May They Dance Again

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The Wedding Dance, Pieter Brueghel the Elder, 1566

Song for the Twenty-Fifth Day of Lent

Father-Mother, God of life, restore now strength and health
as thy children pray for mercy at thy holy well.
Wash them with this sacred water—
mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters—
wipe the tears from every face;
feed their hunger by thy grace.

May angel voices out of heaven shout a great amen.
May the hands be healing hands that minister to them.
May the eyes that see their pain be soft like April’s first warm rain.
May kindness be the cup they drink, and may they dance again.

Father-Mother, let them hear thine own majestic voice,
soothing or resounding o’er the tumult and the noise.
May the lighting and the thunder
tell of signs and speak of wonders.
Sing to those who bow before thee
songs of victory and glory.

May angel voices out of heaven shout a great amen.
May the hands be healing hands that minister to them.
May the eyes that see their pain be soft like April’s first warm rain.
May kindness be the cup they drink, and may they dance again.

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What Is the Good News?

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El Greco, Christ Healing the Blind

Meditation for the Thirteenth Day of Lent

Shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem. (Isaiah 52:2)

HOPE AND NEW LIFE. Turn away from evil and embrace the Good News.

Christ really has been raised from death—the first one of all those who will be raised. Death comes to people because of what one man did. But now there is resurrection from death because of another man. I mean that in Adam all of us die. And in the same way, in Christ all of us will be made alive again. (I Corinthians 15:20-22)

ETERNAL LIFE. The body dies and decays; the spirit lives on.

I gave you the message that I received. I told you the most important truths: that Christ died for our sins, as the Scriptures say. (I Corinthians 15:3)

FREEDOM. If we had to pay a fine for every unkind thought or angry word, we would all live in a culvert. But, having done the best we can to right our wrongs, we needn’t carry guilt and shame around with us, punishing ourselves for our sins and hating our sinfulness. Indeed, these take a toll on our bodies as well as our hearts and minds. They paralyze our ability to love. In Christ we are given innocence at any time we choose to claim it. In the resurrection we are set free to experience joy, which blesses us and all whom we encounter.

Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” (Matthew 11:4-5)

HEALING. Physicians have told me they see miracles all the time. That the body inclines toward healing is a miracle in itself. The body and mind want to be healthy. Torn skin scars over, and scars fade. Broken lives are mended. Broken relationships are restored. These are laws of nature lived through Christ.

“In the winter, seeing a tree stripped of its leaves, and considering that within a little time, the leaves would be renewed, and after that the flowers and fruit appear, he received a high view of the Providence and Power of God, which has never since been effaced from his soul.” (Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God)

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (Isaiah 52:7)

VICTORY. God is supreme. Good is greater than evil. If we didn’t believe this in one form or another, we wouldn’t be able to get out of bed. Every minute of every day would be lived in dread of calamity.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33) Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)

PEACE. Much misery arises when we try to control everything—ourselves, other people, circumstances…. Who, having gained a measure of power, does not seek even greater power? When we realize how little we can truly control, we can lean on the infinite strength of God. Thus are we free to live and love in this moment.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

HAPPINESS. The Spirit brings “mystic sweet communion” with Almighty God. By sowing its seeds, in prayer and meditation, we will harvest well-being in all its spiritual dimensions. Having that, what more can we ask? What else do we need for happiness?

Jesus replied, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

LOVE. We don’t have to wait for love to rush in and sweep us off our feet. You and I can make a decision to walk in the way of love… the love of God, the love of others, and the love that our Sunday-school teachers failed to mention: the love of ourselves. There is nothing noble or generous about neglecting our own needs or being easily manipulated.

Jesus “did not command self-love; he assumed it and made it the measure of neighbor love: ‘As you would that men do to you, do so to them.’” (John Piper, desiringgod.org)

And Showed the Face of God

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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.

 

Ring the Christmas Bells

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Ring the Christmas bells, ring in Emmanuel
today. A child is born in Bethlehem amid the
creatures in the stable. Humble his
surroundings, yet he comes to rule the hearts of
people ‘round the world. Are you afraid?
Give to the holy one your fears. And do you
weep? Give him your tears; he makes of them
your baptism. Return to purity, O children.
Come, oh, come to him.

Ring the Christmas bells, ring in the victory
of joy and peace. A child is born in Bethlehem,
and creatures give him homage. Kings adore
him; precious are the gifts they bring. Now sing
for him a lullaby; sing him to sleep. Sing this:
Sweet Jesus, God among us, Lord Emmanuel.
So innocent is he, yet he accepts our sin and
our distress. Return to bliss, O children.
Come, oh, come to him.

Ring the Christmas bells, ring in the hope of
better days to be. A child is born in Bethlehem,
a world transformed his gift to you and me.
He is the Morning Star; the very sun bows
down to him, and through his tender mercy
what was old and weary now is new again.
Give him your tears, and they become your
baptism. Return to innocence, O children.
Come, oh, come to him.

Prayer for a Wounded Heart

Sir Joshua Reynolds-Colonel Acland and Lord Sydney-The Archers 1769

Sir Joshua Reynolds, Colonel Acland and Lord Sydney: The Archers, 1769

Archer, Hold Your Arrows Now

O God, make soft my wounded heart, which
wants to grow a dragon’s skin so it cannot be
pierced again, a coat of armor to deflect the
daggers and the arrows that with deadly aim
would make it bleed. But I need courage more
than shielding now, to keep my heart exposed…
to open and remodel it. I wish it to become a warm,
inviting heart, O God, one that is friendly, even
welcoming, for there are those it would embrace
and make for them a fragrant garden, sweet and
safe and scented with the rose, the lilac, and the
honeysuckle vine… a place above the grime of city
streets where visitors can climb to find security,
as squirrels sniff the air and scurry to their nests
before a storm. Here is my heart, my precious
ones, I cry to them. Here is protection; here is rest.
Now close your eyes and listen. You will find that
everything there is to know about reality is said
between the steady heartbeats and in whispers
at the pausing of the breath. And I would teach
them that to love is not a risk at all; it is an antidote
for death. Love speaks the language of the soul, of
sunlight, of the nightingale, the hum of summer in the
grass, the old oak groaning in the wind. If love is
stolen from an open heart, there is in heaven an
unlimited supply of it, and innocence as well.

My wounded heart, left to its own devices, would
have long since withered, gone to seed, all but
invisible among the weeds whose thorns make
inhospitable the space around. How could it heal,
this heart inflamed, when barely capable of
pounding blood through arteries and veins?
Created durable enough, it must have maintenance
just like the rest of us, with exercise and fresh air
and a diet rich in love. Admonishment to toughen
up is well regarded, and the heart is, after all, a
muscle not to be neglected, but its nourishment,
the best of it, is heaven-sent. No heart can thrive
on bread alone.

O God, make whole and clean my wounded heart
and sweep away the scales; it needs no armor from
now on. I call to the archer, Hold your arrows. I am
friend and no one’s enemy today. Almighty God,
endow me with endurance and vitality, for I would
serve thee and be happy, as my heart, by nature wise,
by thee restored to purity, advises me.

Amen.

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

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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.

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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.