God’s Characters

“I have found you and
with my holy oil I anoint you…”

From Psalm 89:21

A few days ago, I referenced a childhood photograph which conjured up a regretful memory. Today, a second look at that photo brought a smile to my face. My brother, my four sisters and I are posed on the steps of our front porch. We’re dressed in our Easter finery. On such occasions, a family gathering of some magnitude followed. Such celebrations usually spilled out onto that porch if the weather was at all bearable. Since my parents had eighteen siblings between them, our extended family included an amazing variety of characters. I write “characters” with appreciative thoughts of each one!

Characters of every sort enrich my life. Family, neighbors, schoolmates and church friends account for many. By the time I was sixteen and took my first job at a grocery store, I was quite adept at interacting with others. This came to good use in college, when I eventually married and began my teaching career. All the while, I enjoyed the characters whom I met along the way.

Most precious are the moments I’ve shared individually. These encounters allowed glimpses of others which I might have missed in a crowd. It’s likely that many of these special people have no idea of their contribution to my humble existence. Still, each one reminds me in one way or another that we are all God’s anointed ones. Each of us is a unique gift to those around us and to this world. Yes, we are all God’s characters, sent to enrich others along the way. As we ease back into our new normal, may we all share the best of our characters as only we can!

Dear God, stay with us as we renew our appreciation of ourselves, of one another and of our world.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Peacemakers All…

Blessed are the peacemakers;
you shall be called children of God.

Matthew 5:9

While in Israel, I was amazed by the circumstances of its people and its property. Israel occupies a large portion of what we consider to be the Holy Land. Interestingly enough, the holiest places within its borders are controlled by various entities including Muslims, Christians and Jews. Our guide is an Israeli citizen who respects his countrymen whatever their beliefs. He speaks Hebrew, Arabic and Italian (among other languages). As a result, he gained us access to sites where others are denied entry. Whenever this occurred, Yossi didn’t revel in his success. He simply pointed out that being respectful of the ways of others and meeting others on their own turf or terms usually leads to peaceful encounters which benefit all concerned. “This is the way to peace,” Yossi would say.

Perhaps this is the reason Yossi exhibited some impatience with his Hasidic Jewish neighbors. I was surprised to learn that they make up only ten percent of Israel’s population. Most of this sect live in their own neighborhoods where they adhere to the strictest code of conduct. Our guide also surprised me when he shared that eighty percent of the population is non-religious. It seemed to trouble Yossi to acknowledged that the holiest place on earth is home to so many non-religious people. Yossi shared that the strict rules and intolerance of a few had soured many Israelis’ views of organized religion.

As I pondered all of this, I considered the “secular” Jewish people who shared the path with us during our stay. Though they didn’t profess a religious affiliation, they did work toward change through their interactions with neighbors of multiple ethnicities. I wondered if they realized that they were peacemakers just like Yossi.

Loving God, help us all to work toward peace with loving hands and loving hearts.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be Merciful

Blessed are they who show mercy;
mercy shall be theirs.

Matthew 5:7

Many beautiful churches, mosques and chapels flank the holy places within Israel’s borders. The Mount of the Beatitudes is no exception. The Church of The Beatitudes was built in 1938 for the Franciscan Sisters. Our guide shared an unexpected aspect of the building’s history. It was funded by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Though history seems to indicate otherwise, I hope that Jesus who first spoke The Beatitudes touched this tyrant in some way.

Our guide also pointed out that the dome of this church is eight-sided. Each side depicts one of Jesus’ “Blest are…” statements. As I consider Jesus’ radical stance in viewing the most troubled of us as blessed, I cannot help thinking of Mussolini and the many other dictators who have ravaged our world. Mussolini seems to have been inspired by his father who was an outspoken anti-cleric. Why did his father’s message take hold over everything else he learned?

I cannot explain Mussolini’s actions any more than I can explain those of the others who have marred our history with their atrocities. However, I think I can explain Jesus’ thinking when he encountered such evildoing. It was sixty years ago. My widowed aunt and her children lived in the flat below us. It was late at night when a mugger brutally beat my aunt as she returned from her job cleaning office buildings downtown. The following morning, my mother told us what had happened. We scrambled down the stairs to wish our aunt well. Bruised and disfigured as she was, my aunt told us, “I’m praying hard for that guy. Can you imagine the terrible things that must have happened to him to make him do this to me? You need to pray for him, too.”

When Jesus looked into the eyes of the suffering and of those who caused that suffering, he saw everything that brought them to the moment at hand. Today, I’ll pray for all of us who are doing terrible things to others and I’ll pray for their victims. I’ll also replace my own unkind urges with mercy. I can’t afford to contribute any more suffering to this world of ours. None of us can.

Merciful God, give us loving and merciful hearts like yours.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Home Again!

When he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him,
and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.

Luke 15:20

Every morning while we toured Israel, I checked our itinerary before we set out for the day. This helped me to retrieve what I knew about each site. In addition to historical and geographical tidbits regarding these places, events related to Jesus of Nazareth came to mind. As a result, I arrived at each destination with a heart open to the gifts of the new day.

I clearly recall the day we were headed toward the Mount of the Beatitudes, Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee and Magdala. A sense of homecoming quickly enveloped me as I considered scripture passages related to these places. The events I recalled made me feel as though I was returning to revive ancient memories. Oddly, I felt expectantly anxious to get to the heart of what had occurred at each one.

Though I’ll supply details later, today, it is enough to say that I was never disappointed. I may not have stood on the precise patch of ground where Jesus spoke the beatitudes or multiplied loaves and fishes. I may not have stepped in Mary Magdalene’s footprints. I may not have sailed Jesus’ course on the Sea of Galilee. Still, I felt that I walked where I was meant to walk in order to rekindle important relationships from long ago. I wouldn’t have felt more at home if I had been the prodigal son whose father kissed him and embraced him to welcome him home after a far too long absence.

Loving God, thank you for being present to me and for welcoming me into every moment.
With you, the time is always right.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Ask God…

But the hand of the Lord was on Elijah…
From 1 Kings 18:46

If you don’t recall the details, check 1 Kings 18 regarding Elijah…

I admit that I thought about Elijah’s wrath throughout our stay in the Holy Land and long after we left Mount Carmel. The good news is that Elijah’s fiery presence often gave way to his contemplative side. Elijah said that he was on fire with zeal for God. Before he did most of what he did, Elijah prayed. Elijah’s ability to withdraw into God’s presence empowered him to act with conviction on behalf of his fellow humans.

I admit that I sometimes avoid Old Testament texts because I don’t want to be reminded of the violence recorded there. Elijah’s encounter with the priests of Baal is no exception. Still, as I contemplated further, I realized that Elijah did the best he could in the time and place where God situated him. I wasn’t there and I don’t know the details of all that occurred among his people. In the end, it isn’t up to me to judge.

Each of us finds ourselves in particular times and places over which we have little control. Nonetheless, you and I are called to respond as best we can and as only we can. This is good reason to imitate Elijah’s contemplative side. When in doubt, Elijah always prayed. It seems to me that we should do the same.

Loving God, thank you for offering us your company and your counsel. Remind us to seek both often.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

F… Faith

God remembers forever the covenant
which God made for a thousand generations…

Psalm 105:8

F is for Faith. I learned very early on in my life that faith is a far greater gift than the various denominations which sometimes unite us and too often separate us. Faith is that sense deep within us which keeps us ever mindful of God’s presence in our lives. Whether we view God as a distant entity, a constant and nearby companion or as someone quite different from either, it is our faith which tells us that God is.

For me, faith is life-giving and life-saving. It seems to me that it is often the faith deep within us which urges us in the direction of our churches, synagogues, mosques and temples in the first place. I find many precious people and many good things which nourish me in my faith community. Their presence feeds the faith deep within me which sustains me in the best and the worst of times. Sometimes, those who are not in touch with the faith deep within turn to our faith communities for guidance in unearthing this precious gift. I think that we help them best when we welcome them tenderly and without judgment. That tenderness may be the closest experience to God that they have had. That tenderness may be just what is needed to bring life to the faith that once lay dormant within them.

My faith in God is the most powerful catalyst in my life. When I welcome others into any aspect of my life with tenderness and without judgment, I share my faith and reveal a bit of God-the-Catalyst to them.

Faithful God, perhaps my faith in you is strong because your faithfulness to me and to all of your children is everlasting. Whatever our circumstance may be, help us all to remember that YOU ARE.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved