Only Yesterday

Christ_Handing_the_Keys_to_St._Peter_by_Pietro_Perugino-1481-2

Christ Handing the Keys of the Kingdom to St. Peter, Pietro Perugino, 1481-1482

A Prayer for the Third Day of Lent

There are too many children in Heaven today,
and on the earth too many friends with broken
hearts and empty arms. Shadows lie too broad
and fade too soon as night falls early on a
wailing world.

Dear God, when will the grieving end? When can
we once again hear bright, clear laughter, songs
of innocence and curiosity, voices yet to deepen,
and not wonder if those voices will be hushed
before they mellow and grow wise?

The faces in the crowd are stiff and cynical,
uninclined to open to a stranger’s smile. We have
too much to carry now—suspicion, wariness, the
armored layers of our souls, which yesterday
were covered only with a scarf against the odd
chill wind. Spare us, God, the weight of
vengeance, far too heavy to be borne by mortals
such as we.

Where are whimsy, merriment, and joy today?
Do they patter with the feet of children on the
crowded streets of Heaven? Can’t you see we
need them here, before our sorrow palls the
feeble sunlight that remains?

Dear God, what would you have us do with all
the love we bear for those who have been torn
away? Might it find its way to someone whose
uneasy spirit even now turns poisonous? Can we
make, amid the flood of pain and anger, islands of
humanity where troubled hearts can lay their
beds?

Amen.

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A Prayer for the Second Day of Lent

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Très Riches Heures du duc de BerryLimbourg brothers, 1411-1416

Lead Me to the Feast

Dear God, make me ready for salvation—
for the time when I can trust the guideposts
and not need to see the destination.
There are enemies around me, shadows
moving in the undergrowth, and I don’t
know their names, I only sense their sneering
hatred, feel a loathsome force that steals from
nature’s generosity and drowns out
her sweet song.

It is offered—freedom from all pain,
anxiety, regret—but I’m not ready
for it yet, and it is too genteel to
press. It waits, out in the clearing, like a
tree in richest fruitage, past midsummer,
brazenly displaying plump, pure
nourishment… but, unlike the orchard
down the road a way, this tree and its
companions will not drop their bounty
when the days grow short, the evenings chill.

Still I hesitate. Do I deserve such
freedom? What have I achieved to merit
love? Forgiveness I am hesitant to
claim while I continue to transgress, and
there is forage for the taking, too,
enough to keep a body from starvation…
food sufficient for the day.

But you have higher aspirations for your
children. You would more than satisfy our
hunger. You would have us eat of life
abundant, drink of grace, and drown our
senses in the sweet, clear nectar of
eternal love.

Dear God, make me ready for salvation.
Fit me for the garments you have fashioned—
joy, compassion, peace. Lead me, trusting,
willing, to the feast. Amen.

___________

Image from the Duc de Barry’s Book of Hours.

The book of hours is a Christian devotional book popular in the Middle Ages. It is the most common type of surviving medieval illuminated manuscript…. Each manuscript book of hours is unique in one way or another, but most contain a similar collection of texts, prayers and psalms, often with appropriate decorations, for Christian devotion. Illumination or decoration is minimal in many examples, often restricted to decorated capital letters at the start of psalms and other prayers, but books made for wealthy patrons may be extremely lavish, with full-page miniatures. —Wikipedia

And Showed the Face of God

Pietro_Perugino_Polyptych_Albani_Torlonia_c1491

Pietro Perugino, Polyptych Albani Torlonia, c. 1491

Why was the holy child born?
Why did Divinity adopt
a human form and walk the hills
of Galilee? Why did he lift
the weak and heal the blind, why did
he cleanse the lepers, cast out demons?
Why did Jesus Christ speak truth
to power, hastening his own
demise? The world would never be
the same, because this wise and gentle
prophet told the multitudes
to set aside the ancient laws,
obeying just this one: Be love.
And in the groves and orchards, on
the mountainsides; along the shore
and in the desert; in the temple
and among the poor, despised,
despairing—those whom he called brother,
sister, child—this carpenter
who owned no property except
the garment that he wore, the sandals
on his feet, gave all: love, hope, mercy…
life and breath… the promise of
Emmanuel—God with us; God
within us. Those whom he restores
to innocence are rich indeed,
beyond the grasp of death and free
from grief and dark despair.
Why did he come? To heal our hearts.
He heals us still. Because he came
one holy night in Bethlehem
and grew in grace and walked the hills
of Galilee—the Word made flesh—
because he came and showed the face
of God—the world would never be
the same, and never shall again.

 

Where God Sojourns

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Sunrise, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia 

I Can Always Find That Place

It might have been a dream I prayed. It was a
good prayer and a good dream anyway. I gave
everything to God that day, with all my heart but
otherwise no sacrifice on my part—I had nothing
anyway. It was early—in the moment when the
muted indigo of morning first begins to break and
streaks of color emanate from where the sun waits,
as if to tease and tantalize the watchers eager for
the blazing red and gold and lavender. Sunrise is
never commonplace, each one unique and never
ceasing to surprise, like rainbows after summer
storms, though you’ve seen rainbows many times
before.

We stood for warmth around a fire, and each of us
threw dry sticks into the flames, giving them the
names of our afflictions. And the flames burned
higher as if they delighted in the fuel, as if their
favorite food were of the devil’s manufacture.
Angels came, reminding me of streams of starlings I
had seen at dusk, returning by the thousand from
the fields to where they nested in the isolated
stands of elm and chestnut east of town. We sang
then, lively hymns of praise and solemn chants, with
awe and reverence, and then the sky began to
change and for a moment so transparent it became
that we could see a hundred miles or more,
to forests fluttering with poplars, tips alight with yellow
morning… to the shore and to the islands in the
sea; and everything we looked upon was glorious,
more beautiful than anything a mortal had beheld—
until the fiery curve breached the horizon.

The sun moved quickly then, efficiently, a goodwife
washing trees and hillsides clean before it reached
our valley to immerse us in redemption as it had the
grass and leaves. A whirlwind, light and easy, stirred
the ashes, lifting up our cares and bearing them
away.

The next day, angels came to carry me to the
gathering at the dawn. They wrapped me in a
blanket like a robe, a fleece of creamy white. An
angel said his name—Abdullah, “servant of God” —
and lifted me above the snow and kept me warm
against the lingering night, but I could see below—
apple orchards, not yet heavy with their crop but
light and lacy with the promise of it; farms and
chapels, people rising early to their chores; rivers,
lakes, clear water lapping at the verges—such
unearthly loveliness, a hazy color wheel that slowly,
lazily came into focus, nothing hurrying, released
from time.

We came at last to highlands overlooking tidy fields
and greening vales where sheep were going out
to graze; and there, beside a waterfall, the others
waited to be healed and purified. And all was as it
had been yesterday except, upon that hill, what had
been new the day before was newer still today.

I never did confide a word of my experience
among the penitents and angels… the ashes of
our suffering and pain ascending to oblivion…
for I confess I feared they’d say that it was “just
a dream.” But who can know what streams of
love and peace might course throughout the
universe, and where, and when they might flow
by? Yet I have seen the world created, new and
luminous, and I can always find that place,
where it is always morning, early in the spring. I
only close my eyes and fly on angels’ wings to
Eden, where God sojourns peacefully at dawn.

Prayers for Life’s Unfolding

alessandro_botticelli._three_miracles_of_st._zenobius._c.1500-1505.

Botticelli, Three Miracles of St. Zenobius

TWO PRAYERS FOR THE SICK. 1. God, you made us in your image—perfect, whole, strong, and full of love and laughter—yet you invite us to depend on you in times of weakness, fear, disease… and we need only ask in order to be guided by your light, healed by your grace, and at all times sustained. And so our lives, health, strength, and confidence are in your hands, sustained by your unfailing love and ever-present power. Teach us, O God, to stand firmly in the stream of your love and receive the great unnumbered blessings that pour from you unabated. Thank you, Merciful Father and Mother, for being ever with us, in difficulty and in celebration.

Merciful God, lay your healing hand upon the sick among us. Send your Holy Spirit to their assistance. Dispatch your angels to wrap them in peace and serenity. Keep them free of fear and pain. Gather to their aid all excellent help of every kind—the health workers, medicines, treatments, techniques, and tender care that can give speedy relief to their distress. Gather also their family and friends, whose prayers, affection, laughter, and support will keep their spirits soaring. May every cell be made whole, restored to normal functioning and spreading renewed energy throughout their bodies. I pray with confidence for their souls’ healing, such that their health and vigor, strength and happiness will not only return but be shown more durable than ever. Some may wonder and say “Miraculous!”—but miracles are the way you speak to us, your word made manifest. Thus may you be glorified in the victory that even now proceeds from your right hand. Amen.

GIOTTO-THE-WEDDING-AT-CANA

Giotto, The Wedding at Cana

2. God, you are great beyond our understanding, but this we know: You created us in your image, whole and sound in mind and body, loving, intelligent, lively, and creative. The Bible tells us that you looked at your creation and you did not say, “This is a mess.” You saw that it was very good indeed. Open our eyes, Merciful God, to your presence in our lives and your image in us. Guide our vision beyond our ailments—beyond diabetes, beyond hypertension, beyond high cholesterol, beyond excess weight and chronic anxiety, beyond all that is flawed—to your perfect image, beautiful, energetic, and holy. Send to our assistance the very best help–people, places, protocols, procedures, and prescriptions, according to your will–as aids to total healing. Instruct us in the ways of well-being. Teach us how to treat ourselves, dear God. Be our ultimate physician, so that, with the help of those you have assigned, we will enjoy radiant health, ascribed to your glory. Send your Holy Spirit to abide in us with a spirit of peace, tranquility, abundance, and generosity. May our relationships be harmonious and our homes shelters of serenity. Do not delay in our transformation, God. May we begin to know the joy of your salvation this very hour. Amen.

Small Comfort

A Prayer of Gratitude.

tuscanysunriseGod who made us and sustains us— God,
immortal and mysterious— God, synonymous,
and more, with life, love, beauty, and the peace
that passes understanding:

When we are ungrateful, even our complaints are manifest of
sweet abundance: air and water; bread and butter; shelter from
the cold; and your embrace when we surrender deep in prayer—
as babies, weary even of exploring all the wonders of the world, its
lights and colors, sounds and textures, burrow into Mother’s shoulder,
fearless in her equanimity.

Yet we fancy ourselves victims of ungentle circumstance now and
again. Perhaps a small annoyance, not attended to, becomes infected.
Swollen, red, and tender to the touch, it spreads to the extremities,
and farther — others suffer the contagion. Thus can friends on Saturday
be enemies on Sunday, and, by Monday, legion.

Gratitude does not require the sky to be forever blue, or that the sun
appear at every moment we consider opportune. Not every day is halcyon,
not every month is June, and there are bitter winds that penetrate each
layer of protection, entering through skin and bone to pierce the heart. Small
comfort then to know that even when the sun’s invisible behind the storm
or hidden by the circle of the Earth, it shines as bright and will be visible
precisely when it ought to be. Small comfort too are food and shelter —
even friends, if friends remain (we might have driven them away).
A few are stubborn: let them in, for they can rub our feet and startle languid
faculties awake — the ones that sense not heat or cold but grace.

IT-IS-FINISHED-LAKESIDEWe are not patient, though, no matter that we’ve had our share of
warm, fair days and peaceful nights. We hear the thunder of a distant
storm; we witness human cruelty, we wonder at the blind impartiality
of nature, and we are bewildered at the magnitude of evil, at the
unpredictable caprice of fate, or doom. Disaster may be out of sight but
looms in some malicious posture, poised to strike when least expected.
So we watch and worry, like a sentry whose antagonist has neither form nor
name; and we neglect whatever bounty has accrued in our distraction.

We forget to feast. We lack the energy and appetite for our accustomed
satisfaction. Those who suffer and survive have told us they were somehow
more alive than when the breezes were benevolent and calm. They learned
to be astonished that amid catastrophe and cataclysm, life goes on.

You have warned us to beware the sleek vocabulary of the
merchants of salvation.

When they speak, their words are vacant. When they pray, their
prayers are memorized and animated, artful, eloquent, and uninspired.
Their lines are well rehearsed, but had they truly died and been
redeemed, their phrases would reflect (it seems to me, and I
have been there) something of the grave; not so articulate —
there are no words; would be forever fresh, a quiet wonder— if
they had been saved. If one has been to the abyss and fallen in,
then one is humble, having little need to understand, no reason to
pontificate… but rather one is moved to celebrate the mystery
and to be newly grateful, day by day by day.

Having suffered condemnation, having been appraised and
come up short, and having then been lifted and embraced —
one cannot judge, cannot condemn. The court has been adjourned
and all the prisoners released. We have no jurisdiction; it is
not our place to round the sinners up and put them back again.
Our duty, then, is light and brings us joy: To know as friend a
stranger, one who will, like each of us, be tried; and one thing
more: To gratefully remember how the tide that swept us out to
sea — when we, in mortal danger, cried out, “Save me!”—
pulled us gently to the shore.
Tree in the mist

Epiphany

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Adoration of the Magi, Sandro Botticelli, c. 1475

God, send forth your spirit upon us.

Had we not wandered from the hearth
where burned the flame that gave us sight
and warmed our bones—had we not gone
from home, and left the fire behind;
then, captured in the snares of night,
we had no recollection of
from which direction we had come
nor could we see the firelight—
Until we knew that we were lost,
we did not call for you, O God.

Had we not wandered from the stream,
believing that the food and drink
we carried would suffice for thirst
and hunger—when the wells were dry,
our flasks were empty, long since gone
our meager stores of bread and wine—
and those who would have guided us
we pridefully had left behind—
Until the skies refused to rain,
we did not call upon your name.

And still you came with angel hosts
and gave from Heaven’s bounty all
we needed—what we needed most:
the certainty that when we call
on you, already you have come
with love and grace to lead us home.

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Reading a Letter, Delphin Enjolras, 1857-1945

From Wikipedia: Epiphany—also Theophany or Three Kings’ Day—is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God in his Son as the incarnation of Jesus Christ. In Western Christianity, the feast commemorates principally (but not solely) the visit of the Magi to the Christ child, and thus Jesus’ physical manifestation to the Gentiles. Moreover, the feast of the Epiphany, in some Western Christian denominations, also initiates the liturgical season of Epiphanytide. Eastern Christians, on the other hand, commemorate the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, seen as his manifestation to the world as the Son of God. The traditional date for the feast is January 6.

Colloquially, an epiphany is an “Aha!” or “Eureka!” moment, defined at merriam-webster.com as “an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure.” The poem/prayer “Epiphany” above represents my own realization that only in darkness does light have meaning but the light is never withdrawn….