In A Word….”Selah”

Today’s readings from the psalms and oracles of the prophets serve as a soundtrack, as it were, for us as we have been considering the beginnings of God’s chosen people, the Israelites, recorded in Genesis. It’s not hard to recognize the same soundtrack plays as a backdrop for our own lives as we grow into our identity as God’s child. In fact, I believe that is why the psalms and oracles are so prevalent in The Liturgy of the Church, the words unite our spirit with the Spirit of God’s voice throughout the ages.

There is a certain word that is often sung or implied as a theme and by heeding it I may receive the LORD’s help as I walk the path of salvation. The word acts as a pop-up reminder to us to remember who we are and to whom we belong as we tread our own way through the high and low places of our journey of salvation. Consider this paraphrase of Psalm 46.

God is [my] refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.  Therefore [I] will not fear …… Selah

…God is in [my] midst; [I] shall not be moved;
God will help ….
 Selah

….“Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”….
 Selah

The words of the psalmist convey the ever-present help of the LORD to us as the way to mindfulness of the LORD’s quiet presence to us. The psalmist ends each phrase with the word “Selah”, which means “forever” or “to lift up; exalt”, its presence in the psalm is a cue for us to pause or to take a breath allowing our minds to take in what the psalmist has proclaimed. It serves as a sacred and silent interlude for us to receive the LORD’s truth. Within this particular psalm, there is the implication of the “if/then” of the fullness of God’s Covenant with us. He calls the people to “Be still and know that I am God,” to consider what the LORD in his mercy is trying to teach us as we live out our salvation: If you will remain silent, listen and linger with me, then you will know I am your fortress; I will be your salvation! Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? Yet in practice, it can take a colossal effort to remain silent. I am sometimes tempted to rely on my own judgment to quickly plow through the interruptions of life or become so enamored by the shiny parts of life that I’m distracted from the reality of the LORD’s Covenant with me.

We see this evidenced in what we’ve been reading about the history of God’s people; how fear and pride dogged their path, how they allowed the so-called gods of the culture around them to lose sight of the LORD’s Covenant. Eventually, fatigue from their striving to fit in with the culture wears them down. What I have observed in my own life is that if fear and pride don’t drive me to my knees before the LORD, fatigue certainly will. I need “Selah” for I weary of the tug of war between my own will and the LORD’s will…..that’s just like him, isn’t it? He allows us to come to the end of ourselves where we finally cease striving. It’s as if the LORD says, “Lois, I finally have you where I need you…..now, let’s consider how you are striving to achieve and acquire what comes from Me alone.”

Two other passages from the psalms and the prophet are included in the Liturgy today that draws our spirit into a “Selah”. From Isaiah 30:15, “By waiting and by calm you shall be saved. In quiet and in trust your strength lies.” And again in Psalm 124 we can imagine the psalmist seated on a mountainside of the rugged terrain of Israel. As he sits there, he is pondering all the “what ifs” of life and remembers the faithfulness of the LORD as his rock and refuge. In that “Selah” a song formulates in his mind and he begins to sing,

If it had not been the Lord who was on my side
    when people rose up against me,
then they would have swallowed me up alive,
    when their anger was kindled against me;
then the flood would have swept me away,
    the torrent would have gone over me;
then over me would have gone
    the raging waters.”

Friend, are there “what ifs” in your life? Do you sit still before the LORD as you ponder them?…. Selah

Have you come through a time of celebration and are left with a sense of satisfaction and gratitude?… Selah

Were you following a path set before you when circumstances went sideways for you? …Selah

Has someone you trusted betrayed you? ….Selah

Has the pandemic brought about a financial reversal in your life?… Selah

Do you tend to focus on what the LORD hasn’t done for you?… Selah

When you scurry after pleasures that are passing, do you…Selah?

The joy of our salvation comes through our own willingness to Selah; to be still and know that the LORD is forever faithful and true. Only He can truly satisfy.

