See With God’s Eyes

Throughout my life, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the array of sources which reveal God to me. The people I’ve been given to love top that list. My earliest memories include my parents’ heroic efforts. They were constant reminders of our God who I was assured loved me even more than they did. The affection of my family and friends helped me to see God even more clearly. I came closest to understanding God’s love for me the day I was told my dear husband and I were going to have a baby. Though I knew nothing of the little one who would change our lives forever, I loved him more than anything. This phenomenon recurred after we were told we’d never have another child and yet we did. Once again, unconditional love took root and I came to know God more intimately. As my writing often indicates, I’ve seen God in the wonder of creation. I’ve also discovered God in words both written and sung and in wordless musical compositions. Oddly, I’ve even found God in the dialogue between characters in a sitcom rerun. Did the screenplay writer know what I would find in those words decades later? In the end, I’ve found the most compelling evidence of God’s love for us in the words and works of Jesus.

During Lent, we share some of our richest scripture passages. Their writers skillfully wove together threads of temptation and triumph, suffering and healing, sin and forgiveness. The fabric which resulted offers an image of Jesus who brought peace, hope, acceptance and love to God’s people. Last week, we recalled Jesus’ encounter with the woman from Samaria at Jacob’s well. Jesus didn’t need the water he requested of her. It was the woman who thirsted for far more thirst-quenching waters. As always, Jesus responded by quenching the thirst he saw within the depths of that woman’s heart. Jesus revived her spirit that she might truly live anew. Today, we turn to Jesus’ encounter with the man born blind. Since birth, this man’s very existence had been tied to sin. In the eyes of the people, the man’s parents must have sinned terribly. To the people, it was their transgressions which prompted God to impose blindness upon their son. In the eyes of the people, this fruit of sinful parents was of little worth. It is no wonder that those who saw the man after his cure failed to recognize him. They’d passed him on the road often, but had never taken the time to look upon his face. It seems to me that they were the blind ones. They were blind to God’s presence within themselves and within one another. They were blind to God’s presence within the man who was born blind. It was Jesus whose vision was intact. Jesus saw every trial and tribulation which devastated the people and which ravaged their spirits almost beyond repair. What draws me to Jesus is his generous response to his contemporaries and to you and me.

I don’t think haphazard thoughts or my vivid imagination allow me to see God in the world around me. It is Jesus who inspires me to see God in everything. More importantly, it is Jesus who inspires me to see God in those I meet along the way. Jesus saw with God’s eyes and he taught his contemporaries just as he teaches us to do the same. When we look with God’s eyes, we see the pain of our coworkers and our neighbors, our friends and our own family members. We see unrest on the other side of the world as well as in our own backyards. Trauma in all of its forms tears at our spirits with marked precision. It also blurs our vision. Even when we attempt to proceed with the clearest of vision, it is sometimes very difficult to find God in the difficulties at hand.

Please don’t let my assessment of things-gone-awry discourage you. Scripture scholars and historians tell us that life was no better in Jesus’ day. Still, Jesus persisted in seeing the people and the situations around him with God’s eyes. Remember, Jesus came into this world as a helpless child, just as each of us does. Jesus grew up in a family much like our own with parents who rarely understood what he was up to. As an adult, Jesus stood out from the crowds around him because he saw things differently. Though many came to appreciate Jesus’ ability to see them with God’s eyes, others responded with contempt. While Jesus rolled up his sleeves to do everything he could to make the lives of those around him what they were meant to be, his adversaries rolled up their sleeves and planned his demise. Jesus’ circumstances were no better than our own, yet he persisted in seeing them with God’s hopeful and loving eyes.

As I consider the new vision the man born blind experienced at Jesus’ hands, I can’t help feeling gratitude for the same gift in my life. After all, it is when I step back to see things with God’s eyes that I find hope. So it is that I hope that I never stop seeing God in everything around me and I wish the same for each one of us. Jesus continues his work through me and through of all us and it’s up to us to roll up our sleeves and to make it so.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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L is for Love

Love the Lord your God
with your whole heart,
with your whole soul,
and with your whole mind….
Love your neighbor as yourself.

From Matthew 22:37-38

L is for Love. This is a tough one. I don’t have a bit of trouble loving God. Though I admit to having had words with our patient Creator, this is the result of my certainty of God’s love for me. God invited me into a relationship. When I accepted, I committed myself to being completely honest in our interactions. This is my only choice. After all, if I don’t share my true feelings, God knows them nonetheless.

Early on, a wise teacher shared that there is something lovable about every one of us and that it’s up to us to discover what this is. This observation has helped me a great deal over the years. Though I don’t have a flawless track record, I can honestly say that I don’t hate anyone. Still, though I love my neighbor in theory, putting that love into practice sometimes poses a challenge. The good news here is that I try.

The toughest part is loving my neighbor as I love myself. I shared weeks ago that I planned to work at being less judgmental throughout New Year 2019. What I may not have been clear about is that much of that judgment is directed at myself. If I fail to love myself enough to allow myself the luxury of being a frail human, how can I love my neighbors enough to allow them to do the same?

Love is a tricky endeavor at best. Still, it’s the best work we can do and the best source of true happiness. The passage from Matthew above isn’t a directive. It’s an invitation to heaven on earth.

Loving God, thank you for creating us in your image, especially when it comes to our ability love.

©2019 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

God’s Not Counting, Thank Goodness!

After whispering a prayer of thanks for the new day, I begin what remains of each new day with counting. An ages-old lower back issue compels me to complete four exercises before I get out of bed. I count forty reps for each one. My physical therapist at the time assured me that the results would be worth the effort. Since my arthritic back rarely bothers me, I assume that she was absolutely correct. When I get up, I lie on the floor to complete four more exercises which require a firm surface. Once again, I count forty reps for each one. Finally, I stand for one shoulder exercise which has kept it moving appropriately since surgery some years ago. And, yes, I count to forty for that as well.

In spite of the benefits of these exercises, I grow weary of the counting. I tried singing my way through each movement. Unfortunately, this effort left me with no idea of the number of reps I’d actually completed. I tried timing my efforts only to discover that, for unknown reasons, I do them at different rates each time. I even tried praying my way through them only to find that I couldn’t give appropriate attention to either activity. As I write, I imagine that the serious workout buffs and trainers among you will respond to all of this with, “Mary, just count and be done with it!” I smile as I admit to myself that you’re absolutely right. Still, I find a morsel of vindication in the apostle Peter’s frustration with counting and God’s lack of interest in the same…

In last Sunday’s gospel (Matthew 18:21-35), Peter asked Jesus if it was enough to forgive his brother seven times. Poor Peter certainly didn’t expect Jesus to respond that he must forgive his brother not only seven times, but seventy times seven times. Of course, Jesus’ point was that the number of times we must forgive one another’s transgressions cannot be counted. We must forgive whenever it’s required regardless of how frequently this necessity presents itself. As I reconsider my morning exercises, I admit to being grateful that my forty reps of each one are enough. Poor Peter wasn’t as fortunate!

In today’s gospel (Matthew 20:1-16), Jesus presents another “counting” scenario in the form of a parable. On this occasion, Jesus tells the disciples that the kingdom of heaven operates like the vineyard of a certain landowner. That landowner went out early in the morning to seek laborers. He found a group who agreed upon the standard daily wage and sent them off to work. An hour later, he hired more workers to whom he promised to pay a fair wage. The landowner hired additional workers at noon, at three o’clock and then at five o’clock. When the workday ended at six o’clock, the landowner told his foreman to pay all of the laborers, beginning with those hired last.

The foreman began by paying each man the standard day’s wage. When they realized what was happening, the laborers at the end of the line who were hired first began to count up their fortunes. If those who worked only one hour were given a full day’s wage, they could only imagine what they’d receive for the ten hours they’d worked. Ten times the daily wage was a tidy sum! Much to their dismay, the foreman ignored their calculations and paid these laborers the standard day’s wage as well. When the men grumbled, the landowner reminded them that they’d been given exactly what they had agreed to. The landowner went on to scold them for resenting his generosity toward the other men. Those who worked only six or three or one hour had families to feed and debts to pay as well. The landowner simply gave them all what was necessary to survive.

I admit to being relieved by that landowner’s choice to ignore the numbers when it came to providing for his workers. I’m even more relieved by Jesus’ insistence that this is precisely the way God operates when it comes to you and me. Though I’m compelled by my potentially aching body to count those reps when I exercise each morning, God isn’t compelled to count a thing. As sorely miserable as our efforts may be, God doesn’t keep score regarding them. God’s main interest is the moment at hand and our use of that precious gift. Every time we do the right thing, even when these occurrences are few and far between, we add to our own goodness. In the process, we improve God’s vineyard by helping those around us and ourselves to blossom in unexpectedly beautiful ways.

Today, God continues as the landowner who seeks laborers to tend to the fields of this life. God is pleased with those among us who begin our labor at daybreak and give our all for the duration. At the same time, God continues the search for more laborers. Every time another accepts God’s invitation to work at being the best he or she can be, God is pleased. That brave soul and God’s entire vineyard benefit from these seemingly delayed efforts. The lesson here is that God isn’t counting the hours we work. Rather, God celebrates the quality of our labor whenever it is the best we have to offer at the time. Now that’s something you and I can count on!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Can You See Me Now?

As I read today’s gospel about Jesus’ encounter with the man who was born blind, I couldn’t help thinking about someone we met in Israel. Though he could see as well as the rest of us, our new friend was deprived of his vision from birth just like the man born blind. Still, he had much to add to the memorable adventure my dear husband and I enjoyed there. We know our tour director Nancy well as she is a parishioner here at St. Paul’s. As a result, we were certain this trip would be everything we expected. Our tour guide was another matter. Yossi never ceased to surprise us with his wealth of information, his passion for his work and his passion for life in general. While he provided amazing commentary throughout, Yossi also left us to our own thoughts as we absorbed the people and sites around us. Yossi smiled all the while as he revealed Israel’s treasures one by one.

We eventually discovered that Yossi didn’t always have access to those treasures. He was raised in a Kibbutz and, as Yossi described it, “God was ripped from my heart as a young child.” Within that socialist community, everyone worked to supply everyone with what they needed. In his case, Yossi observed people who were inclined to take all they needed, but who chose not to work. These “lazy ones” soured Yossi’s view of this lifestyle and unwittingly inspired his dedicated work ethic. Yossi celebrated the day his family was able to leave that place to fend for themselves with some autonomy. At the same time, Yossi remained community-minded. He’s keenly aware of the plight of Israel, its people and their neighbors both friendly and otherwise. Yossi also considers himself to be a secular Jew. Still, Yossi told us often, “You must pray for the people of Israel; for peace here.” I found this to be a curious request in light of his “secular” status. Yossi seemed to read my thoughts as he added, “You must do this. I don’t know how to pray, but you do.” I eventually discovered that nothing is farther from the truth.

Yossi carried his backpack everywhere. Among the items he needed for the day, Yossi carried musical instruments. Some days, Yossi sported his flute. Other days, he carried a tiny guitar-like instrument, perhaps a balalaika. At our first stop in Caesarea, we visited the complex constructed by King Herod more than two thousand years ago. It includes a hippodrome, the ideal setting for the first of many concerts with which Yossi gifted us. Yossi did this throughout our tour whenever the Spirit moved him –and I mean that literally! Yossi offered his most precious concert in Emmaus in the Crusader church there. He surprised me for my birthday with Schubert’s Ave Maria. I tried to sing along, but was so taken with this gesture that I could only listen. Yossi played with his eyes tightly closed as his music drifted heavenward. I knew then that Yossi prays, though perhaps he doesn’t see this.

Whenever we visited a site associated with Jesus, Yossi pulled out his iPad and directed us to open our “books” to a given gospel. It didn’t matter that we had no bibles. Yossi read passages he’d chosen to bring us back to the Teacher who had changed everything for many of us, perhaps even Yossi. I began to wonder if our guide called himself a “secular” Jew because he didn’t want to be confused with “religious” Hasidic Jews. Yossi found them overbearing. In Yossi’s mind, they seem to have “blinded” themselves with rules and regulations. They’ve lost sight of their concern for all of God’s people because these rules have taken precedence over everything and everyone else. In Jerusalem, Yossi lead us to a Christian church where a small community of Messianic Jews worship. When he introduced the woman who would tell us about her fellow Jews who believe in Jesus, she turned to Yossi to insist that he could offer the same explanation effortlessly. Yossi only smiled as he urged her on.

John’s gospel (John 9:1-41) tells us that the man born blind was completely misunderstood by his neighbors and the temple authorities. They saw his parents as sinners who prompted God to impose this affliction on their son. In their eyes, this man deserved to suffer. Only Jesus looked through the man’s opaque eyes into a heart broken by a lifetime of misjudgment and isolation. It occurs to me that Jesus is doing the same for Yossi. Though he was robbed of seeing God until he was freed from that Kibbutz, something -or Someone- impels Yossi to open his eyes to the gifts God offers him today. Yossi read those scripture passages with the passion of a true believer. The things Yossi shared came from deep within his heart. Yossi inspired me as much as the places we visited in Israel, perhaps more so. In the end, it seems to me that Yossi is far closer to God than he lets on, so close that it’s impossible for him to hide this. In spite of Yossi’s once-impaired vision, God is hard at work within him, just as God is working within you and me.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Christmas Continues…

Following this, they selected Stephen,
a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit…”

From Acts of the Apostles 6:5

I enjoy the day after Christmas. What a gift this is! Our Christmas preparations have come to fruition in one way or another. Today, there is nothing more to do than to continue to enjoy the successes of our celebrations and, perhaps, to clean up a bit. As I ponder all that went well yesterday, I give thanks. Truly, I’m generously blessed. In gratitude, I insist to myself that I will disregard anything which was not to my liking or is out of my control. At the same time, I will pray for all concerned, including myself. After all, I’m the only one over whom I have jurisdiction.

In spite of the imperfections of my life, I hope to celebrate for a very long time the God who offered heaven to us from the hands of a little baby. Today, on this Feast of St. Stephen, I hope to be known as a good and just soul just as Stephen was. Like the good Stephen, I hope to take all that Jesus means to this world to heart and to share these things generously. Like the good Stephen, I hope to present a worthy heart -as best mine can be- to God one day. In the process, I hope to bring a bit of Christmas to every day.

Dear God, thank you for the gifts of Christmas 2016 and for the Gift of the first Christmas. Jesus truly changed my life and this world forever!

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved