Where Are My Keys?

I give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
From Matthew 16:19

I’m sure it was quite a surprise to Peter that he was chosen to lead the first Christian community. Peter had no idea of what being given the keys to the kingdom entailed. Still, Jesus entrusted him with this responsibility. Though Peter was thick-headed and cowardly at times, in the end, Peter allowed his heart to direct him. He is the one who first said aloud what the other disciples feared to whisper even to themselves. In the end, after Jesus was crucified and risen, it is Peter who led the disciples to share the good news of God’s love for us with the world.

As a child, I told myself that I would have been much different from the disciples if I had walked with Jesus. I couldn’t understand how anyone could question a thing Jesus said or did. Today, I know better. In spite of the numerous and generous ways in which God has been revealed to me, I question and worry and despair with the best of them. For us humans, I guess seeing is believing.

The problem is that we fail to see. The treasure lying before our eyes and within our hearts is invaluable. Nonetheless. we fail to see what God has given us. Still, God entrusts us with the keys of the kingdom as well. Like Peter, we’re invited to follow our hearts and to reveal God’s love in all that we say and do. Like Peter, our imperfections aren’t meant to keep us from the good we can do. Today, this seems more important than ever.

Trusting God, you have made us the caretakers of your word and works. You’ve given us the keys to your kingdom. Help us never to misplace them and to always use them well.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Advertisements

Dance to The Spirit’s Music!

May and June have proven to be very busy. My husband and I have or will be involved with an assortment of baptisms, graduations, birthday celebrations and weddings. We celebrated Mother’s Day and we happily look forward to Father’s Day. In the end, an amazing assortment of God’s children will have gathered at each of these events. More importantly, an amazing exhibition of God’s Loving Spirit among us will have unfolded as well. Though taken alone these events may seem to be commonplace, each is extraordinary in some way. A few weeks ago, one particular happening proved extraordinary in the most unexpected and amazing ways…

When a good friend approached his fiftieth birthday, his wife and children decided that this milestone called for a party. Their dear husband and dad had recently completed some extremely demanding training and he’d had a bit of a health-scare. To celebrate his successful outcomes in both areas, our friend’s family organized a gathering in his honor. My dear husband and I had the good fortune to be included. When the day arrived, the weather was uncharacteristically cooperative, so Mike and I spent the entire morning and afternoon working outdoors. Tired as we were afterward, we set aside our work to join our friends for what proved to be a truly enjoyable evening. When we arrived, the entire family warmly welcomed us in. After greeting the other guests, we settled in for lots of pleasant conversation and a delicious meal. It was shortly afterward that another friend pulled me aside and pointed out the karaoke machine. “What?” I asked. “Are we going to use it?” My friend assured me that the machine wouldn’t have a moment’s rest that evening. As the party continued, nothing proved to be more true than that observation…

Before I continue, I assure you that I know what karaoke is, that I love to sing and that I love to dance. I also admit that I’ve never used a karaoke machine, I’m a mediocre singer and I’m a terrible dancer. Before your imaginations enter high gear, I assure you that I drank very little, if anything, which might have inspired my participation that evening. Having said all of that, I also admit to having joined in singing and dancing to almost every song that was played for three hours. The best part of all of this is that the other guests did the same. They assured me that participating with abandon was the best way to unwind, to rejoice and to celebrate the moments at hand; yes, each and every one of those moments at hand. All the while, we joined as one to cheer on the-holder-of-the-microphone, all who served as his or her chorus and all who danced. As for me, a sense of joy and belonging and the absolute freedom to be me filled me up. I determined in short order that this was the best party I’d attended in my entire life.

