God’s Life-Giving Clouds

Last Sunday, I wrote about those perfect storms which cause our personal varieties of circumstances to rumble and to collide. Such storms disrupt everything in their paths. The morsels of peace which normally keep us anchored are strewn about haphazardly as well. All of this commotion prompts us to wonder if our lives will ever return to normal. Fortunately, though perhaps not as quickly as we’d hoped, the clouds disperse and calmer weather settles in. The Persistent One who lingers within nudges us to look beyond the damage caused by that messy weather. God, who remains with us always, points us toward the new day and the new opportunities which lie just ahead. So it is that we find the strength to reassess, to regroup and to refocus our efforts. Though God doesn’t guarantee clear skies and sunshine every step of the way, God does promise to remain with us all the while.

As for me, I’m happy to have weathered my own perfect storm and I’m most grateful for God’s good company throughout those difficult days. Though I never ever want to repeat that episode in my life, I’m grateful for the perspective it has given me. Every day since has become a precious gift in spite the clouds which threaten perhaps too frequently. The truth is that I’ve found reason to look at the clouds above me and around me with new eyes. After all, these clouds promise the rain which brings life to all of creation. Though clouds yielded far more snow than I liked this winter, that snow provided hours of fun times for the children in my life. It also inspired many good deeds in our neighborhood where we helped one another to dig out of the white stuff so we could all get on with our days. Clouds often keep the sun out of my eyes and those of the good deacon as we drive down Green Bay Road or the tollway to visit our grandchildren. The clouds above give me reason to look upward and to consider the beauty and the majesty which lies beyond them. Though I know God resides within me and around me, nothing draws my eyes heavenward more quickly than a sky full of billowy clouds. The clouds which evolved into my perfect storm certainly caused damage. At the same time, they’ve also inspire a new perspective. Rather than being overwhelmed by the clouds in my life, I’ve learned to use them as opportunities to exercise my ability to carry on. Yes, clouds can be quite a gift to us.

On this Second Sunday of Lent, Luke’s gospel (Luke 9:28-36) recounts the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus. By the time Jesus invited Peter, James and John to accompany him up that mountainside, the disciples had come to respect and to love Jesus very much. On that particular day, Jesus chose to reveal something more about himself which simple words could not express. Luke tells us that Jesus’ lessons up to that point had certainly flown in the face of the teachings his friends and all of the people had encountered in the temple. Jesus insisted that God’s people were what mattered most. Whenever necessary, Jesus set aside the stern rules which had caused God’s loved ones so much needless hardship. “The Law was made for man,” Jesus insisted, and not the other way around. If that wasn’t revolutionary enough, that trip up that mountainside provided Peter, James and John a glimpse of the treasure which lay at the end of Jesus’ ministry and at the end of his life. When Jesus took on his “afterlife” appearance in the company of Moses and Elijah, he offered his closest friends a glimpse of the glory which awaits us all. Because he didn’t know what to say about all of this, Peter blurted out something about building a tent to shelter the three marvelous figures before him. It was then that God intervened with a cloud. That cloud began its work by casting a shadow over the disciples. Before Peter could say another word, the cloud surrounded them. Amazingly, it was while they stood in the midst of that seemingly ominous cloud that God spoke. “This is my chosen son; listen to him.” I’m quite certain that this cloudy mountainside encounter with eternity strengthened Peter, James and John throughout the terrible days which followed. After all, on that day, they were assured of their own places among the clouds.

When we find ourselves surrounded by thunderclouds, we need to remember who it was that Peter, James and John found when they suffered the same. Though frightened beyond their senses, they stopped to take notice when God spoke out to them. When God said, “Listen to him,” God reminded Jesus’ friends of all Jesus had taught them about God’s love for them. Through all that lay ahead, God loved them and God stayed with them. The same is true for you and me. Less than 30 days remain of Lent 2019. I encourage you to join me in spending every one of those days listening for God’s voice in the clouds around us. Though it may not come as boldly as it did on that mountainside, God’s voice and God’s love will be there just the same.

©2019 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’d been running errands all morning and I was grateful for the long line ahead of me. Oddly enough, I truly appreciated the opportunity to lean on my grocery cart and to stand still for a few minutes. While enjoying this bit of peace, a person ahead of me in line remarked that he would be wealthy if he had a dollar for every minute he spent waiting. As this man hurried out of the store, I chuckled to myself. I had found wealth in these seemingly wasted moments.

It seems to me that all of us are too busy far too often. This is nothing new, as Jesus experienced the same. 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 because we find the energy and the will to care for others in our own rested spirits. The moral of the story is: Rest when you need to!

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

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Traveling Light

“He instructed them to
take nothing on the journey
but a walking stick…”

Mark 6:8

Packing for this year’s trek to Israel was much less complicated than last year’s effort. This time, I weeded out all of those extra “what if” items which I never used. This time, I brought along only what I needed. In the end, my resolve to simplify paid off. I had less to carry and less to worry about. This freed me to concentrate on the people I met and places I had traveled to explore.

Perhaps this is what Jesus was getting at when he sent out his disciples with no luggage. Perhaps he didn’t want them to waste a moment of their time or a bit of their energy on the unimportant. Jesus hoped they would make the most of their travels among us at every opportunity.

It occurs to me that God invites us to travel lightly all of the time, not only when we’re embarking upon a vacation or an adventure of some sort. When we amble into the moment at hand with our hands free and our hearts free, we free ourselves to embrace the treasures which await us.

Generous God, thank you for this amazing world and the awesome people who fill it. Be with us as we explore the gifts we encounter every day along the way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Special Place for You and Me

Last Sunday, my husband and I stole away from church a bit early. We usually “hang out” from the first Mass until the last. However, it was Valentine’s Day and we interrupted our Sunday routine with an outing. A friend told us about an art exhibit which he encouraged us to visit. Information online confirmed that this was a “must see” opportunity. By the time we headed to the gallery, the forecasted snow was falling and traffic moved at a snail’s pace. Since Mike drove, I was free to enjoy the view. On the way, I discovered what it is like to see the world from the inside of a snow globe. I delighted in the winter wonderland beyond the glass in spite of the shoveling which would be required a few hours later. I needed to recover from what had been a hectic morning, because I had a busy afternoon in store. I normally allow myself to relax on Sundays. However, I needed to prepare this reflection which I’d neglected the week before.

As Mike drove, I absent-mindedly hummed a hymn we’d sung during Mass that morning. In the process, I recalled the refrain which had caused me to stop singing for a few seconds. I remember telling myself, “There is a wonderful story here!” As I sang on, I memorized the words which had touched me so. This was an easy task because the lyrics echoed precisely what I needed to hear… Like a rose trampled on the ground, you took the fall, and thought of me above all. Though I don’t normally check the composers of the hymns we sing, I looked for their names. I wondered if Lenny LeBlanc and Paul Baloche knew the power of their lyrics. Did they select the title Above All because they somehow knew that these words would melt my heart today? “Yes,” I reminded myself, “God looks upon each of us as the most important person in this world.” When we arrived at the gallery, I realized that I was not alone in my thinking…

The “gallery” is actually a temporarily transformed old factory. The featured exhibit will travel from place to place until a suitable permanent home is found. Though the Smithsonian Institute expressed interest years ago, the artist refused. The docent who guided us shared that, before he died, this artist specified that viewings were to remain free and accessible to as many people as possible, especially to lonely and unloved children. It is no wonder that the he named this work My Father’s Love. Though Mike and I had viewed the artwork online, the actual works took our breath away.

My Father’s Love features numerous biblical images in stunning wood tones. Artist Ed Lantzer created the scenes on thirty four-by-eight-foot wooden panels. These panels are covered entirely with hundreds of thousands of half-inch diamond-shaped wood pieces cut from more than one hundred-fifty varieties of trees. None of the wood was dyed or painted. Each one was selected for its color or texture and each one is essential to the resulting image. Though the images of Creation, the Last Supper, Jesus’ scourging and the Crucifixion drew us in, the tiny wooden pieces which made them up drew us in further. For thirty years, Mr. Lantzer worked without plans or drawings to create what he saw with his heart. Even a team from MIT was unable to decipher the artist’s method in placing each bit of wood precisely where it belonged. Each wooden piece contributed perfectly to the final image.

When we returned from the museum, I turned to Luke’s gospel (Luke 9:28b-36) for further inspiration. Luke tells us that Jesus took Peter, James and John to a mountainside to pray. Minutes into their prayer, Jesus’ face changed and his clothing became dazzling white. As if this wasn’t enough, Moses and Elijah suddenly appeared as well. This stunned Peter and his friends who were unable to make sense of what they saw. Still, Peter’s desire to do something urged him to offer tents to the holy trio before him. Before he could babble further, a voice bellowed from the clouds, “This is my chosen son; listen to him.” Finally, Peter and the others realized they were precisely where they belonged. God had a message for them above all others. God had revealed that each of them would be an essential part of the things to come.

I’m convinced that it was no accident that we visited that exhibit, that we sang Above All and that I’m writing about Jesus’ Transfiguration today. I haven’t been at my best as of late, and I desperately needed these reminders that I am an important part of a bigger picture. Apparently, no one can bring the color and texture which I bring to God’s masterpiece. The same is true for each one of us. Above all, you and I have a special place in God’s plan and in God’s heart.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Embrace The Journey

“He instructed them to
take nothing on the journey
but a walking stick…”

Mark 6:8

Though I’ve shared this often in the past, I am repeating that my husband loves to travel. As soon as the last of our Christmas decorations were stowed away, Mike turned his attention to the travel sections of the newspaper and to the travel channel on television. Though I longed to take a breather after the busyness of Christmas, he made his way full speed ahead through travel websites and folders. In spite of the fact that we have an out-of-town wedding to attend and a trip scheduled a few months down the road, the poor man is aching to plan further.

I think I finally get it. A few days ago, when a Medicare notice arrived, I was taken aback by the swift passage of time. Our eldest granddaughter is eight years old and our newborn grandson somehow morphed into a five-month-old. Perhaps Mike has adopted the sense of urgency I so often write about. I’m convinced that we need to make the most of the moment at hand. Apparently, so is my husband.

Perhaps this is what Jesus was getting at when he sent out his disciples with no luggage. Perhaps he didn’t want them to waste a moment in making the most of their travels among us. Perhaps this is a nudge for me to do the same.

Generous God, thank you for this amazing world and the awesome people who fill it. Be with us as we explore them further.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved