During my second Memorial Day weekend trip to the grocery store, I encountered a spirited group of Marine Corps League members. These champions of The Few and The Proud flanked both entrances in an effort not to miss anyone who happened by to shop that day. Though their red shirts drew my interest when I drove into the parking lot, it was the music blaring around them which kept my attention as I walked from my car to the store. I couldn’t help humming along as I ambled on. Before I could utter a greeting, the entire group offered me a “Good morning” and a plethora of smiles. I returned their favor with my own wide grin. In the end, I promised to make a donation to their cause after I finished shopping.

In the store, as I loaded my cart with the items I had forgotten the day before, I realized that I continued to smile. Returning to the grocery store a second time on this holiday weekend did not thrill me in the least. Still, I smiled as I navigated the crowded aisles. I smiled as I waited for the woman ahead of me who ran off to get something she’d forgotten. I also smiled as I watched the cart of the person behind me who had also forgotten something he needed. I shared that I would not have been in line this particular day if I had remembered the items I had forgotten the day before. In spite of the long lines, the cashier chuckled with us as we shoppers shared a sigh of relief that we would soon be on our way home.

After collecting my change, I pulled out a bit of green to make good on my promise to those Marine boosters. The smiles which met me on the way into the store were fully intact on my way out. Though the tune which served as backdrop to this revelry had changed, the patriotic message had not. As soon as I dropped that bill into the bucket, the giggles came –even from the men. “Did you see that?” the fellow with the bucket chirped. I’m certain he was convinced that his winning smile had prompted my effort. Whatever the case, he rewarded me as he did all of his donors with a small American Flag. As I strolled back to my car, it occurred to me that this group would do very well with their donations that day. It was impossible for any of us who walked by to avoid being drawn in by their passion and devotion to their cause. As for me, I continued to smile as I made my way home, put away those groceries and sat at my keyboard to begin this writing. As I pondered the gift which we celebrate today, it occurred to me that the red-shirted entourage who greeted me at the store had shared much more than their smiles with me. Their passion and devotion toward the Marines whom they so generously support offered unexpected inspiration as well.

On this Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, we celebrate God’s presence among us. Love impelled God to begin this relationship by fashioning the universe and all who inhabit it. When we failed to appreciate God’s gifts and looked elsewhere for happiness, God relentlessly pursued us. When we continued to run from God’s love, heaven touched the earth in the person of Jesus. God’s presence became tangible through the Son who revealed God’s love firsthand. Jesus clarified what we had too long ignored and too long misunderstood. When we turned on Jesus, deserted him and saw to his death, Jesus responded by rising from the dead. He proved once and for all that God’s love prevails over everything. To be certain that we would never lose sight of God’s loving presence, God’s Holy Spirit came and remains among us. Though the Spirit is not often revealed in tongues of fire, the Spirit is revealed just the same.

You know, the infectious passion of the Marine Corps League was impossible for me to ignore that day. God’s ongoing presence in my life and yours is even more so. My red-shirted friends made a charming spectacle of themselves to draw me into their cause. Just the same, God does everything possible to draw us in and to embrace us with love. Whether we are at our best or at our worst, there is nothing we can do which will deter God’s devotion to us. It seems to me that our only option is to allow God to love us as only God can. When we surrender to God’s love and allow this love to consume us, we cannot help bringing that love to those around us whatever the circumstances.

Why do we celebrate this Trinity Sunday? We celebrate because our Triune God -Creator, Son and Spirit- loves us always and forever!

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Lord’s Prayer

“This is how you are to pray.”
Matthew 6:9

Though I have worked to remedy this over the years, I recently caught myself elaborating far too extensively regarding a truly trivial topic. Though I was very tired and not particularly attentive to much of anything, I managed to talk on and on. My friends were kind enough to listen quietly until I interrupted myself. “Who cares about this anyway?” I asked them and me. After a good laugh at myself, I sat back and listened.

Jesus seems to be making a similar point when he teaches his disciples how to pray. In spite of all of the psalms and scripture passages available to him, Jesus chose the few, simple and powerful words which would become the Lord’s Prayer for this lesson: God, the best parent you will ever have, resides in heaven and is deserving of your praise. Ask that God’s will be done because God’s plans will take you to far better places than your own plans ever will. Ask for your daily bread, to be forgiven and to be kept from temptation because this God will respond to all of your needs. Take God’s care to heart, and forgive one another and care for one another as God does. So be it!

Loving God, Jesus said it best, didn’t he? Teach me to pray selflessly and with absolute faith in your love for me and for all of your children.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Recognizing Jesus

“The works that the Father gave me to accomplish,
these works that I perform testify on my behalf
that the Father has sent me.”

John 5:36

I am returning for a moment to my childhood impatience with the behaviors of Jesus’ contemporaries. If it was so obvious to me at age ten or eleven that Jesus’ lessons, parables and works had to have come from a loving God, why was it so difficult for the Pharisees to accept the same? They knew that all of Israel awaited the Messiah. Foreign astrologers who recognized the sign in the night sky over their own country traveled to faraway Jerusalem in search of Jesus. It seemed to me that, in spite of everything, the Pharisees and many others should have known better than to reject Jesus.

Sadly, I acknowledge that times have not changed much. Though we see all that Jesus accomplished from his humble state, we work to accumulate riches. Though we see that Jesus needed no worldly authority to serve us, we vie for power. Though Jesus sought the company of outcasts, we prefer those of higher stature regardless of the condition of their character. Though Jesus set aside his own concerns whenever he was needed, we take care of ourselves first. Though Jesus sought out time for prayer at every opportunity, we complain when our worship service seems dull or a homily lasts too long.

Though times have not changed much, there is still time for me to change.

Good and Patient God, I continue to allow my humanity to keep me from nurturing the beautiful soul that is my authentic self. Help me to replace the ways of this world with your ways.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Rescued By God

Then, seeing them tossed about
as they tried to row with the wind against them,
he came walking toward them on the water.

Mark 6:48

My granddaughter will soon be promoted from kindergarten to first grade. Lauren bubbled over with joy when she reported that her entire class will be reading with her during the coming year. Lauren loves to read and it warmed my heart to hear that she wished the same joy upon her classmates. I understand Lauren’s excitement because I spent a good deal of my career trying to share the same with reluctant readers of her age…

After two wonderfully successful years of planning and implementing a very special reading program which brought success to those most likely to fail, one of the “powers that be” reneged on an agreement. She determined that I would not be given that critical third year to prove the staff’s and program’s worth in spite of the fact that test scores had already reflected extremely positive outcomes. When I received this news, I left my office because darkness loomed over me there. I had never been so deflated and depressed by my workplace. When I entered the corridor, I didn’t notice a soul. I made my way down the hall as quickly as possible. I literally ran away from this terrible setback. Later, a fellow teacher and friend asked why I ignored her greeting as I walked past her. I had no idea she had spoken to me. At the moment tears threatened, a small voice intervened. “Hi, Mrs. Spinach. I’m coming to your class today, right?” I looked down at the little who interrupted my mourning and responded, “Of course you are!”

You know, I couldn’t do a thing about planning which was out of my hands. Still, there was plenty of time to arm my students with the skills they needed to read, and this is exactly what I did.

Loving God, rescued me that day with a very small voice. Thank you for inspiring my courage with this call to serve and to hand my worries over to you.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Prayer Lesson

The Lord looked down from his holy height,
from heaven he beheld the earth,
to hear the groaning of the prisoners,
to release those doomed to die.

Psalm 102:20-21

When I was a child, people often asked me to pray for things. Of course, I obliged as best I could. Every night, I said my prayers. This was more my mother’s doing than my own. When she tucked me into bed, she always asked, “Did you say your prayers?” If I had, I proudly acknowledged this. If I hadn’t, I admitted my omission and quickly began. Sometimes, though I told my mom that I already said my prayers, she mentioned that I might want to offer an extra prayer for someone who was sick or who had something difficult to deal with. I happily obliged. I was pleased that someone thought my prayers were helpful.

Over the years, difficulties which seemed not to be alleviated by my prayers gave me reason to question this effort. I found myself wondering far too often if my prayers did any good at all. Fortunately, I eventually realized that presenting a laundry list of requests to God wasn’t the best use of my prayer time. I learned to sit quietly for a bit. Rather then voicing what God already knew, I invited God to look into my heart for my troubles and those I carried for others. Though I was not always sure of what my prayer did for those who needed them, just knowing that God was aware changed everything for me. Though I rarely knew what, I knew for certain that something would be done in God’s good time.

Generous God, help us never to doubt your concern for us. Inspire us with your persistence, that we will always turn to you in our need and with our gratitude.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Heralds of Peace

I will hear what God proclaims;
for he proclaims peace.

Psalm 85:9

Though I have recently shared my frustrations with the evils which plague us humans, I have learned to pray about these things and then attend to the issues close at hand. My normal response to imminent trauma is precise calm. I do what needs to be done at the moment and collapse afterward. It is then that I realize just how devastating the circumstances I encountered might have been. It is then that I am also grateful that I did something to be of help.

This propensity to respond likely comes from my mother’s example. She responded to violence around her without concern for herself. Her priority was to keep her fellow human’s safe. She confronted a man who was bothering a woman on a bus; he ran off at the next stop. She chased the assailant who mugged my aunt in our hallway; he fled before doing irreparable harm. Though I have not been faced with equally dramatic scenarios, my mom’s lessons have compelled me to respond to others who are in danger just the same.

My mom was no more brave than the rest of us. However, her faith in doing the right thing and in the God who promises to be with us was unshakable. Though my mom’s interventions were not necessarily peaceful as they unfolded, they brought unmistakable peace to those she assisted. Being a herald of God’s peace sometimes takes us to uncomfortable places.

Loving God, though none of us can change this world on our own, each of us can do something to improve the turf on which we walk. Give us the wisdom to know what to do and the courage to do it.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved