Speak Tenderly to Jerusalem

Lost sheep were my people, their shepherds misled them, straggling on the mountains: From mountain to hill they wandered, losing the way to their fold.

Jeremiah 50

Blogging has been light because I lost my prayer book last week. I have ADD/ADHD and I need external cues and tactile prompts to keep my routines going. Without my book it was hard to pray, even if I could look up the same readings on line, it wasn’t the same.

I used to flog myself for these problems. There is a permeable barrier between life struggles that are caused by legitimate external (or medical) factors and struggles that are really the fruit of bad choices. They are all entangled together and, though it’s hard, it is important to disentangle character flaws from real things that are out of your control.

“Their enemies said, “We incur no guilt, Because they sinned against the Lord,”

Jeremiah 50

But you can’t use the presence of sin in yourself or in others as an excuse for cruelty, especially to yourself. The temptation is to see all flaws and struggles and mistakes as sin and to be merciless to ourselves and others in meting out consequences for failure. The tendency is to read the words of Isaiah, picked up by John the Baptist, to “make straight His paths” as a call to do some real serious internal housecleaning. To straighten up and fly right, to be worthy of the Lord’s presence in our lives by acting perfectly from now.

“Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!”

Isaiah 40

But that’s not it at all. The call for repentance and self-examination goes hand in hand with a call to be merciful, to speak tenderly, to go out and gather the lost sheep. God will lay low the mountains and build up the valleys, God will part the seas and clear the brambles. God will show us the path to walk. Our job in preparing his path is to accept His Mercy.

Prepare for the Coming of Christ into your heart with honesty and ruthless self-examination, yes. But don’t lose sight of the fact that the paths of God are paved with Mercy.

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The Lofty City

The more you read the Bible, the more you see that there are two worlds, coexisting. They overlay each other, like a two layered skirt. You can live in either one at any time. One is separated from God and the Kingdom of Heaven by sin and the affects of sin, and the other participates in Grace.

For he has brought low the inhabitants of the height, the lofty city. He lays it low, lays it low to the ground, casts it to the dust.”

Isaiah 26:5

I missed blogging yesterday because I’ve spent the last day very very sick with a stomach flu. The vomiting was not so bad as these things go, but I was so dehydrated that once when I sat up I passed out and fell forward and split my head open.

I am chronically dehydrated, I think. I don’t notice much from day to day but when I got sick, it became very apparent that this is a problem for me. It’s hard for me to not make an analogy between this kind of thirst and the thirst for the living water, the grace of life that Jesus offered to the Samaritan woman at the well. Or, to today’s gospel: the house built on sand.

Everyone of them who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”
Matthew 7: 24-25

People who build their house on rock seem to step out of this world and walk with God when they go through tragedy or setbacks or hardships. They become more sure about what is important, more full of Grace, more thankful, more kind, more present. This is just a personal observation I’ve made of friends and family who have suffered immense and almost unthinkable badness.

But people who live in the lofty city or who merely sit at its gates slavering to get in are brought to utter desolation when something goes wrong. They isolate, they grow bitter, become angry, lash out. I include myself in this category, in the past and surely also in the future.

The lofty city maybe looks shimmery and bright and powerful and high up and real, but it disappears when you reach out to touch it and ask for something you really need. Or if you are in it, you find yourself ignoring it if someone reaches out to you. It provides no sustenance, no living water.

If you live in the lofty city you discover it only when the rain or the fire or the floods come.

and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Matthew 7:27

It’s hard to know if you are living in the lofty city. Not all things that are fun and glittery and insubstantial are bad. Rich people can live in the city of God, poor people can live in the lofty city. There’s nothing wrong with fun or frivolity taken in its turn. So here’s my shorthand.

The lofty city has no neighbors.

Hidden Kingdom

Justice shall flower in his days, and profound peace, till the moon be no more.

Psalm 72

God’s kingdom, the kingdom of the faithful, is hidden from the eyes of the world. He asks us to walk by faith and not by sight. And sometimes that means what we see is evil unpunished by the world and good go unnoticed. We see the poor cry out in vain. 

In those times look for the hidden Kingdom.

I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.”

Luke 10


The Land of Gloom

We dwell in a land of gloom both metaphorical, and at this time of year, real. But darkness is not an excuse to lose faith. God promises that he will give us enough light to see where to place our next step and we are called to have faith that God’s plans are better than our own.

Though an army encamp against me my heart would not fear.


The army of darkness encamps within my mind. Assaulted by thoughts and emotions, I lay under a blanket and seek shelter when reality itself pierces my flesh.

Though war break out against me even then would I trust.


I know God doesn’t promise to drive the darkness away. He promises to guide us through it, one step at a time, to provide us sustenance along the way, one meal at a time. I am not to try to find the path myself, but to follow God who will lead me to shelter I cannot see.

For there He keeps me safe in His tent in the day of evil.
He hides me in the shelter of His tent, on a rock He sets me safe.


I pray for faith to look to God for the next step, the next meal, to not demand to know the fullness of His plan. To be like the Centurion in today’s Mass reading who in his faith knows that what God commands simply happens. It’s not necessary for us to see God enter our house. We just have faith that His authority is absolute, that He loves us, that He will make our paths straight, even if we can’t see every step of the path right now.

We share the feast the Lord sets for us and give thanks and praise for it, even when an army of demons encamps within our minds, even when real world troubles come against us in a never ending assault, even when we can’t see the next step. God sets a table for us in the midst of our enemies, he provides us a tent–a shelter–in the sight of our foe.

I shall offer within His tent a sacrifice of joy.

I will sing and make music for the Lord.

Psalm 27

Resounding on the Waters

I have been in a reflective frame of mind. And as Advent asks us to prepare for the coming of Christ, I’ve been thinking about how Christ came into my life the first time. 

 I was raised Christian, but more as a community than as a faith. In college I rejected God and Christ. It wasn’t until graduate school that I met intelligent people of faith willing to talk to me without trying to convert me, and eventually I was called to the Catholic Church. But before all that was something that I often forget, a book that planted a seed. A book that was called to my mind by this passage from the Psalm in this morning’s prayer.

The Lord’s voice resounding on the waters,

The Lord on the immensity of the waters;

the voice of the Lord, full of power,

the voice of the Lord, full of Splendor.

Psalm 29

Often in the Bible, the ocean is at once a reflection and a manifestation of God’s power and His Will. A source of fear and life for men. An alien world within our own. This passage of the Psalm resonates with the Gospel reading from Mass for today, the First Sunday of Advent.

There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.

Luke 21:25

The link between the sea and space implicitly made in this passage reminded me of that book I read so long ago. It was a science fiction book called The Face of the Waters, by Robert Silverberg. Silverberg is a multiple Hugo and Nebula award winning author, but I have only read this one book by him.

In it, humanity has an uneasy truce with alien allies on an ocean planet; but they live in constant fear of being engulfed and destroyed by the hostile environment. I won’t spoil the book by saying what happens in the end, but I carried its message with me through years of life as a non-Christian in a world that I perceived to be hostile to me. It gave me a little teasing hint that maybe those who lived a life of faith weren’t actually out to enslave me with babies or condemn everyone who disagreed with them to Hell, which is what the dominant culture tried to teach me. 

As I thought about this first step in my conversion, I realized it might be interesting to write about that here on my blog. So, that is what I am going to do. 

As long as you receive the sea,

those waving circles of the sea

into your open eyes,

you feel all depth, every frontier

drowning in you.

But your foot touches a wave

and you think: it is the sea

that dwelt in me,

spreading such calm around, such cool.

From “Shores of Silence” in The Place Within: The Poetry of Pope John Paul II

Beware


Advent begins tomorrow. And while most of the world is already putting up inflatable Santas, it can be profitable to take the time to make Advent a true time of preparation.

I try to spend Advent skating like a little skater bug over the surface of culture, not letting green and red busyness or the imported stress of those who are concerned with buying the holiday affect me. I prepare what I need to prepare, I shop for what I need to shop for, I wrap what I need to wrap and write my Christmas cards. But I try to keep Jesus’ exhortation about the coming of the Kingdom of God in my heart. 

“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.”

Luke 21:34

Mourning angel at the churchyard of San Miniato al Monte (Firenze) in Firenze, Italy.
Photo by Mark Voorendt, April 2001

Two small coins

For perhaps the fourth time in a month someone said to me that I should start a blog. And I said to myself, “no, I can’t do that, I have no time, I need my time, I’m overwhelmed, burnt out, I have nothing.”

As I chased the thought away, I opened up my small book of morning prayer and daily Mass readings, and one of the readings for the day was from Mark. In it, Jesus sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people coming with their offerings to donate. And he watched as the rich put in their large sums and then as a poor widow came and offered her two small coins. He called his disciples and told them the widow had given more than everyone together, “for she has put in everything she had, her whole living.”

Advent, which starts this Sunday, like Lent, is a time of penitence–where we pray, fast, and give alms in preparation for the coming of Christ. I have nothing, not even two small coins to give as alms. I am depleted of words and time and patience and space.

So from my poverty I offer this blog. I hope you enjoy it, my internet friends who have given me so much laughter, comfort, hope, and friendship.

My intent is to post passages that strike me from my daily readings and also my short stories and poetry–my new songs. In due time and with God’s Grace, it will morph into an author blog; a landing place for news about my writing and for selling books.

Welcome.

O sing him a song that is new, play loudly, with all your skill. Psalm 33