My revelry culminated in my dear husband’s willingness to lead the singing of Mr. Bojangles. This 1968 release (Jerry Jeff Walker, 1968, Atco Records) has been a favorite since I first heard it. As Mike sang, I couldn’t help dancing as the story of the drifter-turned-dancer unfolded. When Mike sang about the poor man’s dog dying, I shed a few tears and touched my heart. When Mike sang, “Whoa, he jumped so high, clicked his heels…”, I couldn’t help myself. Though I’d never ever dared to do this before, something compelled me to click my heels as well. And so I did. I honestly didn’t realize the amazement of my feat until this roomful of friends gasped and then cheered in delight. Much to my surprise, I did the same twice more before Mike finished that song…

I share this story on Pentecost Sunday with good reason. I admit that, in spite of my productive day, I went to that party with a heavy heart. Old worries had resurfaced and I wondered if I’d be able to set them aside long enough to celebrate our friend’s birthday. As you see, my fear was unfounded. The loving spirit of those gathered that evening not only dispelled the negativity which threatened, but also filled me with absolute joy! You know, Jesus’ friends awaited the first Pentecost with far greater trepidation than my own. They’d arrived at Jerusalem in triumph only to have Jesus arrested and condemned five days later. Most of Jesus’ friends deserted him as he hanged dying on the cross. Those who remained could do nothing to save him. When Jesus rose and appeared among them, he remained for forty days. All the while, hope eased its way back into the disciples’ hearts until Jesus left them once again. Jesus’ parting words included a call to proclaim the good news to every creature and a promise that Jesus would always be with them. Still, when Jesus left, hope escaped his friends once again and the disciples hid themselves away from the people. It was in the midst of wringing their hands and wondering how they might survive this second loss of Jesus that God’s Loving Spirit filled them up. Finally, the disciples understood. Finally, Jesus’ message made sense of this life and the next. With that, the disciples burst out of hiding to proclaim their good news to all who would listen. God’s Loving Spirit propelled them just as it propels us forward again and again.

You know, I’ll never forget that wonderful birthday gathering. The loving spirit which permeated my friend’s home gifted everyone present with a mini-Pentecost of sorts. I think each one of us had a part in sweetening the joy of that evening and in fueling all of our hope in the reality of good things to come. Though life isn’t perfect for any of us, God’s love for us is perfect. And this is all that matters. On this Pentecost and every day after, may each of us sense God’s Loving Spirit within us and find reason to click our heals and to dance once again.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Promise to Us All

This morning, I reluctantly disposed of a drooping Easter bouquet. As I pulled the stems from their vase, I remarked, “I wish you’d lasted as long as the Easter grass. I’ll be picking up that stuff for at least another month.” Apparently, the flowers had no life left in them because they failed to respond to my remark. As I washed the vase, a tiny green flicker caught my eye. Once again, I spoke. “Where did you come from?” The lone strand of Easter grass lying on the kitchen counter said nothing. I decided to end this conversation before my dear husband came in to see to whom I was speaking. Rather, I explored the rest of the kitchen and family room in search of more Easter grass. Since I’d prepared our grandchildren’s Easter Baskets in those rooms, I thought I’d confined the green stuff to the first floor of our house. After vacuuming, I determined that I’d finally seen the end of those green cellophane strands.

On my way up to the study to begin this writing, a strand of green greeted me at the top of the stairs. “How did you get all the way up here?” I asked. Still, no answer. While changing loads of laundry between paragraphs, I encountered green strands next to the dryer. When I went to my closet to hang some of the clean laundry, green strands near the shoe rack greeted me. Though I’ve been up and down the stairs a hundred times since Easter, I never carried an Easter Basket along for the ride. It occurs to me as I sit here that I’ll be vacuuming up Easter grass for some time. Even the needles from our Christmas Trees never make it upstairs to the bedrooms, so why is it that Easter grass ends up all over the house? I looked upward as I posed that question…

Dear, dear God, what a sense of humor you have! Thank you for speaking to me so simply. As I discover another bit of Easter grass –this one lying under my chair– I realize what a gift I have in these pesky green strands. Though we celebrated just days ago, Easter seems distant from the busyness and worries of this particular day. So it is that you speak to me through the trail of Easter grass in my path. Each strand I find brings me back to that remarkable day. Yes, it is in Jesus’ life among us, his death and his rising that I find the promise of new and everlasting life for the rest of us. These strands of green cellophane aren’t annoyances after all, are they? You’ve given them to me as gentle reminders that the joy and promise of Easter are with me today and always just as you are!

There you have it! For the gazillionth time in human history, God reveals the joy of Easter and the promise of eternal life in a common human experience. God is using these lovely green cellophane strands to remind me that the joy and promise of Easter remain with me every single day. I assume the timing of this realization is God’s insistence that I share this news with you. As I continue to write, I wonder further. With these wonderful reminders at my fingertips, why do I lose sight of God’s promises and God’s love when the going gets tough?

Today, John’s gospel (20:19-31) references Thomas who also seemed to have been searching to discover what Jesus’ life and death meant for him. Thomas missed Jesus’ first post resurrection visit. Though John didn’t explain Thomas’ absence, I wonder. Was it Thomas’s search for meaning in all that had happened which coaxed him from the safety of their hideout to see firsthand the aftermath of Jesus’ death? Perhaps Thomas needed to separate fact from rumor on his own. Perhaps Thomas needed to experience the loss of his friend without the distraction of the others who mourned in fear. You know, John’s is the only gospel which reports Thomas’ absence and doubt regarding Jesus’ appearance. Did the other gospel writers see something different in this disciple? As for me, I have great affection for the Apostle Thomas because I often walk in his shoes.

The truth is that I understand Thomas’s need to leave that upper room and to sort things out for himself because I often have need to do the same. I also understand Thomas’s elation when he finally saw the resurrected Jesus for himself. Though I continue to fret about things which I need to let go, like Thomas, I’ve also found the courage to turn my eyes upward and to recognize what Thomas did when he saw Jesus. It is at those discouraging times that I echo Thomas: My Lord and my God, you love me! My Lord and my God, you’re with me! My Lord and my God, everything will be as it should because of you!

Today, as we continue to celebrate Easter, let’s all take notice of God who is always present among us and within us. Trust me. Whether through the amazing people who love us, the wonders of Creation, a bit of written inspiration, a great song, a hopeful bit of worship alone or with this community, or a strand of green cellophane Easter grass, our Lord and our God insists, “I am with you!”

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Powerful Words

I turned our calendar to March to confirm the date of Ash Wednesday. I also noted that we won’t celebrate Easter until April 21. I used my words to offer a prayer of gratitude. Easter’s relatively late arrival allows me the time to catch my breath before tackling my abundant to-do list. In an effort to shorten that list, I read the scripture passages we hear today to prepare for this writing. As I read, I found that Sirach and Jesus (Sirach 27:4-7; Luke 6:39-45) had a good deal to say about the power of our words. Paul (1 Corinthians 15:54-58) chimed in to address the disbelief of some who questioned Jesus’ words. As I read, it occurred to me that I’ve put my own words to use in surprising ways over the decades. Though I hope my words have been positive for the most part, there have been times when their tone has been just the opposite. It was Lent 1987 when I expressed my dismay to God regarding Easter’s late arrival that year…

My stepdad had battled emphysema for some time and the disease finally threatened to get the best of him. Bill had become bedridden and my mom was heartsick. Caring for Bill at home would be impossible if he couldn’t walk. Though she was both a sturdy woman and a great nurse, my mom still couldn’t manage Bill’s six-foot frame without some assistance from him. Bill was heartsick as well. If he couldn’t go home with my mom, he wanted to go home to God. Bill didn’t use his words to express this. He simply stopped eating. He also kept his eyes closed except to glance lovingly at my mom when he thought no one was looking. I was heartsick, too. So it was that I repeated the same insistent prayer: Bill’s had a tough time. He’s suffered enough. Dear God, please take him home. My mom took great care of my own dad, and now she’s doing the same for my step-dad. You’re asking too much of her. Dear God, please take him home. Jesus cured the suffering who came to him. I don’t even want a cure. Just take him home! When my desperation hit its peak, I shamelessly added: You claim to be our loving parent. If Bill was my son, I’d take him home for Easter!

Lent 1987 seemed to drag on and on. Time always passes at a snail’s pace when our loved ones are suffering. I admit that I used the words of my mournful prayer over and over again throughout the majority of those forty days. As it happened, we celebrated my stepdad’s funeral the Tuesday before Easter. Later that week, I completed Lent 1987 by attending the Holy Week liturgies at our parish church. I missed most of what unfolded because I’d morphed from a weary and worried daughter into a weary and numb mourner. I didn’t use my words for much of anything after Bill’s funeral. It was during the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday that I realized I’d been operating on autopilot. I felt exhausted and empty and I wasn’t sure of where to turn. As the deacon sang the Exultet to announce Jesus’ resurrection, something drew my eyes to the large crucifix over the altar. It had been covered with a purple cloth during Lent and I wondered why that purple remained. Suddenly, in the midst of an alleluia, the servers pulled some invisible wires which hung from the cloth. When that cloth fell, it revealed the most beautiful lilies I’d ever seen. Those lovely flowers covered the crucifix from top to bottom and from left to right. Their ivory blossoms glowed in the brightly lit sanctuary, leaving no hint of the suffering corpus hidden behind them. This amazing image took my breath away. Though I thought I couldn’t shed another tear that week, my eyes filled up. I felt alive again! Then it hit me. God had welcomed my stepdad home for Easter. Bill had been gone an entire week and I’d failed to use my words to say “Thank you!” Still, God welcomed me home as well. In spite of my ingratitude and my insolent tone beforehand, God gave me new life in the form of some well-placed Easter lilies. Those flowers spoke of renewed life to me and I couldn’t have asked for more!

Lent 2019 begins this week on Ash Wednesday. This year, we’re invited to use our words to help ourselves and those we’ve been given to love throughout our Lenten Mission. The words I chose to address our loving God on my stepdad’s behalf were clumsy at best. Still, they expressed my genuine effort to walk through my stepdad’s illness and passing in God’s good company. My words were also heard. God hears everything we say or think or feel or write. This is the reason our parish is providing us a little blue booklet entitled MY LENTEN MISSION. It is meant to guide all of us who’d like to use our words to find healing for ourselves, for one another and for our suffering world. We each approach Lent 2019 with a unique variety of burdens. As we deal with these things, we also search for ways to be productive family members, friends, coworkers, caretakers and to fulfill a multitude of other roles. Our mission booklets provide daily excerpts from the Lenten gospels and one or two related reflection questions. There is space to use our words to respond. Afterward, healing activities are suggested. The best part is that this booklet isn’t a homework assignment which will be graded on Easter Sunday. Rather, it is one small, but mighty tool which will hopefully guide each one of us on our mission toward a truly peace-filled Easter and a truly healed heart.

Though Lent 1987 remains etched in my memory, the words those Easter Lilies spoke to me are etched into my heart. My prayers have never again been quite so desperate because I’ve allowed God’s words to draw me closer, just as those lilies did. Perhaps Lent 2019 will reveal the healing we’re all searching for. Perhaps the lilies of Easter 2019 will speak words of new life to us all. Can any of us ask for more?

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

For those of you who don’t attend my church and won’t receive MY LENTEN MISSION, I encourage you take some time every day to communicate with God as only you can. The words exchanged between you and God are far more powerful than you’ll ever know in this life! Have lots of good talks with God!

W is for Write

Good and upright is God
who shows us the way.
God guides the humble to justice
and teaches the humble the way.

From Psalm 25:8-9

W is for Write. Though I’d like to think that I do most of my writing at my keyboard, the truth is that I write perhaps more prolifically with my attitudes, words and actions. Though I’d like to leave something significant to posterity in written form, the truths I share through the life I live will be far more long-lasting. A wise priest once shared that perhaps the point of all of our lives is to write a gospel by the way we live. Though I first heard this challenge years ago, I’m impelled to embrace it these days. Just as no bookstore owner can predict who will pick up and browse through the best sellers, travel books and bibles in stock, I can’t predict who will read my attitudes, my next word or the things I do. Whether I opt to or not, I’m writing my gospel with every breath I take. I can’t choose who will “read” what I produce at any given moment, but I can choose what I put out there to be read.

I find this all a bit frightening as I’ve uttered and written some things which I’ve hoped will be forgotten and I’ve done some things that I wish I could undo. Unfortunately, I can’t edit these things out of my life. Sadly, I find my only consolation in the knowledge that my fellow humans share a bit of regret with me at one time or another.

As we continue with this process of writing our lives’ gospels, let’s try to omit those regret-inducing errors. Let’s encourage one another when our results are positive and let’s edit one another mercifully when we haven’t done our best.

Loving God, inspire us! Help us to reveal your loving ways in everything we say and do and write.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Put Our Love For Jesus To Work

We’re just a few days into Lent 2018 and I’m wondering about my progress. I approached Ash Wednesday with my Lenten commitment intact. I decided to use my experience in the Holy Land to guide me through this precious season. In Israel, I looked over our itinerary each morning with great expectation. Because I’d been there before, the sites listed were familiar territory. I didn’t worry about whether or not I wore the right shoes or if I needed to wear layers or if our destination would measure up to the hype in my guidebook. Rather, I pictured what I’d seen the year before and rekindled those unmistakable feelings of belonging which had filled me up. Though this was Jesus’ homeland, I felt that it was my homeland as well. So it was that I embraced every day of this second trip with the certainty that I’d find Jesus or a dear friend of his along the way. Rather than being surprised by the images beyond the tour bus windows, I happily anticipated what I saw. On Ash Wednesday, I told myself that I would approach my Lenten journey in like manner. Rather than being surprised by what lies ahead during the next forty days, I will once again anticipate finding Jesus and many of his dear friends along the way.

I’m happy to report that my unconventional approach to Lent 2018 has been fruitful. Though I’m habitually engaged in one-sided conversations with our Patient Creator, I’ve made the time to listen between every dozen or so lines of my monologue. Though I haven’t “heard” a word in response, I’ve been blessed with a sense that God is indeed attentive to me. Honestly, I’m convinced that God smiles upon our efforts whenever we try to do our best. From the beginning of time, God has pursued humankind with the energy of a young man smitten by the love of his life. God remains at our sides even when we attempt to run away. Through it all, God uses every means to entice us into a relationship. This Lent, I’ve allowed the holy places which Jesus frequented to breathe new life into my relationship with him. After all, it is Jesus who revealed the fullness of Divine Love to us. Though Jesus preached eloquently, his responses to others provided the purest examples of that love. Jesus offered compassion, acceptance and mercy to everyone who crossed his path. Whether a Pharisee who followed him in secret, a despised tax collector, an adulterous woman or an ostracized leper, Jesus welcomed him or her into his company. Jesus peered deeply into each of their troubled hearts and responded with his assurance of God’s abundant love. Indeed, Divine Love has given me much to anticipate and much to accomplish every day this Lent.

Though I’ve heard this account repeatedly since childhood, I find new meaning in the Transfiguration story today. Mark’s gospel (9:2-10) tells us that Jesus led his unsuspecting disciples up a mountainside where Jesus suddenly appeared in a dazzling aura. With Elijah and Moses at his side, Jesus revealed the essence of eternity to his incredulous friends. If this wasn’t enough, that Loving Voice announced from the clouds, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him.” With those words, the God of Israel underscored everything that Jesus had said and done. I think that poor Peter, James and John were at a disadvantage during this encounter. How could they have anticipated what Jesus revealed to them that day? Still, I’d like to think that they kept that image of Jesus in all of his glory in the back of their minds during the troubled days which lay ahead. Perhaps after witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration, they were equipped to anticipate the things to come with a bit more bravery. Though it proved to be difficult to embrace their troubles much of the time, Jesus had given them something to cling to in the worst of them.

My visits to Israel were amazing on many levels. Still, their most meaningful impact came in the numerous ruins from Jesus’ life among us. His childhood neighborhood, the synagogue where he taught, Magdala, the Sea of Galilee and the Garden of Gethsemane are a few of the places which enhanced my understanding of all that Jesus did. The love which propelled Jesus in those places compels me to anticipate Jesus’ company on the road ahead this Lent and always. That love inspires me to try my best to do my best to respond to others as Jesus did.

Lent 2018 provides each of us a unique opportunity to cling to our own inspiring images of Jesus. The glorious Jesus they encountered on that mountainside gave the disciples the courage to continue to follow him. The humble Jesus who walked among the poor inspired their own service of those in need. After Jesus’ death, it was the disciples who attracted the sick, the suffering and the despised. This Lent, you and I are invited to join the first disciples in savoring Jesus’ friendship and in making Jesus’ ways our own. Jesus leaves it to us to decide how we’ll use our love for him to do this as only we can.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved