Water, Water Everywhere!*

As of late, I’ve been taken with meteorological images. I’ve shared my experience with a perfect storm and the multifaceted clouds which so often surround us. Though we most often associate storms and clouds with troubling circumstances, both can also be the source of new life and joy. Though I hobbled a bit during and after my bout with that storm, the sunshine which followed penetrated my spirit with renewed energy. Clouds in the aftermath revealed unexpected blessings. The rain which has fallen since has helped as well by washing away lingering debris. That rain also softened the ground beneath my feet just enough to allow new seedlings to poke their way through. What a beautiful addition to the landscape around me! Yes, I’ve weathered that storm, I’ve found encouragement in the clouds and I’ve been renewed by the rain! What more can I ask for? It occurs to me that, as always, God has been quite generous. Since this is the case, I’ll answer my own question. There is nothing more for me to ask for. So it is that, today, I turn my eyes upward to ask, “Lord, what is it that you’re asking of me?”

My propensity not to allow God time enough to respond to my questions failed to come to fruition this time around. Apparently, God’s eagerness was greater than my own because I was immediately inspired. Thank you, Lord! That inspiration suggested that, though it comes to us in the midst of inclement weather, water is the most precious commodity Creation has to offer, with the exception of course, of those God has given us to love. With that, I turned to today’s scripture readings. There I found it: Water, water, everywhere!* Each passage invites us to dance in the rain and to embrace the waters of God’s presence in our lives. If my recent history is any indication, this is truly life-giving advice.

The reading from Exodus (17:3-7) chronicles Moses’ distress as he stood before the unruly Israelites. Though God had promised to lead them to “…a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey,” they’d found themselves dying of thirst. Rather than trusting God who had already delivered them from the bondage of Egypt, the people grumbled and threatened Moses. In fear and disgust, Moses begged God for help before the people took matters into their own hands. Fortunately, and in spite of their faithlessness, God provided the water they so desperately needed. Sadly, it took many more similar encounters to convince the people that God’s presence among them was far more plentiful than the water God had provided. In his letter to the Romans (5:1-2,5-8), Paul invited his readers to drink of the blessings which came with the death of Jesus. This one from Galilee had outstretched his arms for each one of them. In the blood and water that flowed from Jesus’ side on the cross, new life abounded. Indeed, through both his life among them and his death, Jesus offered the waters of new life. Through this water, God remained to forgive and to revive, that each one would thrive, if only they chose to drink in God’s presence.

If God’s intent to ensure that we flourish through the waters of eternal life isn’t yet clear, John’s gospel (4:5-42) certainly makes it so. John wrote of Jesus’ encounter with a woman from Samaria as he rested at Jacob’s well. Jesus surprised the woman when he asked her for a drink of water. At the time, the Jewish people avoided any association with Samaritans. Sharing a drink of water crossed lines better left undisturbed. Nonetheless, Jesus persisted in the exchange, offering the woman far more than a simple drink in return. Much to her surprise, Jesus promised the woman eternal life. Impossible as this seemed, the woman allowed Jesus to explain. This woman was so taken with Jesus’ openness and his absolute acceptance of her that she couldn’t walk away from him. It was at Jacob’s well which was replenished by rain from heaven above that Jesus extended a second chance to this woman. Had this been her sixth or twelfth or thirty-third chance, Jesus would have offered it as freely. Once again, God forgave and revived that another of God’s children might thrive, if only she chose to do so. That wise Samaritan woman did just that!

At one time or another, we all find ourselves in the midst of perfect storms, surrounded my clouds and far more rainfall than we care to deal with. It’s difficult not to give up when we’re deluged by these things. Still, God insists that the joy and the sorrow, the comedy and the tragedies which make up our lives are of great concern to this Loving Parent of ours. All the while, God waits patiently to quench our thirst, to forgive and to revive, if only we choose to accept God’s kindness. Though I may seem to be writing from my own choices to dance in the waters of God’s love for me, I find myself apologizing to God far more often than I care to admit for having done just the opposite. I worry and I tread water until I become more overwhelmed than ever. Sometimes, it is only when I’m far too thirsty and weary and desperate to go on that I turn to God. And, just as generously as God responded to the Israelites and the woman at the well, God revives me with a cupful of Divine Love. I am fully convinced that God waits with another cupful for me, just as God waits with another cup filled with Divine Love just for you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

*From Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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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

More About God’s Love

Throughout Lent 2015 -and I hope always- I concern myself most with God’s love. It is not that I feel particularly deserving of Divine Affection. The truth is that I sometimes find myself running from God’s embrace because I am unsure of what to do with it. If I acknowledge God’s love, I must acknowledge that, to God, I am lovable. If I acknowledge God’s love, I must acknowledge that the least I can do is to share that love with those around me. If I acknowledge God’s love, I must acknowledge that this love is worth everything I will have to sacrifice to reveal God’s love through my life. You see, when I acknowledge God’s love, I commit myself to changing my little corner of the world as only I can. Yes, living God’s love is a daunting task which is the reason I am sometimes tempted to run away from it.

It is during these times of doubt that God’s persistence in loving me becomes most apparent. Before I began this writing, a ray of sunshine cut across the piles on my desk and urged me toward the window to see more. As I basked in the sunshine which warmed me quite nicely, I looked affectionately at the mounds of melting gray snow at the curb. At that moment, it occurred to me that God looks with far greater affection upon me. “I know. I know,” I said aloud. “You’re using that melting snow in ways I don’t realize, just as you’re using me.” With that, I returned to this writing with renewed energy and a bit of inspiration. God’s resolve to love you and me is indeed perpetual regardless of our frequent, but futile attempts to run away from it. The scriptures frequently underscore God’s affection for us. In the passages I cite today, God’s persistent love reveals itself once again.

In Jeremiah 31:31-34, the prophet tells us that God absolved the Israelites of every sort of evil and God continued to love them in spite of it all. Through Jeremiah, God assured all concerned: “…this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel… I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God and they shall be my people… All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the Lord, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.” St. Paul the Apostle offered further assurance through his letter in Hebrews 5:7-9. Paul reminded the people that God’s love became flesh in the person of Jesus, the source of salvation for all. Not leaving our understanding of his passion and death to chance, Jesus lived the thirty-three years beforehand to reveal God’s intent to us. Through every word and deed, Jesus revealed God’s continued care, unqualified forgiveness and never-ending love. In his gospel, John (12:20-33) underscored all of this when he quoted Jesus’ resolve: “…when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” Jesus promised to dismiss the pain of the cross, unbearable though it would be, to outstretch his arms to embrace us just as God had always done and just as God would continue to do.

This Fifth Sunday of Lent, we celebrate the amazing gift which is God’s unconditional love: The love which drove Jesus to endure his passion and death; the love which drew Jesus from the tomb to celebrate the salvation of humankind; the love which impelled Jesus to remain among the people for forty days, reassuring them with his peace and his promise of the Spirit to come. Jesus’ message of love was so convincing that the disciples overcame their own fear and spread the word regarding God’s love to all who would listen. This is the same love to which we attune our hearts during this Lent and always.

In the end, I realize that acknowledging God’s love is not quite as difficult as it seemed at the onset of this writing. All that any of us need to do is to embrace the opportunities in every moment we are given. Whether they involve hope or despair, blessings or loss, we will somehow to make it through. Whether we are filled with energy or dragging ourselves along, we will manage the tasks at hand. Some way and somehow, God’s love will see to it that we celebrate our joy with enthusiasm and that we survive our darkest moments with a bit of energy to spare. Throughout Lent 2015 -and I hope always- I concern myself most with God’s love. It is not that I feel particularly deserving of Divine Affection. I know I am deserving and so are you. God insists upon it!

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Persistent Love

Of everything I have learned about God in my life, the reality of God’s love is most important. I write this not with hope, but with unshakable certainty. Perhaps I am convinced because love touched me early on when I rested in my mother’s womb. My parents had two children and they hoped to have more. I was the first fruit of that effort. My older sister and brother were seven and five years of age at the time. Unaware of the trouble a newborn sibling might be, they joined in my parents’ expectation. When I arrived, they joyfully welcomed me into our family. Each of them must have loved me well because I learned to treasure their unconditional acceptance. As a result, throughout the decades that have followed, I have taken all references to God’s unconditional love to heart. There is nothing more assuring in my joy and in my sorrow, in my goodness and in my guilt than being loved by God.

Acknowledging God’s absolute love for me has propelled me through the best and the worst of times. I survived the trauma and tragedies that beset me because I knew I was not alone in them. Though I have felt at times that my world was collapsing around me, I managed to hold on because God remained with me. In every instance, I knew that God understood my troubles and that God would love me through them. This is reality for me. This is reality for every one of God’s children.

The problem in all of this is that it is not always easy to keep God’s love in the forefront of our experiences. Though my parents, my sister and my brother offered excellent lessons in love when they welcomed me into their lives, their skills were tested to the nth degree when my three younger sisters came along. The excitement of each new baby’s arrival faded in the shadow of the ongoing responsibilities of raising a half-dozen children. Add to that my dad’s passing when the youngest of us was just three-and-a-half and it is easy to see that my awareness of God’s persistent love was in danger of being lost in the shuffle. The good news is that, while my family offered their own lessons as best as they could, others also stepped up to offer tangible lessons in this regard.

Kindnesses great and small have made all of the difference to me throughout my life. Whether I have been the recipient of these gestures or the source, dealing with God’s love has always been my best work. Receiving and dolling out God’s love is the best work any of us can do. The scriptures share a bit of God’s perspective on all of this. In spite of Israel’s ongoing sinfulness, Chronicles (2 Chronicles 36:14-23) tells us that God is persistent in pursuing the chosen ones: “Early and often did the Lord, the God of their fathers, send his messengers to them, for he had compassion on his people…” In his letter to the Ephesians (2:4-10), St. Paul echoes the same when he tells us, “Brothers and sisters: God who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ.” Finally, John’s gospel (3:14-21) makes God’s intent most clear: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” If God did not love us, God would not have sent Jesus to reveal Divine Love through the lifetime of lessons which have guided us for two millennia. Yes, God’s love is an important entity to all concerned and it is up to us to make the most of that love by receiving it with open hearts and by sharing it generously with one another.

Though I have filled this space with the confidence of an expert regarding God’s love, I admit that I am not. Like most of us, there are days when I don’t feel loved and I don’t feel capable of loving anyone else. It is then that I am pursued just as the Israelites were so long ago. Whether it is through my granddaughters’ smiles, an inspiring author, snowflakes dancing beyond my window, a well-timed hug or a gentle nudge deep within me, God makes it quite clear that I am loved. With that, I find that I am an expert after all. With that, I get back to the best work I can do –receiving and giving God’s love.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved