With Us Always

I’ve tried to use my stay-in-place time productively. At the same time, I’ve come to appreciate the opportunity to begin each of these seventy-plus days in a leisurely fashion. Before the pandemic, I woke each morning, turned my eyes upward and offered a quick “Thank you for the sleep!” to our benevolent Creator. Each time, I promised to have a lengthier conversation when time permitted later in the day. Then, I’d turn toward my husband to offer or receive a good morning kiss. Afterward, I did the mandated exercises which maintain my back’s flexibility. Finally, I’d quickly read through the day’s pages from two favorite devotionals. By that time, Mike had finished his morning allotment of coffee. We’d have breakfast together and then get on to the given day’s agenda.

Since the pandemic’s onset, leisurely mornings have allowed me to insert more than a single-sentence prayer into my morning routine. While that morning kiss and my exercise continue, I take more time reading my devotionals. On occasion, I read a selection twice or more because the writer’s insight merits a second or third look. Best of all, that one-line prayer has evolved into a conversation which I hope will be a part of every new day I’m given. I exercise on the floor in our room near a large window. These days, I take the time to stand at that window to absorb the beauty beyond the glass. Even on rainy days, I can’t help appreciating God’s goodness in it all. As upset as I’ve been by the loss and suffering caused by our world’s bout with COVID-19, I cannot miss God’s presence in it all. The view beyond my window renews that awareness every day.

I share all of this as we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus because our situation these days is quite similar to that of Jesus’ friends two millenniums ago. Though Jesus and his companions shared many good and happy times together, they also suffered uncertainty and much worse. Some of the temple hierarchy were puzzled by Jesus’ teachings while others resented everything Jesus stood for. A few Romans listened with some interest to what Jesus had to say. Remember the centurion who sought a cure for his dying child? However, most had no use for anyone who might cause unrest among the people. Jesus received a good deal of attention from those who had no one else to turn to. At the same time, he upset the keepers of The Law whenever he associated with anyone they considered to be unworthy or unclean. The closer Jesus and his followers came to their last trip to Jerusalem, the closer they were to Jesus’ demise. The disciples were uncertain of what was to come and they wrung their hands with worry. We’ve spent more than seventy days battling this pandemic and we continue to worry as well.

It occurs to me that this is the reason Jesus closed his time with his disciples with reassurance regarding his absolute faith in and love for each one of them. Jesus reminded his friends of the most important aspects of his teaching. If they took his words to heart, every day they lived would be a God-filled day for them. Though we hear a different Ascension gospel each year, the essence of Jesus’ message remains the same. Luke (Luke 24:46-53) shares that Jesus said, “And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.” Jesus assured his friends that God would be with them in everything. Mark (Mark 16:15-20) tells us that Jesus asked his disciples to “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” They were to go out to assure all who listened of God’s love for them. In today’s account from Matthew (Matthew 28:16-20), Jesus added his promise, “I will be with you always, until the end of the world.” None of us would be left to carry on alone. John’s gospel ends without reference to the Ascension. When John’s gospel is read on Ascension Day, Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper is cited: “Holy Father, I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.” Jesus’ prayer included his companions who walked with him and all of us who would eventually be touched by their efforts.

When news of the gradual reopening of our state and of our local churches surfaced, my emotions fluctuated between relief and worry. I was thrilled with the possibility of returning to a bit of normalcy and I worried about the consequences if we fail to ease into these efforts safely. Like Jesus’ disciples, I am more than ambivalent regarding the things to come. And, like Jesus’ disciples, I am reassured. God patiently and lovingly remains with me throughout these trying days. It is God who draws me to that window every morning and to the loving exchanges which follow. Whether I speak of goodness or the evil which threatens, my accomplishments or failures, my relief or worry, God listens attentively to every word. You see, on that Ascension Day when Jesus assured his disciples that he would be with them always, he assured us of the same. God is indeed with us and there God will remain!
©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

L… Love

You shall love the Lord your God
with your whole heart,
with your whole soul,
and with your whole mind….
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

From Matthew 22:37-38

L is for Love. This is a tough one. I don’t have a bit of trouble loving God. Though I admit to having had words with our patient Lord, this is the result of my certainty of God’s love for me. God invited me into a relationship. When I accepted, I committed myself to being completely honest in this regard. This is my only choice. After all, if I don’t share my true feelings, God knows them nonetheless.

Early on, a wise teacher shared that there is something lovable about every one of us and that it is up to us to discover what this is. This observation has helped me a great deal over the years. Though I don’t have a flawless track record, I can honestly say that I don’t hate anyone. Still, though I love my neighbor in theory, putting that love into practice sometimes poses a challenge. The good news here is that I try.

The toughest part is loving my neighbor as I love myself. When this New Year 2020 became reality, I resolved to work at being less judgmental. What I must be clear about is that much of that judgment is directed toward myself. If I fail to love myself enough to allow myself the luxury of being a frail human, how can I love my neighbors enough to allow them to do the same? God loves me and God is amazingly patient with me. I must learn to do the same.

Love is a tricky endeavor at best. Still, it’s the best work we can do and the best source of true happiness. The passage from Matthew above isn’t a directive. It’s an invitation to heaven on earth.

Loving God, thank you for creating us in your image, especially when it comes to our ability love.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

I’m Resolved… I Really Am!

I am a voice in the desert, crying out:
Make straight the way of the Lord!

John 1:23

Though I’ve made New Year’s resolutions in the past, I most often avoid this opportunity. It has seemed a little foolhardy to allow the calendar to dictate meaningful change in my life. Still, I’ve decided to do so this year.

Before actually committing myself, I’ve taken time to reflect. This exercise in introspection included a leisurely afternoon during which I reread all of the Christmas cards and letters we received this year. Each one brought a measure of glad tidings and re-acquainted me with friends near and far. Halfway through, I came across an unusually beautiful card. It features the unexpected image of John the Baptist. Subtle silhouettes of both a crèche and cross are etched into the background. The verse from John’s gospel cited above is printed on the inside cover. I couldn’t help thinking that this particular card truly proclaimed the message of Christmas.

After reading the remainder of our Christmas mail, I considered my resolution. It occurred to me that I should attend to both body and spirit in my efforts. So it is that I’m taking John the Baptist’s lead on both counts. I’ll keep my body healthy by resuming my once chiseled-in-stone walking schedule. I’ll keep my spirit healthy by sticking to my message as John did. I’ll tend to my words and my actions by writing the truth as I know it and by living accordingly as best I can. In both cases, I must proceed with love. I think John tried to do that, too.

Loving God, today and always, help me to use my body and my spirit to care for those you have given me to love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Fill The Void

On that day,
a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse,
and from his roots a bud shall blossom.

Isaiah 11:1

Though the cold has set in, a squirrel appeared this morning to eat from beneath our bird feeders. The birds who feast high above drop a generous measure of seed onto the grass below. As a result, this determined squirrel has learned to scavenge plenty of food. His success is evidenced by his waistline. This particular squirrel is the chubbiest I’ve ever seen. Still, I don’t fault him a bit. The winter weather is here and Mr. Squirrel must prepare for the long haul.

As I consider that squirrel, I realize that his creativity in preparing for the enduring cold should inspire my own efforts as I prepare for Christmas. My lengthy to-do list, decorating and shopping make it difficult to find the time to reflect upon the reason we celebrate this season every year. Just as Mr. Squirrel has found a way to feed his chubby little body, I must find a way to nourish my soul. So it is that I will indulge in the generous measure of inspiration around me. The efforts of so many who care for those in need renew my faith in the goodness of humankind. Though my own efforts seem small, I guess they do add up after all -just like the birdseed that continues to fill up Mr. Squirrel!

Today and every day this Advent, may we all be encouraged by the goodness around us and may we all become a part of it. Wherever we find a need, let’s fill the void.

Loving God, thank you for the wonders of nature and the creativity of my fellow souls. They constantly remind me to do good wherever I can.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Important Work

“Go home to your family and make it clear to them
all that God has done for you.”

From Mark 5:19

While growing up, I had visions of grandeur regarding what I would do with my life. I wanted to solve the problems of the world. I wanted to end wars. I wanted to fight against prejudice and injustice. I wanted to end poverty. I wanted to work with special needs children. I wanted to become a nurse. I wanted to teach…

When things began to fall into place, the path before me became less cluttered. I learned to value the seemingly mundane vocations that in reality make all of the difference in the world. A good person who deals fairly and kindly with those around her brings peace to our world. Generous couples who allow their love to spill over onto to those around them bring love to the world. Parents who nurture their children with their time and attention bring hope to this world. Caring for those we have been given to love -both near an afar- is the most important work we can do.

Though it’s taken me a lifetime, I finally get it!

Loving and Generous God, sometimes I wonder if I’m doing my loved ones or this world any good. Thank you for the precious moments with them which dispel my doubt.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

U is for Unity

These are my mother and brothers and sisters.
Whoever lives as God asks is family to me.

From Mark 3:34-35

U is for Unity. A few week’s ago, we gathered at my nephew’s home. His sister lives in California and was home for a visit. Ralph invited us over to see her. Our family is quite large. These days, it’s difficult to gather us in one place at any one time. Still, almost thirty of us came out to visit with Cece and one another that day. What fun! My own siblings and I have grown into very different people, yet we each manage to bring our own variety of joy to these gatherings. The same is true of my nieces and nephews and my own sons. Though they all set out to form friendships and families of their own, they find their way back to their roots to reconnect with the family which gave them their start. For me, the best part of these gatherings is watching familial interactions unfold. How nice it is that we still manage to get along!

It seems to me that this should also be true of our human family. God breathed life into every one of us with the hope that we’d live these lives to the fullest. We needn’t congregate in the same worship places or in any worship place at all to express our appreciation. It seems to me that we do need to respect one another and to see one another as God’s children. We need to love one another as we love ourselves. We need to open our eyes, our minds and our hearts to better understand perspectives which sometimes differ from our own. Understanding our differences doesn’t mean that we have to embrace them. It does mean that we must learn to coexist amidst our varying points of view. I do this best when I set aside the non-essential details of these things and focus upon the most essential needs of this world.

God has breathed life into billions of unique children since time began and God loves each and every one. God’s only request is the same as that of any loving parent. God asks only that we learn to get along.

Loving God, you love each one of us. Help us to work together to transform the world we share into a fitting home for us all.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved