The Toughest Psalm

Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
Psalm 137
Lamentations 1:1-6

This week we read the Bible’s toughest, darkest Psalm–137. The lectionary scriptures from Lamentations 1 and Psalm 137 are poems of lament that look back to the same event…the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC at the hands of the Babylonian war machine.

Imagine the fear that gripped the people of Jerusalem when they heard that Nebuchadnezzar’s war machine was headed their way. Imagine hearing the city gates clang shut for the last time. Imagine how peoples’ stomachs knotted up as food, water, and supplies became more valuable than gold. Imagine the terror that gripped citizens hearts as the guards on the walls hurled stones, arrows, and fire at the attackers. Imagine the raw panic that broke out in the streets when the foreign army broke through the walls and there was nowhere to run. Imagine the sick hopelessness that overtook husbands and wives who knew what was about to happen to their spouses and children. Imagine the terror on the day the city burned to the ground and blood flowed in the gutters. Read more

Inside and Out

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

I was leaving a meeting with several clergy members. Just behind me, close enough that I could overhear their conversation, was the long-time pastor of the leading Baptist church in town and walking alongside him was the moderator of our local ministerial alliance, who happened to be the pastor of the local Unity congregation, fifteen members strong.

My own experience with ministerial alliances, especially in other cities, was that they were ecumenical, even interfaith, so I never thought twice about whether our moderator was Unity or Baptist or Muslim. Apparently, not everyone agreed. Since the Unity minister’s election, most clergy in town had quit coming to the ministerial alliance and my own suspicion was that they were boycotting the alliance, (a suspicion later proven true).

The Unity pastor was inviting the tall steeple Baptist pastor to the alliance meetings, “We’d love to have you join us the second Tuesday of each month at noon.” The Baptist said, “Well, we have staff meetings on Tuesdays and I’m usually tied up.”

So the Unity guy replied, “I bet we could re-schedule our meetings to accommodate you. We’d love for you to come.”

The Baptist stopped, turned to the Unity pastor and said, “Children of Light have nothing to do with Children of Darkness. I won’t be there.” The Unity pastor was stunned, shocked into silence while the Baptist walked away without another word. Read more

In the Dark

Second Sunday after Epiphany
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Samuel 3:1-10
Psalm 139

It seems funny in the weeks following the dazzling brightness of Epiphany to reflect on/in darkness, but that’s where I’m headed. In part because it’s heavy in the text, but also because I’m hypersensitive to it. Something of a spiritual/emotional “darkness” has been hanging out with me as of late.*

Were it possible, I’d rather slam the door in the face of darkness than spend time with/in it when it knocks. I don’t think I’m alone in that. We as individuals and communities typically want to bring light (flash, night, or flood) and all it represents – understanding, goodness, clarity, often God – into both physical and metaphorical darkness.

Depending on circumstances, the absence of light can be uncomfortable or disorienting at best, and at worst isolating, despair-filled, panic-inducing and terrifying. As Barbara Brown-Taylor writes in Learning to Walk in the Dark, “Darkness packs a different punch for different people” (13). Read more

“Luminous Darkness”

Epiphany 5A
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 5:13-16

Who among those who have read the gospels does not know that Christ has made all human suffering his own?

Origen, “On Prayer”

On Sunday, when I read that Philip Seymour Hoffman had died, my breath caught a little. I didn’t know him, of course, though I’ve admired every performance of his I’ve seen. (Oh, the power of cinema to make us feel like we know the actors we love—indeed to make us love them in the first place.) Hoffman was an actor of astonishing intuition and virtuosity. As one writer put it, “he could nail a part in one punch, summoning the richness of an entire life in the smallest gesture.”

It would be tempting to narrate Hoffman’s all too brief life and tragic death within the tired tropes of celebrity culture (money can’t buy you love; movie stars are desperately lonely people) but, thankfully, I’ve seen none of that in the moving tributes I’ve read to Hoffman’s life and art.

In particular, James Martin, SJ, recalls spending time with Hoffman in preparation for the off-Broadway production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot:

Phil, as everyone called him, projected a unique blend of relaxed intensity as a director . . . He approached the text with an almost scholastic seriousness, carefully attending to every line in the script . . . From time to time, to illustrate a thorny point, or to describe the emotion that might underlie a scene, he would offer a story from his own life. “Did you ever have this experience?” Phil would ask, and recount a tale illustrating despair, or hope, or joy, or betrayal or trust . . . When I asked Phil Hoffman about his directing style on “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” he readily agreed with the inherent strength of the parable—or, in his words, the personal anecdote—in its ability to communicate more than a strictly worded directive . . . In Phil’s words, Jesus was always suggesting, in order that the decision to follow or not follow was always that person’s own decision.

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