God IS Everywhere!

Throughout Lent, I couldn’t help revisiting memories from our recent trip to Israel. The season’s gospels evoked numerous images: The desert patch where Jesus battled temptation; the rocky hillside where Jesus transfigured himself; Jacob’s well where Jesus conversed with a Samaritan woman and changed her life forever. Ancient temple ruins mark the place where Jesus sent the cured blind man to show himself to the priests. John’s gospel regarding the raising of Lazarus brought Nazareth, Magdala and the Sea of Galilee to mind. Lazarus was as familiar with these places as Jesus had been. I shivered as we read the opening gospel on Palm Sunday. In Jerusalem, I’d walked among modern-day crowds where Jesus rode that colt so long ago. Hosannas echoed in the air. “Save us!” they pleaded. “Save us now!”

Scriptural references this Easter Season are equally powerful. On this Third Sunday of Easter, Luke’s gospel reminds us that Jesus’ followers struggled in the aftermath of his death. Though Mary Magdalene and the others brought the remarkable news of Jesus’ rising, all concerned were at a loss regarding what to do next. Those in Jerusalem hid in fear while Cleopas and his companion walked back to their home in Emmaus. On the way, the two encountered a stranger who seemed oblivious to Jesus’ death. Everyone they knew had been affected by this loss, yet this man knew nothing of it. Still, this stranger spent the day responding to the duo’s misery. When he remained to share a meal, he repeated the breaking of the bread. This precious memory clarified everything! It was Jesus who had been with them all the while!

We visited Emmaus our last day in Israel. After keeping a rigorous schedule the prior week, I welcomed the long bus ride from Jerusalem. We traveled to the Muslim village of Abu Gosh along an ancient road which links Jerusalem to the coast. As we made our way to this modern-day Emmaus, memories from the past week filled me up. How would I summarize this amazing week? Everything I knew about God, my faith and Jesus’ place in my life had suddenly become remarkably clear. At the same time, I struggled over how to respond. I had no trouble commiserating with Cleopas and the others as I tasted their uncertainty that day.

When our bus arrived at the Abbey of St. Mary of the Resurrection, I offered a prayer of thanks for this peaceful retreat from my thoughts. The abbey rests on an idyllic patch in the midst of a bustling town. As soon as I stepped off the bus, the beauty of this place drew me in. The scent of a myriad of blossoms beckoned me nearer. After enjoying the outdoors, our guide ushered us indoors. A crusader church rests on this ground which has been inhabited since 6000 BC. Beautiful as the church is, Yossi assured us that more awaited us on the lower level. As we made our way, I imagined the innumerable souls who’d walked the earth beneath me. Cleopas and his friend had made their way here with Jesus in their company. On the lower level, an ancient stream flows as freely as it did in Jesus’ day. There, I listened to the same rush of water which Jesus’ contemporaries heard.

Sometimes, when it seems impossible for circumstances to be better, small gestures blossom into miracles. Cleopas experienced this when the stranger he’d befriended broke bread. While that wonderful stream rushed about him, the joy of Jesus presence filled him up. As I listened to those precious waters streaming beneath us, Yossi pulled his flute from his backpack. Our dear guide had surprised us often throughout our tour with musical interludes. Each one added unexpected beauty to the sites we visited. In Emmaus, as we stood on ground made holy by eight millenniums of humanity, Yossi added a bit of his own holiness. He turned to me and said, “Mary, this is for you.” With that, Yossi pursed his lips and closed his eyes. He gifted us all with the most beautiful rendition of Schubert’s Ave Maria I’ve ever heard. I closed my eyes to hold back the tears. As was the case with Cleopas and his friend, my heart burned within me. This week had been such a blessing because God had been with me all the while.

The disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus aren’t the only ones gifted with such encounters. Whenever we open ourselves to one another and to the beauty around us, we cannot help meeting God.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

More On Time…

A time to be born and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot the plant.

Ecclesiastes 3:2

A time to be born… I enjoy walking outdoors because of Nature’s ongoing evolution. The entire world seems to engage in rebirth during springtime. This growth continues through summer when flowerbeds and gardens flourish. Leafy trees respond to September’s mix early on with subtle changes in color. October brings those changes to fruition only to give way to November winds. Leaves crunching beneath my feet remind me that winter is near. Even then, barren trees hold the promise of new life. Yes, it seems to me that there is always time to be born.

A time to die… Just as Nature engages in rebirth, it also engages in dying all the while. Something old continually gives way to something new. Seeds fall from trees and dance in the wind until they find rest on the ground below. Though no longer part of a living plant, they hold all of the potential they need for life anew. These seeds nestle into the ground with great hope in the things to come.

A time to plant and a time to uproot the plant… If those seeds are lucky, a watchful gardener will see that they are covered with enough soil to survive. If they sprout too closely to one another, that gardener will gently relocate them so each will have room to take root and to receive its share of sunlight and water.

A time to love… Fortunately for us all, God feels it is always time to tend to us, the most beloved of all God’s creatures.

Caring God, thank you for your always timely love.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Matter of Time

There is an appointed time for everything
and a time for every affair under the heavens.

Ecclesiastes 3:1

It was very unusual for my husband and me to schedule a vacation in February. The principal and teacher in us tend to reserve the summer months for such activities. Happily, our winter trip to Israel could not have been more wonderful. The only downside was trying to play “catch-up” with our to-do lists when we returned home. My commitment to share this experience though these daily reflections added more to my to-do list than I expected. As I attempted to return to some sense of normalcy, one of my favorite scripture passages offered much-needed guidance.

The words I cite from Ecclesiastes indicate that there is time for everything. Still, in my life to date, I’ve never had time for everything. For me, time allotment always involves difficult choices. At age sixteen, I determined that I would not be a “straight A” student because I had to devote time to the part-time job which would fund my college education. In the end, I juggled school and work as best I could. The resulting grades were just fine and I enrolled in college with a scholarship and savings enough to keep me there.

Today, timely decisions plague me once again. What can I continue to do and what must I let go? If I am going to finish the book stored partially in that computer file, partially in my head and partially in my heart, I must take the time to write it. Is this the appointed time to get the job done?

Loving God, please help me to see what time it is.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

My Persistent Prayer

Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry,
but let me speak just once more…”

Genesis 18:32

This past week has been filled with memories of the bittersweet variety as my sister’s and brother’s birthdays have come and gone. Both celebrate in a better place these days. Still, how often I’ve wished that I could have made this life a little easier for them.

Since childhood, I prayed often for brother and sister. As soon as I had God’s attention, I pleaded and negotiated for this or that circumstance to take a turn for the better. By the time my siblings had reached adulthood, I’d become quite good at ordering around the Lord God on their behalf. The truth is that God had been with my sister and brother in everything. God was there and took care as only God can. Today, I have no doubt that my dear siblings would live their lives over again just as those lives were if God asked them to do so. They probably chuckle together often over my continued efforts to direct God’s attention to the issues at hand.

As for me, day in and day out, I apologize to our patient God for my insolent and demanding prayer. I also thank God for running things far more efficiently than I ever could. Afterward, I continue to pray as politely as possible.

Loving and Patient God, thank you for listening and for responding with more love than I could ever hope for.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Never Fear…

I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.

Psalm 34:5

While spending the day with our grandson, I inadvertently scared him. When I dropped a bottle into his parents’ recycle bin, it made a louder than expected crash. The poor little guy responded immediately with tears. Fortunately, he also responded to my embrace and my assurances that all would be well. This little episode brought to mind tender moments with my own sons.

Some of the most meaningful interactions between parents and their children result from uncertainty and fear. A parent’s embrace and a few well-chosen words bring the assurance that, indeed, everything will be all right. When parents’ words aren’t enough and their children continue to shiver and shake, they simply hold their children tightly for as long as it takes to bring them peace.

God’s children are not very different from our own. Sometimes, no matter how well-chosen God’s words are, we find it difficult to take them in. Uncertainty and fear overwhelm us. For these very reasons, God promises simply to be with us.

Though I’m old enough and wise enough not to be frightened by much, there are times when my circumstances or another of God’s children manages to fill me with fear. Since my parents’ laps are no longer available to me, I turn to God with the hope that God will make good on that promise to remain with me. Happily, God never disappoints in this regard.

Loving God, thank you for embracing us in our joy, in our fear and in everything.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Take a Peek and Jump!

I was hard pressed and was falling,
but the Lord helped me.

Psalm 118:13

As I gazed out the kitchen window, I noticed a little bird perched near a hole in our bird house. My feathered friend peered into that hole several times, but didn’t enter. I wondered if he was debating whether or not to move in. I didn’t question his uncertainty because this bird house is a new addition to our backyard since the squirrels made a mess of the last one. The man who built this replica for us had added a few squirrel-deterrents which will hopefully keep it safe for the birds. Still, that little bird seemed wise not to jump into a questionable living situation.

A while later, I returned to the window to see if that bird persisted in his indecision. To my amazement, he was sitting in the bird house peeking out. I watched for several minutes as his head disappeared and reappeared over and over again. Apparently, he had found his new digs to be suitable after all.

Sometimes, I question new opportunities as well. I take a peek and investigate, but my feet remain planted where I am. I’m not as courageous as that little bird who took that leap of faith and found himself a new home. So it is that I look upward in my fear to find strength and courage. There I find our loving God who promises always to light the way.

Generous God, our lives are an amazing gift. Give me the courage to embrace every opportunity to make the most of my digs here until I occupy my perfect home with you.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved