“THERE” With God

When I woke that day, I’d planned to get through my morning routine in record time. Afterward, I’d proof this week’s reflection and send it off to meet an early deadline. Well, that was the case until the morning news sent me in another direction. I’d begun watching just in time to see a reporter standing in the midst of smoldering rubble. He was describing what he saw for miles around -one of the many western state towns burned to the ground by wildfires. That report was followed by an update regarding Hurricane Sally’s assault upon the gulf states. As I watched, my frustration regarding life-with-COVID-19 took a back seat and I opened my heart to those suffering all around me.

Suddenly, I found myself in that overwhelmingly painful place we visit when our heartache gets the best of us. I’d been there before. I know many of you have been there as well because you’ve shared your stories with me. “There” is that place far beyond disappointment and well past anger. “There” is that place where our misery gives way to tears as we wonder what to do next. I’m writing of those times when you or I or a loved one has done everything right only to discover that, in spite of our best efforts, our situation has gone completely wrong. After watching subsequent news reports, I was certain that those suffering these disasters questioned the wrong-turn in their reality as well. In Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 21:33-43), Jesus offers the parable of a landowner who experienced the same…
 
Jesus’ landowner was a knowledgeable businessperson. He’d done everything necessary to net a healthy crop of grapes from his property. Jesus told his audience that the man “…planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.” It seemed that this landowner was a person of means accustomed to engaging in such transactions. He’d employed tenants to whom he gave housing and a living wage. In return, they would tend to his vineyard. Those tenants enjoyed the opportunity to live respectably and the landowner increased his holdings. That arrangement seemed to be a productive deal for all concerned.

Unfortunately, the tenants didn’t live up to their agreement and they wanted far more than their fair share. At harvest time, when the landowner sent his servants to retrieve his share of the grapes, two of them were beaten and one was killed. What should have been a simple settling of accounts developed into an ugly scenario. When the landowner sent a second cohort to gather what was his, they were met with violence as well. Completely shocked by all of this, the landowner sent his son to settle the matter. He was certain that the tenants would respect his family member and hand over what was due. Sadly, the tenants viewed the young man as an obstacle. Those tenants killed the man’s son hoping to secure even more of the landowner’s riches for themselves.
 
Honestly, I would never have predicted this end to Jesus’ parable. The landowner had behaved appropriately in every way. He was a good businessperson who paid his employees justly. When things went completely wrong and he lost his own son, what was he to do? When Jesus posed this very question to his followers, they responded, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.” Though I understand what Jesus’ followers were getting at, I can’t let go of the reality that nothing would bring back the landowner’s son. If I’d been in the landowner’s shoes, I would have been able to do nothing more than to weep over the senseless loss of my child until my tears ran out. Neither future tenants nor bountiful harvests nor successful business deals of any sort would have filled the emptiness within me. The families of those lost in recent wildfires, to COVID-19 and to senseless violence in every form likely share these sentiments.
 
After puzzling over this parable, I found that I don’t like scenarios which so accurately echo the heartache we suffer today. Though I’m reluctant to analyze Jesus’ words, this suffering compels me to do just that. Finally, deep within, I realize that God makes sense of everything. Deep within, I realize that God shares that “sense” with us whenever we open our hearts to God. It is God’s sense of things which makes it impossible for me to leave that landowner in his misery. It is God’s sense of things which insists that this isn’t the end for those hurt by wildfires and injustice and a virus.

Though Jesus didn’t offer an outcome to his parable, I will. I say that the landowner left his tenants to the authorities and then he moved on. He could find no solace in further bloodshed because his son’s death had robbed him of too much. I say that the landowner found a way to get past his trauma because God entered into his story to assure him that he wasn’t alone. I say that God helped him to embrace this life once again. Finally, I say that God will do the same for us for as long as our suffering lasts. God entered into your story and mine the day God breathed life into us. This is the reason that, as difficult as this life can be, we somehow pull ourselves up to begin anew. Actually, it is God who offers the hand we hold as we try, try, try again.

©2020 Mary Penich-All Rights Reserved

Do Unto Others…

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life…

From The Prayer of St. Francis

Years ago, when Mike and I visited New York City, we included the United Nations complex our “must see” list. UN Headquarters did not disappoint. Regardless of ones politics, the concept of world leaders gathered in one place to care for this one world seems beyond our human expectations. Still, they continue to meet. Through the numerous disagreements which plague their discussions, they continue to talk. This is an accomplishment!

A mosaic in the UN Conference Building took my breath away. This piece by Normal Rockwell was presented to the UN by First Lady Nancy Reagan. The eight-foot mosaic features a montage of adults and children of every race and color. In the midst of this gathering of humanity are the words, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” When the mosaic was refurbished in 2014, Secretary General Mr. Jan Eliasson remarked, “…it also reflects the very essence of our mission as set out in our charter.” Before Mike and I left that day, we purchased a small copy of that mosaic. I treasure this constant reminder of the standard by which I’m asked to live.

That mosaic’s message provides a fitting end to my references to the Prayer of St. Francis. You know, I’m fairly certain that those who sow unrest within our human family care little about St. Francis or The Golden Rule. Still, I hope the sentiments expressed by each bring some guidance and consolation as we navigate these difficult days. In the mean time, I’ll keep those effected by our current woes and those who can do something about them in my prayers. This means I’ll be praying for us all!

Compassionate God, be with us in our efforts to make this world a better place for all of your people.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Now I Get It!

Grant that I may not so much seek
to be understood as to understand…

From The Prayer of St. Francis

Before my students arrived to begin each school year, I reviewed their records, report cards and other pertinent information from their previous years in school. I wanted to understand the history which accompanied my new students into our classroom.

When I noticed that prior behaviors were “troublesome”, I watched carefully. These were the children with whom I made eye contact and conversation most often. I also seated them near my desk. Those with poor grades also found their desks upfront. This close proximity gave them a better chance of absorbing the wisdom of the day. Previous teachers’ notes and the new information I gathered throughout the year increased my understanding of these students and impacted the quality of our interactions on an ongoing basis.

We all need to be understood, to have a voice, to be heard and to be valued. We all also need to allow these essentials to one another. If I feel I’ve been discounted in some may, I have good reason not to discount the feelings, opinions and attitudes of others because I know how devastating this can be. At this writing, I don’t know all of the things which motivate some of my troubled fellow humans these days. I can only imagine what it’s like to lose everything to a hurricane. I can only imagine what it’s like to be judged simply because of the color of my skin. I can only imagine what it’s like to discover that I’ve tested positive for COVID-19. What I can imagine is that, whatever our circumstances, we all wish to be and need to be understood by someone.

Dear God, help us as we seek to understand one another and to love one another more. May all of our efforts bring about peace, productivity and meaningful change.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Reach Past The Pain

Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console…

From The Prayer of St. Francis

When my husband worked as a hospice chaplain, he never ceased to be amazed by the generosity of his patients and their loved ones. Though their days were numbered in only double or single digits, Mike’s patients often spent those days easing the burdens of the loved ones they’d soon leave behind. When these losses came to pass, many of those loved ones eased their own pain by reaching out to others in some way. Though none of us can ever truly prepare for these things, the consolation offered by others who’ve “been there” somehow gets us through the most unbearable circumstances. How amazing it is that the worst of our pain can result in such generous acts of love!

I think the efforts of those hospice patients and their loved ones offer valuable encouragement to all of us who are reeling in the midst of this pandemic, ongoing injustice, natural disasters and political unrest. Though we aren’t always dealing with these things face to face, we feel their horror just the same. Our challenge is to find ways to use whatever our circumstances are to better this world for ourselves and one another. It seems to me that the best consolation we can offer will come through our efforts to replace sadness with joy, to replace despair with hope and to replace hatred with love.

Dear God, be with us as we do all we can to console one another and this world by becoming instruments of your peace and your love.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Light The Way

Where there is darkness, let me sow light…
From The Prayer of St. Francis

Whenever acts of violence darken the moment at hand, law enforcement, newscasters and most of the rest us wonder together about assailants’ motives. I can shed no light on the actions of others because I’ve too often asked myself, “Why did I do that?” or “Why did I say that?” or “Why do I feel this way?” Sometimes, I’m certain of the reasons I’ve reacted to circumstances in a given way. At other times, I truly don’t understand.

What I can tell you is that I’m responding to the persistence of COVID-19’s assault, the ongoing injustice experienced by too many of our sisters and brothers, the forest fires and dangerous weather which just keep coming and the ongoing political unrest in this country with a deeply pained heart. Like so many of you, I wonder aloud, “Why does this misery continue?”

This life has taught me that I can’t do much about the motives and actions of others. Nonetheless, I can do something to shine a little light into the darkness that surrounds us these days. Just as people have influenced me for the better simply by being genuine in our encounters, maybe I can do the same. Just as these people have made me a more understanding, positive and productive person, maybe I can do the same for someone I meet along the way.

If we wish to live in a brighter, happier and more hopeful world, we all need to do our best to light the way as only we can. Let’s do it!

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light..

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Sowers of Hope

Where there is despair, let me sow hope…
Inspired by The Prayer of St. Francis

It isn’t easy to maintain hope when hours-old blood stains ones lab coat. Though this shift will end, that patient will continue to struggle until, hopefully, she recovers. It isn’t easy to maintain hope when ones feet ache after hours of walking with a heavy sign. Cameras recorded his demands for an equitable future. Still, he was stopped afterward as he drove home through an unfamiliar neighborhood. Many of us have walked through this pandemic and racial inequality and natural disasters with our physical health intact. Still, our psyches and our souls will never be the same. Though we’re grateful not to be victims, we ask, “Why her and why him and why not me?” In spite of our own good fortune, we worry.

It is in the midst of our worry and despair that we must grasp tightly to hope. Ordinary people everywhere have exhibited uncommon heroism to care for loved ones and strangers alike. Some who’ve never suffered prejudice have taken the time to walk and to talk and to understand a bit more. Some who have concerns of their own have embraced their jobs in hospitals and grocery stores, police cars and schools to serve and to heal, to protect and to teach as only they can. They’ve set aside their own well-being to do what needs to be done.

All across this country and around the world, people have helped as only they can. All of these are the antidote to our despair. All of these are our reason to hope in better things to come. Let’s join in this effort as only we can!

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope…

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved