Build The Moment At Hand

Just minutes after I sat at my keyboard to begin this writing, I was tempted to retreat to my recliner for a nap. My dear husband and I had returned from the Holy Land two days earlier. In spite of my fatigue, I’d convinced myself that inspiration would come quickly and that my jet-lag would morph into a distant memory. Much to my dismay, I was wrong on both counts. Though I’d slept well the night before, I was ready for a nap before noon. Unfortunately, I couldn’t give in to my fatigue. This reflection needed to be posted in short order and I had to take advantage of the small window of writing time at hand. In the end, I turned away from my keyboard to peruse the journal I’d carried across Israel. Perhaps it held the inspiration I longed for…

I wasn’t disappointed. As I read through my hurriedly scribbled notes, every phrase elicited a precious memory. Halfway through that little notebook, I saw Nazareth written at the top of a list. I’d noted the towns Jesus visited throughout his ministry. As I read Nazareth, images of the ruins of that tiny town filled me up. Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth before they married and it was there that Mary agreed to be Jesus’ mother. The scriptures tell us that Mary and Joseph left Nazareth early on to comply with a census. While they were away, Jesus was born. After the Magi’s visit, the couple fled to Egypt to avoid Herod’s wrath. When Herod died not long afterward, they returned to Nazareth to raise Jesus. Most visitors to Nazareth see the portion of Mary’s childhood home displayed in The Church of the Annunciation. This tiny cave-like room is connected to the remainder of Mary’s house as well as to her neighborhood. Much to our good fortune, our tour leader knows the site’s curator. This welcoming gentleman proudly ushered us toward additional unearthed homes which border the church’s exterior. It was there that I caught a glimpse of life as Joseph, Mary and Jesus knew it…

Today’s feast of The Presentation of the Lord acknowledges the journey Mary and Joseph made from their home to the temple in Jerusalem. Luke’s gospel (Luke 2:22-40) tells us that the couple did so because The Law required them to present Jesus to the Lord when he was forty days old. Though the trip from Nazareth to the temple was only six miles, traveling on foot with an infant through desert-like conditions certainly complicated that endeavor. We can only hope that Little Jesus cooperated by sleeping between feedings along the way. When they finally arrived, Joseph and Mary likely breathed a sigh of relief. They probably expected an uneventful experience until Simeon approached them. Simeon was a devout man who had prayed unceasingly for peace in Israel. As soon as he saw the young family before him, Simeon embraced Jesus. He’d waited a lifetime to see the one who would bring salvation to his people. With that, Simeon told Mary, “…this child is destined to be the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted and you yourself a sword will pierce.” I can only imagine what Mary and Joseph were thinking…

As I consider that tiny neighborhood hewn from rock back in Nazareth, I appreciate the power of Simeon’s comments more than ever. The simple existence suggested by that archaeological dig was complicated far beyond Mary’s and Joseph’s expectations. When Simeon spoke, did Mary’s thoughts return to the onset of her pregnancy? Did she wonder why she wasn’t warned of what was to come? Did Joseph recall the dream that explained Mary’s condition and the subsequent dream that saved his young family from Herod’s terror? Still, in spite of their worry, Mary and Joseph left the temple that day and returned home with Jesus. Though they walked an uncertain and perhaps treacherous path, Joseph and Mary persisted. They became the nurturing family which prepared Jesus for his life’s work. Luke’s gospel tells us, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” Ultimately, Jesus changed the face of humankind with his lessons in love and forgiveness, compassion and mercy, patience and humility. Jesus taught his followers to flourish amidst the unexpected just as his parents had done…

After rereading my journal, I revisited our photos from Israel. Though many feature ancient sites not as well-preserved as Nazareth, I no longer refer to any of them as ruins. It occurs to me that the world-full of artifacts which chronicles human history is far more than a collection of ruins. Indeed, they are the building blocks from which humankind has constructed the moments at hand since time began. Mary and Joseph responded to Simeon’s startling insight by building a life for Jesus which has impacted this world ever since. Today, God calls you and me to respond to the startling and joyful, heartbreaking and amazing moments at hand just as creatively. You see, God has great faith in our ability to flourish amidst the unexpected just as Jesus, Mary and Joseph did.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Someone Needs A Blanket

When the poor one called out, God heard,
and from all his distress God saved him.

Psalm 34:7

Every year, my husband begins our Christmas Tree decorating by trimming its trunk and securing it in its stand. For a day or two afterward, I string the lights and hang ornaments. While I work, my husband contemplates the tree’s lowest branches and the area beneath the tree. With great care, Mike plans the village which will fill that space. I offer meager assistance by unpacking numerous little houses, tiny trees and our crèche. I admit that I delay a bit as I unpack the stable and figures which will be the focal point of our little town of Bethlehem. Though I love the little structures which resemble the buildings of Jesus’ day, I pour over the tiny figures far longer.

I fully expect these tiny figures to answer when I ask what they were feeling back then. Though I can imagine what Mary and Joseph might say, I puzzle over the baby. “How aware where you that day? Were you planning out your life with that first cry in the night or where you simply protesting the cold? ‘Where’s my blanket?’ you might have wailed.” In the midst of my musing, the baby who rests in that tiny manger seems to ask that I leave him to his rest. He sends me off to bring blankets to those who need them far more than he.

