Celebrate the God of Love

When I was a little girl, I was surrounded by people who had a very strong sense of God’s presence in our lives. Each one seemed convinced that voicing ones concerns to God was the most sensible action to take when the circumstances of this life went awry. Each one did so with the full expectation that all requests sent God’s way would be heard. When she tucked me into bed at night, my mom often asked me to pray for family members who were ill or who had special intentions which needed attention. I happily agreed to do so as I was honored that my mom thought that even my prayers mattered. The truth is that I was convinced that God agreed.

From early on, my parents indicated that God is a kind and caring Creator. I remember our children’s bible’s rendering of God looking lovingly upon Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. I was certain that God looks at all of us the same way. Several family experiences confirmed this impression. I was five when we gathered in the living room evening after evening to say the rosary for my hospitalized uncle. When it became evident that his recovery wasn’t possible, my mom led us in praying for his happy death. Because this dear uncle lived with us, his looming loss was devastating. When my dad sensed our fear, he assured us that all would be well. My dad explained that our dear uncle was going to heaven. He added that everything in heaven is perfect and that God would make our uncle perfect as well. He would be happy and healthy in his new home. When my uncle passed away, I cried because I would miss him. Still, I knew that all really was well. God came through for my uncle. Within the three years that followed, God did the same for my grandpas and my dad who also passed away.
 
In second grade, I expanded my knowledge of this God of ours. Though I’d known about Jesus, I didn’t consider how Jesus fit into my image of God until my teacher began to prepare us for First Communion. I listened carefully to the things Sister said about him. My image of Jesus soon became quite tangible. I liked the things Jesus said. The stories Jesus told concurred with the image I had of my kind and caring Creator. The things 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 Jesus’ promise that, no matter what I did, God would always love me.
 
I was in sixth grade when the things which seemed so clear a year or month or day earlier became inexplicably murky. While I continued to value God’s presence in my life, I also realized that life in this world isn’t at all perfect. What was worse, when I looked in the mirror, the sweet little girl I used to see had morphed into someone I hardly recognized. Fortunately, I would soon be confirmed and my teacher made becoming an adult Christian the focus of every catechism class. Sister assured me and my classmates that we were no longer little girls and boys. Each one of us was morphing into something much more. Sister informed us sixth graders that this change was well-timed. The choices that lay ahead for each of us would only grow in difficulty as we grew older. More importantly, Sister assured us that we didn’t have to make those difficult choices alone. God’s Holy Spirit would inspire us and strengthen us every step of the way. We needed only to listen and to do the best we could. Sister reassured us all that the constancy of God’s love would be a given for the rest of our lives.
 
I’d like to think that I’ve learned a thing or two more about God since sixth grade. Still, on this Trinity Sunday, I’m happy to focus on Sister’s assurance regarding the constancy of God’s love. Though our lives have been anything but celebratory throughout this pandemic, God’s presence in the midst of it all has made all of the difference in the world to me. While I missed our sons, our daughters-in-law and grandchildren, God missed them with me. Images of overworked healthcare workers and their suffering patients tore at my heartstrings and God felt their pain. When the number of those lost increased by thousands and then tens of thousands, God welcomed each one home while loving their families through their mourning. When protesters demanded only to matter as much as their fellow citizens do, tears streamed down my face. God remained nearby, perhaps wondering what our human family is coming to. Truly, God has been with us throughout every bit of this suffering.

Though I cannot begin to explain the Trinity, I can assure you that ours is the God of Love, the all-caring Creator who breathed life into all of creation and into each of us. Ours is the God of Love, this Jesus who became one of us to show us that the best way to open our hearts to God’s love is by loving one another. Ours is the God of Love, God’s Spirit which remains among us in raging winds and gentle whispers. On this Trinity Sunday, we celebrate the God of Love who remains with us and within us though everything.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

 
 
 
 
 
 

God Is With Us… ALWAYS!

Throughout most of our seventy-plus stay-in-place days, I’ve been on a bit of a roll. Last week, I shared that leisurely mornings have allowed me to organize my thoughts and my heart each day with our benevolent Creator in mind. Almost every day, my husband-the-deacon and I have also made time for a walk outdoors. Even on the cloudiest bad-news days, I’ve managed to find reason to appreciate God’s goodness in it all. I began this paragraph by saying, “Throughout most of our seventy-plus stay-in-place days…” because the other day was quite different. For perhaps obvious reasons, I vacillated between anger and despair over the suffering and loss caused by our bout with COVID-19 and our inability to work together as one people to fight it. In an effort not to give in to these feelings, I gave Mike a peck on his cheek, grabbed my hoodie and headed outdoors. I fully intended to clear my head and my heart in the process.

That day, the temperature struggled to reach fifty degrees in spite of the sunshine. I stuffed my hands into my pockets as I made my way down our cul-de-sac. I went on toward village hall and into the subdivision to the north. As I walked along the winding streets, a chilling breeze blew open my jacket. I zipped up and pulled my hood over my head. I looked toward the cloudless sky and declared, “Not funny!” Afterward, I picked up my pace just enough to create my own heat as I continued on my way. Eventually, I warmed up and inadvertently began to do what I most often do during my walks. I lost myself in Nature. I looked at the branches of every tree I passed to check on its leaves. Not many months ago, green leaves turned yellow and brown and then fell to the ground to be trampled or blown away. This cycle has continued in the buds and young leaves which now burst forth from charcoal branches overhead. Though the wind continued its brisk assault, I no longer minded.

