Contract or Covenant?

“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,”
declares the Lord. “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God and they will be my people.”

Hebrews 8:10-11

While in Israel, we ventured to Jericho. Along the way, we saw the Plains of Moab where Mount Nebo rests. Mount Nebo is one of three places where Moses is said to be buried. Neither Torah nor biblical scholars can determine which of three sites, if any, is actually Moses’ final resting place. Three distinct scripture passages each cite the specific location of Moses’ burial. Even today, no one knows for sure.

As we drove along, I considered poor Moses and all he’d endured as he guided the Israelites from slavery to The Promised Land. This was a forty-year journey during which the people lost their patience with Moses and with God quite frequently. Again and again, Moses turned to God to beg for mercy and assistance as he tried to calm his fellow Israelites. Though Moses grew weary, God persisted in delivering the people to a better place.

It occurs to me that the Israelites were fortunate that God looked upon the relationship they shared as a covenant rather than a contract. God takes Divine Love quite seriously. It is offered unconditionally to every soul into whom God breathes life. Regardless of the response, God’s love for that soul endures. Contracts are another matter. If one or the other party fails to fulfill the conditions of the agreement, that agreement is deemed null and void. There is no recourse.

How grateful I am that there is nothing I can do which will nullify God’s covenant with me. The same is true for you. For this, I am grateful!

Dear God, I am awed by and grateful for your faithful love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved


Our Words Matter

She opens her mouth in wisdom
and on her tongue is kindly counsel.

Proverbs 31:26

I’m returning to our visit to Mount Carmel in Israel today. A recent verbal fumble on my part brings me back to an incident which occurred while we visited the chapel at the top of the mountain that day.

When we arrived at the chapel, another group had already assembled there to read scripture, preach and pray. Our guide Yossi asked permission for us to join them which they readily allowed. While the group offered their final prayer, a priest came in. Without any introductions, he announced, “This is a Catholic Church. Remove your hats!” When he saw that some of the women were about to obey, he added, “The men. Only the men must do this.” With that, he abruptly left.

Though I wasn’t certain, I was somewhat sure that this group was of a Christian denomination other than Catholic Still, they had entered this holy space with the certainty that God would hear their prayers there. They were also dressed for the windy and rainy cool weather as were the rest of us. Because they were so thrilled to be there and because the tiny chapel’s door was wide open to the outdoor elements, I surmised that these pilgrims had given little thought to the locations of their hats. In the end, I was very annoyed with that priest for not extending the welcome Jesus would have.

Now fast forward to my return home and my bout with jet-lag. On my first full day back, I had an important conversation with someone whom I consider to be a friend. Somehow, in the midst of our verbal exchange, I exhibited the unwelcoming attitude of that priest. Ugh… Though I apologized immediately and explained that my fatigue had gotten the best of me, the damage was done.

Perhaps that priest was having a bad day, too.

Merciful God, I acknowledge my thoughtlessness, my judgmental attitude and my own need for forgiveness. Please help me to do better and help me to inspire others to do the same.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Relief from Our Suffering

Though the jetlag lingers a bit, I find myself energized by the prospect of sharing my experiences in the Holy Land with you. Early on our first day together, our guide pointed out that the country he would share with us is as much our homeland as his own. “You know all of these places,” Yossi told us. “Nazareth and Capernaum, Magdala, Cana and Jerusalem are as familiar to you as they are to me. You have heard their names since you were little children.” Throughout the days that followed, I took Yossi’s observation to heart. Every step of the way, I realized more fully that Yossi was absolutely right. I had indeed come home…

When I turned to today’s scripture passages, I imagined Yossi offering one of his enthusiastic narratives. This archaeologist and scholar of biblical religions cited Job, Paul, Peter and Jesus often. I should have taped Yossi’s commentaries because he referenced human suffering quite eloquently. Today’s scripture readings remind us that suffering is a constant in our earthly existence. In the excerpt from the Book of Job (7:1-4, 6-7), Job finds himself the victim of Satan’s folly. Though Job is a just man, God allows Satan to test Job’s faith. Satan creatively sees to it that Job loses his family, his home and his wealth. Job finds no consolation in his friends because they wrongly attribute Job’s misfortune to sinfulness on Job’s part or that of his forefathers. As his circumstances worsen, poor Job makes no secret of his misery. Job grumbles incessantly to the Lord God because he knows God is listening. In the end, it is with great love that God responds. Job lives out what remains of his life at peace with himself and at peace with God’s friendship. Though our guide Yossi who was raised in a socialist Kibbutz claimed not to be able to pray, he reminded us often to do as Job did and to cry out to God for peace in this world.

Saint Paul offers another perspective regarding suffering. In his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23), Paul tells us that, rather than grousing about his situation, he embraces it. Like Job, Paul experiences a close encounter with God which completely overwhelms him. In response, Paul immerses himself in God’s ways. He goes on to do everything possible to share his perspective with all who will hear him. Paul preaches because he finds it impossible to keep God’s wonder to himself. He knows that the eventual outcome will be everything and more than he hopes for. Though Paul suffers much in the process, he considers his story to have unfolded well, just as Job’s did. It seems that Yossi shares Paul’s conviction. Though Yossi often lamented the political climate in Israel, he always added that he believes peace in his homeland will be a reality one day.

Today’s gospel (Mark 1:29-39) brings me back to the ruins of Peter’s home in Capernaum. It was here Yossi shared that, when one uses the bible as a roadmap, it often leads to archeological finds which confirm the settings of given passages or events. This excerpt begins as Jesus and his friends leave the synagogue in Capernaum. They feel very good about Jesus’ work among the people that day and they walk together to Peter’s house to share a meal. When they arrive, they discover that Peter’s mother-in-law is very ill. Jesus goes to her bedside where he takes her hand and cures her. The woman immediately gets up and prepares a meal for her guests. As I stood above the ruins of Peter’s home, I wondered what Peter’s mother-in-law thought about his friends and their assumptions regarding her culinary handiwork. She must have met their expectations because Peter and the rest were energized enough to usher Jesus off to cure more of the sick. Capernaum is a small town and there isn’t much distance to walk before Jesus encounters those in need. While Jesus spends the day curing and consoling, his efforts take their toll. After spending the night at Peter’s house, Jesus rises much earlier than the others. He goes off to a deserted place to pray. Jesus knows well that this time will truly replenish his spirit. Afterward, Jesus faces another day’s demands by spreading Divine Love along the way. As for Yossi, he didn’t knowingly go off to pray. However, he did frequently lose himself in his music. Though Yossi claimed to play his flute to demonstrate the amazing acoustics of a given site, I think he also replenished his spirit with every note which floated heavenward.

It occurs to me that, though most of us cannot claim to bear burdens equal to those of Job, Paul and Jesus, our burdens are heavy nonetheless. When we remember to turn to God as they did, we find the strength to carry on. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts Yossi shared with me and my fellow travelers was his openness to prayer. Though this self-proclaimed secular Jew could not turn to God with his words, he raised himself to heaven every time he played his flute. Like Job, Paul and Jesus, he reminded us to manage even the most devastating of our suffering by retreating into God’s loving company.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

As God Sees Us…

God looked at everything God made,
and God found it very good.

Genesis 3:31

As I walked through Nazareth and Capernaum and Magdala, images from my childhood bible filled me up. Though we had a lovely family bible, we also had a children’s bible. It was stored in a massive binder made up of separate booklets which came in the mail every month. With each new arrival, my mom carefully removed the bible’s cardboard cover, inserted the additional booklet and replaced the cover. Afterward, I poured over the newest edition’s colorful pictures and passages. While in Israel, I saw many of the places featured in that precious tome. While taking in each one, I came to realize the reason that my childhood favorite was the Book of Genesis. It takes us back to our roots!

While walking the streets and byways of the Holy Land, I glimpsed a bit of God’s handiwork. Every face drew me in. I wondered how many of these might trace their family trees back to the families of Joseph or Mary. Whether or not this was possible, I know that we can all trace our roots back to God. Whether it happened in seven days or as a result of The Big Bang, God started it all. God started us all. Seeing ancient ruins which date back to Jesus’ day and beforehand, I couldn’t help being awestruck. What amazed me even more is that God continues to look carefully enough upon us and to find even more which is very good.

Loving God, help me to realize how much you value each one of us and to respond with a grateful heart.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Rest… It’s Okay!

Jesus went into the district of Tyre.
He entered a house and wanted no one to know
about it, but he could not escape notice.

Mark 7:24

I admit that it has taken me a few days to overcome the jet-lag which followed me off the plane when we returned from Israel. While running errands the other day, I was actually grateful for the long line ahead of me. I truly appreciated the opportunity to lean on my grocery cart and to stand still for a few minutes. There was no way I could have done this in Jerusalem’s bustling marketplaces. The people around me rushed among the stands and storefronts in order to make it home or back to work as quickly as possible. Yes, I truly savored these moments of inactivity here at home.

It seems to me that we are all too busy much of the time. My time in Jesus’ homeland assured me that this is nothing new. Jesus experienced the same day in and day out. Though Jesus longed for a bit of peace, there was always someone who needed him more than he needed his rest. This is the reason Jesus rose very early and stole away for quiet time as often as possible. Jesus made it his business to care for others, and, once in a while, to care for himself.

The moral of the story is this: It is perfectly fine and truly necessary to acknowledge our fatigue. When we give in to our aching muscles or our aching psyches and rest, we replenish our spirits. It is in doing so that we find the energy and the will to care for the many others who need us.

Dear God, I am grateful that others occasionally need me. Help me to remember that I occasionally need me as well.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Good God!

She had heard about Jesus and came up behind
him in the crowd and put her hand on his cloak.

Mark 5:27

A recent chance encounter revealed a shared experience of God’s presence in our lives. I discovered that my great-aunt Sister Gerard had taught this person many years ago. I knew that, above all else, Sister Gerard believed that God is good. My new friend had learned the same thing in Sister Gerard’s classroom. Sister Gerard first spoke this phrase to me more than five decades ago. My great-aunt was a dynamic and lively little nun! After spending much of her career teaching at a boarding school for boys, Sister Gerard shared, “I’ve taught convicts and bishops, lawyers, janitors and butchers and I love them all. God put them all into my life. God is good!” I listened happily as she shared stories about her teaching career and life among the sisters.

Eventually, bouts with cancer mandated her assignment to the sisters’ mother house. This kept her close to the hospital where she received treatment. Sister Gerard busied herself with visiting the elderly sisters, of whom she was one, during their hospitalizations. Through it all, Sister Gerard maintained her conviction regarding God.

At age ninety-two, Sister Gerard discovered that her final bout was a losing battle. She smiled at me from her sickbed as she admitted, “I was a little upset that God didn’t cure me this time around. Then, I thought about where I’m going and I thanked him! God is so good!” When my sweet aunt passed away, I imagined her dancing as she announced to all of heaven, “God is good!”

Good God, thank you Sister Gerard and all of the amazing people who share your goodness with the rest of us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved