Stories Seldom Heard – December 2017
Stories Seldom Heard
Welcome to Stories Seldom Heard. I would especially like to welcome the members of St. Ignatius Parish, Antioch and St. James Parish, Petaluma, CA.
Yesterday as I traveled to visit friends on Thanksgiving Day, I was shocked by the fact that there was no traffic. Most of you don’t live in the San Francisco Bay Area, but the “T” word is, no doubt, part of your daily vocabulary and frustrations too. Each geographic area has its own dilemmas: crossing bridges, merging highways, downtown traffic and, of course, rush hour! All of these situations can cause extra stress in our lives especially during the holiday season. But that’s not all that causes stress. Holidays and family gatherings can also be a source of uneasiness. I have a friend who says, “All I want for Christmas is that my family will gather together for dinner and there will be no arguments or conflicts.” I’m sure she is not the only one who holds those sentiments.
Conflict seems to be part of every news broadcast. Beyond personal and family issues, we are aware of increasing famines, hideous wars and deceitful, deviant behaviors among many people in authority. These distressing city, national and world situations grieve us and give us even more reason to ponder the Advent readings. Isaiah’s words on the Second Sunday of Advent are powerful. “Comfort, O comfort, my people, says your God” (Isaiah 40:1-12). The words of 2 Peter 3:8–15 are encouraging: “God is patient with you.” As we listen to these readings, we hear both the people’s recognition of their sinfulness and their trust in God’s promise to come with power to save them from their destructive behaviors. These readings are not just past tense situations. They beg us to look at our present-day situations, our need to change and our dependency on God to help us change.
Lament and promise also pervade Psalm 85. This Psalm could easily be missed or overshadowed because it is sandwiched between the powerful reading from Isaiah and 2 Peter. Furthermore, at the Eucharist, we only hear part of Psalm 85: the uplifting part of God’s promise of faithfulness and love, righteousness and peace. By excluding the lament portion of the psalm, we could forget why we need salvation. So, I have included all of Psalm 85. The reminds us of our human situation: a situation that is at play today in our modern world.
You once favored, O God, your land, restored the captives of Jacob.
You forgave the guilt of your people, pardoned all their sins.
You withdrew all your wrath, turned back from your burning anger.
Restore us, God of our salvation; let go of your displeasure with us.
Will you be angry with us forever, prolong your anger for all generations?
Certainly, you will again restore our life, that your people may rejoice in you.
Show us, O God, your mercy; grant us your salvation.
I will listen for what God has to say; surely God will speak of peace
To God’s people and to God’s faithful. May they not turn to foolishness!
Near indeed is God’s salvation for those who fear God; glory will dwell in our land.
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; Righteousness and peace will kiss. (1)
Truth will spring from the earth; justice will look down from heaven.
Yes, God will give what is good; our land will yield its produce.
Justice will march before God, and make a way for God’s footsteps.
Even though Psalm 85 ends on a hopeful note, it is a lament. It was written as a national/communal lament. With this understanding we can easily pray this psalm with our nation and world in mind during these most disturbing times. As we ponder the psalm, we also become aware that it is a good example of how to structure our own prayers. First, according to the psalmist, we thank God for what God has done for us. Then we acknowledge our sins and beg for forgiveness. Lastly, we ask for the desire and wisdom to make God’s vision a reality in our day. Even though it is a psalm of lament, it is grounded in a deep confidence in God’s faithfulness. This God to whom we pray can be trusted to fulfill the promises God has made. Trust is the foundation of our faith and every prayer.
The psalm begins by reminding God of God’s favor and graciousness in the past. It’s as though the one who wrote this psalm, and we who will be chanting it on the Second Sunday of Advent, want to remind God of God’s faithfulness in the past. God restored. God forgave. God withdrew God’s anger. At the same time, as we chant these words, we are constructing a strong foundation for our present-day request. You have done it in the past. We trust that you still remember your promise. “Restore us, let go of your displeasure with us. Will you be angry with us forever, prolong your anger for all generations? Show us your mercy…”. As we pray this psalm, we might want to stop and ponder our communal actions as a nation. When have we prayed as a nation for God’s forgiveness? When have we admitted that we are not on God’s path? When have we prayed that God would show us the path towards God’s righteousness? Have we ever prayed these words as a nation?
Since this psalm was written as a national psalm of lament, we, by praying it, acknowledge that as a community of people, we have wandered away from God’s commandments of love and justice for all. Therefore, in the name of the community, we beg for forgiveness and mercy for the sinful actions of our nation and we recognize our own responsibility. Over the years we have learned that God’s steadfast love is a two-way street. If this vision is to come about, we have to be part of those working towards the vision. How do we do this? Well, the psalmist reminds us that the first step is to listen. “I will listen for what God has to say; surely God will speak of peace.” Second, this listening is not just with the ear, but also with the heart. We must want to hear what God has to say and desire to make the changes that are required of us.
God’s requests, and our desire to fulfill them, raise the ante since God’s prophets often arrive like John the Baptist: loud, uncouth, unexpected. Prophets often ask of us more than we are at first willing to give. So how do we get beyond our own limitations? We pray to surrender our own discomfort so that justice might come for all.
This psalm and the Advent season invite us to join the Prince of Peace to continue working to bring God’s vision into our world today. Whether we look at our personal lives or we scan our national and world situations, we might ask ourselves what in our lives personally and communally keeps us from peace. What can I do to enable steadfast love and faithfulness to meet? What can I do to encourage righteousness and peace to kiss? Am I willing to make one change in my life that will help this commandment become more a reality? This psalm is not an either-or prayer. We can be conscious of both our personal and communal need for forgiveness, as well as our need for the strength to change what is in our realm of influence.
Recently I was with a very smart fifth grade boy who told me about being bullied at school. It was obvious that he came from a very supportive family. He had talked the situation over with his older siblings and parents. Together they began working on the situation. But that wasn’t the only part of the story that struck me. In “Religion Class” they were studying the psalms so he used this psalm as his prayer. (He must have had a very good teacher!) He prayed for the wisdom to know what to do about the bullying.
“Near indeed is God’s salvation for those who fear (who are in awe of) God…”. There is no one way for us to respond, but we know God’s vision for us.”
“Yes, God will give what is good; our land will yield its produce.
Justice will march before God, and make a way for God’s footsteps.”
Don’t you wonder in what wrapping these gifts of wisdom and courage will arrive for each of us during this Advent season? Will we recognize the gifts and be willing to accept them?
- Different translations of the psalm will vary in their use of words. Some translations will use the word “faithfulness” in place of “truth” and “righteousness” in place of “justice.”
Special thanks to Mary Ellen Green and Maria Hetherton who have helped in editing this article.
“Stories Seldom Heard” is a monthly article written by Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P. Sister is a Dominican Sister of San Rafael, California. This service is offered to the Christian community to enrich one’s personal and spiritual life. The articles can be used for individual or group reflection. If you would like “Stories Seldom Heard” sent to a friend, please send a note to “firstname.lastname@example.org“.