As I walked on, I looked skyward again. This time, I whispered an apology. I acknowledged that the cold breeze which pushed me along earlier had accomplished much more. Though that breeze gave me a chill, it also gave me the peace and comfort which I’d longed for. I’d fretted so about that virus’s attack on life as we once knew it that I’d forgotten the Source of that life. I’d worried so about our inability to work together in dealing with all of this that I’d forgotten all of the good people who have and continue to do just that. It finally occurred to me that perhaps God has something far more valuable for me to experience during this pandemic than anger and despair. God didn’t cause that virus which wreaks havoc on our lives. However, God did create us with the ability to respond to it. It is God’s faith in us and love for us which breathes life into our efforts. With that, I looked up once again. That time, I said, “Thank you, dear God, for remaining with me and with all of us. Just help us to take notice of your presence more often!” Before I could add an “amen” to my prayer, the wind blew my hood off of my head and pressed my sleeves against my arms. I took that as God’s assurance that I never walk alone. None of us do.

I share all of this as we celebrate Pentecost Sunday with good reason. This is the last day of Easter Season 2020 and what an unusual season this has been! Our lives changed drastically in mid-March when staying-in-place became the norm. Without warning, we lost access to life as we once knew it. The same was true for Jesus’ friends two thousand years ago. The poor disciples had given up everything to follow Jesus and, as their final trip to Jerusalem drew closer, they were in a far worse frame of mind than I was when I set out for my walk the other day. While I had lost my focus for a bit, the disciples were on the verge of losing Jesus. Though we can see light at the end of the tunnel today, Jesus’ followers could not. They watched him taken prisoner, deserted him when he needed them most and then watched him die on that cross from afar. What worse could have happened?

John’s gospel offers a different Pentecost account than the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. These three speak of Jesus’ resurrection, subsequent appearances and his ascension into heaven. It was after Jesus’ ascension that the Holy Spirit set the disciples on fire and spurred them into action. Today’s gospel from John (20:19-23) ushers us back to the first Easter. It was on that day, when the disciples heard of the empty tomb, yet still hid in absolute fear, that Jesus appeared. It was on that evening, when the circumstances of Jesus suffering and death were fresh in their minds, that Jesus appeared. The first words Jesus spoke were, “Peace be with you!” Like that quiet presence which walked with me the other day, Jesus slipped into that room to walk with his friends through their grief and fear. Jesus added, “Receive the Holy Spirit!” With those words, Jesus promised his friends that they would never ever be alone.

You know, God’s presence isn’t always tangible. Though God used that breezy day to renew my peace, I still sometimes walk in the fearful disciples’ sandals just as we all do. It is during times such as these that we must let go of our worry and embrace Jesus’ Pentecost promise: God’s Spirit is with us when we need God most, now as our new normal unfolds, and always!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Time To Keep and Time To Let Go

A time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away.

Ecclesiastes 3:6

A few days ago, my sister happily texted that she’s made notable progress purging her home of the unneeded items she’d held onto for too long. She began this process early into our stay-at-home mandate. Though I started to do the same weeks ago, I lost my resolve about three days into my effort. I really did begin with good intentions. As I sat at my desk, I determined that my calendar would stay and the yellowed brochures from last year’s vacation would go. Greeting cards from our sons, their wives and our grandchildren would stay. Old inspirational calendars which I’ve never revisited had to go.

You get the idea, but not all of it. I also needed to go through the same sort of checklist when it came to the things I do. Though, like you, I have lots of stay-at-home time on my hands these days, I hadn’t been using that time particularly well. Maintaining communication with our family and friends is a priority. Cooking, laundry, cleaning house and exercising a bit are also musts. Watching TV and doing crossword puzzles aren’t. As I pondered my schedule, I remembered the not-quite-half-written book on my flash drive.

I recently texted my sister to let her know that I’ve resumed work on my book. Now I fully understand her satisfaction over keeping just what she wants and casting away the rest. I really, really, really want to finish my book and my newly disciplined schedule proves it!

Generous God, help us all to make the most of our stay-at-home opportunities.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be Kind To Everyone!

Behold, you are pleased with sincerity of heart,
and in my inmost being you teach me this wisdom.

Psalm 51:8

Quite recently, a celebrity drew criticism after sitting with a perceived political enemy at a public event. Some of her fans and followers took her to task because the person she’d associated with had been unsupportive of issues which directly effected them all. This celebrity responded candidly as she habitually does. She pointed out that she consistently encourages her audiences and friends to be kind to one another. She went on to explain that this means to be kind to everyone, not only those with whom we agree. I admit that I applauded her for standing by her principles. I also asked myself how often I’d allowed a difference of opinion to cause me to withhold my kindness from another of God’s children.

You know, I truly believe that God is alive and well among us and within us all. This celebrity may or may not acknowledge God in her life. However, she exhibited God’s attitude toward us through her example in this situation. The good news is that many of us do our best to live out what we call our faith or our consciences’ dictates or our humanity.

This story touched me because so much of the opposite is at play these days. Perhaps it’s time for all of us to pay closer attention to our parts in all of this. Whether we’re driven by faith or philosophy or a simple sense of our common humanity, we need to allow one another to do the best each of us can. When interventions are in order, we need to offer them constructively as best we can. It seems to me that this is all God asks.

Dear God, help us all to be ambassadors of your love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

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