The God of Love

While enjoying various gatherings over the past few weeks, several family members and friends asked me to pray for them. In the midst of the revelry of the moment, those making these requests had apparently held on to their strong belief in the power of prayer. Each one seemed convinced that his or her request for prayers was the most sensible action to take at the moment. Each one also seemed to do so with the full expectation that any prayers offered on their behalf would certainly be heard. Since I share these convictions, I happily agreed to pray as best I could for each one. At the same time, I puzzled a bit over their timing. That these family members and friends were thinking about God in the midst of various festivities touched me deeply. I wondered what it is about this God of ours that inspires us to pray twenty-four seven regardless of where were are and whom we are with. Though I can’t be certain of anyone else’s experiences of God, I can share my own adventures in this regard…

As a child, I often puzzled over the things I learned about God. I imagined God to be the kindly and caring Creator who appeared in our children’s bible. I still remember the rendering of God looking lovingly upon Adam and Eve and the menagerie of animals provided to keep them company. My experiences within my family confirmed my impressions. I was only five when my uncle became ill. The 1950s offered no antibiotics to fight pneumonia. The curvature of my uncle’s spine further complicated his condition. As a very young child, Uncle Gee contracted polio which left his spine severely bent and compromised his breathing. When he first became ill, we gathered in the living room to say the rosary for our uncle’s recovery every night. When it became evident that he wouldn’t survive, my mom changed our intention from “a full recovery” to “a happy death.” Because this dear uncle lived with us, his looming loss was devastating. My dad responded by assuring us that all would be well. My dad held us close as he explained that Uncle Gee was going to heaven. My dad insisted that everything in heaven is perfect and that God would make our uncle perfect as well. The pneumonia would be gone and Uncle Gee’s back would be as straight as can be. When my uncle passed away a few days later, I cried because I would miss him. Still, I knew that all was well. God came through for my uncle and God would do the same for both of my grandpas and my dad who passed away just a few years later.

As I grew into a second grader, I continued to puzzle over the things I learned about God. Though I’d known about Jesus, I didn’t consider how Jesus fit into my image of God until the year I received First Communion. I listened carefully to all I was taught about Jesus. I found that my image of Jesus was quite tangible. I liked the things Jesus said. The parables Jesus told concurred with the image I had of my kindly and caring Creator. All that Jesus did illustrated the magnitude of God’s love for me and for everyone else. Young as I was, I found great joy and great consolation in the knowledge that, no matter what I did, God would always love me.

It was on or about my thirteenth birthday that the things which seemed so clear a year or month or day earlier became inexplicably murky. While I continued to puzzle over the things I’d learned about God, I realized that life in this world isn’t at all perfect. Sometimes the adults around me disappointed me. What was worse, when I looked in the mirror, the sweet little girl I used to see had morphed into someone I hardly recognized. Though the adults around me continued to share their wisdom regarding God, I puzzled over my impressions of God all the more. Fortunately, Confirmation approached and becoming an adult Christian became the topic of the year. I had plenty of opportunities to puzzle over every sort of “what if” scenario. “How would an adult Christian respond?” my teachers asked. In the end, my classmates and I learned that our choices would grow in difficulty and in importance as we grew older. In the end, we also understood that we didn’t have to make those difficult choices alone. God’s Holy Spirit would inspire and strengthen us, clarifying the situation every step of the way until we made our own ways home to heaven. Once again, I liked what I heard regarding the constancy of God’s love for me. Perhaps all of those who’ve asked me to pray for them in recent days have become convinced of the same. Perhaps this is what a lifetime of friendship with God does for us!

This is Trinity Sunday and we celebrate God in all of God’s wonderful glory! Though my childhood musings cannot begin to explain the Trinity, Jesus did so again and again. In everything he said and did, Jesus insisted that ours is the God of Love, the all-caring Creator who breathed life into each of us. Through his life among us, Jesus revealed that ours is the God of Love who became one of us to reveal the true happiness found in caring for one another and in opening our hearts to God’s love. When Jesus’ life among us neared its end, Jesus promised us all a lifetime of encounters with the God of Love whose Spirit comes in the raging winds and the gentle whispers which urge us on to do our best and to be our best. Yes, on this Trinity Sunday, we celebrate our lifelong friendships with God, the God of Love who remains with us and within us though everything. We celebrate God who hears our every prayerful request and who responds with perfect love!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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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

Who Made Me Do What?

“…the Holy Spirit whom God
will send… will tell you everything.”

From John 14:26

I admit that some of today’s television offerings are a bit too much for me. Daily newscasts frequently dishearten me. This reality makes me reluctant to tune into fictional versions of the same. So it is that when I find myself in need of a departure from reality and am too tired to read, I turn to reruns. One station offers an amazingly endless selection of my long-ago favorites.

The other day, in the midst of such a retreat, I dozed off. I awoke to someone saying, “Why did I do that? What made me do it?” Though I had no idea of what I was watching, my groggy thoughts turned to Flip Wilson. I was in college (Yes, a long time ago!) when his comedy show aired. At the time, most people were aware of his classic assertion, “The devil made me do it.” The comedian had coined this line while portraying Geraldine in one of his most beloved character skits. Though Flip Wilson was popular, this line became even more so. At the time, regardless of what one was accused of, announcing “The devil made me do it!” was expected to absolve us of any responsibility for our wrongdoing. Though this didn’t actually work in most instances, a similar phenomenon seems to work every time.

Whenever I’ve found myself faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges, something has nudged me in the direction of a solution. In these instances, there was never a logical reason for me to do what I did. Still, I did it because something from within nudged me. When I look back upon these events, I realize that I managed to survive what could have been devastating circumstances. When asked to explain, I can only respond, “The Spirit made me do it!”

Loving God, thank you for your presence which guides us through our troubles and opens us to your joy.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

And So I Write On!

I have written this to make you realize
that you possess eternal life…

1 John 5:13

One of the most enjoyable things I do is write. This is an odd turn of events because it was extremely difficult for me to earn an “A” on writing assignments in high school. Whether creative endeavors or research papers, I usually just missed that coveted A. In college, I did slightly better only because most papers involved research and the recycling of established facts which involved little creativity on my part. Thirty years ago, my new pastor asked me to write “something inspirational that will fill a column or two” in our first parish bulletin. I surprised myself when I took this challenge. Somehow, I managed to bury my fear and to compose something acceptable in response.

Every week since, I’ve poured over the scriptures and my own life experiences to do the same. What began as a challenge has morphed into a welcome opportunity to spread the good news regarding what God has so generously revealed to me. Truly, I can’t help myself.

As I’ve shared numerous times, this writing adventure has inspired a book. One third of that manuscript rests in a file on my computer and in a “just in case” hard copy. The remaining two-thirds teeter between some sketchy notes and another file lodged in my memory. Today, I’ve reopened all of those files to continue this endeavor. I assume God will be involved with this book as well. It’s the story of our relationship, God’s with me and mine with God. Wish me luck!

Good and Gracious God, HELP!!!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Celebrate God!

Last week, my husband and I drove north to our cabin to take care of a bit of upkeep. Before you invest any sympathy on our behalf, let me assure you that we find such tasks at our get-away to be therapeutic and relaxing. This time, Mike planted a few pots of flowers while I cleaned the kitchen. Mike went on to repair an outdoor light while I went through the linens to determine what needs to be replaced. At the end of that day, we happily cooked and ate dinner, cleaned up and headed to the couch and recliner. I picked up a book I’d begun a few weeks earlier and Mike grabbed the remote. When he scrolled through that evening’s offerings, Mike weighed his options. Would he watch an episode of one of his favorite dramas or settle for a few reruns from the 60s? Because the poor guy was tired and fighting a lingering cold, I encouraged Mike to settle for those vintage offerings. This allowed him the luxury of dozing off at will and it allowed me to read without distraction. As it happened, the dialogue from the lighthearted comedies he selected provided a soothing background as I read. The subject matter of the volume in my hand brought comfort as well. Another expert had scripted a summary of his findings regarding life after this life and his every word immersed me more deeply into an ocean of peace.

This is Trinity Sunday and I’m sharing my Wisconsin adventure because it offered me a glimpse of the essence of today’s celebration. Trinity Sunday differs from the other major feasts of the liturgical year. Christmas, Easter and Pentecost mark events which continue to shape our relationships with God. On Trinity Sunday, we celebrate God’s wonder. Just as Mike and I found ourselves relaxed and at peace in our little cabin, we all find ourselves most at peace when we nestle in close proximity to God. Still, though we try to embrace this peace as often as possible, we sometimes imitate the clumsy efforts of those who came long before us when we do so.

The Old Testament tells us that Moses’ contemporaries viewed God as Creator, Ruler and Judge. They approached God with tempered hope and a good deal of trepidation. Today’s reading from Deuteronomy (4:32-34. 39-40) offers an example of Moses’ responses to God’s often impatient people. Moses pointed out that though they repeatedly doubted God’s concern for them, God responded every time to their needs. God fed them with morning meals of manna and suppers of quail. God quenched their thirst with a fountain of water in the midst of the desert. Still, in spite of God’s ongoing presence to them, fear overwhelmed the Israelites even as they approached the Promised Land. It was then that God made God’s presence more visible than ever to them.

Today’s reading from Romans (8:14-17) reminds us that Jesus revealed God’s presence and God’s love quite tangibly. When Jesus embraced his life among the people, he underscored the value of even the most ordinary aspects of our lives. Jesus learned to love and to respect his parents, neighbors and friends. He grew into adulthood with useful skills and a deep faith in God. Jesus used his public ministry to reveal the nature of God’s love for us. The One whom the Israelites saw as Creator, Ruler and Judge became “Abba” to Jesus’ followers. Through his own acts of kindness, mercy and love, his preaching and parables (Do you remember the Prodigal Son?), Jesus made one thing clear: That, above all else, God is the most loving parent any of us will ever know. Sadly, the disciples returned to the fearfulness of the Israelites when Jesus ascended into heaven. Fortunately, it wasn’t long afterward that God’s presence among us became undeniable. God’s Spirit arrived in a stormy flurry and filled up the disciples so completely that they couldn’t contain themselves. They burst out of hiding from that upper room and filled the streets of Jerusalem with the good news of God’s love for us all.

I mentioned earlier that I began with Mike’s and my Wisconsin adventure because it offered us a glimpse of the gift we celebrate today. Mike and I enjoy the cabin because it rests in the midst of the best of creation. The interior is simple, but truly comfortable. The phone seldom rings and our internet activity is limited to a minute or two on our iPhones. When I use our offline laptop to write, the words flow more freely than ever. Our isolation from our hectic lives at home frees us to inhale the fresh country air and to tune in to our briefly unencumbered hearts. These interludes free us to experience God’s presence more fully. On this Trinity Sunday, God assures us that we’re in very good company wherever we are. Whether we’re worried and impatient as the Israelites were or uncertain and feeling abandoned as the disciples were, God is with us. Though we can’t always drive north to quieter environs, we can find quiet moments to spend with our Abba wherever we are. It is during these quiet times that the God we celebrate this Trinity Sunday assures us once again that we’re never alone.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We NEVER Walk Alone!

A few weeks ago, I finished my umpteenth reading of a favorite book which addresses the afterlife and our own struggles as we make our way there. As I closed the familiar volume, I wondered if the author had written anything more recently. When I entered his name online, images appeared of my now-ragged paperback and two additional titles. I immediately announced to my poor husband that we should expect a package in the next few days as I was ordering both new books and two extra copies of my favorite. Since my copy is no longer suitable to share, I need these extra copies to lend to interested friends. After placing that order, I went to the fullest and most frequently visited shelf of my bookcase. Though I’d intended to purge my collection to make room for my newly discovered prizes, I realized that I couldn’t part with any of my books.

I’ve been a student of death and dying since childhood. By the time I was nine years old, my uncle, both grandfathers and my dad had passed away. My remaining family members responded to these losses with absolute faith in our loved ones’ newfound heavenly bliss and I fully believed them in this regard. Still, when I began college and discovered that there were sources other than the Bible and catechisms to be found which address death and life after death, I immediately enrolled in a class which explored these topics. One of our required textbooks was written by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a medical pioneer who defined the stages of dying as she cared for her terminal patients. Dr. Kubler-Ross is also likely the first medical doctor to admit publicly that she believed her patients’ seemingly incredible stories regarding their near-death experiences and the hereafter. It’s safe to say that I’ve read almost every book written on these topics since. I admit that, when given the chance, I can speak ad infinitum regarding all of this. When asked why I’m so interested in these things, I consistently answer from my heart: “They remind me that this life is do-able and worth all of our effort!”

The numerous determined authors who chronicle the stories of others or who write of their own experiences in these areas do so because they can’t help sharing their remarkable news with all who will listen. My favorite book and its counterparts have certainly added a new dimension to my faith and substantiated my hope regarding eternal life. These writings inspire me to plug away regardless of the difficulties at hand because I know what lies ahead at the end of this journey. I’m quite certain they’ve done the same for many who journey with me.

On this Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate Jesus’ efforts in convincing his disciples of the same. Jesus’ years of teaching through both his word and his example had been blurred in the midst of his passion and death and throughout the days which followed. The disciples felt terribly alone. Fear paralyzed them and they hid, wondering all the while if they, too, would hang from a cross. In spite of all that Jesus had said and done, they trembled. Though Jesus could have moved on to heaven without looking back, he returned to encourage his friends. Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene to offer her the gift his peace. When Jesus appeared among Peter and the rest, he didn’t chastise or rebuke them for deserting him. He didn’t review his lessons or question their understanding. The first thing Jesus said to them was, “Peace be with you.” Jesus’ purpose throughout these post-resurrection encounters was to fill up the disciples with his enduring presence and his enduring peace. If they believed that Jesus was with them in everything, they would endure. If they believed that they would survive their own deaths as Jesus had, they would prosper. Jesus’ final lesson assured all who would listen that this life is indeed do-able because none of them would be alone in their efforts. One day, each one would cross into eternal life just as well.

The scriptures tell us that, after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the disciples returned to hiding. So it was that on the first Pentecost God’s Holy Spirit rushed in with a dramatic reminder of God’s enduring peace and presence in their lives. The wind and rumbling walls quickly drew their attention, renewed their hope and nudged them into action. The fire within them finally ignited fully and urged them out onto the streets of Jerusalem to spread God’s word. Suddenly, the things to come seemed within reach and the disciples’ lives became do-able after all.

As for me, I’ll continue to read about our journeys into the afterlife. Every word will underscore my conviction that God’s peace abounds and that God is with us in everything regardless of how alone we may feel at times. With every page I turn, I will celebrate this reality and reaffirm my conviction that, when all is said and done, this life is do-able and worth all of our effort. None of us will ever walk alone and we’ll all end this journey in God’s good company.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved