Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: October 12, 2020

It has been the hardest part of the pandemic for me. Seeing how we at first couldn’t gather for Mass, but then how we refused to come back when we could. The pandemic has robbed us of so much; now it is talking away the desire for God, too.

My wife shared a meme from Facebook. A conversation between parent and child. Child: “Mom, why don’t we go to church anymore?” Mom: “Well, because we had to be safe during the pandemic.” “Child: “I guess we can go to Target every week, but not to church?” Yes, we prioritize differently now. Some of that reprioritizing has been good, but some…

A triptych is a hinged painting of three panels that illuminates, through visual art and storytelling, an altar of encounter in a sacred space. When I was in seminary, the parish I was assigned to in Foggy Bottom has a glorious one based on Psalm 73, a lyrical “triptych,” if you will.

In the first half of the Psalm – the left panel of the triptych – a pained Asaph gets deeply honest with God. Even the opening words can be heard as coming from a pained heart and an aching mind. “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.”

Asaph goes on to express what seems to be an unchecked envy for the prosperity of the wicked – their freedom from common human burdens and their never-ending, always confounding, wealth driven, carefree life. When reading this left panel of the Psalm, the lyrics seem destined to affirm the utter uselessness of devoted living and purity of heart.

But then, it happens. A single verse that forms the center panel of our triptych, and holds the two halves of the Psalm together, emerges. “When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood…”

What is truly understood by Asaph is after his sanctuary experience. A moment spent in a space of worship – be it physical or musical or liturgical or prayerful – completely turns Asaph’s attitude to one of adoration and praise! He was as if made new!

The final right pane of our Psalm triptych unfolds and completes the picture that Asaph’s opening grief might have left unfinished. The Spirit of the Lord, moving in and through worship, can turn mourning into dancing. The moment of worship becomes a moment of healing, of reorientation, of focus, of clarity, and of intimacy.

St. Francis once remarked, “I am the herald of the Great King. Can you be if you never worship the Creator?

When your picture begins in grief, find the sanctuary of God that most helps you, renews you, and strengthens you. And, don’t ever stop returning. God waits.

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