LORD God, remind us that nothing is new under the sun. You never change and your responses to our own choices are the same as they were to our ancestors in the faith. LORD, you are faithful and true even when we are not. Slow us down, train us to embrace “Selah” in our posture before you.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Let It Be

When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

–The Beatles

My first encounter with the beauty of our Blessed Mother came through the 1968 release of the popular song, Let it Be, by the Beatles. What the Beatles communicated in that song, though not exactly scriptural, began to draw me to Mary long before I converted to Catholicism decades later. The notion that the mother of Jesus could speak words of wisdom to me intrigued me.

Later in life when I was a tenderfoot Catholic I began contemplating all the words of Our Blessed Mother and I found that praying, “Let it be” could usher me into the grace the LORD has for all who will magnify Him. How so? By observing this grace-filled woman, this perfect mother, we learn how to detach ourselves from our own notions about how life should go. Let’s use the Beatles song to expand on how Mary’s fiat leads us into wisdom.

“When I find myself in times of trouble…” Our Blessed Mother knew times of trouble, she knew what confusion felt like, she knew what rejection felt like, she knew what poverty felt like. Her response to those rugged realities– “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” reveals her humility. As we learn to respond rather than to react when the unexpected throws us off-kilter we leave room in our soul to reflect on the circumstances from the LORD’s point of view as Mary surely did. In that space of reflection we learn to listen to the Holy Spirit’s wise counsel. Though life may remain rugged, we may more readily accept the pratfalls of life as sacred ground for our spirit to rest in the LORD’s great love for us.

“And in the hour of darkness…” Allow me to use my own experience with “the hour of darkness” to show how our Blessed Mother comes to us speaking words of wisdom. In the years before I officially converted to The Catholic Church, I devoured books written by contemplative Catholics. My spirit kindled to reading about the sacramental life of The Church, especially when the life of Our Blessed Mother was the topic. My spirit opened to belief in her intercession for me. One afternoon in the midst of a collection of grief-filled realities, I was feeling the seer of pain from an unspeakable tragedy our family was enduring. The hours, months, years were filled with dark hours! I cannot say I put Mary to the test but, somewhere deep down I hoped that she would be my Mother as I was being a mother in the midst of loss and grief. A moment came when I dropped to the floor from physical exhaustion of the trauma; I began to pray. Who did I pray to? The LORD of course, but who was there holding me, weeping with me, crying out with me the extreme of my emotions? It was Our Blessed Mother! I cannot articulate the infused comfort and hope my spirit received that day, but I experienced the “lifting up of the lowly” that Mary declared in her Magnificat.

“And when the night is cloudy…” When we are on our last tether and we can’t see our way through a dilemma, if we listen, we hear the echo of Our Blessed Mother say to Jesus, “[She] has no wine.” When our resources don’t measure up to the expectation of others, if we listen we can hear her say, “Whatever He says, do it.” And what do we do when Christ abundantly supplies? We do as Mary, we reflect on God’s goodness and treasure it in our heart.

“I wake up to the sound of music…” As we pray the rosary of our Blessed Mother we join Mary in contemplating the joys of the life of our Saviour. He laughs, he celebrates; when He walks in He literally lights things up! And we can imagine Mary laughing right along; why? For she knew that “He who is mighty has done great things!” We receive the same peace and joy when our mighty Saviour does great things in us!




The Return

The word Lent derives from a Middle English word lenten, meaning springtime. I kindle to that image as I consider that the purpose of Lent is to lead us into Christ’s passion through a season of examination and growth that will renew our strength and determination to love the LORD God with all our heart, mind and strength. We take up this practice every year, sometimes with a sense of duty or dread about the fasting, almsgiving or penance, but I believe we are missing the point of this our Catholic tradition. If we are not mindful of God’s desire to renew us as springtime renews the earth, Lent can be seen as a burden. Lent is more than making resolutions or enduring a penance by taking on something we think will be extraordinarily difficult. If we consider that it was Jesus zeal for us, his beloved, that led him into temptation like our own in order to reveal that he alone is our life-giving Savior, then we come closer to understanding Lent as a gift not a burden. Jesus alone delivers us from evil. Satan the enemy of our soul is the tempter, but Jesus is the conquerer!

The Liturgy of the Word during these 40 days of Lent offers us the armor, as it were, to journey with Jesus into this higher calling beyond enduring temptation to “proving” our desire for Him alone. I learned awhile back that when the term “40 days” is used in scripture it is usually associated with a period of time that includes trouble and hardship for the purpose of “proving” someone. Proving in the sense that you proof yeast, allowing time for the enzymes to activate in its environment of water and flour. Well, the environment we live in is rife with temptations that diminish us, intended to waste us in its concoction–the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life.” St. John goes on to say that this [concoction] “is not of the Father, but is of the world.” ..

Let’s consider another purpose of the daily readings during Lent. When we read the WORD, we are reading Jesus Christ, we are hearing Him say to us all we need for our salvation. His Spirit penetrates our hearts and minds with the sharp awareness of our own sin. If we choose, this Bread of Life, the Word of God, will raise in us new life. We enter into the temptation and penance of Lent with the daily Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist in Mass as our weapon and our sustenance for endurance and transformation. In consuming the Word, Jesus himself, the LORD offers us food for this journey as we align ourselves with the truth that the LORD’s strength is sufficient. He also offers us insight into the vices that keep us from his new life!

I recognized this gift of armor and the awareness of our sin as I considered the theme of return in today’s readings. The psalmist cries out to the Lord to “remember His mercies” In every instance of God “remembering,” we see that it always includes an action. God never forgets His Covenant or His people. He doesn’t suffer from memory lapses about us, no, to “remember” means God has us on His mind and he is ready to act is we allow him to. In the lenten season He is drawing us away, up into a desert for us to recollect his mercies as we suffer our temptations.

The prophet Joel’s words are read today just before the proclamation of the Gospel: “Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart; for I am gracious and merciful” And then the Gospel reading from Matthew teaches us how to return to Him with a lesson on forgiveness that Jesus taught His disciples. Do we need to be reminded of that today? I know I need to remember that a forgiving spirit guides me in returning to the LORD in order to be renewed and to become like him!

As we consider the greatest temptation of our life is to forget how much you love us and desire us, remind us that you always have us on your mind and you are waiting for us to always have you on our mind.

LORD God, we ask that this season of Lent be a season where we allow You to penetrate our spirits through our fasting, almsgiving and penance. May we allow you to prove us so that we would grow into the life you desire for us. Bring springtime to our hearts as we walk with you during this Lenten fast. Renew a right spirit within us!

In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Amen

In the Morning, I will Call on You

“Splendor and majesty go before the LORD; praise and joy are in his holy place. Let us rejoice and be glad, alleluia!”

As I sip on my coffee in this early morning hour, the silent footfalls of the day’s dawn gently echo these words in my soul. It is the awe I allow myself to ponder that will set the tone of this day. “Splendor and majesty go before the LORD….” As surely as the sun will soon rise and set, you will reveal to me your splendor and majesty. It may be in a moment of peace or upheaval or in the Holy Spirit’s whisper or, perhaps in the company of another.

I, your beloved daughter, can only accept this truth as I anticipate You coming in these moments in splendor and magnificent grandeur, to me. This life I live is lived on this earth, desiring Your Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.  This space I sit in is holy ground where You reveal to my seeking heart that all of life is sacred, everywhere is holy. “The LORD’s praise and joy will fill my soul” –I allow my imagination to merge with this truth that splendor and majesty are the LORD’S, and the LORD’S alone.

Father, I humbly prostrate myself before you and sing,

“Holy Spirit, Love divine, glow within the heart of mine; Kindle every high desire, Perish self in thy pure fire! Holy Spirit, Peace divine, still this restless heart of mine; speak to calm this tossing sea, stayed in thy tranquility. Holy Spirit, Joy Divine, gladden though this heart of mine; in the desert ways I sing,

‘Spring, O Well, for ever spring!’

Prayer: The Upward Surge of the Heart

There are some people I just avoid; you know the types–self-centered and critical, distracted. I walk away from time spent with them feeling depleted in spirit sucked dry of joy.

Friend, do you have people in you life like that? People that seem more interested in talking to you instead of listening to you. Their postures reveal they’re in a hurry. They keep their eye on the phone they hold in their hand while you sit there hoping for a conversation with just them, and not with their in their phone. I can’t tell you how much I resent that black-screened rectangle idol sometimes, yet I know you are probably holding one in your hand right now to listen to this podcast. I don’t resent them for how they are used, I resent them for the distraction they are.

Sometimes I wonder what the LORD feels when I am distracted in prayer with him overly concerned about the voices in my head. I wonder if he look at me and feels the absence of my spirit? I wonder if he resents the idol I hold in my hand? I wonder how he feels when I rush in and out of prayer with all tongue and no ear. I know where the problem lies, it’s in me and the idea that I hold on to that I am praying to Him. What kind of relationship is that? Sometimes I wonder if he says to himself, “Shut your mouth, Lois….can you listen for a minute?….will you turn off the noise between me and you?

It seems to me that when you and I allow the distractions of our self to dominate our idea of the relationship we have with God, we ARE all surface and no depth; consumed by what I have to say instead of what the LORD is whispering to me. Absent of any sense that He is Emmanuel, God with me. Our LORD is a perfect gentleman, he waits for us to weary of our own redundant preoccupations, he waits for us to fix our gaze on him and to simply stop.

Father Jacque Philippe’s book, Time for God, has been an essential guide for me for the prayerful life. “What matters in prayer is not what we do but what God does in us during those moments, the essential act in prayer is, at bottom, to place oneself in God’s presence and to remain there… This presence, which is that of the living God, is active, vivifying. It heals and sanctifies us. We cannot sit before a fire without getting warm.”

I’ve come to believe that the remedy for praying to Him is learning to understand that prayer is with Him. Doesn’t that sound genuine and inviting? How can we get there? When I unite my prayer and my desires with his heart I change my posture; placing myself with him in his presence. When I enter into his rest this way I believe he hears me saying, “I’m glad to sit with you, to kneel before you, to enjoy your company!”

The question I ask myself, you may ask yourself: Why do I delay the graces God has for me by filling the air with my words? A monologue that’s all about me, myself and I: my self-promoting desires, my self-centered attitudes, my selfish wants….do you notice the theme here? Is it familiar to you? I remember something Dallas Willard wrote about the effect of praying with God. There is a pervasive and spiritually strengthening effect on all aspects of our own sense of self when we relax into conversation with God. I kindle to that image!

I think of the words of St. Teresa of Avila, “Prayer is an upward surge of the heart.” Now, there’s the posture I need to take that will free me from the navel-gazing I’m prone to do. As I begin to understand that prayer is the response of my whole self, born from my reverence for and trust in my heavenly Father, then I am moving closer to intimacy with my LORD. The knowing and being known through conversation where my eyes are opened wide to the genuine life of communion with the LORD.

Friend, do you sense that our heavenly Father is patiently waiting for Your presence to him? Do you weary of struggling against the thoughts that distract and dismay you? I sure do!

Oh, LORD, when we are all tongue and no ear, silence us.

When we wallow in regrets pick us up out of the mud we’ve made of our life. Hold us in your arms, speak to us your cleansing words of life.

Teach us how to listen. We desire quietness to rule our spirits. Would you enlarge our hearts with longing for you? Would you unite all our desire with yours?

You speak words of life, you give wisdom to those who listen, you grant insight to those who will look into your eyes with humble gratitude. Teach us to pray with you!

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen.