Years ago, I made a pilgrimage to Saint Peter’s cathedral in Rome. My core intention was to see Michelangelo’s Pieta. Mired in grief at the tragic death of a sibling, I longed to behold firsthand Mary cradling her son’s broken body.
Walking up, I anticipated a reverential, quiet cathedral. Instead, I entered a cacophony. Mass was being shouted; tour guides were yelling anecdotes; hundreds of pilgrims gawked about in a noisy throng. A crowd surrounded the Pieta. Over the crowd’s shoulders, I glimpsed the white marble. The maternal face of God gazed upon the lifeless body in her lap. The tenderness, however, was lost in the noise.
Roaming to find a quiet respite, I slipped through a hallway door into a tiny chapel. It was pitch-dark but for a few candles up front. I sat in a pew, my eyes adjusting, the silence palpable. Then I heard it. From the back corner. Sniffles. A young woman pressed a tattered baby’s blanket against her chest, dabbing her eyes with one corner. After a while, she walked to the front, laid the blanket before a Madonna statue, kissed her fingers, crossed the blanket, then left. In that moment, I knew that God’s infinite compassion held that young mother’s grief. Mine too. As sure as the maternal presence that enveloped us in that room, the Pieta held our bodies too.
Today’s psalm invites us to remember God’s wonderful works, to meditate upon the various times God has been present to us, absorbing into our tissues the healing grace of our grief. As a people, Israel experience God’s presence; they paused to remember even while in exile. We have glimpsed God’s face as well. In ocean sunrises, sleeping children, strangers’ kindnesses, and in cathedrals’ back chapels. Remembering such moments is restorative. When in exile—in grief or in heartache—such moments keep us alive.
Remember a moment when you glimpsed God’s presence. Savor it and absorb its grace.
The strange dynamics in the history of Abraham’s family continue in Genesis. This week his great-grandson Joseph is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. God will ultimately use this for good, as we read in Psalm 105, but in Joseph’s time there clearly is significant dysfunction. Perhaps the story brings encouragement to those of us who also have challenging family dynamics. Paul emphasizes in Romans that every person is welcome to call on the name of the Lord and be saved, but it falls to us to offer them the good news. How can they believe if they never hear? In the Gospel reading, Peter learns a valuable lesson about trust. He initially shows great faith, but he falters when he allows himself to be distracted by the waves.
Read Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28. In the face of cruelty, how do you continue to believe in God’s dream of unity for us all?
Read Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b. When has a glimpse of God absorbed your pain?
Read Romans 10:5-15. When have you witnessed Christian violence against persons of other faiths? How does your faith compel you to proclaim God’s love for all—“no exceptions”? What does this look like for you?
Read Matthew 14:22-33. When have you struggled to trust Jesus through life’s trials? How has Jesus revealed his presence and companionship anyway?
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