The Mighty Jordan

Later, Jesus coming from Galilee, appeared
before John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.

Matthew 3:13

We visited the Jordan River in the midst of terrible flooding. We’d had to reroute a few times because floodwater had blocked the roadway ahead. The Jordan flows freely along Israel’s western border. The Jordan is referenced often in the scriptures and our guide was anxious to lead us to its shore. However, when we arrived, we discovered that the tourist area where many modern-day pilgrims come to be baptized was closed off due to the flooding upstream. Those who’d hoped to step into the Jordan to engage in this ritual were ushered to a platform high above the river’s edge. Never daunted by a challenge, Yossi led us around that platform to a narrow gate several yards away. “Come quickly,” he ordered, “because we don’t want to be followed.” With that, Yossi led us to a deserted bit of shoreline which very much resembled what Jesus saw the day of his own baptism. Though I’d seen this place twice before, it’s significance overwhelmed me.

When Moses looked toward the Promised Land, he saw the Jordan River flowing down from Mount Hermon into the Jordan Valley. When Elijah the Prophet grew old and Elisha prepared to take his place, the two traveled to the Jordan Valley where Elijah’s days among us ended. Hundreds of years later, John the Baptist, last of the prophets of old, called people to repentance on the shores of the Jordan. They sealed their commitments with John’s baptism. The baptizer’s most significant baptism was that of Jesus.

The scriptures tell us that Jesus took his baptism seriously. Afterward, he spent forty days in the desert preparing for his public life among us. When Jesus emerged, he returned to John and to that river where the first five of his disciples joined him. As I knelt at that river’s edge, I dipped my fingers into the water. I left it to God to renew me as God sees fit.

Though getting to the shore of the Jordan proved challenging this time around, the result was an amazing encounter. These days, getting through the moments at hand prove challenging as well. It seems that there is a lesson in our Israeli guide’s approach. When our expectations are disrupted, all we need to do is to adjust accordingly. Just as God renewed me at the River Jordan’s edge, God will renew us all if we have the courage to proceed as best we can.

Dear God, as we respond to the challenges as hand, remind us often that you are with us all the while.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Joseph, The Worker

Instead, because of a warning he received in a dream,
Joseph took them to the region of Galilee.
There he settled in a town called Nazareth.

From Matthew 2:22-23

It seems appropriate to acknowledge Saint Joseph in these Lent 2020 reflections. After all, he joined Mary in providing the family life and home where Jesus prepared for his work among us…

On this Feast of St. Joseph, my thoughts return to one of two references made to Joseph during our visit to Israel. While in Nazareth, we viewed Mary’s home and another dwelling carved out of stone. Our guide remarked that the people lived in stone homes. Even shelves and seating areas inside where hewn from rock. “If you look around,” Yossi observed, “there aren’t many trees here. No one could have made a living as a carpenter.” Archaeologists and historians agree that Joseph was more likely a stonemason and a versatile handyman of sorts who could handle a variety of tasks. Yossi agreed that Jesus likely followed in Joseph’s footsteps which would make him a very-much-in-demand artisan as well. “This was very respectable work,” Yossi added.

In the midst of this commentary, I imagined Joseph looking more like the Israeli soldiers I’d seen than the sedate statuary which adorns many churches. There is nothing easy about carving into stone and Joseph certainly built strong muscles in the process. There was nothing easy about Joseph’s lot in life. When Mary agreed to be the mother of Jesus, she pulled Joseph into impossible circumstances. Her out-of-wedlock pregnancy could have caused Mary to be stoned to death. To protect her, Joseph intended to divorce Mary quietly until an angel explained the circumstances. So it was that Joseph took Mary into his home as his wife. They were barely settled when a census forced them to travel to Bethlehem. After Jesus was born, Joseph packed up his family once again to flee to Egypt. To avoid further danger, Joseph finally settled his family in Nazareth where Jesus grew into manhood.

We celebrate the Good Saint Joseph because he gave up everything to provide for Mary and Jesus.

Dear God, give us the courage to emulate Joseph’s generosity and selflessness as we care for those we have been given to love.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Remember…

God loves the people,
and God adorns the lowly with victory.

Psalm 149:4

Our Memorial Day observances honor those who gave their lives in service of this country. Whether drafted into service or enlisted by choice, each one fulfilled a mission. Though some wrestled with doubt, wondering if anything is worth dying for, we know the final outcome. They persisted for us. This weekend, thousands of flags decorate these heroes’ graves.

Today, we also remember our civilian loved ones. Though they didn’t endure the trials of battle, they endured the trials of this life. Whether our parent or spouse, our child, another family member or friend, we miss them. They also responded to their missions in this life and they completed them as best they could. At times, our loved ones achieved great success and their impacts upon our lives were sources of great joy. At times, they failed and their impacts were precisely the opposite. Still, we mourn those who have passed, sometimes because of their humanity and sometimes in spite of it.

There is something God-like about our remembering. When we reminisce, we tend to recall happy or amusing or glorious times shared. My dad died when most of us were very young. Within a year of his passing, this dear man had become a saint in our collective consciousness. I have no doubt that God agrees!
Memorial Day offers us the opportunity to celebrate the eternal joy of all who know that joy firsthand. There is something holy to be found as we relish our relationships with those whom we mourn. The selective memories which bestow sainthood upon our very human loved ones reflect the selective vision of God. Upon each of our arrivals home, God sees only a loved one who’s been away far too long.

Today, as we remember our military personnel and all of the loved ones who have lived their lives for us, let’s smile between the tears. God gives us good reason to rejoice for them all!

Loving God, be with all of our servicewomen and men today. Keep them and all of us safe until we return home to you.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Let’s Help With Those Crosses

Carrying his cross by himself, he went out to what is called
The Place Of the Skull, which in Hebrew is Golgotha.

John 19:17

The Second Station: Jesus Bears His Cross

Jesus might have refused the cross. If he just lay on the ground to die, couldn’t he have avoided that painful trek up to Calvary? My conjecture is meaningless because Jesus accepted the cross. Though another man would have fallen under the burden, he persisted. As I imagine this scene, I remember that Jesus was God’s Son, God’s fully human son. His body felt that burden as fully painfully as any one of us would have.

Isn’t it odd that we struggle for power and prestige while Jesus forsook them both for us? While Jesus embraced his cross, we wiggle and squirm just enough to shake away our own burdens. Comfort is too often our goal. Whether it is physical or emotional or financial, we do what we must to ensure our comfort. It occurs to me that I’m happiest when I look beyond my own “comfort issues” to take care of others. Jesus did this all of his life. Perhaps I can do the same just for today.

Loving God, help me to embrace the opportunities before me. Help me to bring a bit of comfort to those whom I meet along the way.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

You’ll Know…

Whatever place does not welcome you
or listen to you, leave there and
shake the dust off your feet…

Mark 6:11

I find it extremely difficult to shake the dust off my feet. I usually find peace in the familiar and I’m reluctant to make a change when the status quo is working. The few instances in which I’ve done so were the result of impending danger, both physical and psychological, to someone I love or to me. This propensity to stay connected is partially genetic and partially learned. My parents opened their door to everyone. My mom often said, “I leave the door open. If people choose not to come in, it’s their loss.” Jesus welcomed everyone who crossed his path as well. Since I subscribe to Jesus’ way of life, I try to welcome people as he did.

Still, there are people who really aren’t good for us. They may not cause physical harm, but they do take a psychological or spiritual toll on us. I find that if my gut is having a strong reaction to someone, I need to listen. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I need never to speak to this person again. However, it may mean that I should limit our contact. Sometimes, this limit can only be achieved when I vacate the premises. The same can be true of situations, be they our jobs, circles of friends, neighborhoods and even our churches. I need to listen to my gut regarding these as well.

This may seem like an odd topic for a spiritual reflection, I know. However, I have good reason for sharing this. Sometimes, good people think that part of “being good” is to allow themselves to be hurt unnecessarily. I truly believe that God could not disagree more.

Dear God, keep us safe and wise. Help us to recognize harm and guide us away from its source.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

One Moment At A Time…

“I have written this to make you realize
that you possess eternal life…”

1 John 5:13

I’m trying hard to hold on to Christmas and to bring a bit of peace to this world of ours. I wonder aloud what I might add to my agenda to accomplish this. Though the first full week of the new year usually provides a bit of breathing room before my routines fully return to normal, this hasn’t been the case this year. I ask myself how I can add another item to my already full schedule. Still, my commitment gnaws at me…

After some reflection, I realize that I must learn to practice what I preach and write! How often have I used this space to insist that we do our best by simply making the most of all that we say and do? How often have I written that God has placed each one of us precisely where we are meant to be? With that, I see that there is nothing to add to my agenda. All that is needed is to polish up and refine my delivery. When I acknowledge that God has assigned me a very specific mission every moment of every day, everything becomes worth my best effort.

So it is that I’ll continue to fill this space by relating my experiences of God in my life as well as my other life experiences to you. At the same time, I’ll also make good use of the moments which lie ahead to make the world around me a little bit better.

Loving God, please continue to nudge us along with your good company as we do our best for you.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved