Stand Together

“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs
under the table eat the family’s leavings.”

Mark 7:28

I was born into an Irish and Italian neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago. Since only the tiniest drop of each bloodline flows through me, I had no preference for either group. The truth is that I envied them both, especially on St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s Days when they celebrated their heritage with great flourish. For the most part, I’m French Canadian. There is no designated day for me to do the same. Though my own family celebrated rich traditions which were the direct result of my nationality, I longed for a more colorful and universal display of our heritage. By third grade, many of these neighbors moved away. New African-American neighbors took their places. At that time, I discovered that my new neighbors found themselves in the same situation as I. No one outside of their own families celebrated their heritage with a flourish either. Sadly, most outsiders looked upon my new neighbors’ rich heritage as a threat or a curse. As for me, my new neighbors became my friends.

This childhood experience evolved into a lifetime of effort to overlook ethnicity and the numerous other differences which often separate us. Perhaps it was providential that I spent my career working with children. My classroom provided the perfect forum in which to honor both our personal uniqueness and our common qualities. In the process, I think I succeeded in honoring my students for who they were while also respecting the heritage of each one. I hope I do the same today for all of those whom I meet along the way.

God of us All, it seems that we manage to separate ourselves into differing factions more than ever these days. We continue to find reason to stand apart. Please inspire us with your loving and welcoming ways before it’s too late.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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God’s in The Midst of Everything!

Though Christmas 2018 already seems a distant memory, I won’t soon forget my husband’s gift to me. Mike knows that I truly enjoy live theater. After investigating the current shows, he opted to purchase tickets for Fiddler on the Roof. Mike discovered that tickets were still available for the play’s final week. All was going well until it came time to select seats online. The two “best available” options were on the aisle of the first row center on the main floor and on the aisle of the first row center of the loge. Since both sets of tickets were offered at the same price, Mike had no clue which were the better option. Would I prefer to be up close and personal with the cast or to have a panoramic view of the entire stage? Brilliant spouse that he is, Mike decided that my input regarding seats was more important than my being surprised on Christmas morning. When posed with my options, it took only a moment for me to announce, “Front row center for sure!” Two weeks ago, when we made our way to those seats, I knew that we wouldn’t be disappointed. It was during the first scene that lead character Tevye and his fellow villagers made it clear that they were performing just for Mike and me.

Though I can sing most of the show’s tunes from memory, I’d forgotten the details of the plot until Tevye, his family and their neighbors gave life to the story. The drama unfolded in a small early Twentieth Century Russian village where most of the inhabitants were of Jewish heritage. Tevye, husband to Golde and father to five daughters, was steeped in the traditions dictated by his culture and his faith. Tevye’s relationship with God became evident when Tevye revealed his favorite form of prayer. Whenever things were very good, very bad and everywhere in between, Tevye turned his eyes upward to address the Lord God directly. Tevye’s trust in God was so great that, after posing his requests, he always added, “But on the other hand…” Tevye always left the final say to God. Though the rest of the audience seemed to find Tevye’s prayer amusing, I squirmed in my seat. This lovable man’s efforts echoed my own prayer far too closely. I’m embarrassed to admit that Tevye’s sometimes sarcastic tone toward God sounded a bit too familiar. Though I squirmed a little more at this realization, Tevye seemed unperturbed. Every time he turned toward God, Tevye was confident that God heard him, that God was indeed in charge and that God would respond appropriately. Even in the midst of the darkest turns of events, Tevye persisted in his prayer. No one in that village was closer to God than Tevye and I want to be like him in that regard.

I share my encounter with Tevye and Fiddler on the Roof because the mother of Jesus addressed her son with Tevye’s confidents. Today, we hear the passage from John’s gospel (John 2:1-11) which recounts Jesus’ first miracle. Jesus and his family attended their neighbors’ wedding. Not long into the festivities, Mary heard that the couple was running out of wine. She immediately approached Jesus for help. Jesus, who was slowly easing into his ministry, told his mother that “his hour” hadn’t yet come. Mary, seemingly oblivious to her son’s reply, simply told the stewards to do whatever Jesus asked. Like Tevye, Mary was certain that Jesus had heard her, that Jesus was in charge and that Jesus would respond appropriately.

Though none of us know much about the lifetime of interactions Mary and Jesus shared before that wedding. I can tell you that Tevye had experienced a lifetime of grueling toil, persistent poverty and persecution before I met him in the theater that night. His experiences in that small Russian village proved to be very similar to Mary’s and her family’s experience in Nazareth. Though they were God-loving people who followed their faith’s traditions devoutly, Mary’s family endured persecution at the hands of their Roman government and its unscrupulous agents. Yet, in spite of their suffering, Mary and her family turned to God. In their joy and in their sorrow, they had prayed as Tevye learned to pray centuries later. It’s no wonder that Mary turned to Jesus with complete confidence.

If you’ve listened to the news lately or read the paper, if you’ve looked down the street or into your own backyard, you’ve likely seen evidence of joy and evidence of suffering in its too numerous insidious forms. When it comes to things being very good, very bad and everywhere in between, our experiences aren’t very different from those of Tevye’s and Jesus’ families. It seems to me that the moral of the story is this: God hears us, God is indeed in charge and God always does and will continue to respond appropriately. All that we are asked to do in the midst of any situation is the best that we can. Then, we must raise our eyes to heaven up close and personally as Mary and Tevye did. With their confidence, we must invite God into the best and worst times of our lives and into everything in between. The truth is that, whether we turn to God or not, God is with us!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Very Real Love!

O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the
secret recesses of the cliff, let me see you,
let me hear your voice,
for your voice is sweet and lovely.

Song of Songs 2:14

It is Christmas Eve, and I’m packing up gifts to take along to our family gathering this afternoon. In the midst of retrieving packages from our son’s room, I bumped a plastic container and knocked it off its shelf. I remembered moving this container last year when I stubbed my toe on it. Busy as I was, I’d examined the contents and the numerous memories they represented. I’m not allowing myself this luxury at the moment because I still have much to do. I will, however, reminisce mentally as I carry on. One of the treasures in that box is a wedding program. I remember this because one of the scripture readings included is from The Song of Songs which I cite above.

This particular passage is a favorite. Our friend Scott read these words at our wedding. My husband and I selected this reading because we were taken in by the painful longing this lover expressed for his beloved. The lover who spoke so passionately is the God of Israel who desperately sought to be reunited with the Jewish People. This Divine longing persisted for centuries as evidenced in the gift of Jesus. On the first Christmas, God expressed this insatiable love face-to-face and heart-to-heart in the most tangible way possible. God expressed this love in the gentle cooing of the newborn baby who would spend his life convincing us all that God’s love for us is very, very real.

Loving God, thank you for your very, very real love for each one of us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Inspire!

I will leave as a remnant in your midst
a people humble and lowly,
Who find inspiration in the name of the Lord.

From Zephaniah 3:12

With five days remaining until Christmas, my thoughts turn to the many reasons I have to celebrate. The people and the world around me have affected me quite tangibly all of my life. Though external forces never dictate my responses, they do inspire my reactions. This is the reason I enjoy walking outdoors. Every bit of Creation has something to say to me when I take the time to listen. When I walk indoors, those I pass unwittingly speak to me as well. Their smallest gesture, smile or grimace gives me something to think about. I’m grateful for the inspiration I find in these interactions.

I express this inspiration through my writing. Some time ago, a dear friend encouraged me to get my writing “out there.” She insisted that my words fueled her spirit and that I could do the same for many others. Though I questioned Carol’s judgment, I listened. Now, I enjoy the inspiration in my life twice, once when it surfaces and once again when I share it with you.

Thank you, God, for the many wonderful people who inspire me with their goodness and for the wonder of Creation which does the same. As we prepare for Christmas together, help each of us to use our unique gifts to inspire those you have given us to love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

No Strings Attached, Honest!

Brothers and sisters,
Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another,
for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Romans 13:8

I retired from my career in education with a county level job. This position allowed me access to people and opportunities I might otherwise have never encountered. I very much appreciated working with others at this level to benefit our area children.

One new friend had been elected to a position at the state level. This person understood the possibilities that came with this position and was anxious to add good will and good sense to the mix. Over time, frustration mounted. Her every attempt to transform a good idea into practice required her support of not-particularly-good ideas in return. In the end, my friend found that too many bad ideas became reality as a result of the “deals” which had to be made to gather support. In the end, my friend resigned her elected position and moved on to a place where there were no strings attached to anyone’s good deeds.

We all occasionally find ourselves holding things over the heads of others to get our way. In the end, I never feel very good about this arrangement. I would much prefer that the other person simply did the right thing because it was right. I’m quite certain that God prefers it when I do the same.

Dear God, you’ve given us the wisdom to discern what is right and to act accordingly. Help us not to hinder our own goodness or the goodness of others by attaching strings to our good deeds.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Time To Wait

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

It’s Thanksgiving week… While standing in a linear mass of humanity at the checkout this morning, I whispered a prayer of gratitude for those retailers who’ve agreed not to open their doors on Thanksgiving Day. Of all of the holidays we celebrate in this country, Thanksgiving Day is the one we can enjoy without regard for any of our religious affiliations or lack thereof. So it is that I said, “Blessed be those employers whose workers will enjoy the holiday with their families this year!”

With that, I returned to my grocery list to see that I had everything I needed. A voice from the front of the line distracted me from my work. This person remarked that he would be wealthy if he had a dollar for every minute he spent waiting. As he hurried out of the store, I chuckled to myself. I had already found wealth in these seemingly wasted moments when nothing more than to wait was demanded of me. While the world rushed about me, I found the time to contemplate my blessings and their Generous Source.

Perhaps this is the reason Jesus often rose early and stole away for quiet time. The scriptures tell us that Jesus’ moments of peace were usually disrupted by those who needed him. The same is too often true of you and me. Still, as Jesus did, we find the time to respond and then to sneak away once again.

Dear God, this world of ours grows busier every day. Still, help us always to find the time to love one another as you do.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved