Life-Giving Water

Beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul…

From Psalm 23:2-3

The Dead Sea is a popular attraction in Israel. It rests sixteen miles east of Jerusalem and covers 300 square miles. When referenced in the scriptures, it’s called The Salt Sea. Most often, this formidable body of water is cited simply to describe the location of more important places. Though our ancient counterparts likely weren’t aware of the chemistry involved, the waters of their Salt Sea are actually almost 25% mineral salts. It seems to me that we should return this powerful body to its original name. Modern-day visitors appear to agree because they come in droves to seek its amazing power to rejuvenate ones skin, ones health and perhaps much more…

As we approached the shoreline, we found ourselves in the midst of a tourist haven. People from everywhere had come to experience the Dead Sea’s therapeutic powers firsthand. Many wore swimwear in an effort to soak themselves in this apparent fountain of youth for as long as possible. My husband and our tour-mates joined in the fun and fury by making their way down to the black mud beach. They waded into the water as far as their rolled-up jeans would allow.

As for me, I waited at a small observation area which offered a breathtaking view. After taking in the sea air and the inspiring surroundings, I watched as drenched pilgrims made their way back to the tourist center to warm themselves and to replace their swimsuits with dry clothing. Some laughed. Some seemed uncomfortably cold. Some seemed rapt in prayer, perhaps asking that this would be the “something” which relieved their suffering. As each one passed, I prayed as well. “Dear God, help them to find what they’re looking for.”

As we boarded the bus for our next adventure, I realized that I’d been blessed with something unexpected. Though I hadn’t touched a drop of that amazing water, my soul was at peace and all was well in my little corner of the world.

Generous God, thank you for the many unexpected surprises which come our way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved


Never Blind To God’s Love

A few weeks ago, my husband-the-deacon surprised me with an “honorable mention” in his homily. Mike shared that he’s noticed that I occasionally become cranky when the tasks at hand threaten to overwhelm me. He quickly added that he’s also discovered that I’ve found ways to alleviate my angst when this occurs. I walk outdoors or browse through our family photo albums to put things into perspective and to transform my mood. The gospel that day featured Jesus’ transfiguration and Mike hoped to encourage us all to transform ourselves and one another when our troubles threaten to get the best of us. Because I was relieved by the harmless nature of Mike’s homily reference, I didn’t tell him that he neglected to share the third means by which I transform my worries into peace of mind: I write. I set aside everything and return to my book. This manuscript chronicles my life and its focus is the ongoing influence my loved ones, my church and God have had on me. Returning to these transforming episodes even for a few paragraphs puts the woes of the present in perspective. Afterward, I embrace what lies ahead with new energy and new eyes.

Most recently, these therapeutic writing sessions have been influenced by our trip to Israel. Though this was our second venture to Jesus’ homeland, I experienced something new every day. While the ruins and other attractions hadn’t changed, my appreciation of them had. I moved beyond the externals before me to the life Jesus actually led. The images offered by religious artwork don’t always portray the realities of life in Jesus’ day. As our guide often said, “This is a crazy place. But we do our best.” Jesus lived in crazy times as well. As the locals scurried about to tend to the business at hand, I imagined Jesus peering beyond the determined faces of his contemporaries and into their hearts. Jesus always found ways to open the eyes of those around him to God’s love. He’s done the same for me all of my life. Recently, an unexpected encounter unearthed memories I’d buried long ago. I was so taken aback that I shared my misery with my poor husband: “Back then, nothing could have prepared me for what happened and I didn’t know what to do!” Oddly, just speaking those words reminded me of how far I’ve come since. That evening, I returned to my manuscript. Though I’m only on page 93, those pages offer a lifetime of examples of the “new eyes” God has given me. Happily, these eyes remain open to God’s love no matter what!

Today, John’s gospel (John 9:1-41) promises new eyes to anyone who makes the effort to turn his or her attention to God. In this passage, it is the man born blind who focused the people’s attention on Jesus. This man kept a daily vigil at the side of the road. Though he saw nothing with his clouded vision, he sensed activities of every sort around him. The blind man’s persistence likely irritated passersby into providing the few coins and morsels of food which helped him to survive each day. On the day John references, this man sensed that something was different. On that day, he knew that someone in the crowd passing him would provide far more than a day’s sustenance. It didn’t take the blind man long to recognize his hero. Fortunately for the blind man, it didn’t take Jesus any time at all to recognize him.

What must it have been like when Jesus smeared that bit of mud over the man’s eyelids? I don’t think the man flinched a bit. Did he sense the power in Jesus’ fingers? When he rinsed his eyes in the Pool of Siloam as Jesus asked, did the man feel the love which brought him his first glimpse of the light of day and the light of God? When questioned by onlookers, the man attributed his cure to “that man they call Jesus.” When the Pharisees inquired about the cure, the man referred to Jesus as “a prophet.” This event caused such a raucous that even the man’s parents were brought in for interrogation. In their fear, they referred the Pharisees back to their son who called Jesus “the Son of Man.” The Pharisees failed to appreciate the blind man’s new vision. Rather, they rewarded the man’s faith by casting him out of the temple only to meet Jesus once again. It was during this second encounter that Jesus became much more than a prophet. In this encounter, the man who was once blind saw God.

In Mike’s homily, he referenced those occasions when I forget to view my world with the new eyes God has given me. I’m not always like that blind man who didn’t miss a thing. When Jesus crossed his lonely and painful path, the blind man used his new eyes and he saw Jesus for who he was: The embodiment of God’s love for him. When Jesus opened the eyes of the man born blind to this love, Jesus opened our eyes to the same. The blind man happily learned that it isn’t up to us humans to judge who is worthy of God’s love because God loves us all. It also isn’t’ up to us to determine who is worthy of our love. Our task is to move beyond the blindness of the Pharisees, to see who is in need of our love and to share it freely.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Traveling Light

“He instructed them to
take nothing on the journey
but a walking stick…”

Mark 6:8

Packing for this year’s trek to Israel was much less complicated than last year’s effort. This time, I weeded out all of those extra “what if” items which I never used. This time, I brought along only what I needed. In the end, my resolve to simplify paid off. I had less to carry and less to worry about. This freed me to concentrate on the people I met and places I had traveled to explore.

Perhaps this is what Jesus was getting at when he sent out his disciples with no luggage. Perhaps he didn’t want them to waste a moment of their time or a bit of their energy on the unimportant. Jesus hoped they would make the most of their travels among us at every opportunity.

It occurs to me that God invites us to travel lightly all of the time, not only when we’re embarking upon a vacation or an adventure of some sort. When we amble into the moment at hand with our hands free and our hearts free, we free ourselves to embrace the treasures which await us.

Generous God, thank you for this amazing world and the awesome people who fill it. Be with us as we explore the gifts we encounter every day along the way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Normal’s Best!

“We have this confidence in God:
that God hears us whenever we ask for anything…”

1 John 5:14

Each year, when I hang the coming year’s calendar, I’m usually ready to return to what I consider to be “normal”. This year, however, is different. As I planned my “de-decorating” strategy, I wondered just how long I might dare to keep up our Christmas Tree and houseful of decorations. After long days of planning and celebrating, I found great comfort in the colored lights strewn about the railings and tree. My affection for the peaceful company nestled in the crèche under our tree compelled me to hold on tightly to Christmas. I longed to postpone my return to “normal” for as long as possible…

As I considered how to proceed, I sat near our Christmas Tree with the hope of finding inspiration there. As I gazed at the tiny baby in the crib, I realized that there was no returning to “normal” after Jesus arrived. Because of him, everything changed for us all. With that, I mentioned to my husband that we could take down the decorations whenever he was ready. Though these visuals would be packed away in our basement until next Christmas, the transformation which began in Bethlehem more than two thousand years ago would continue through me.

I went back to my January 2018 Calendar to plan another strategy. This time, I wondered how I might dare to bring the message of the first Christmas to the year-full of opportunities before me. I wondered what my new “normal” will be.

God of Hope, this world needs you more than ever. Help me to bring your presence into every moment of the coming year.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Graced Once Again!

The child grew in size and strength,
filled with wisdom,
and the grace of God was upon him.

Luke 2:40

The New Year is just forty-eight hours away and my thoughts turn to my hopes and dreams, worries and fears for 2018. I once considered myself to be blessed with an inner calm which I could never explain. Those of you who follow my reflections every day know that this hasn’t been the case during the last several months of 2017. I allowed myself to fret with the best of them, especially in the face of this world’s violence both near and far away. During that time, I found myself extremely frustrated by my inability to remedy these things.

Oddly enough, the passing of a young man I taught more than forty years ago helped me to recapture some of that fleeting inner peace. I found the gathering of people who mourned Robert to be life-giving. The comforting and challenging words of his pastor led me back to the familiar path I thought I might never find again. Finally, I began to feel like the child of whom Luke wrote so long ago. Finally, I’ve turned my attention to the goodness around me.

Though I’ve grown neither as wise nor as strong as Jesus did, the grace of God is upon me. This grace assures me in the midst of the worst of my fretting that my loved ones, this world and I will be fine in the end. Yes, God’s grace is upon us all.

Good and Gracious God, thank you for your presence and your enduring love which renew my hope and lift my heart.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Gifts of Love

“What will this child be?
Was not the hand of the Lord upon him?”

Luke 1:66

This week before Christmas, thoughts of my family fill me up. They always do! Still, every time I walk past the gifts my husband and I wrapped for them I imagine their reactions. Our granddaughters have given up their fascination with gift wrap and turn their attention to the gifts inside. Our little grandson is following in their footsteps. He certainly enjoyed his last birthday gifts! Our daughter’s-in-law will enjoy their gifts as well. If they don’t, we’ll never know because they’re two of the most gracious young women I know. Our sons are another story. Old as they are, they have studied and shaken the gifts left in sight over the past few weeks. We have purposely disguised almost everything we’re giving them in an effort to confuse them as best we can.

Yes, my family has been on my mind –not their gifts as much as each one of them. Though none of us is perfect, the hand of the Lord has truly blessed us all. I’m most grateful! When one feasts upon Christmas Love all year long, there’s nothing more to do than to give thanks.

I thank you with all of my heart, Dear God, for the family and friends you have given me to love. Help me and all of these precious people to share your love wherever we find ourselves.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved