Truly Friended!

God Friended Me*… The title drew our attention the first time we heard it. My husband is the Facebook aficionado in our house. He knows all about being friended. Mike also posts messages and photos with ease on his Facebook page. He sends private messages on occasion as well. I, on the other hand, only briefly utilized a Facebook page which my friend set up and then took down for me. I’d planned to post my daily reflections via the popular site, but the process became more time-consuming than I’d hoped. So it is that I rely upon Mike to keep me apprised of current events from his Facebook page which involve our family and friends. Still, in spite of my Facebook inadequacy, I do know enough to realize that being friended is a good thing. Being friended by God is more than amazing! This is the reason Mike and I were enticed into watching at least the first episode of God Friended Me, a television series which debuted on CBS this past September. Though it’s rare for me to make the time to regularly view any show, I admit that I was committed to this one after that first episode.

The recipient of God’s apparent friend request is Miles Finer, a young man in his early twenties. Miles is a self-professed atheist who shares his disbelief through his daily podcast. Every day, he uses his computer to stream his message via the internet in the same way our favorite radio hosts broadcast their shows. Miles is an extremely likable young man with a good heart. It was the unfortunate loss of his mom to a drunk driver’s recklessness which assured him of God’s nonexistence. His dad, an Episcopal priest who drowned his sorrow in his work at the church, was far too distraught himself to comfort Miles or his sister. This only solidified Miles assertion that there really is no God. The series begins some years after this loss. It was during that first episode that Miles received a strange internet message which indicated that God had friended him. Good atheist that he is, Miles was intrigued by a sender who would disguise him or herself as God. He was even more intrigued when this God-person suggested a subsequent friend to Miles. When Miles pursued this potential friend, an amazing saga of being in the right place at the right time to help that potential friend began to unfold. By the end of that episode, Miles had made a significant difference to that person and he’d become more curious than ever about what he now called The God Account.

A good deal has occurred since Episode One. Miles still has no idea of who manages The God Account. He’s enlisted his friends to assist him with both God’s friend suggestions and the good deeds which result. This curious band of do-gooders search for the God-person during every minute of their spare time. It hasn’t occurred to them that God may actually be involved. Mike and I are fairly certain that God has literally stepped into Miles’ life. We’re perfectly comfortable with God’s unpredictable intervention via social media in each episode. How can we argue with the concept that God really is at work in our lives?

I’m sharing this viewing adventure because the scripture passages we hear today underscore God’s presence among us. They also acknowledge that our woes are most likely to get the best of us when we ignore our loving God who remains with us through everything. In the first reading from Jeremiah (Jeremiah 17:15), the prophet insisted that God truly was the only one worthy of the people’s trust. When they learned to bring God into their daily lives, they would find true peace and consolation. In his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20), Paul addressed the people’s doubt that Jesus had actually risen. “If you don’t believe this,” Paul seemed to ask, “what is there to live for?” In the gospel (Luke 6:17, 20-26), Luke underscored these assertions through Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. Though he saw their suffering, Jesus called the lowly before him to look at the world through God’s eyes. Jesus asked the people to view the world of riches and indulgence, status and security in a new way. Jesus asked the people to see with eyes opened to the joy of true blessedness. The things of this world meant little if they didn’t lead those who possessed them back to God’s love. Though Jesus’ words were difficult to accept in the midst of their hunger, Jesus persisted in assuring all who would hear him that true happiness lay in God’s company.

It would have been much easier for the crowds to embrace Jesus’ message if they could have seen a happy ending without commercial breaks at the end the hour. If others who’d experienced the fruits of Jesus’ influence in their lives would have told their stories, the crowds might have found it easier to respond to Jesus’ words. I relate to their trepidation as I wrestle with the troubles of this life. Part of the pleasure of watching God Friended Me is that the characters’ struggles do end well when they pay attention to that persistent God-person. Like Jeremiah, Paul and Jesus, Miles and his friends remind me that I must do the same. You know, none of us needs a social media account to be friended by God. This occurred the moment God breathed life into us and nothing will ever change that.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

*GOD FRIENDED ME, Greg Berlanti, Producer, Steven Lilien & Bryan Wynbrandt, Writers; CBS; Sundays,7:00 PM Central Time

Enthusiastic Love

Love is patient, love is kind…
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

From 1 Corinthians 13:4, 7

My husband and I recently attended a family wedding. Katie and Casey are as loving a couple as I’ve ever encountered. In their case, I know in my heart that this will be an “until death do they part” union.

I truly enjoy weddings. We guests are included because the bride and groom are special to us. In this case, the bride is my cousin’s daughter. a daughter who’s made her mom and dad proud in so many ways. Her groom is special to us as well simply because Katie loves him. What more do we need to know?

Yes, we celebrated as this bride and groom offered one another their very best on their wedding day and for the lifetime together that follows. Though they may not realize it, Katie and Casey have inspired the family and friends who gathered with them to rekindle and nurture our own relationships. How could any of us have failed to be inspired by such tangible love?

Loving God, bless Katie and Casey as they embark upon their life together. Be with them in their joy and in their sorrow, today and always. Help the rest of us to emulate their enthusiastic love in our own relationships!

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Relief from Our Suffering

Though the jetlag lingers a bit, I find myself energized by the prospect of sharing my experiences in the Holy Land with you. Early on our first day together, our guide pointed out that the country he would share with us is as much our homeland as his own. “You know all of these places,” Yossi told us. “Nazareth and Capernaum, Magdala, Cana and Jerusalem are as familiar to you as they are to me. You have heard their names since you were little children.” Throughout the days that followed, I took Yossi’s observation to heart. Every step of the way, I realized more fully that Yossi was absolutely right. I had indeed come home…

When I turned to today’s scripture passages, I imagined Yossi offering one of his enthusiastic narratives. This archaeologist and scholar of biblical religions cited Job, Paul, Peter and Jesus often. I should have taped Yossi’s commentaries because he referenced human suffering quite eloquently. Today’s scripture readings remind us that suffering is a constant in our earthly existence. In the excerpt from the Book of Job (7:1-4, 6-7), Job finds himself the victim of Satan’s folly. Though Job is a just man, God allows Satan to test Job’s faith. Satan creatively sees to it that Job loses his family, his home and his wealth. Job finds no consolation in his friends because they wrongly attribute Job’s misfortune to sinfulness on Job’s part or that of his forefathers. As his circumstances worsen, poor Job makes no secret of his misery. Job grumbles incessantly to the Lord God because he knows God is listening. In the end, it is with great love that God responds. Job lives out what remains of his life at peace with himself and at peace with God’s friendship. Though our guide Yossi who was raised in a socialist Kibbutz claimed not to be able to pray, he reminded us often to do as Job did and to cry out to God for peace in this world.

Saint Paul offers another perspective regarding suffering. In his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23), Paul tells us that, rather than grousing about his situation, he embraces it. Like Job, Paul experiences a close encounter with God which completely overwhelms him. In response, Paul immerses himself in God’s ways. He goes on to do everything possible to share his perspective with all who will hear him. Paul preaches because he finds it impossible to keep God’s wonder to himself. He knows that the eventual outcome will be everything and more than he hopes for. Though Paul suffers much in the process, he considers his story to have unfolded well, just as Job’s did. It seems that Yossi shares Paul’s conviction. Though Yossi often lamented the political climate in Israel, he always added that he believes peace in his homeland will be a reality one day.

Today’s gospel (Mark 1:29-39) brings me back to the ruins of Peter’s home in Capernaum. It was here Yossi shared that, when one uses the bible as a roadmap, it often leads to archeological finds which confirm the settings of given passages or events. This excerpt begins as Jesus and his friends leave the synagogue in Capernaum. They feel very good about Jesus’ work among the people that day and they walk together to Peter’s house to share a meal. When they arrive, they discover that Peter’s mother-in-law is very ill. Jesus goes to her bedside where he takes her hand and cures her. The woman immediately gets up and prepares a meal for her guests. As I stood above the ruins of Peter’s home, I wondered what Peter’s mother-in-law thought about his friends and their assumptions regarding her culinary handiwork. She must have met their expectations because Peter and the rest were energized enough to usher Jesus off to cure more of the sick. Capernaum is a small town and there isn’t much distance to walk before Jesus encounters those in need. While Jesus spends the day curing and consoling, his efforts take their toll. After spending the night at Peter’s house, Jesus rises much earlier than the others. He goes off to a deserted place to pray. Jesus knows well that this time will truly replenish his spirit. Afterward, Jesus faces another day’s demands by spreading Divine Love along the way. As for Yossi, he didn’t knowingly go off to pray. However, he did frequently lose himself in his music. Though Yossi claimed to play his flute to demonstrate the amazing acoustics of a given site, I think he also replenished his spirit with every note which floated heavenward.

It occurs to me that, though most of us cannot claim to bear burdens equal to those of Job, Paul and Jesus, our burdens are heavy nonetheless. When we remember to turn to God as they did, we find the strength to carry on. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts Yossi shared with me and my fellow travelers was his openness to prayer. Though this self-proclaimed secular Jew could not turn to God with his words, he raised himself to heaven every time he played his flute. Like Job, Paul and Jesus, he reminded us to manage even the most devastating of our suffering by retreating into God’s loving company.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Somebody!

Several years ago, an awesome and astute observation caught my attention and it has remained with me ever since. As soon as I heard those special words, I jotted them down on a Post-it Note. I stuck that bit of paper to the bottom of my desktop monitor screen because I wanted to be reminded of that morsel of wisdom every day. When this reminder lost its ability to stick, I printed the words on a sheet of cardstock, trimmed it down to the size of a business card and laminated the final product. As I write, I can glance at my glossy little sign whenever the Spirit moves me. I smile every time I read, “Everybody is God’s Somebody!”

I first heard those words from the lips of an eighty-two-year-old twin who ran a soup kitchen with her sister. The two were guests on the Oprah Winfrey Show. I’d wandered by while my husband was watching. Though I normally teased Mike for his intermittent Oprah fandom, that morning I stopped in my tracks and joined him. How could I pass up an opportunity to learn more about the marvelous woman who made such a profound observation regarding God’s love?

As I watched, I discovered that Helen and Ellen ran The Love Kitchen, in Knoxville, Tennessee. They founded this facility in 1986 to feed the hungry. Though of very modest means themselves, these sisters undertook this venture because they wanted to live in accordance with what they’d learned about God. As Mike and I listened, Helen and Ellen shared their most important convictions: “There is one father, Our Heavenly Father; there is one race, the Human Race; and never take the last piece of bread from the table because someone hungrier than you might come in.” It was Helen who went on to explain why they’d continued to cook for the hungry, the homeless, the homebound and the hopeless for decades. “Everybody is God’s Somebody,” Helen said. Apparently, Helen and Ellen had determined that everybody is their somebody, too.

As I considered today’s scripture passages, I wondered if they contributed to Helen’s and Ellen’s perspective. In the first passage from Isaiah (49:14-15), the prophet speaks for God when he proclaims, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” The mom in me shivers at the intensity of God’s love. I can still remember the first time I held my son Mike and then his little brother Tim. Though we’d just met, I loved them more than I thought I could love. I would have done anything for these two. The truth is, I still would. If I in my frail humanity I can be so devoted, imagine God’s devotion to you and to me!

St. Paul carries Isaiah’s message a bit further. He insists that his attention to his ministry will never be shaken because God supports him in this work. Because Paul is convinced that God knows what is in his heart, he dismisses the things others say about him. In today’s passage (1 Corinthians 4:1-5), Paul assures us that in the end “…everyone will receive praise from God.” So it seems that God loves us and the work in which we invest ourselves. If you or I have doubt about God’s ongoing interest in all things human, we must listen further. In Matthew’s gospel (6:24-34), Jesus underscores all that Isaiah and Paul have to say on this topic. Jesus insists that the God who feeds the birds of the air and who clothes wild flowers in splendor will do far more for you and me. In his words today and though everything he said and did, Jesus insisted that each of us is God’s beloved and each of us is God’s Somebody. Our presence in this world cannot be overvalued and mustn’t be overlooked.

I went online for a progress report regarding The Love Kitchen. I found that Ellen passed two years ago. I imagine that her loss was a source of serious sorrow for Helen. After all, the two had shared their lives from conception! At the same time, I imagine that Helen found great consolation in those words she spoke so long ago and that she and Ellen lived by every day. Her sister now knows first hand that, indeed, you and I are God’s Somebody. God’s only expectation is that we follow in Jesus’ and Helen’s and Ellen’s footsteps. It is up to us to make everybody our somebody, just as they did and just as God does.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved