God Is With Us… ALWAYS!

Throughout most of our seventy-plus stay-in-place days, I’ve been on a bit of a roll. Last week, I shared that leisurely mornings have allowed me to organize my thoughts and my heart each day with our benevolent Creator in mind. Almost every day, my husband-the-deacon and I have also made time for a walk outdoors. Even on the cloudiest bad-news days, I’ve managed to find reason to appreciate God’s goodness in it all. I began this paragraph by saying, “Throughout most of our seventy-plus stay-in-place days…” because the other day was quite different. For perhaps obvious reasons, I vacillated between anger and despair over the suffering and loss caused by our bout with COVID-19 and our inability to work together as one people to fight it. In an effort not to give in to these feelings, I gave Mike a peck on his cheek, grabbed my hoodie and headed outdoors. I fully intended to clear my head and my heart in the process.

That day, the temperature struggled to reach fifty degrees in spite of the sunshine. I stuffed my hands into my pockets as I made my way down our cul-de-sac. I went on toward village hall and into the subdivision to the north. As I walked along the winding streets, a chilling breeze blew open my jacket. I zipped up and pulled my hood over my head. I looked toward the cloudless sky and declared, “Not funny!” Afterward, I picked up my pace just enough to create my own heat as I continued on my way. Eventually, I warmed up and inadvertently began to do what I most often do during my walks. I lost myself in Nature. I looked at the branches of every tree I passed to check on its leaves. Not many months ago, green leaves turned yellow and brown and then fell to the ground to be trampled or blown away. This cycle has continued in the buds and young leaves which now burst forth from charcoal branches overhead. Though the wind continued its brisk assault, I no longer minded.

As I walked on, I looked skyward again. This time, I whispered an apology. I acknowledged that the cold breeze which pushed me along earlier had accomplished much more. Though that breeze gave me a chill, it also gave me the peace and comfort which I’d longed for. I’d fretted so about that virus’s attack on life as we once knew it that I’d forgotten the Source of that life. I’d worried so about our inability to work together in dealing with all of this that I’d forgotten all of the good people who have and continue to do just that. It finally occurred to me that perhaps God has something far more valuable for me to experience during this pandemic than anger and despair. God didn’t cause that virus which wreaks havoc on our lives. However, God did create us with the ability to respond to it. It is God’s faith in us and love for us which breathes life into our efforts. With that, I looked up once again. That time, I said, “Thank you, dear God, for remaining with me and with all of us. Just help us to take notice of your presence more often!” Before I could add an “amen” to my prayer, the wind blew my hood off of my head and pressed my sleeves against my arms. I took that as God’s assurance that I never walk alone. None of us do.

I share all of this as we celebrate Pentecost Sunday with good reason. This is the last day of Easter Season 2020 and what an unusual season this has been! Our lives changed drastically in mid-March when staying-in-place became the norm. Without warning, we lost access to life as we once knew it. The same was true for Jesus’ friends two thousand years ago. The poor disciples had given up everything to follow Jesus and, as their final trip to Jerusalem drew closer, they were in a far worse frame of mind than I was when I set out for my walk the other day. While I had lost my focus for a bit, the disciples were on the verge of losing Jesus. Though we can see light at the end of the tunnel today, Jesus’ followers could not. They watched him taken prisoner, deserted him when he needed them most and then watched him die on that cross from afar. What worse could have happened?

John’s gospel offers a different Pentecost account than the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. These three speak of Jesus’ resurrection, subsequent appearances and his ascension into heaven. It was after Jesus’ ascension that the Holy Spirit set the disciples on fire and spurred them into action. Today’s gospel from John (20:19-23) ushers us back to the first Easter. It was on that day, when the disciples heard of the empty tomb, yet still hid in absolute fear, that Jesus appeared. It was on that evening, when the circumstances of Jesus suffering and death were fresh in their minds, that Jesus appeared. The first words Jesus spoke were, “Peace be with you!” Like that quiet presence which walked with me the other day, Jesus slipped into that room to walk with his friends through their grief and fear. Jesus added, “Receive the Holy Spirit!” With those words, Jesus promised his friends that they would never ever be alone.

You know, God’s presence isn’t always tangible. Though God used that breezy day to renew my peace, I still sometimes walk in the fearful disciples’ sandals just as we all do. It is during times such as these that we must let go of our worry and embrace Jesus’ Pentecost promise: God’s Spirit is with us when we need God most, now as our new normal unfolds, and always!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love As God Loves

As a father loves his children,
so God loves us.

Psalm 103:13

Some years ago, I shared that I work hard at trusting in the goodness of humankind. I’m not foolish enough to believe that there are no evildoers among us. Still, I do believe that in the right circumstances most of us would choose to do good over evil fairly consistently. How I wish I could convince the powers that be that this is the case! Regardless of our ideological stances, we can all likely cite examples of those who agree with us and those who don’t who seem convinced of the opposite. Though this has been the case for a while, our suffering during this pandemic seems to have heightened our inability to get along.

So it is that I’m renewing my effort to trust in the goodness of humankind. I cannot claim credit for coming up with this approach. It is the result of everything I know about God. God loves each one of us and I think we repay this love best when we try to do the same.

Though we’ve been given many sources from which to garner our knowledge of God, I take the bulk of my knowledge from the life of Jesus. Jesus responded to those he met along the way with absolute love. He touched lepers to heal their bodies and their souls. He defended outcasts and shared meals with those others considered to be unclean. Jesus welcomed everyone he met along his way into his company. Jesus proved the be the consummate lover of humanity just like God who sent him to live among us. Jesus trusted in the goodness of humankind as God asked. Today, more than ever, I must do the same.

Loving God, be with me as I try to love as you do..

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

With Us Always

I’ve tried to use my stay-in-place time productively. At the same time, I’ve come to appreciate the opportunity to begin each of these seventy-plus days in a leisurely fashion. Before the pandemic, I woke each morning, turned my eyes upward and offered a quick “Thank you for the sleep!” to our benevolent Creator. Each time, I promised to have a lengthier conversation when time permitted later in the day. Then, I’d turn toward my husband to offer or receive a good morning kiss. Afterward, I did the mandated exercises which maintain my back’s flexibility. Finally, I’d quickly read through the day’s pages from two favorite devotionals. By that time, Mike had finished his morning allotment of coffee. We’d have breakfast together and then get on to the given day’s agenda.

Since the pandemic’s onset, leisurely mornings have allowed me to insert more than a single-sentence prayer into my morning routine. While that morning kiss and my exercise continue, I take more time reading my devotionals. On occasion, I read a selection twice or more because the writer’s insight merits a second or third look. Best of all, that one-line prayer has evolved into a conversation which I hope will be a part of every new day I’m given. I exercise on the floor in our room near a large window. These days, I take the time to stand at that window to absorb the beauty beyond the glass. Even on rainy days, I can’t help appreciating God’s goodness in it all. As upset as I’ve been by the loss and suffering caused by our world’s bout with COVID-19, I cannot miss God’s presence in it all. The view beyond my window renews that awareness every day.

I share all of this as we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus because our situation these days is quite similar to that of Jesus’ friends two millenniums ago. Though Jesus and his companions shared many good and happy times together, they also suffered uncertainty and much worse. Some of the temple hierarchy were puzzled by Jesus’ teachings while others resented everything Jesus stood for. A few Romans listened with some interest to what Jesus had to say. Remember the centurion who sought a cure for his dying child? However, most had no use for anyone who might cause unrest among the people. Jesus received a good deal of attention from those who had no one else to turn to. At the same time, he upset the keepers of The Law whenever he associated with anyone they considered to be unworthy or unclean. The closer Jesus and his followers came to their last trip to Jerusalem, the closer they were to Jesus’ demise. The disciples were uncertain of what was to come and they wrung their hands with worry. We’ve spent more than seventy days battling this pandemic and we continue to worry as well.

It occurs to me that this is the reason Jesus closed his time with his disciples with reassurance regarding his absolute faith in and love for each one of them. Jesus reminded his friends of the most important aspects of his teaching. If they took his words to heart, every day they lived would be a God-filled day for them. Though we hear a different Ascension gospel each year, the essence of Jesus’ message remains the same. Luke (Luke 24:46-53) shares that Jesus said, “And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.” Jesus assured his friends that God would be with them in everything. Mark (Mark 16:15-20) tells us that Jesus asked his disciples to “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” They were to go out to assure all who listened of God’s love for them. In today’s account from Matthew (Matthew 28:16-20), Jesus added his promise, “I will be with you always, until the end of the world.” None of us would be left to carry on alone. John’s gospel ends without reference to the Ascension. When John’s gospel is read on Ascension Day, Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper is cited: “Holy Father, I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.” Jesus’ prayer included his companions who walked with him and all of us who would eventually be touched by their efforts.

When news of the gradual reopening of our state and of our local churches surfaced, my emotions fluctuated between relief and worry. I was thrilled with the possibility of returning to a bit of normalcy and I worried about the consequences if we fail to ease into these efforts safely. Like Jesus’ disciples, I am more than ambivalent regarding the things to come. And, like Jesus’ disciples, I am reassured. God patiently and lovingly remains with me throughout these trying days. It is God who draws me to that window every morning and to the loving exchanges which follow. Whether I speak of goodness or the evil which threatens, my accomplishments or failures, my relief or worry, God listens attentively to every word. You see, on that Ascension Day when Jesus assured his disciples that he would be with them always, he assured us of the same. God is indeed with us and there God will remain!
©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Pray Well!

“This is how you are to pray.”
Matthew 6:9

I haven’t walked for the past few days because my husband and I have been tending to our yard. This was an attempt to prepare our home for what we hope will evolve into a typical summer. I cleaned the outdoor furniture and swept the screened porch while Mike planted flowers everywhere. In spite of the lovely results of our labor, we admitted that it is quite likley that we will be the only ones who’ll enjoy them firsthand. So it was that, today, I walked. In spite of the rain, I walked. Though this might seem to have been an effort to get some exercise, it was actually my effort to get God’s full attention. I left home with a laundry list of requests regarding the world-full of troubles that continue amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. This walk would provide the time necessary to dictate this list to my ever-patient God.

Yes, this reflection is being written by the very same person who has assured you that she is filled with God’s peace and that God knows all of our troubles better than we do. Fortunately, as soon as I made it to the end of my block, an insistent breeze returned me to my senses. It pushed me along just briskly enough to remind me of this truth. With that, I uttered that truth in a single sentence and then continued my walk in silence. “You know what’s wrong, Dear God, and I know you’ll be with us as we deal with it. Thank you.”

Loving God, teach me always to pray selflessly and with absolute faith in your love for me and for all of us.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Just Talk…

God looked down from the holy height,
from heaven God beheld the earth and God listened…

From Psalm 102:20-21

During these stay-in-place days, I’ve discovered that the conversation with which I begin every day is more helpful than ever. I’ve shared before that not being governed by an alarm clock has allowed me to enjoy somewhat leisurely mornings. When we wake, my husband or I offer the other a good morning kiss. Afterward, he goes off to enjoy his first cup of coffee and I remain. I open the blinds and take in the view. Regardless of the weather, birds flit about, trees continue to green and the sky reigns over it all. That sky reminds that God is nearby. Though I have a favorite prayer from Psalm 91 which I offer every morning, I begin this encounter by simply talking.

I haven’t yet watched the too often dismal news. I haven’t yet checked my most recent to-do list. I have only to turn to God. Even on rainy days, I acknowledge that the images beyond my window illustrate God’s finest work. It’s then that God urges me to look at the reflection in that window. “You are my finest work!” God seems to say. In an effort to acknowledge God’s kindness, I respond, “I know, we humans are all your finest work.”

With that, I talk on… I share my heartbreak over the hungry and over those who don’t know where to turn to save their small businesses. I ask God to take care of essential workers in hospitals and at the grocery store. I marvel over the creative minds who work tirelessly to develop a vaccine and who find ways to deliver crops that might have been wasted to needy populations. As terrible as all of this seems, God and I enjoy the good that some of God’s “finest work” has managed to accomplish.

Finally, I join my husband to make breakfast with a far more positive attitude than I might have had. Though I’m never certain of what the day will bring, taking the time to begin that day with God changes everything for me. It will do the same for you, too.

Dear God, thank you for being with us always.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Bring Peace To The Moment

I hear what God proclaims;
God proclaims peace.

Psalm 85:9

Though our COVID-19 world frustrates me a bit, I’m learning to be more patient regarding all of this. From my stay-in-place location, I can’t control many aspects of this world’s events. I can, however, deal with circumstances close by. My typical initial response to the troubles at hand used to be to turn my eyes upward and to order our patient God into action. Fortunately, my more leisurely mornings have allowed me the luxury of beginning each day in calm dialogue with my Maker. The result is a calmer perspective regarding whatever comes my way.

During pre-pandemic days, my typical response to imminent danger was precise calm. Perhaps it was the parent and teacher in me who did what needed to be done at the moment and then collapsed afterward. I recall shuddering on many occasions when I eventually realized just how devastating a given situation might have been. It was then that I was also grateful that I had infused a bit of peace into the situation.

The truth is that I’m no more brave or wise or calm than anyone else. I think it’s my certainty that stepping up is the right thing to do and my certainty regarding God’s promise to remain with me that give me courage. Though my interventions sometimes seem foolhardy, they also bring a measure of peace to those involved. Being a herald of peace seems a worthy calling during these difficult days. So it is that I will try…

Loving God, none of us can change this world on our own. Still, each of us can do something to improve the turf on which we walk. Give us the wisdom to know what to do and the courage to do it.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved