disaster
Pain and suffering
The Creator of everything
Is also the Creator of me
My generous intelligence and my unruly emotions
My comforting faith and my persistent doubts
My supple joints and my easy bleeding
My grand aspirations and my foolish distractions
My gracious loves and my unreasonable hates
My gains and my losses
My companions and my aloneness
My children’s love and my children’s withdrawal
My achievements and my disappointments
How I want to praise God as the psalmist does
Without reservation, with easy joy
How I want to accept
Life and death, good and bad
Giving and withholding, revealing and hidden
God, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, Lady Wisdom
The unknowable lover
The unreachable parent
The often forgotten ruler
How I want
To sing with the psalmist
To sing praise to God as long as I live
May my meditation be pleasing to You, my God
Let my sins, my doubts, my not-enoughs be consumed
Let my wickedness be no more
Let me shout with the psalmist
Bless God, O my soul
Praise God. Amen.