March 5, 2013

Lenten Journey: The Lord Is Kind and Merciful

For Reflection...

"The Lord is kind and merciful."  That was the refrain we sang on Sunday as the cantor intoned the words of Psalm 103.  As we wonder together about God's will, it will be our refrain as well.

Yesterday we came face to face with the pain and suffering that are all around us.  Despite the platitudinous words we may hear -- It's all for the best.  It was God's will. -- we stand firm in the conviction that God does not will evil and suffering.  As Franciscan Father Richard Rohr says, "God is never less loving than the most loving person you know."

In order to discern God's will, we must reflect on God's character.  And how do we discern character?  Think of someone you know -- a friend, a parent, a sibling, a spouse.  Or think of someone famous, a historical figure about whom you know something and about whom you have some opinion.  What do you know about him or her?  Is he trustworthy?  Is she loyal?  How do you know?

We may judge one another's character by the experiences that we share together and remember.  We listen to what the other says, and observe how she interacts with others.  We hear what other people say about him.  We revere George Washington, because history tells us he was shrewd and courageous in battle and humbly refused to be made a king.  We look up to Mother Teresa because of the way she lived her life among the poorest of the poor.  These details and many others reflect the character of this woman, this man.

So it is with God.  What do we know about God?  What have we heard God say?  What has God done?  What do others say about God, including the authors of scripture?  What does our own, intimate experience of God tell us about who God is?

Finally, if we believe that God's most complete self-revelation is in the person of Jesus, what does that tell us about God's character?

For Entering In...

Spend a few moments in silence becoming present to yourself and to God.  Are you getting to know this God?  What does it feel like to be alert and aware in God's present?

Reflect on these questions:
  • Who is "the most loving person you know"?  How would you describe him or her?  How would you describe God if God were "at least as loving" as that person?
  • If you spend any time at all reading the Bible, you will discover a challenging variety of data about who God is.  Read what Richard Rohr has to say about clearly unloving words and actions attributed to God.  How does this perspective strike you?  Is it consistent with what you've been taught?  With what you yourself have experienced of God?
  • The great hymn in Philippians 2 is thought to be, perhaps, the oldest text in the New Testament.  Read it and spend some time reflecting on or writing about what this passage says about the character of God.
  • We may still find ourselves questioning whether, in fact, "the Lord is kind and merciful," especially when bad things happen.  In prayer, can you hold in tension the suffering that touches your heart and the claim that the Lord is kind and merciful?  Don't try to reconcile the difficulty.  Sit with it and see what you discover.
  •  Is there any attribute of God's character that has particularly spoken to you in this time of reflection?  Continue to reflect on that quality throughout your day.  What is it that resonates for you?  What does it mean to you or say about you?

As you finish this quiet time, remember the word that you have fastened to your heart.  Does this word continue to resonate for you?  If not, perhaps there is another word that you are being called to.  Continue to use your word, day and night, to recall you to the truth that God is with you always. 

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