Jessica Powers (Sr. Miriam of the Holy Spirit), a Discalced Carmelite nun and member of the Carmel of the Mother of God, Pewaukee, Wisconsin, wrote six volumes of poetry. Several of her poems have found their way into my heart and my prayer life. One that I find particularly lovely follows:
The Mercy of God
I am copying down in a book from my heart’s archives
the day that I ceased to fear God with a shadowy fear.
Would you name it the day that I measured my column of virtue
and sighted through windows of merit a crown that was near?
Ah, no, it was rather the day I began to see truly
that I came forth from nothing and ever toward nothingness tend,
that the works of my hands are a foolishness wrought in the presence
of the worthiest king in a kingdom that never shall end.
I rose up from the acres of self that I tended with passion
and defended with flurries of pride;
I walked out of myself and went into the woods of God’s mercy,
and here I abide.
There is a greenness and calmness and coolness, a soft leafy covering
from the judgment of sun overhead,
and the hush of His peace, and the moss of His mercy to tread.
I have naught but my will seeking God; even love burning in me
is a fragment of infinite loving and never my own.
And I fear God no more; I go forward to wander forever
in a wilderness made of His infinite mercy alone.
Whenever I encounter St. Paul’s words from his Letter to the Romans about justification, I think of the words of Sr. Miriam of the Holy Spirit. Like any poem, the words have to be slowly savored and allowed to mature in our hearts. The images she uses to speak of God’s mercy invite us to penetrate this mystery much the same way we pick our way through the woods. The leaves of the trees shadow the path as we walk through them. We are protected from the judgment of the sun, those harsh, burning rays, as we plumb the depth of God’s love and mercy for each of us.
We have debated the “faith and works” issue that the Letter to the Romans evokes for hundreds of years. St. Paul and Sr. Miriam would remind us that the works of our hands are a foolishness when placed next to the peace that is found in allowing God’s mercy to flood our souls. Fearing God is so much foolishness since God self-identifies as a God of mercy, loving kindness, and compassion.
Another of Sr. Miriam’s poems states: “He is clothed in the robes of mercy, voluminous garments – not velvet or silk and affable to the touch, but fabric strong for a frantic hand to clutch.” This is the God with whom Paul says we have peace through our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the God in whom we have hope, a hope that does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured into our hearts.
In today’s readings we hear of how God slaked the thirst of the Israelites as they trudged through the deserts and how Jesus embraced the woman of Samaria and her townspeople though they had turned to the worship of other gods. Jesus’ hunger is fed by the men and women who turn to God through faith in Him.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator