Waiting Peacefully

This Second Sunday of Advent, we begin our liturgy with the lighting of two candles on our Advent Wreath. Last weekend’s candle invited us to renew our hope by acknowledging God’s promising presence among us. Though this is the season of waiting, just as God’s people awaited the Messiah, we cannot help celebrating that arrival in the moments at hand. This week’s candle draws us in from December’s cold and that of our weary world. Its flame lights our way back to God who promises us all that we will ever need. It’s light draws us into the glow of God’s peace.

On the First Sunday of Advent, I lamented with Isaiah over the many imperfections of this life. I joined him in questioning God’s wisdom in allowing us the freedom to do what we wish. After all, we don’t always choose what’s best for ourselves or for those we’ve been given to love. Fortunately, I joined Isaiah in coming to one additional important realization: Along with the gift of freedom, God offers us the gift of good counsel. Isaiah put it perfectly when he prayed, “O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you are the potter: we are the work of your hands.” Upon hearing those words, I promised myself that I would hold onto that image throughout Advent. What more can I ask than to have God’s hands wrapped gently around me, molding my rough edges into the person God knows I can be?

This past week, that image transformed potentially trying moments into joyful encounters. Tasks which might have overwhelmed me became memories in the making. My dear husband and I decorated for Christmas with the bows and beads, lights and ornaments we’ve gathered over the years. Each one inspired gratitude for blessings received and tragedies overcome. Though I cannot know what the next few decades will bring, I expect only more of the same because this is what God has taught me to do. As for this coming week, let’s turn to Isaiah once again for inspiration…

In today’s first reading (Isaiah 40:1-5; 9-11), the prophet heralds the onset of new times for his people. Isaiah rejoices because God’s passionate love has not run out. God is the shepherd who “…feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom.” While I found great solace in the image of myself as clay in God’s hand, I find greater peace in seeing myself as a lamb in God’s arms. God can certainly work miracles by molding my imperfections away. Still, how much more God can do with me when I’m drawn into God’s arms! What more might I become as my head rests against God’s chest so close to God’s heart?

This image evokes both a chill and remarkable peace. Resting in God’s arms is a welcome retreat. Yet I must consider the consequences. Once I allow myself to be in such close proximity to my God, I might never be able to pull myself away. I might never again be able to experience the things of this world in quite the same way. I might always be distracted by God’s beating heart, always looking toward something greater than this world has to offer. It occurs to me that I must thank Isaiah in my prayer today for revealing another facet of God’s love. How attuned Isaiah must have been to our loving Creator, for he describes God’s love most eloquently.

The flickering flames of our Advent Wreath’s candles beckon me once again. Though my thoughts unexpectedly return to all I hope to accomplish by Christmas, those flickering flames plead for my attention. I imagine myself to be the tiny lamb whom Isaiah sees in God’s arms. Suddenly, the tasks which await me at home and here at my parish seem less daunting. Suddenly, I find myself impelled to do what I must to share the peace I experience in God’s arms. Perhaps I can imitate Isaiah’s generosity by sharing Christmas Peace a few weeks early.

Inspired as I am by Isaiah’s peaceful image of you and me in God’s embrace, I acknowledge that not one of our lives is a series of perfect Hallmark Moments. Still, I can’t help sharing Isaiah’s conviction that you and I can transform those imperfections into something better if we choose to do so. How can we waste our time lamenting when we’re rapt in God’s peace? This coming week, will you join me in making this your Advent Prayer?

Loving God, I am the tiny lamb at rest in your arms. Hold me close to your heart that I may learn to love as you love. Let me see with your eyes, let me listen with your ears and let me touch every moment with your peace. Be with me as I embrace every day with the peace of Christmas. Amen.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Mary’s Gift of Peace

“Gather my faithful ones before me,
those who have made a covenant with me…”

From Psalm 50:5

As I attempt to share a measure of Christmas Peace with those around me, Mary comes to mind. My mom was devoted to the Mother of Jesus and I cannot help sharing her affection for this amazing woman. This reverence took root in elementary school. My parish and school were named to honor Mary on the occasion of her presentation to God in the temple by her parents. I’m quite certain that Joachim and Ann had no idea of the extent to which their daughter would take this commitment. Our parish priests and the sisters added to my admiration by expounding often regarding Mary’s life.

When I realized the conditions which surrounded Mary’s motherhood, she stole my heart. Mary accepted her role as the mother of Jesus at the ripe age of fourteen. Mary’s commitment turned her world upside down. Because she wasn’t yet married, Mary might have paid for her pregnancy with her life. Fortunately, though Joseph had every reason to leave Mary to fend for herself, he welcomed her into his home and his life. The good Joseph earned my respect as well.

On this Feast of the Immaculate Conception, I honor and celebrate this woman who offered me brave example by following her heart and doing what she felt was the right thing. Mary made peace with her life and, as a result, she allowed heaven’s peace to touch our world.

Dear God, thank you for Mary and all of the amazing souls who inspire the rest of us to bring your peace to others.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Ever-Attentive God of Hope

We begin December with an ever-increasing list of demands. I find myself tackling the tasks at hand from the time I awake each morning to the time I retire each night. Though I thought I’d begun to prepare for Christmas earlier than usual, I suddenly find myself behind schedule. I was extremely excited to have completed this week’s reflections early only to realize that writing for the rest of December will be a challenge. Still, in spite of all that there is to do, I’ve decided not to allow this pre-Christmas frenzy to get the best of me. Rather, I’m going to take a deep breath and to approach all that lies ahead one step at a time. Will you join me in slowing down just long enough to attend very closely to all that we encounter this First Sunday of Advent?

As I enter church, our Advent Wreath catches my eye. Purple and pink bows mark the candles which call our attention to the four weeks ahead. The green accents which marked the hope of Ordinary Time have given way to purple. With that hope intact, we watch as Advent’s violet hues beckon us to embrace the passionate sentiments of the weeks to come. Through the scripture readings, we will retrace the steps of the Israelites who cried out to God in their misery and who received God’s comfort in response over and over again. Our hymns call us to wake up and to prepare. We search our hearts and adjust our priorities to make room for God to dwell among us and within us. Today, even our most familiar prayers demand our attention. Advent 2017 challenges us to invite God into every aspect of our lives. Finally, I realize that I’m actually most grateful for December’s arrival. Advent has given me reason to slow down, at least while I’m in church, and to remember that I’m not alone in enduring the trials and tribulations of this life. For as long as God’s children have walked the earth, life among us has been difficult at best.

The pain we experience when our circumstances run amok is as ancient as the scriptures. The prophet we call “Third Isaiah” speaks from his own intense suffering (Isaiah 63:16-17; 64:2-7). In spite of the effort he puts into his relationship with God, Isaiah fills up with anger and doubt. He fumes over the Israelites’ continued unfaithfulness to God. He simply cannot stand by and watch their evildoing any longer. Isaiah fumes even more vigorously at the Lord God who seems content to step back and observe as the people engage in their iniquity. Isaiah glares heavenward and asks, “Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?” In the face of the many personal and societal ills which besiege us all these days, you and I may be inclined to pose the same question to our ever-patient God. I admit to turning my eyes heavenward far too often to ask, “If you don’t want things to be this way, why don’t you fix them?” Fortunately, Isaiah moves past his anger and uncertainty toward God. In the depths of his heart, Isaiah realizes that God has been listening all the while. He and the rest of God’s people have never been alone in their misery. Finally, Isaiah prays, “O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you are the potter: we are the work of your hands.” Finally, Isaiah understands that, because we are the most beloved work of God’s hands, God remains with us in everything. Truly, God will be with us all regardless of what lies ahead.

This First Sunday of Advent, we gather around God’s family table where we’re reminded that we’re in the best of company as we make our way to Christmas. Just as God was present in the best and worst of Israel’s history, God is present in the midst of our personal histories as well. Just as God placed Isaiah in the middle of Israel’s troubles to improve things as best he could, God places you and me in the middle of this world’s troubles to do the same.

It occurs to me that your and my Advent To-do Lists are actually Advent Opportunity Lists. Whether we find ourselves on the arm of our elderly parent or of our unyielding child, whether we suffer with an impossible job or an endless job search, whether we are sick in body or sick in spirit, whether we long for peace in this world or peace in our own hearts, each of us struggles to find our way, one moment at a time. It is during the difficult times that we must imitate Isaiah by acknowledging God’s presence. We must remember Isaiah’s prayer to the Potter who created us for these very moments. When we open our eyes and our hearts to God who knows our troubles better than we know them ourselves, we will somehow manage the tasks before us. These moments of grace in which we find God at are sides are what we prepare us for Christmas 2017. These moments of grace are what prepare us for the amazing things to come. Be ready! Just watch for what God has in store!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Gifts of Hope and Joy

The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest…

From Isaiah 11:7

My husband and I sometimes grow weary of our full schedules. This is the reason we have happily curtailed our Christmas preparations this year. The truth is that we both enjoy our traditions. As a result, we haven’t “curtailed” our activities as much as we’ve organized our efforts. Preparing our home -both inside and out- for our family and friends is symbolic of our love for each one of them. Giving up any of this would dampen our experience of Christmas. Advent 2017 will lose its luster if we don’t prepare as is our custom. You see, our busyness during the days before Christmas keeps us focused on poor Mary and Joseph as they scrambled to prepare for Jesus’ birth so long ago. It also keeps us focused on the reasons we do what we do for others.

I’m happy to share that we have started our decorating and shopping early. This timing has energized us enough to attend to our “full schedules” with joy rather than angst. Though the phone continues to ring, our good will remains intact. Perhaps this is the reason Jesus ministered so generously to the needy souls who came his way. In offering others hope, Jesus found joy.

I know. I seem to be in a rut with all of this organizing for Advent and Christmas. I have reason for this. My hope is to inspire you to do the same. Enjoy!

Loving God, thank you for the moments of joy that come in the midst of our efforts to care for one another.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Reason To Hope

…the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to lead them.

From Isaiah 11:6

My grandson’s smile drew me in before I realized what the little imp had done. My gloomy attitude, aching sinuses and complete disappointment with so many things in this world meant nothing to the little boy who nuzzled next to me. As Danny eyed my uncommonly troubled eyes, he looked to see if I was watching. Then, ever so carefully, he touched the tips of my fingers. I smiled as I considered his bravery in approaching me. With that, my headache eased and I invited Danny to sit closer. He immediately nestled nearer.

In an effort not to disturb our comfortable cuddle, I stretched for my phone. Danny looked up and asked, “Pictures?” I couldn’t help smiling at the obvious. “Yes, pictures,” I replied. With that, we revisited recent history in Danny’s life. My photos and short videos include trips to the park and family parties. They also chronicle Danny at play. As Danny chattered on about his own antics and those of his cousins and the rest of us, I listened attentively. It occurred to me that I had wasted too much of this day attending to my headache and my worry. Danny made it obvious that the world is in good hands. Come to think of it, another little child made the same observation two millenniums ago when he was born in that stable in Bethlehem. Yes, there is always hope!

Dear God, keep me mindful of the gifts to be found in the people you have given me to love, especially in the children who keep our hope alive.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Get Ready!

On that day,
A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse…

Isaiah 11:1

Advent 2017 begins this Sunday. Once again, we’re given four weeks to engage in joyful anticipation of Christmas. Most years, it’s extremely difficult for me to find the time to truly and joyfully anticipate this feast. There’s just so much to do! As I look ahead to the next twenty-six days, I’ve decided to try to recapture the simplified life-style of my youth. This year, I’m going to prioritize, organize and enjoy the wait for Christmas. Though I realize I addressed this very thing quite recently, it bears repeating. It is in all of our best interest to find a do-able, productive and happy path to Christmas Day.

Will you join me on this path by seeking a bit of simplification as well? Though none of us can shirk all of our responsibilities, we can all probably let a few things fall to the wayside. Trust me. Once you start, this will become far easier than you expect!

As for me, I’ve already urged my dear husband in this direction. We’re starting to decorate a few days earlier and we’re already assembling our shopping list. We’re simplifying menus and preparing our Christmas cards earlier as well. Yes, this business of simplifying life can become habitual! Enjoy!

Loving God, help us to take joyful steps to Christmas Day.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved