He’s With Us

“Are you the only resident of Jerusalem who does not know
the things that went on here these past few days?”

From Luke 24:17

It was almost two weeks after we returned from Israel when I finally shook my jet-lag. At that point, I was able to look back to savor this experience. I simply had to share this amazing adventure through these posts. In the process, I’ve revisited each site and every encounter with Israel’s people. I truly hope all of these memories remain with me forever!

Ash Wednesday, when I began this effort, I couldn’t think of a better way to observe Lent. I’ve cultivated my friendship with Jesus all of my life. Spending time is his homeland added a new dimension to our connection. As I reviewed our itinerary and the photographs from our trip, I realized that I’d forgotten more than I remembered. While Mike searched for photo ops, I had engaged in quite a bit of internalizing. I couldn’t help taking to heart the things that happened on that hallowed ground so long ago. I couldn’t help stepping into Mary Magdalene’s and Peter’s and Jesus’ sandals. Little did I know at the time that soon we would all wear the sandals of the suffering.

It is Cleopas who poses the question in the scripture passage above. Jesus had disguised himself for this meeting, leaving Poor Cleopas to wonder who it was that knew nothing of Jesus’ death. As I consider their conversation, I feel certain that today no one would have to ask if you or I had heard of COVID-19. As was the case with Cleopas and his friend, the world as we once knew it has been turned upside-down.

The good news is that Cleopas and his friend aren’t the only ones to whom Jesus has shown himself. You and I have two thousand years of Jesus’ influence to rely on. Are we any more miserable than the suffering souls Jesus encountered along the way? Are we any less deserving of Jesus’ love? Jesus doesn’t think so. Like Cleopas and his friend, we aren’t alone on this road…

Loving God, thank you for staying with us through it all!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Holy Land

Know that the Lord is God;
God made us and we are God’s;
the flock whom God tends.

From Psalm 100:3

I admit that a trip to the Holy Land was never on my bucket list. Yet, today I tell you that I have been there three times. I overcame my dislike for small places to endure a ten-hour flight and a subsequent four-hour flight in order to get there. The first time, I found my courage when our tour director listed the places we’d visit. A lifetime of images filled me up at that meeting. Suddenly, the events which occurred in Nazareth, Cana, Magdala, Caesarea and Jerusalem and on the Sea of Galilee so long ago filled a void in my own family history. That long flight seemed a small price to pay for the treasure of memories I’d find in the end. Yes, I’ve returned twice more because that treasure was truly worth the effort.

I invite you to journey through Lent 2020 with me. In the process, I hope you’ll discover as I did the significance of Jesus’ story and the significance of our own individual stories. Though I’ll frequently reference that place which the world calls the Holy Land, remember that you and I are important members of God’s flock and every place we find ourselves has the potential to become holy land as well. This Lent, it’s up to you and me to make it so.

Let’s begin…

Dear God, none of our stories are complete without you. Be with us this Lent and always as we strive to make every place we walk a bit of holy land.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Find The Time

All who touched him got well.
From Mark 6:56

Lent 2020 begins tomorrow. Every year, I try to set aside these forty days much the way a couple sets aside time to be together. If my husband and I are smart enough to retreat in order to nurture our love for each other, it makes sense to do the same in our relationships with God. So it is that I’m attempting to recapture the zeal of my childhood Lents by planning ahead for this special walk to Easter.

I’m at an advantage this year because images of Jesus’ homeland are etched into my memory. While in the Holy Land, I couldn’t help seeing Jesus’ shadow among the crowds in Jerusalem, in the dusty desert, near the synagogue in Magdala and on the paths winding through Capernaum. The gospels leave little doubt regarding Jesus’ popularity with ordinary people. His palpable presence everywhere I turned touched my heart. Though the temple hierarchy saw Jesus as a threat and the Romans considered him a nuisance, those of little or no stature -including me- find everything in him. This is the reason Lent is so precious to me. It gives me the time to get to know more about that irresistible Jesus who doesn’t need a thing from any of us, but who longs for our company just the same.

Today, let’s begin to plot our Lenten journeys. On Ash Wednesday, let’s assume our places among Jesus’ contemporaries. Let’s seek him out in every nook and cranny we pass along the way. Let’s seek him out in those we love, in those who love us and in those who need our love more desperately than ever. Trust, he will be in all of those places.

Dear God, as I prepare for my Lenten journey, encourage me with a glimpse of that heart which is blind to my imperfections and loves me as I am.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Z is for Zenith

Great is God and wholly to be praised
God’s holy mountain, fairest of heights,
is the joy of all the earth.

From Psalm 48:2-3ab

Z is for Zenith. Zenith… the high point, the point directly overhead, the peak, the pinnacle, the summit, the fairest of heights. When good things happen to us we say that our spirits are high or that we’re uplifted. Though I don’t think there is actually a direction toward heaven, I turn my eyes upward to pray. I visualize God and the heavenly cohort looking from above upon me.

This is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent 2019 and the last day of this alphabet of reflections. I find this a meaningful coincidence. For most of my life, I’ve approached Lent with a sense of penitence, fully aware of my need to do better and to be better. For the past few years, I’ve taken a different stance. Rather than concentrating on repairing my own inadequacies, I’ve tried to celebrate God’s complete adequacy to me and to us all.

Zenith is my z-word because God is the high point of everything. This “above-ness” doesn’t imply in any way that God is unwilling to enter into the troubles of this world. God’s assigned position “above” never stops God from being with me in the worst of messes. God’s position “above” never stops God from responding to us. God loves us from the fairest of heights and in the deepest of trenches. God also loves us from that quiet place within us all where God also resides.

Today, I thank you for making your way through this alphabet of reflections with me. I also invite you to make your way through Lent 2019 with the God we’ve celebrated through all of this. As we walk through the lessons and passion of Jesus, remember the reason Jesus came: To show us firsthand that God is the joy of all the earth and the source of joy for each one of us. Let’s spend Lent getting to know our God more intimately.

Loving God, as we acknowledge your company this Lent, make it very clear that you are with us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Ever-Present Companion

“Are you the only resident of Jerusalem who does not know
the things that went on here these past few days?”

From Luke 24:17

When I finally shook my jet-lag, I began to appreciate this second life-changing experience in Israel. I was and continue to be very excited about this trip, It seemed only natural to share this year’s adventure just as I’d shared last year’s.

I began this effort in January, the week after we returned. Though I’ve cultivated my friendship with Jesus all of my life, this stay in his homeland added an entirely new dimension to our connection. As I reviewed our itinerary and the new photographs through which we chronicled this trip, I realized that my experience this time around was far more unique than I’d expected. While my fellow travelers carefully listened to our guide’s every word, I listened to the quiet voice within me. I couldn’t help talking to Jesus with the familiarity of Mary Magdalene, Peter and the rest.

It is Cleopas who poses the question above regarding the things that had happened over Passover. Poor Cleopas couldn’t imagine that anyone was unaware of Jesus’ death. Jesus, who disguised himself for the moment, urged Cleopas and his companion to delve deep within to make sense of these events.

Though my trip and Lent have come and gone and Easter is a memory today, I think we are urged to do the same. If we truly believe that Jesus rose from the dead, we know that we will do the same. The question is, “How do we respond to Jesus’ precious company until then?”

Loving God, when I keep in mind that you are with me, I do my best work. Please inspire my efforts.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Plan for Lent

Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the Lord,
for gracious and merciful is God.

From Joel 2:13

Ash Wednesday has a way of sneaking up on me every year. Though I’m part of the team who prepares for the liturgical seasons at our parish, this activity often distracts me from making my own plans for this special time of year. This year, I’m happy to share that my trip to Israel helped me to get an early start in this regard.

While in Israel, I attended to the places which marked the milestones in Jesus’ life: Mary’s home and a neighbor’s home in Nazareth, the local synagogue and the Jordan River where John baptized Jesus, the excavated streets of Magdala where Jesus met his friend Mary, Capernaum where Jesus taught his friends, the Sea of Galilee where they fished and Jerusalem where everything ended and everything began. Because this was my second visit to these places, I often tuned out our wonderful guide so I could tune into my heart. In the process, I spoke often to this Jesus who has made all of the difference in the world to me. If he had done nothing more than to offer his word and his example regarding God’s love for us, this would have been enough for me.

On this first day of Lent 2018 and every day until Easter, I hope to return to one event from Jesus’ life and to find the lesson there which is intended for me. Just as Jesus took the time to teach his disciples all they needed to know, he does the same for me. Hopefully, I will take each lesson to heart and behave accordingly.

Loving God, thank you for Jesus who revealed your love for us in everything he said and did.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved