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.

 

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Ring the Christmas Bells

isabella-breviary-adoration-of-magi

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

sunrise-cameronhighlands-malaysia

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.

Prayer for Chattanooga

chattanooga-bus-crash-ny-daily-news

New York Daily News

Almighty God, there is great pain and perplexity in Tennessee and throughout our nation, as six children have died, dozens of others are injured, and a bus driver is charged with homicide and other crimes. God, we pray for the hurt and the bereaved in the aftermath of the November 21 crash in Chattanooga. Merciful Creator, may your Holy Spirit dwell with the grieving, so that sadness does not turn to hate or hopelessness. Instill in them the assurance that the children who died are at this very moment with you in eternal life and glory. Infuse the injured children with your almighty power. Heal their wounds and bathe their spirits in hope and comfort. Guide the medical personnel—doctors, nurses, therapists, technicians—so that their hands are healing hands, their minds are clear, and their hearts are wise. Unite the community in holy purpose of support and compassion. For those friends and family members who are angry, confused, or despairing, shine your light into their darkness, God, and make your presence known. Open their hearts to one another so that emotional wounds are not aggravated but rather treated tenderly and given mercy and sustenance. Send all assistance needed without delay, dear God. Summon those of us who can contribute in any way; and enter the heart of the bus driver, God—may it be a humble and contrite heart. Comfort and encourage his friends and family members who are in pain. May truth and wisdom prevail. Out of this tragedy, God, may wonders upon wonders be manifest and your name be glorified, and may peace be victorious and love shine more brightly than all the stars in all the galaxies. Amen.

Mostly I Believe Sometimes

PRAYER FOR A WOUNDED SPIRIT

Divine Beloved, I believe in prayer. It’s breath to me. I need it more than vegetables or exercise or toothpaste… more than I need air.

There are those who scoff at prayer and sneer at those who pray. They say you are not Santa Claus. Don’t they just want to be with you, just hanging out, with no agenda? If they mean to keep on living, don’t they know that you’re not optional? As for those who want to prove you don’t exist… I don’t believe, dear God, in atheists.

Selyalandfoss Falls, Iceland
MOSTBEAUTIFUL-Selyalandfoss Falls Iceland

CONFESSION

On the radio, I heard somebody say we’re always given everything that we require for peace, love, mercy, joy, and sustenance. I know you bless me endlessly, and still I need a net; I strive, I fret about uncertainty and how I am perceived by (pick one: the Uber driver, Starbucks person, distant relative, short guy beside me on the bus, straw-hatted woman at the table by the window drinking lattés as if they didn’t cost more than my shoes); I rush to be on time at the expense of my serenity and otherwise neglect my own well-being while achieving nothing for the betterment of those Less Fortunate; and I know better. Still I strive, still try to harness peace of mind instead of resting in the certainty of your deliverance—now, tomorrow, Saturday, next year, and through eternity.

I confess that at this hour I’ve yet to find that calm, sweet, silent place within. My faith has been waylaid. I got distracted, lured by flash, enticed by overripe low-hanging fruit; and having planted old, dry seeds, I reap self-pity, self-reproach, a heap of jealousy, bushels of bitterness—the harvest of the dreams I’ve stopped believing in, the expectations I’ve stopped trusting but haven’t yet replaced.

FATHER-MOTHER GOD, vouchsafe to me a map that guides me to divinity, a light for navigating in the dark, a chorus of your angels singing “This way!”— something I can follow when the candle sputters and the flame goes out.

MOSTBEAUTIFUL Coyote Buttes AZCoyote Buttes, Arizona

Divine Creator, if it’s true that thinking manifests into reality, there’s a problem here. My thoughts do not obey me. Disciplining them is like directing fish to navigate the ocean currents differently. When I try to fix my mind on Heaven, it resists. Ideas steer themselves amiss and enter hostile territory, taken and held captive in a cave somewhere, with bats and prehistoric dragons who don’t know what century we’re in and wouldn’t care regardless. The world in its contrariness seems alien, perverse, and perilous (The dragons are hungry, and I’m dessert)…

…but you, O Great Divine, have overcome the world.

MOSTBEAUTIFUL-TuscanyLucca, Tuscany

FATHER-MOTHER, you will never leave me lost and far from home. It is my dread misguiding me, my fear that weighs me down. I pray that you will banish these, my ancient enemies, my legacy of Canaan in my personal geography, where long ago they staked their claim. They should have lost their strength by now, if not their animosity.

Create in me, O God, a clean and spacious heart. Make room within me for compassion; give me energy to act on it and wisdom to choose capably; renew my spirit; and restore my soul’s capacity for joy and happiness.

MOSTBEAUTIFUL Marble Cave- Chile Chico- Chile

Marble Cave, Chile Chico, Chile

PETITION

Eternal God, Source of Love and Light, if it’s true that all Creation—every cell and star and galaxy, every mosquito, Twinkie, Oldsmobile, and Post-It Note—is love and nothing else exists, why is it, then, that when I’m knocking on the universe’s door nobody opens it? I wonder if there’s no one home, but all the lights are on and someone’s whispering. I take it personally: They see me but they’d rather not. Why don’t they want to let me in? Because I’m bothersome or insignificant or worse—because I don’t exist? Some part of me believes this, but some other part resists.

Wisteria Tunnel at Kawachi Fuji Gardens, Japan

MOST BEAUTIFUL Wisteria Tunnel at Kawachi Fuji Gardens Japan

LOVING GOD, what is this emptiness? Am I in Sheol, where dead spirits go, sleepers in the dust… the place farthest from Heaven, of which Jacob spoke when he said, “I shall go down to my son [Joseph] a mourner unto Sheol”? [Gen. 36:36] Whatever name this pit is known by, lift me out of it. I’m lonely, and my only company is spiders and the stark anxiety that creeps along the porous edges of awareness. Return me to the surface of the planet, I beg of you, O God, where the sun shines, where there are music and activity and reasons not to seek oblivion.

I do, I do believe you made me for a purpose. You had something grand and glorious in mind for me. You gave me passions, interests, and abilities. I used them well… until I stopped believing I had anything to share. Does one invite one’s friends to visit at such a time? “Please come and sit with me while I gnaw my inner lip”? I was asleep too long, dear God. Reignite my reason to keep living.

MOST BEAUTIFUL Bagan Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

GRATITUDE AND PRAISE

A man of monumental wisdom once said, “Follow your bliss.” But sometimes I have no idea where it is or even if I’d recognize it after all this time. It disappeared when I was scrambling as I tend to do from this amusement to that glittering distraction. I’m ill acquainted with the feeling, having been too long at sea, gone far from home on what I thought would be an odyssey that proved to be productive only for its distance, not for its achievements.

Arriving where I started, only poorer—not having brought home even one cheap souvenir—I’m ashamed. I feel unworthy of Creation’s gifts. Yet you believe in me, and through your eyes I see my poverty of spirit fed, my brokenness repaired, my purpose blessed abundantly, and my soul’s treasury enriched.

I don’t need to search; grace finds me where I rest and dream.

MOST BEAUTIFUL Rice terraces of yuanyang

Rice terraces, Yuanyang, China

THANK YOU, GOD, for what the harvest yields today, for life emerging through the winter’s crust, for buds whose promise comes in measured time, unrushed in orchards, gardens, fields; for nature’s generosity to be revealed: great, arching trees in flower, lilacs bursting white and purple, robins gathering selected bits of vegetation suitable for nests in larch and chestnut trees.

MOSTBEAUTIFUL-Meteora Monastery Thessaly Greece

Meteora (monastery), Thessaly, Greece

BENEDICTION

An hour before dawn I am impatient for the unrestraint of morning over the horizon, sunbeams dappling the streams and warming fields and woodlands. Breathe, you say. Be mindful of the cardinals’ concert in the darkness, notice pink and pale-blue streaks spreading like an easy smile across the east horizon. Believe in ordinary signs and wonders.

GOD OF ALL CREATION, seen and unseen, I come to offer praise and thanks, seek mercy, receive healing, and accept your gift of grace.

Amen.

by Mary Campbell
September 2015

Photographs
http://homeandecoration.com/the-most-beautiful-secret-places-on-earth/10/
http://www.dzinewatch.com/2012/03/33-most-beautiful-places-on-earth/
http://blog.iso50.com/34647/spectacular-rice-terraces-of-yuanyang/