As I reflect upon the miracle of God Among Us, I consider who it is who might need a blanket to ease his cold or to comfort her aching soul. That Bethlehem Baby seems insistent that it is up to me to do what I can to provide what is needed.

Loving God, your invitation to love one another sets the tone of every new day. Help me to respond as you would.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Beautifully Simple

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves in me.

Matthew 11:29

There is something more to add to yesterday’s post about our porch Christmas Tree. It was three years ago when I almost replaced them…

While I decorated the tree on our porch that year, my husband perused the plastic figures which would rest beneath it. He noticed that the base of the Mary figure was cracked a bit. When he examined Baby Jesus, he found that the side of his little face was completely cracked. Only Joseph and the two lambs remained intact. With that, my husband asked if I would run out to purchase some Gorilla Glue while he determined if our beloved figures could be repaired.

I admit that while I searched for that glue I also looked for an equivalent set of Nativity figures. When I found a similar set, I phoned home to ask if I should purchase it. My husband’s response was immediate and absolute. “No. I can fix what we have.” On the way home, I realized that it wasn’t the cost which concerned him. Our Nativity figures had belonged to his parents and he wasn’t quite ready to part with them.

These three years later, I reassert that my husband’s instincts were well-placed. Though both the Jesus and Mary figurines had seen better days, that Gorilla Glue did the trick. In the glow of our porch tree lights, they looked absolutely beautiful back then just as they do today.

Thank you, Dear God, for sending your love into this world and into our hearts in such simple ways. Help us to bring your love to one another.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Simple Joy

God is our God
and we are the people God shepherds,
the flock God guides.

Psalm 95:7

I’ve just come in from the screened porch just beyond our family room. Every year, that porch houses a Christmas Tree. This tree reigns over an antiquated nativity set of which my husband and I are very fond. The figures include Mary, Joseph, the Infant Jesus and two lambs. They are white plastic and resemble sets seen everywhere in our childhood neighborhoods decades ago. Though the figures have lost their allure in the light of day, they take on an awe-inspiring aura at night. After I decorate the porch tree with lights and red bows, my husband nestles these figures among greenery at its feet. The tree’s colorful bulbs silhouette each one in a heavenly glow. The white lights he adds to the greenery in which they sit seem to bring Joseph, Mary, the Baby and those little lambs to life.

Though I love the family Christmas Tree in our living room, it is this porch tree which I enjoy the throughout Advent and the Christmas Season. Actually, I most enjoy the figures of the Holy Family beneath that tree. They remind me of the amazing goodness God draws from the simplest moments of our lives.

Dear God, heaven and earth became one that first Christmas day. Thank you for Jesus who changed this world forever.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

From Mundane To Holy

He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them…
and Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.

From Luke 2:51-52

On this second day of New Year 2019, I wonder if I’ll actually have success with my New Year’s resolutions. Our Christmas Tree will stand for only a few more days and I sense the ebb of the Christmas Spirit around me. The joy of the First Christmas faded just as quickly, perhaps more so. After all, Mary and Joseph had a baby in tow for the long trek home from Bethlehem. There, life would fall into some level of normalcy and they would be left on their own to raise God’s son, much as we are left on our own to do what we do. Of course, God watches over us all the while.

Our ordinary days are as important for us as they were for Jesus. You know, the best of this life can be found in the simplest human experiences. Perhaps picking up playthings and helping to clear the table predisposed Jesus to becoming a responsible adult. Perhaps this willingness to cooperate helped young Jesus to notice when another was in need. Perhaps being thanked by his parents taught Jesus to be grateful when others were kind to him. Perhaps there were times when the Holy Family did without things in order to share with others. Perhaps these choices taught Jesus the generosity characteristic of his encounters with others in adulthood. Perhaps the seemingly mundane things you and I do for others are making an impression as well.

Dear God, help us all to transform the mundane into the holy, one good deed at a time.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Looks After Us All!

My soul magnifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my savior,
for God has looked down upon this servant in her lowliness;
all ages to come shall call me blessed.

Luke 1:46-48

Many of the Christmas cards we’ve received this year feature images of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Each one brings to mind my childhood impressions of Jesus’ family. I imagined Mary and Joseph full of joy, unable to contain their love for the child whom they awaited. In my innocence, I pictured a Hallmark Card birth. Full of peace, Mary and Joseph needed only to bow their heads in prayer and wait for Jesus to appear. “God will take care of everything!” I imagined them saying.

Life and the realities of Mary’s and Joseph’s day have taught me that things were not quite as easy for them as my childhood musings suggest. Mary embarked upon a treacherous journey when she became pregnant. She risked her very life as the consequences of a pregnancy out-of-wedlock were harsh at best. Mary survived because she and Joseph embraced God’s plans with absolute faith. Truly, it was Joseph’s willingness to cooperate in all of this which saved Mary. In spite of their trials and tribulations, Mary and Joseph trusted in God’s faithfulness to them. After Jesus’ birth, this trust would be tested and strengthened time and time again. Truly, their trust was well-placed.

Loving God, just as you were faithful to Mary and Joseph, you are faithful to me and to all of us. Strengthen us often with glimpses of your presence beside us and within us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved