There are two verses in Isaiah that strike me as descriptive of the extravagance of God’s compassion. In the version I read most mornings, Isaiah 5:7-8 speaks of God’s great compassion and then follows it by saying,
with everlasting love I will have compassion on you.
In the Message it says,
with lasting love I will tenderly care for you.
It sounds almost like a tautology to me, a ‘needless repetition’ of terms, to conflate in one breath God’s everlasting love and God’s compassion or tender care. Yet there it is.
So I have tried to sit with a sense of that luxurious extravagance of God’s deep, loving compassion. To personalize it, to bath in it and to pray for it for those whom I know are in great need, that they will know that God, with deep love, tenderly cares for them. May you, too, have pause this week to bath in the luxurious extravagance that God, with everlasting love, tenderly cares for you.
Last week we had the first Dayspring Community Quiet Day for 2021, and, as I was pondering the lectionary readings for this coming Sunday, the Latin term carpe diem came to mind.
Carpe diem became a familiar term after the 1989 movie, Dead Poets Society. In the movie an unorthodox English teacher, played by Robin Williams, urges his class of boys to ‘live extraordinary lives’. He whispered to them to carpe diem, which, in the movie, is translated as ‘seize the day’. Since the captivating performance of Williams, the expression has become a common motto, even appearing on bumper stickers. It has inspired people to take a hold of the opportunities that come their way, to get up and grab hold of their life, to make it full and successful.
But, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, a better translation of carpe diem is ‘pluck the day’ or enjoy life while you can. Go out and pick the flowers, smell the roses, and enjoy the moment. To me, this slightly different translation has a sense of being fully in the present moment, and savouring it for all it is worth. This is captured well in Gregory Orr’s poem from his book, How Beautiful the Beloved:
Ask the tree or the house;
Ask the rose or the fire
Hydrant – everything’s
Waiting for you to notice.
Everything’s waiting for you
To wrap your heart around it.
That music has been playing
Since you were born.
You must be mad to resist it.
Always the beloved
Eager to dance.
All we have to do is ask.
This week, may we be aware that the beloved surrounds us, and may we wrap our heart each day and savour it to the full.
‘Generous’ is a commonly used word. It can describe the characteristics of a person or the size of the serve of chips at the local fish and chip shop. Because it is such a common word, I find it rather bland. For me, a richer meaning comes to life in a couple of older words that are not so commonly used today.
The first is ‘magnanimous’ which comes from the Latin magnus meaning great, and animus meaning soul. A magnanimous person is someone who has ‘great soul’! It is used to describe a person who is being generous or forgiving, especially towards a rival or less powerful person.
The second word is ‘munificent’ which also comes from Latin, munificus meaning bountiful. The definition of munificent is giving or sharing in abundance and without hesitation. It describes someone who is bighearted and bounteous, without hesitation!
God is generous! God is magnanimous, having ‘great soul’. The letter of Paul to the Romans brims with descriptive references to God having ‘great soul’, telling us how even when we were ‘weak and rebellious’ the love of God was poured out on us and now ‘we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!’
God is also munificent, being bighearted and bounteous, sharing everything with us in abundance and without hesitation. In Genesis, Abraham shows us God’s munificence. I love the picture of Abraham who, at 99 years of age, runs to greet three strangers who visit him. Then the almost 100 year old man runs to get a meal ready for them. He is so generous without hesitation. So is God!
And just as God did not wait for everything to be okay with us before being generous to us, so we do not need to wait for everything to be ‘right’ before we are generous in this on-going time of corona virus. And it is not just about being generous with material things or money which may be tight for many in this time of high unemployment and lock-down. But, more challengingly, it can be about giving of our own selves. As Simone Weil insightfully puts it, ‘Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity’. Giving our full attention to God is generous, or giving our undivided attention to those around us is generous. When we have been neglecting our self, giving our self our full, loving attention can be generous. In these simple but challenging ways we can be people who have ‘great soul’, people who are bighearted, even in a time of restrictions and coronavirus.
Image by Anrita1705 from pixabay
As I look outside my window this week, the world around me has been softened with winter rain and leaden skies. I can hear the screech and long guttural cawing of the black cockatoos in the macadamia tree next door. The black cockatoos come each year when the macadamias are ripe and wet with winter rain. Their chorus is raucous noise rather than tuneful song. Yet their welcome arrival, from who knows where, heralds the changing of the seasons. Summer’s simmering heat giving way to winter’s wind and rain. I sense a peace and gentleness in the softened, smiling world, and a joy in the return of wild and raucous beauty.
And as with the shifting season in the world around, so the season of hard lockdown is shifting into a tentative season of new beginnings. And I take a moment to reflect on the inner seasons of my heart and soul, and how deeply the outer seasons reflect and shift my inner world.
I bless you God for the beauty and the harshness of this place, and for the eternal rhythm of the seasons, both inner and outer. How deeply, I, who struggles with change, am also blessed by change.
And as you look upon the world around you this week, may you too be blessed by the mysterious beauty and the eternal rhythm of the seasons, both the inner and outer.
During the week while browsing an online bookstore (as a librarian does), a comment about Walter Brueggemann caught my attention. In a recent book which is a compilation of his essays, he makes the point that truth must precede hope; otherwise hope is in danger of being a ‘false hope’.
We see evidence of this in today’s world where fake news and political spin seek to deny reality and to give us ‘false hope’. However, in facing up to the truth – both in the difficult and troubling times we try to avoid, and in the good and beautiful times we easily embrace – we can find the possibility of real hope. In reading these words I suddenly had a sense of why God is known as both the God of truth and the God of hope.
And so, as we face our own truth in these topsy turvy times in which our difficulties and our joys may be quite hidden from others, I pray for you the Wednesday benediction in Dayspring Daily Prayers:
May the God of hope
fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
so that you may abound in hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.
(Romans 15:13, NRSV)
Yes, may the God of truth and hope bless you this week.
In our ‘online church’ we have been discussing the vexed question of petitionary prayer. Does God answer prayer? Is there any point in praying? In this time of worldwide crisis what do we ask for? How can we pray for so many needs? Do our prayers make any difference?
We didn’t find answers to these questions, but we finished our discussion feeling encouraged to keep praying in the ways that each of us can.
For me, I have been captivated by the words in Evelyn Underhill’s poem ‘High Tide’,
The Moon of prayer,
That by the invincible sorcery of love
God’s very self can move ...
(An Anthology of the Love of God, p122)
It is the mysterious ways of love between lovers which moves God, and not so much our words. Love and prayer, so deeply entwined, are equally mysterious in their effects. So as I pray I can be aware that it is not so much my words that are important, but it is God’s love and longing toward us all.
May the sorcery of love, in all its mystic and allure, be in and through your prayers and journey with God this week.
What does it mean to ‘bless’? It is not an easy word to define. The Merriam-Webster dictionary gives a range of meanings, which include
A blessing is a form of grace; it is invisible. Grace is the permanent climate of divine kindness.
To bless is certainly similar to being loving towards, to think well of, and to do good for others. In the midst life, whatever it throws up for us, God blesses us, but sometimes that can be hard for us to recognize. The disciples found it difficult to recognize the blessing in Jesus’ death until after the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. The philosophers at Athens were unaware of the blessings offered to them by the ‘unknown God’ until Paul’s impassioned oration on Mars Hill.
We, too, are called to be like God in blessing others in both the good and the hard times, in all the ordinariness of life. To bless is like O’Donohue’s phrase, ‘the eucharist of the ordinary’:
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.
God has blessed us so much, and God’s blessing far outweighs and out performs any blessings we might give. But in seeking to bless, to be loving no matter what life is throwing at us, we behave like God, like Jesus. And when we bless, even in difficult times, says Peter, we will find ourselves blessed as well!
At the beginning of May, the lectionary reading of the Psalms begins again at Psalm 1. Some of the short, early Psalms are quite arresting, and I find that so with Psalm 5. The Psalm is a morning prayer. The psalmist prays with groans and laments before ‘my King and my God’. And then waits. I feel the same in my morning prayers, laying out the pain of our world and waiting in my self-isolation for God to answer. So my interest is piqued and I read on in the psalm. No answer comes for the psalmist (how familiar), but I am emotionally caught unawares by the sudden shift in verse 7 (or verse 8 as it is in the Grail translation).
But I through the greatness of your love
have access to your house.
Somehow, as I repeat those words to myself, an answer no longer matters. I can still groan and lament and pray, as I must, but I do that in the greatness of God’s love for me, which brings me into God’s very home.
May you, through the greatness of God’s love, be blessed this week.
We seem to be entering a week with some optimism that we have turned a corner in controlling the coronavirus in Australia. Restrictions are starting to be loosened in selected areas. But I find myself still deeply aware that some people, both here and especially around the world, are continuing to enter the darkness and unknown that this health crisis brings. So, in my prayers a feeling of overwhelming burden for the world often presses in. I mostly just sit in silence, holding it all before God. I am comforted by the wisdom of a modern English anchoress writing about her solitary life of prayer:
People often speak of ‘private prayer’,
but really there is no such thing,
because we pray as the Church.
However hidden or apparently hidden such prayer may be,
it is still the whole Church praying.
(Wind on the Sand: The hidden life of an anchoress, p72.)
When we are in isolation, alone, silently holding before God the suffering of our world, we are the Church praying.
May God’s loving presence be with us all this coming week, both here and around the world.
I always feel moved by the opening reading for Friday in the Dayspring Daily Prayers. It comes from Psalm 138:
I face your holy Temple,
bow down, and praise your name
because of your constant love and faithfulness …
In my mind, I find myself doing just that: bowing towards God’s Temple and praising God’s name. And then, over the years as I visited New Norcia and listened to the words of the same Psalm at Vespers, it grabbed me again in a new way. This time it was the lyric beauty of the words from the Grail translation of the Psalms:
I will adore before your holy temple.
I thank you for your faithfulness and love
which excel all we ever knew of you.
I roll those words around my mind, and roll them round my tongue. How deeply they move me still. Do you have a verse that profoundly moved you in the past, and still moves you today? May the God whose faithfulness and love constantly surprises us by excelling all we ever knew before, be with you and bless you in this coming week of self-isolation.
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