Pray… God Is Listening!

I’ve shared this often, I know… Throughout his time among us, Jesus offered countless revealing glimpses of our generously loving God. As amazing as each of these renderings is, my favorite is Jesus’ portrayal in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The image of that ever-patient and forgiving father who opened his arms to his terribly wayward child is something I’ve held dear all of my life. It is this image of God as my loving parent which encourages me to open my heart to God without reservation or fear. It is this image which encourages me to seek true intimacy in every utterance I send God’s way. I admit that this is a lifelong process which will likely continue well into my venture into the hereafter!

If you’ve been blessed with a close relationship, you understand the implications of intimacy. When we open our hearts to someone special, we hide nothing from him or her. We don’t allow pretenses or formalities or social norms to get in the way of the reality of who we are. When we share ourselves at this level, we put every flaw and every virtue in full view. When God is our partner in such a relationship, even the things we don’t know about ourselves are known to God. Far too frequently, I face the reality that I’m not perfect. When this occurs, I remind myself that God has been well aware of my glaring flaws all along. I know that, in spite of the pettiness or grandeur of my imperfections, God looks upon me with persistent and consistent love. Because God loves me and all of us so completely, I find the courage to approach God with the confidence Abraham exhibited in today’s passage from Genesis (18:20-32).

Did you notice that each time Abraham spoke he found God to be both approachable and compassionate? The author of Genesis carefully portrayed this encounter as a conversation during which God and Abraham walked side-by-side. In spite of being very much aware that he was in God’s presence, Abraham bargained with his Maker. He pleaded for the lives of the innocent inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. God’s apparent anger was in response to the outcries of many righteous people regarding the evil that festered in the two cities. Still, God listened to Abraham. Initially, Abraham asked that the cities be spared if there were just fifty innocent inhabitants. Then, Abraham begged God to preserve forty-five, forty, thirty, twenty or even ten innocent lives. Each time, God responded sympathetically. The chapter which follows tells us that God answered Abraham’s plea as the lives of the innocents in those otherwise wretched cities were spared. At the same time, we must remember that God also knew the hearts of the evildoers in Sodom and Gomorrah better than they knew themselves. God knew the reasons they did what they did and God loved them as well. I write this with great confidence because Jesus assured us that God’s mercy is never lost on anyone!

In today’s gospel (Luke 11:1-13), Luke shares another occasion on which Jesus revealed to his disciples the God with whom Abraham was so familiar. Jesus had just finished praying himself when his followers asked him to teach them to pray. Jesus responded with this advice: “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.” Afterward, Jesus went on to make this instruction regarding prayer perfectly clear. In the event that the disciples had forgotten the persistence of Abraham and God’s generous response to him, Jesus reminded them in no uncertain terms. Jesus spoke of a man who responded to his neighbor’s need in the middle of the night, not so much out of love as out of weariness at the neighbor’s persistence. Jesus added, “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Jesus went on to point out the disciples’ concern for their own children: “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” I assure you that the God of Abraham continues to listen and to provide us all that we need as we journey through this life!

As I wrote today, it occurred to me that I’ve found a second image of God which I must treasure at least as much as that of the father who embraced his prodigal son. In today’s passage from Genesis, the author illustrated the possibilities when we open ourselves to God’s embrace just as that regretful son did. In this account, God and Abraham walk side-by-side. There is no question that Abraham is conversing with God as he would with a dear friend. Apparently, Abraham found this to be perfectly natural. It seems to me that God’s close proximity to Abraham was no accident. God’s close proximity to you and me is no accident either. Though that prodigal son was separated from his father for a while, we are never separated from God. God walks side-by-side with each one of us every step of the way. In our goodness and in our wrong-doing, God is with us. In our joy and in our sorrow, God is with us. So it is that we must take Jesus’ lesson regarding prayer to heart. We must ask and seek and knock because, even today, the God of Abraham listens and responds… Always!

©2019 Mary Penich-All Rights Reserved

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Love Them All…

Blest are you who are weeping;
you shall laugh.

From Luke 4:21

A recent newscast referenced Polk Street, the West Side, Chicago. I grew up in a two-flat on Polk Street. When I closed my eyes to retrieve a mental picture of my childhood home, my friend Glenda came to mind. Though I’ve written about Glenda before, I can’t resist doing so once again…

Glenda and I lived on the same block and we were classmates from first through sixth grade. During sixth grade, Glenda blossomed into a young woman quite noticeably and I managed to annoy our teacher on a daily basis regardless of my genuine effort to do just the opposite.

On the day that comes to mind, Sister announced that we would read the essays we’d just written before the entire class. Shyness caused Glenda and me to tremble in unison. When I was called, I managed to read my work without a fumble. When Sister called Glenda, I closed my eyes and prayed that she would do the same. A giggle interrupted my prayer. A second giggle prompted me to open my eyes. By the time I realized what had happened, everyone was laughing except for me. Glenda’s blouse had unbuttoned and I was mortified for her. Fortunately, Sister quickly took control and sent Glenda and me into the hallway. While I explained what had happened to my friend, Sister mercilessly reprimanded the rest of the class. Poor Glenda sobbed until I convinced her that we were the lucky ones because the rest of the class was in serious trouble. Though our classmates ostracized us for a while because we “got them into trouble”, Glenda’s and my friendship was sealed forever.

Dear God, I could never have laughed at Glenda. I loved her too much! Help me to be as loving toward everyone I meet today.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Persistent BFF

God is near to all who call upon God…
From Psalm 145:14

The other day, while organizing my messy desk, I rediscovered a favorite prayer card. I placed it next to my keyboard so I’d see it every time I sit down to write. Unfortunately, in my haste to meet a deadline, I managed to bury that card once again. I finally unearthed it on a not-so-cheery morning when I badly needed its message. I treasure this card because it features a prayer which asks God to open us all into a personal relationship. This prayer doesn’t request a keen knowledge of church teaching or the scriptures or theology. This prayer asks that we sense God’s presence not only with our psyches, but with our hearts as well.

It occurs to me that this prayer’s anonymous author approaches God in the same personal way in which he interacts with his closest friends. What is even better is that God seems to reciprocate this relationship in very tangible ways. I treasure this prayer card because I’ve been fortunate enough to experience the same on occasion.

God invites each of us into a relationship. When we respond as we would to a dear friend, we speak freely and hide nothing. We tell God everything with the absolute certainty that God understands it all. The truth is that God understands all of our predicaments far better than we do!

The moral of the story is this… God loves you and me passionately and God is with us always like the truly good friend who God is!

Loving God, be persistent in revealing your friendship so unmistakably that we can’t miss your presence around us and within us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God With Us

Behind me and before, you hem me in
and rest your hand upon me.

Psalm 139:5

Though it was mid-October, the humidity peeked as I walked. Oddly, I failed to notice until a row of trees covered me with shade for several seconds. As I ambled along beneath them, I felt notably cooler. When I walked on into the sun again, I felt the day’s unexpected heat until I reached another row of trees. I plodded along in and out of the heat for several minutes.

Eventually, I found myself beneath a half-block row of trees. I embraced the coolness I found there with deep gratitude. Though that morning’s temperatures would have been considered a blessing in mid-July, I was grateful for the reprieve just the same. I couldn’t help voicing my thanks with a short prayer: “Thank you, Generous God. This feels so good!” God responded with a most consoling thought. “Just as those trees offer you shelter from the heat,” God seemed to say, “I offer you shelter whenever it is needed.”

For the rest of that walk, I thanked our God for the shelter that has come during countless difficult episodes in my life and the lives of those around me.

Comforting God, you are with us in our joys and in our sorrows. Please reveal your presence to us often just as tangibly as you did that day.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Dearest Friend

The Lord is near to all who call upon him…
From Psalm 145:18

While de-cluttering my bookshelves for the umpteenth time, I came across a stack of prayer cards. One caught my attention because it is a homemade creation I picked up at a craft sale some time ago. The anonymous prayer featured on the card expresses the sentiments of someone who wishes each of us to experience God as powerfully as he does. This prayer doesn’t ask that others are blessed with a keen knowledge of church teaching or of the scriptures or of theology. Though these are all good places to seek some understanding of God, this prayer asks that we sense God’s presence not only with our minds, but also with our hearts. It occurred to me that this prayer’s author knows God in the same way that he knows his closest friends. What is more amazing is that God seems to reciprocate this relationship in very tangible ways.

I’ve taken that prayer card and given it a new home on my desk. Every day when I check my calendar, it reminds me to talk to God with the open and loving heart of this prayer’s author. I can think of nothing better for any of us than to truly understand with our heads and our hearts that God loves us passionately and remains with us always. Indeed, God is a very dear friend to us all.

Dear God, thank you for showing yourself to us in so many ways. Please, reveal your friendship so unmistakably that we can’t miss your presence around us and within us.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

So Loved…

“Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted
in his own native place.”

Luke 4:24

I’ve written about Glenda before. Still, a news story from our childhood neighborhood brought her to mind and I cannot resist…

Glenda and I lived on the same block and were classmates from first through sixth grade. During sixth grade, Glenda blossomed into a young woman quite noticeably and I managed to annoy our teacher on a daily basis regardless of my genuine effort to do just the opposite.

One day, Sister announced that we would read the essays we’d just written before the class. Our shyness caused Glenda and me to tremble in unison. When I was called, I managed to read my work without a fumble. When Sister called Glenda, I closed my eyes and prayed that she would also do well. A giggle interrupted my prayer. A second giggle prompted me to open my eyes. By the time I focused on Glenda, everyone was laughing, except for me. When I noticed that Glenda’s blouse had unbuttoned, I was mortified for her. Fortunately, Sister took control and sent Glenda and me into the hallway. While I explained what had happened to Glenda, Sister mercilessly reprimanded the rest of the class. Poor Glenda sobbed until I managed to convince her that we were the lucky ones because the rest of the class was in serious trouble.

Afterward, our classmates ostracized us for a while because we “got them into trouble.” Never mind that their unkindness created this mess. At the same time, Glenda’s and my friendship was sealed forever. In the end, Sister even managed to muster a bit more patience with me.

Dear God, I could never have laughed at Glenda. I loved her too much! Thank you for this glimpse of how much you love me.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved