A Servant and Caretaker King

Recently, I’ve found that my outdoor excursions aren’t as enjoyable as they were earlier in November. Cold temperatures challenge my ability to dress appropriately. I struggle to layer myself lightly enough to run errands, but warmly enough for those treks from the car to my destination. In the midst of all of this activity, I’ve had to accept the reality that autumn winds have removed most of the colorful leaves which once brightened my way. When I walk between errands or for exercise, I no longer enjoy the array of fall colors which never failed to take my breath away. I also no longer crunch and crackle as I amble along. The leaves I once walked on have been blown or raked into piles. In the midst of errands the other day, I realized that there is a story here.

When I finally returned home that day, I ignored my desk-full of work. Rather, I took what would likely be one of my last outdoor walks this year. Not long after heading out, I noticed a few stubborn leaves clinging with all of their might to otherwise barren branches. As I walked on, I found more determined leaves holding tightly to the trees they called home. In spite of the winds that battered and shook them, they held on. Each one seemed unwilling to give in to the inevitable. I imagined those leaves staring down those mighty gusts. Did they whisper prayers of thanks for every additional second that they were able to hold on? Those seasoned leaves were living their lives to the full as best they could and they weren’t about to let go before they absolutely had to do so.

A few days later, I bundled up, grabbed a rake and went out to the yard. As I tackled the lawn-full of leaves, I found that most of the determined leaves I’d applauded the other day had joined those swept away by the wind and humankind. Only a few remained stuck at the bases of bushes and fences. As I perused the scene, I silently congratulated them all for a job well done. I also acknowledged that their work isn’t complete after all. They’ll rustle and settle and rustle again until the first heavy snow forces them into a final resting place. They’ll lose their leaf-like appearance to decay and they’ll enrich the soil. That soil will nourish the trees which will produce another season’s leaves. Each one will go on to repeat their brave counterparts’ stubborn ritual. Oddly enough, there is story here which renews my understanding of today’s celebration.

This is the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year and the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. I admit to a smile at this title. Jesus’ affinity for the lowly and the outcasts among us suggests that he prefers the role of servant and caretaker. We’ve spent the year listening to Jesus as he taught us God’s ways. Jesus preached love and forgiveness, joy in the face of poverty and peace in the face of suffering. Jesus worked hard to convince us that God loves us as we are with all of our human frailties intact. While Jesus provided us a lifetime of good example, he also assured us that God expects only what we are able to do, nothing more and nothing less. Jesus walked with the seemingly unworthy and he chastised the presumptuous ones who tried to use his acquaintance to increase their own power or stature. Jesus consistently made time for the poor in spirit and the materially poor. Jesus responded mercifully to the worst of us as he tenderly loved us all. In the end, Jesus hung on a tree with all of his might, stubborn and determined not to let go until his work was finished. I cannot help imagining Jesus pondering the brave leaves who hold onto their trees as he once did. Is Jesus smiling because, just as their work to enrich the soil continues season after season, his work continues in and throughout the lifetime of each one of us?

It seems to me that autumn’s leaves offer an additional lesson regarding this King of the Universe. Our king doesn’t count himself among the powerful and mighty of this world though he is powerful and mighty in his love for us. Today’s gospel (Luke 23:35-43) tells us that Pilate put Jesus’ title as king in writing when he penned the inscription which hung on Jesus’ cross. However, it is Jesus whose selfless life illustrated all that this kingship entails. Like those leaves which beautify every spring, summer and fall and then die to give life to those who come after them, Jesus lived and then died and now lives again to give life to you and me.

Indeed, we have a good deal to celebrate. Today, our relationships with Jesus take on new life. We go out into the autumn air with an invitation to share that renewed life. If trees-full of leaves can so generously grace us throughout the year, how much more can we grace one another’s existence? If Jesus could cling so lovingly to that cross and to the lifetime which led him to it, can we also bring our love to the moments at hand? Can we grace those around us with the best we have to offer just as autumn’s leaves grace us? Just as Jesus graces us? If we try, I have no doubt that those around us will catch glimpses of Jesus all along the way!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love Works!

…proclaim the good news there also.
From Mark 1:38

The other day, Grandpa and I played a board-game with our granddaughters. The youngest had been doing well until my game piece landed on the same square as hers. Her guy had to return to start to begin the trek around the board once again. Poor Claire was beside herself. She ran from the table crying that she was tired of being picked on. Now I shouldn’t put this in writing, but I am Claire’s favorite. So it was particularly painful to hear her say that I was picking on her. As I formulated the words to respond, a similar adventure with Claire’s dad came to mind…

When my son was about the same age, he wasn’t at all happy with what I’d asked him to do. In response, he shouted “I hate you!” I never used that word and it broke my heart to hear it from my little boy. Still, I remained calm until Mike’s bedroom door slammed. It was then that the tears flowed. When I went out to the backyard to recover, I saw my neighbor. Ellie had been a great friend to my husband and me and an auxiliary grandma to Mike. Still teary-eyed, I told her what happened. “Did your kids ever say that?” I asked. “Sure they did. They’re kids. And you know what I did? I pulled them close and said, ‘Well, that’s okay because I still love you!’” Ellie noted that this gesture quickly put an end to such talk. With that, I went to my son’s room to remind him that I loved him. I couldn’t help smiling when he said he loved me, too.

My encounter with Claire ended just as happily.

Dear God, love makes sense always and everywhere. Help us to transform our own relationships and this world with love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Lights Our Way

Little children,
let us love in deed and in truth…

From 1 John 3:18

A storm is brewing just beyond my window. It was once an odd phenomenon to hear the local television meteorologist speak of the possibility of snow. After all, we’ve just turned our calendars to November! Unfortunately, the meteorological antics of Halloween 2019 seem to have changed that forever. Though she offers encouragement with a promise that sunshine will return tomorrow, this weather expert cannot dispel the gray which lurks beyond my window today. Though I do enjoy the cold, I enjoy sunshine as well.

It occurs to me that, on occasion, my knowledge of human nature fails me as much as the weather does. I sometimes ignore this wisdom and “push buttons” that would best be left alone. Though I know well what will come next if I attempt to have the last word, I speak in spite of myself. When the thunder in my adversary threatens, I push when I should let go. I forget to let love take care.

Like raking leaves after a windstorm or shoveling snow after a blizzard, I make feeble attempts to right the things I’ve done wrong. Sometimes, I succeed. Sometimes, the damage is too extensive to repair. As I reaffirm my resolve not to repeat these transgressions, the sun breaks through the clouds. God remains with me as I transform my good intentions into good deeds.

Patient God, help me respond to every storm with rays of love, just as you do.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Another Reminder… Where To Turn

He took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.
From Matthew 8:17

I know that I addressed this topic yesterday, but another reminder has come my way…

I sat mindlessly tapping my fingers on the table. Troubling circumstances continued to entrench some people I knew with no end in sight. As I considered the situation, I realized that there was little I could do to alleviate any of the issues which plagued these dear people.

Just outside the window, a large robin plopped himself into our bird bath. That Robin was lucky to have found any water at all as the October cold has kept my husband from filling that bird bath for a while now. Regardless, the robin fluttered his wings for several seconds, splashing water every which way. Though I knew he couldn’t hear me, I remarked to my feathered friend, “It certainly doesn’t take much to make you happy!” Even before I finished that sentence, I realized that the same is true for all of us. Just as that water waited, available for my robin friend when he chose to enjoy it, all that we need awaits us.

Being loved and cared for is the best any of us can hope for. Being loved and cared for makes everything we encounter do-able. Though branches and boulders clutter the road ahead, we manage to climb over them or to plod around them because we aren’t alone. God remains with us every step of the way. You know, my friends would more than survive their troubles!

Loving God, thank you for your continued presence and your unmistakable love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Ask For God’s Help, Too

“…But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to God in secret.”

From Matthew 6:6

A while back, I found myself quite frustrated. Though I usually manage my own troubles reasonably well, I hadn’t done a great job of that. I was also having difficulty with my inability to alleviate the troubles of those I love. I don’t like to see anyone suffering. Even the woes of those who might not list me among their friends give me reason to pity them and to help them as best I can.

So it was that I did what I could for these others and myself. I also wondered all the while why things had to be “this way” or “that way.” When I was in the midst of my best fretting and hand-wringing, it eventually occurred to me that I was relying on the wrong one to solve the problems at hand and to soothe the suffering around me. It was then that I sheepishly retreated to the quiet of my room and turned my eyes upward. There, I turned over all that troubled me to the One who always makes all of the difference in the world. Though God didn’t change any of our circumstances, my ability to work within them improved exponentially when I acknowledged God’s presence at my side.

Compassionate God, thank you for walking this sometimes arduous journey with us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

How Can I Say This?

Jesus went up to the mountain to pray,
and he spent the night talking to God.

Luke 6:12

I recently participated in a great conversation regarding prayer. As we chatted, those with me shared their favorite means of communicating with God. I repeated what I’ve often shared in this space: I do my best praying while walking outdoors and talking to God in my own words. Since my walks have been less regular these days, I’ve found myself talking to God whenever I’m alone and in the midst of almost everything I’m doing. Still, there have been occasions when I’ve found it impossible to voice my misery or that of someone I’m praying for. When I’m at a loss for the right words, I most often turn to the Book of Psalms. Each of its 150 entries voices sentiments appropriate to either the joyful or the troubling moments which punctuate our lives.

Not long after that conversation, I ran into a friend who’d been there. He couldn’t help telling me about his recent interaction with The Book of Psalms. What he found there had helped him to express himself more meaningfully. My friend reminded me of what I’d said: “When in doubt, go to the psalms.”

When I returned home that day, I pulled out my bible and perused the Book of Psalms for a refresher. Yes, there is a psalm for every occasion under heaven. Take a peek to see for yourself.

Dear God, thank you for the psalmist who spoke so well for us all!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved