Reach Out As Jesus Did

I couldn’t help laughing. A fellow parishioner had just read my reflection which referenced our recent trip to Israel. Though this person was touched by what I’d written, he quickly asked, “But was it safe there?” After assuring him that the good deacon and I always felt secure in Jesus’ homeland, I shared our older son’s response to our first trip to Israel. When Mike and I announced our plans for that venture, our son turned to me with something between a grimace and a smile. He looked me in the eyes and declared, “Well, Mom, it’s been a good run.” Though I assured our firstborn that I’d never travel to an unsafe destination, I sensed that he was more than a little worried about his dad and me. The image of his half-hearted smile stayed with me until we returned home safely. Though we remained completely outside of harm’s way throughout our visits to the Holy Land, I do understand our son’s concerns beforehand. I wondered if Jesus’ mother shared our son’s worry when Jesus left home for the streets of Cana and Capernaum. The truth is that, in many ways, Jesus’ homeland hasn’t changed much since Jesus lived there.

Though Israel’s politics sometimes suggests otherwise, the variety of people who make up that nation’s diverse population interact on many levels every day. Our Jewish Israeli guide Yossi and our Palestinian bus driver worked very well together. Day after day, they join their fellow citizens in doing their best to secure peaceful and productive lives for themselves and for their families. Yossi observed often, “All they want is to work and provide a home and food and a life for their children. This is what we all want.” Yossi certainly supported this effort as he guided us to a Muslim monastery, an Italian Catholic mission, an Orthodox Jewish home, a tourist stop in Jericho, the West Bank, Christian, Muslim and Jewish holy places, Arab shops, Palestinian restaurants and so much more. Each of these encounters spoke to the people’s successful efforts to co-exist on the job, in their neighborhoods and as friends. How could my thoughts not turn to Jesus’ similar efforts in the midst of all of this?

On this third Sunday of Lent, the scriptures address all of our efforts to build community in our little corners of the world. The first reading (Exodus 17:3-7) tells us how Moses dealt with the grumbling Israelites who seemed to have forgotten that they’d been led from the grips of slavery and were on their way to the Promised Land. They complained incessantly throughout their journey. They went so far as to threaten Moses when they deemed the available drinking water too bitter to drink. Filled with disgust and fear, Moses pleaded with God for help. In spite of the people’s lack of faith, God provided the water they craved. In his letter to the Romans (5:1-2,5-8), Paul invited his readers to seize the blessings which their ancestors in the desert had overlooked. Those blessings flowed like water from Jesus and from themselves when they sustained one another. Above all, Paul insisted that God remained with them.

It is the passage from John’s gospel (4:5-42) which gets to the heart of what I discovered while among the people of Israel. John shared the details of Jesus’ encounter with a woman of Samaria. As he rested at Jacob’s well, Jesus surprised the woman by asking her for a drink of water. At the time, Jewish people avoided association with Samaritan people at all costs. Jesus’ request for water crossed a line better left undisturbed. Still, Jesus persisted in the exchange, offering the woman far more in return than a sip of water merited. When this woman ignored societal barriers and acknowledged Jesus, her life changed forever. Jesus extended the woman a second chance, or perhaps her sixth or twelfth chance, for happiness. Jesus offered no lecture regarding her failed marriages or anything else. Jesus simply accepted her as she was and asked that she open her heart to something more. In the end, that encounter touched the woman so deeply that she couldn’t help spreading Jesus’ good news throughout her town. As it happened, many turned to Jesus that day because the woman from Samaria indiscriminately shared her good fortune with them all.

I never expected our treks to Israel to reveal so much of Jesus’ life and lessons to me. I would never have guessed that the efforts of Palestinians and Jews, Muslims and Arabs, Christians and agnostics of every sort to live and to work together would so clearly mirror Jesus’ work among his contemporaries. Though national politics sometimes gets in the way, the majority of Israel’s people diligently invest themselves in building community. It seems that Jesus invited the woman from Samaria to do the same. When she shared the Jewish rabbi’s message of love and mercy, the woman inspired others to do the same. This Lent, as I try to open my heart more completely to Jesus, that wise and brave Samaritan woman nudges me along. Her eagerness to share all that Jesus had done for her inspires me to find ways to do the same.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

I… I Am!

“If they ask me, ‘What is God’s name?’ what am I to tell them?”
God replied to Moses: I am who I am.

From Exodus 3:13-14

I is for I AM. Regardless of the variety of names we humans assign to God, God chooses to be called “I AM.” I find great consolation in this name because God offers it in the active present tense. This name leaves no doubt that God is, God was and God forever will be. Though our lives pass more quickly than we care to acknowledge, I AM will never pass from the moment at hand. It seems to me that, since I AM is the only constant of which we can be certain, it makes sense to acknowledge God’s presence with regularity and with gratitude.

I’m embarrassed to admit that in doing so I often monopolize this God of ours. Some days, God and I are in conversation from morning until night. I’m also embarrassed to admit that these conversations are often one-sided, not because God has nothing to say, but because I rarely give God the opportunity to speak. Still, God finds ways to get my attention. God’s efforts come most often in the beauty of nature, in an unexpected encounter, in a great idea or in encouraging words. They also come in those unmistakable inklings from deep within which insist that I am truly valued and truly loved. In spite of my numerous imperfections, God is with me.

I show my gratitude for the gift of God’s presence best by acknowledging to myself often that God is with me. When I do so on a regular basis, I find it impossible not to make that presence known. Rather than announcing that I AM has sent me their way, I reveal God’s presence to those I’ve been given to love simply by being lovingly present to them.

Loving God, help me to make your presence tangible, especially to those who consider themselves less-than-lovable today.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

I is for…

God replied to Moses: I am who I am.
From Exodus 3:14

I is for I AM. We humans assign numerous names to God. Those who reference the Torah or Bible are familiar with the passage I’ve cited in which God chooses to be called “I AM.” I find great consolation in this name because it is offered in the active present tense. This name leaves no doubt that God is, was and forever will be. Though our lives pass more quickly than we care to acknowledge, I AM will never pass from the moment at hand. It seems to me that, since I AM is the only constant of which we can be certain, it makes sense to acknowledge God’s presence with regularity and with gratitude.

Some days, God and I are in conversation from morning until night. This is a good thing, except for my propensity to monopolize the exchange which means that it’s one-sided. This isn’t because God has nothing to say, but because I rarely give God the opportunity to speak. Still, God finds ways to get my attention. These efforts come most often in the beauty of nature, in an unexpected encounter with a fellow human, in a great idea or in encouraging words. Yes, just as God is always with us, God always finds ways to get our attention.

It seems to me that I best show my gratitude for God’s ongoing presence by making that presence known. Rather than announcing that I AM has sent me their way, I can reveal God’s presence to others through my own loving presence to them.

Loving God, please be as tangible as ever in our efforts to love for one another.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

My Soul’s Landscape

From that desert, the whole Israelite
community journeyed in stages as the
Lord directed…
.
From Exodus 17:1

One of Israel’s remarkable characteristics is its varied landscape. Because I’m accustomed to the promise of spring buds, summer’s lush greenery, autumn’s array of color and winter’s icy white, I was most taken by Israel’s deserts. The arid countryside offers miniature versions of our Grand Canyon, rocky mesas and small mountains. Each of these boasts barely visible natural caves and crevices. To some, they appear to be dark and frightening dens of the unknown. To a desert-dweller, these sometimes tiny niches in the rocky expanse provide life-giving shelter at the peak of a day’s heat.

Another of the desert’s life-giving gifts is the smattering of thorny bushes and brownish-green grasses which appear out of nowhere in every direction. As we drove through a particularly rocky area, I noticed a lone ibex nestled on an extremely narrow crag. When I spotted the tufts of green dangling from its mouth, I understood the ibex’s bravery in selecting this precarious nook. This much-needed lunch was well worth the effort!

As we drove on, I considered the goodness I’d found in what I thought to be barren and lifeless landscape. It reminded me of myself on occasion. Though I should know better, I allow uncontrollable situations to drain the life out of me. Though I work hard to improve things, I see no progress. Then, in the midst of my misery, someone thanks me for something which I hardly recall doing. Another person compliments the reflection I posted a few weeks back. Someone else responds to my cheerful greeting because he needed to smile that day. I receive a thank you note and a pat on the back for what I considered trivial deeds.

I’ve discovered that, even when we think we’re no more fruitful than the most barren of deserts, God draws goodness from us.

Ever-loving God, thank you for drawing goodness from me, even when I dwell in the desert.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

I… for I AM

God replied to Moses: I am who I am.
From Exodus 3:14

I is for I AM. Regardless of the plethora of names we humans assign to God, God chooses to be called “I AM.” I find great consolation in this name because it is offered in the active present tense. This name leaves no doubt that God is, was and forever will be. Though our lives pass more quickly than we care to acknowledge, I AM will never pass from the moment at hand. It seems to me that since I AM is the only constant of which we can be certain it makes sense to acknowledge God’s presence with regularity and with gratitude.

I’m embarrassed to admit that in doing so I often monopolize this God of ours. Some days, we are in conversation from morning until night. I’m also embarrassed to admit that these conversations are often one-sided, not because God has nothing to say, but because I rarely give God the opportunity to speak. Still, God finds ways to get my attention. These efforts come most often in the beauty of nature, in an unexpected encounter, in a great idea or in encouraging words. These nudges assure me that God is with me.

It seems to me that I can show my gratitude for the gift of God’s presence by making that presence known. Rather than announcing that I AM has sent me their way, I can reveal God’s presence to others through my own loving presence to them.

Loving God, help me to make your presence tangible, especially to those who consider themselves less-than-lovable today.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved