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

Peaceful Revelations…

The Lord’s fire came down and consumed the holocaust…”
From 1 Kings 18:38

While in the Holy Land, I found myself thinking about Jesus at every turn. How could I not? Jesus had spent his entire life in the vicinity. Our visit to Mount Carmel adjusted my focus a bit. People had lived in that mountain’s caves since prehistoric times. It’s been considered a sacred place for what seems like forever. My knowledge of Mount Carmel begins with the Prophet Elijah.

The scriptures tell us that Elijah became impatient with Israel’s leadership. King Ahab married Jezebel, a Phoenician princess. Jezebel introduced Ahab and his people to her god Baal. Jezebel also saw to the murders of several prophets. As a result, the people’s ties to the God of Israel faded quickly. After much prayer, Elijah challenged the priests of Baal to build an altar and to place a sacrifice upon it. These priests were to ask Baal to light a fire to burn their offerings. Though 450 priests prayed fervently, their sacrifice remained unlit. Elijah also built an altar. He prayed that the God of Israel would set his sacrifice afire. Though Elijah had doused everything with water to prove his point, a bolt of lightning lit Elijah’s sacrifice. Elijah went on to kill those priests of Baal.

Our guide shared that this account is found in the Book of Kings, but he offered no opinion of its authenticity. Yossi is an archaeologist, not a scripture scholar. As for me, I’m no fan of bloodshed and no fan of religious intolerance. However, I do understand Elijah’s devotion to God. In this case, I hope Kings’ author adjusted these events to illustrate a point: Elijah did what he needed to do to turn his people back to their Lord.

Unlike Elijah, you and I need only to live with compassion and generosity to reveal God to others. When we love one another and behave like one family, we say all that needs to be said about God.

Loving God, help us to reveal you in all that we say and do.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Nudges Us Along with Love

All week, I’d battled a dark mood which simply wouldn’t let up. I admit that I find great satisfaction in “fixing” things. This means that I’ll do whatever it takes to improve troubling situations within reach and within what I perceive to be my realm of influence. Though I’m usually satisfied with my efforts, this hasn’t been the case as of late. Unsettling events globally, nationally and closer to home have made me feel quite helpless these days. In the midst of my frustration, I looked upward and asked, “How do you deal with all of this?” Though our benevolent Creator didn’t respond verbally, I felt certain that God understood the reasons for my question.

In an effort to improve my mindset, I decided to take a walk outdoors. I detoured from my usual trek past the Village Hall, library and post office. Though I normally enjoy ambling along under the trees in the condo complex to the south, I determined that it was time to revisit the cul de sacs of my own neighborhood. This proved to be a helpful choice as the changes on each street distracted me from my woes. Some homes had undergone impressive make-overs while a few others uncharacteristically needed maintenance. I wondered if all was well with the current residents. As always, the array of annual and perennial growth I encountered elicited an appreciative smile. “So nice that people bother to plant,” I told myself. While off the familiar turf of my own street, I passed neighbors I don’t know as they engaged in yard work, entertaining their kids, hosting a garage sale and relaxing on their porches. I greeted each one with a “hello” and a smile. As I made my way home, I marveled at my little neighborhood and all that was transpiring there. Once again, I looked upward. “How do you keep track of us all?” I asked.

When I returned home, I glanced through the patio door on my way to the kitchen for a much-needed glass of water. I noted that this year’s weather has helped to maintain our lawn and flowers. I smiled again as I absorbed my husband’s successful gardening efforts. Colorful blossoms pour in every direction from numerous large pots on our patio. Mike’s precision in watering and fertilizing has paid off. Gratitude filled me up as I enjoyed the fruits of the poor man’s labor. Suddenly, it occurred to me that my encounter with the things closest to me had dispelled my dour mood. “Thank you, God, for the little gifts which replenish our joy,” I prayed.

With my worry neatly tucked away, I went inside to attend to a bit of joyful work. Our son Tim, his wife Kim and our grandson Danny have just welcomed the newest addition to their family. Little Benjamin has been a source of joy to all concerned. The best evidence of this is Danny’s huge smile every time he gets to hold Benjamin. The wise inventor of the Boppy Pillow has made these encounters safe and comfy for all concerned. The joyful task at hand was to wrap Danny’s birthday gift. Challenging as that cumbersome box was, once again, I found myself content with the blessings closest to me.

I share all of this because my mood matched that of Elijah in today’s reading from 1 Kings (19:4-8). Elijah the Prophet was at the peak of discouragement. When I read of Elijah’s mindset, my thoughts immediately returned to the rough patch I’d experienced. Elijah had just rid his community of four hundred fifty prophets of Baal, the idol of Queen Jezebel. Afterward, Elijah discovered that Jezebel sought his very life in response to his transgression. I couldn’t help shaking my head over Elijah’s surprise. While I sympathized with Elijah’s predicament, I wondered what he expected. With nowhere to turn, Elijah abandoned hope and fled to the desert to die. He curled up under a broom tree with the intention of sleeping himself into eternity. Apparently, God had other plans because an angel roused Elijah and offered him sustenance. Though Elijah ate all that the angel offered, he immediately returned to the sleep which he hoped would be his last. God persisted by sending the angel once again to nourish and encourage Elijah. This time, Elijah rose, ate and put his new-found strength to good use. This time, Elijah heeded God’s urging and embraced the new day.

It occurred to me that my rough patch didn’t hold a candle to Elijah’s. After all, no one was seeking to do me bodily harm! Still, sustenance and encouragement came my way in the beauty of my husband’s flowers and in the joy of wrapping a three-year-old’s gift. It didn’t take much, did it? You know, we all experience dark and seemingly fruitless days. The good news here is that God tends to us just as God tended to Elijah. God’s love took root the moment God breathed life into each one of us and it continues ad infinitum. Every moment of every day, God eases us over the rough patches and on to whatever the adventure which lies ahead.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Withdraw Into God’s Company

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

My experience on Mount Carmel revealed that Elijah’s fiery presence was complimented by his contemplative side. Elijah said of himself that he was on fire with zeal for God. One doesn’t become this close to God without spending time in God’s company. Before he did most of what he did, Elijah prayed. Elijah’s ability to withdraw into God’s presence and then to act with conviction has inspired many over the millenniums since he walked among us.

Today, Mount Carmel is inhabited by Carmelite priests. These modern-day religious do their best to emulate Elijah’s contemplative and worldly sides. They pray alone and with one another throughout the day. They also serve their brothers and sisters on the outside. Carmelites strive to maintain a sort of detached attachment with the rest of us. They work hard to make our world a better place without becoming fully a part of this world. Theirs is a tough assignment, but they manage to pull it off without wielding Elijah’s sword.

Several pilgrims from around the world joined us on Mount Carmel. One group from the Philippines had gathered inside the small chapel to share scripture and to pray. They invited us to join them. When they’d completed their devotions, our guide Yossi began his flute concert in the sanctuary. Together, we sat in silence, completely drawn in by Yossi’s reverence. Once again, our guide who claims not to know how to pray inspired the rest of us to do just that.

Loving God, thank you for revealing yourself and for calling us in so many unexpected ways.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

By Peaceful Means…

The Lord’s fire came down and consumed the holocaust…”
From 1 Kings 18:38

After leaving Caesarea and our stop at the Baha’i Gardens, we drove to Mount Carmel. Our guide explained that the word “Carmel” comes from two Hebrew words for “vineyard” and “God”. This mountain’s plush greenery had earned it the title of God’s vineyard. Though people had lived in the mount’s caves in prehistoric times, my knowledge of Mount Carmel begins with the Prophet Elijah.

The scriptures tell us Elijah had become impatient with Israel. Their king had married a Phoenician. The people’s religious practices and ties to the God of Israel weakened as they turned their attention to the queen’s idol Baal. Elijah responded by challenging the priests of Baal. They were to build an altar, place a sacrifice upon it and ask Baal to provide the fire to burn this offering. Though 450 priests prayed fervently, their sacrifice remained unlit. Elijah built an altar as well. He prayed that the God of Israel would set his sacrifice afire. Though Elijah had doused everything with water to make his point, a bolt of lightning ignited it. Elijah ended this encounter by slaughtering all of Baal’s priests.

Though he shared this story during my last visit to the Holy Land, our guide didn’t do so this time. Perhaps the unrest in nearby countries inspired this omission. Yossi is no fan of bloodshed; nor am I. Scripture writers sometimes adjusted settings or numbers or events to illustrate a point and this account seems to be no exception. In the end, Elijah did what he felt he needed to do to turn his people back to their Lord. Unfortunately, today’s world is unsettled by many who claim to do the same in God’s name.

I need to reveal God’s presence among us more peacefully. When I live with compassion and generosity, love my neighbors, care for them and respect them, I say best what needs to be said about our Beloved Creator.

Loving and Patient God, help us to love you and to love one another as best we can and help us to promote peace all the while.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Whispers of Peace

After the earthquake there was fire,
but the Lord was not in the fire.
After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound…
God’s voice…

From 1 Kings 19:12

On our first day of touring, after visiting Caesarea, we went on to the Baha’i Gardens on Mount Carmel. I was anxious to see them because rainy weather had kept us from exploring the gardens during our first trip to Israel. The intricately tiled pathways were off-limits as they were too slippery for walking. This time, the weather cooperated and we explored the grounds freely. This worldwide home of the Baha’i Faith hosts thousands of pilgrims annually. Though the gardens before me were breathtaking, my thoughts turned to another temple I’d encountered decades earlier…

I attended college in the north-easternmost part of Chicago just south of Evanston. When venturing north, I caught glimpses of the Baha’i Temple there. This was one of the most peaceful places I’d ever encountered. I knew nothing of the Baha’i Faith, its rituals and prayer and I really had no desire to learn more. Still, I found that the space they’d created near the shores of Lake Michigan provided the perfect setting in which to empty myself of my concerns and to focus upon God. Though the structure’s huge dome was architecturally impressive, its furnishings were sparse. Perhaps this environment provided me a tangible to nudge to empty myself of the minutia which cluttered my psyche and my heart. That place proved to be quite conducive to prayer.

As I walked the Baha’i grounds in Israel, I marveled at their loveliness. I also marveled at the plethora of ways we humans have found to relate to God. I hoped that my own efforts to build “church” among God’s people induced a measure of the peace I’d found in that temple and deep within myself. I hoped and I prayed that this is, or soon will be, what I’ve done…

Faithful God, we need only to listen to hear your peace-filled breath. Help me to nudge others your way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved