J is for Joy

The Lord has sent me to bring
glad tidings to the poor…

From Luke 4:18

J is for Joy. Sometimes, it’s difficult to focus on joy. A recent off-the-cuff comment opened an old wound. Because I tend to let go of hurtful moments from the past, this recollection took me by surprise. I distracted myself by perusing the newspaper which increased my melancholy exponentially. I set aside the paper and grabbed the remote. As I made my way through the channels, a news report caught my eye. The update confirmed that recent violence was accomplished to honor God’s name. I sank into my recliner, looked out the window and asked, “Dear God, what are we doing?”

We humans have been hurting one another in God’s name since the beginning of time. Still… Before I could repeat my question, a strong gust scattered glitter-like snow across the frozen ground. Almost on cue, several birds fluttered about, ensuring that those sparkling bits of ice remained afloat. When the birds congregated at their favorite feeder, another gust swirled the silver-white specks yet higher. That gust lifted my heart as well. “Thank you, Lord!” I said aloud.

Though that glistening snow didn’t change the subzero temperature outdoors, it filled me up with winter’s beauty. Though those flitting flakes will eventually settle and melt, God’s handiwork always surrounds me. As long as some of us continue to appreciate the joy within us and around us, there will be joy in this world of ours. Rather than allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by wounds old and new, we must revel in the joy we have and share that joy with one another at every opportunity.

Generous God, help us to remain focused on your joy in spite of our continuing attempts to distort and disfigure it. Help us also to share that joy with those who need it most.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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I is for I Am

Before I begin today’s reflection, I want to acknowledge that today is my mom’s birthday. I wouldn’t find it as easy as I do to recognize God’s love in my life is my mom hadn’t loved me first. It is with deep gratitude and great love that I write HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM!

God replied to Moses: I am who I am.
Then he added: This is what you will tell the Israelites:
I AM has sent me to you.

Exodus 3:14

I is for I AM. In spite of all of the names we humans have assigned to God, God chooses to be called “I AM.” I find great consolation in God’s chosen name because it is offered in the active present tense. This name leaves no doubt that God is, was and forever will be. Though our lives pass more quickly than we care to acknowledge, I AM will never pass from the moment at hand. It seems to me that, since I AM is the only constant of which we can be certain, it makes sense to acknowledge God’s presence with regularity and with gratitude.

I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I tend to monopolize this God of ours much of the time. Some days, it is as though we are in conversation from morning until night. I’m also embarrassed to admit that these conversations are sometimes one-sided, not because God has nothing to say, but because I rarely give God the opportunity to speak. This is when God takes things into God’s own hands to get my attention. These nudges come most often in the beauty of nature, an unexpected encounter, a great idea or encouraging words. Fortunately for me, God always finds a way to let me know that God hears everything I say.

Perhaps I can best show my gratitude for the gift of God’s presence by making God’s invitation to Moses my own. Rather than standing before the people to announce that I AM has sent me their way, I can simply reveal God’s presence through my own presence to them.

Loving God, help me to make your presence tangible, especially to those who consider themselves less-than-lovable today.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

H is for Holy

Samuel grew up, and the Lord was with him,
not permitting any word of his to be without effect.

1 Samuel 3:19

H is for Holy. The dictionary defines holy as belonging to or coming from God; sacred; consecrated. When I was a child, I was convinced that holy was an adjective attributed only to God and the saints of old who lived perfectly moral and upright lives. Though I hoped to be a saint one day by gaining admittance to heaven, I never expected to be considered holy on any level.

Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune of associating with people who understand holiness far more completely than I. They generously shared their conviction that anything and any one “of God” is holy. Since we and all of creation are God’s handiwork, we are indeed holy. Just as God remained with Samuel and blessed him with a purposeful life, so God blesses you and me.

As I consider my personal bouts with discouragement and guilt, I find that I move beyond these things best when I remember that I am “of God.” I am holy. You are holy, too. No one else’s opinion, no failure, no guilt, nothing you or I can do will ever change this. Yes, you are “of God” and so am I. We are holy.

Holy God, inspire us to realize that we are truly holy and help us to live accordingly.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

G is for God

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

Psalm 95:7

G is for God… and goodness, grace, generosity, gentleness, gift, gladness, glory, gospel, grandeur, gratitude, growth, gumption and a gaggle of other descriptors which apply to the God I have come to know and to love.

Regardless of the name you prefer or the context in which you worship, God is all of these things and more for you, for me and for every soul blessed with the gift of life. Whether we were raised down the street from our church as I was or were never exposed to anything remotely similar, God is for us.

For me, the evidence lies deep within. I’ve been aware of God’s presence in my life for as long as I can remember. If you’re searching for more concrete evidence, consider this. Numerous books have been published and countless other references have been cited in the distant and recent past regarding encounters with life after this life. Many have passed through death’s threshold and returned to share their experiences. Whether a believer, an agnostic or an atheist beforehand, these travelers to the Other Side speak of the unconditional love, peace and acceptance which greeted them. Most conclude with great certainty that they have met God.

Though most of us will never return from this journey, we are gifted with God’s loving presence in our lives today. For me, the implications are twofold. First, I must cultivate my relationship with God as this is the source of the greatest joy I know this life. Second, I must share the benefits of this relationship by cultivating my relationships with those God has given me to love. After all, the best gifts are those which we share.

Generous and Gracious God, thank you for you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

F is for Faith

He remembers forever his covenant
which he made binding for a thousand generations;
which he entered into with Abraham
and by his oath to Isaac.

Psalm 105:8-9

F is for Faith. I learned very early on in my life that faith is a far greater gift than the various denominations which sometimes unite us and sometimes separate us. Faith is that sense deep within us which keeps us ever-mindful of God’s presence in our lives. Whether we view God as a distant entity, a constant and nearby companion or as someone quite different from either, it is our faith which tells us that God is.

For me, faith is life-giving and life-saving. It seems to me that it is often the faith deep within us which urges us in the direction of our churches, synagogues, mosques and temples in the first place. I find many precious people and many good things which nourish me in my faith community. Their presence feeds the faith deep within me which sustains me in the best and the worst of times. Sometimes, those who are not in touch with the faith deep within turn to our faith communities for guidance in unearthing this precious gift. I think that we help them best when we welcome them tenderly and without judgment. That tenderness may be the closest experience to God that they have had. That tenderness may be just what is needed to bring life to the faith that lay dormant within them.

My faith in God is the most powerful catalyst in my life. When I welcome others into any aspect of my life with tenderness and without judgment, I share my faith and reveal a bit of God-the-Catalyst to them.

Faithful God, perhaps my faith in you is strong because your faithfulness to me and to all of your children is everlasting.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We’re All In The Same Boat!

Two Sundays ago, I rose early and headed off to church. I hoped to offer a “welcome home” to friends from St. Paul’s who’d returned from Israel a few days earlier. Though I was unable to physically join them on this trip, I traveled with them in spirit. The tour director and fellow tourists had shared this adventure via photo and video posts on Facebook. They’d allowed me to be with them, at least virtually, every step of the way. Though these images indicated that all concerned had enjoyed an amazing trip, I wanted to confirm this for myself. As it happened, the smiles and comments of the six friends I met that morning indicated that they’d experienced the same once-in-a-lifetime adventure I’d enjoyed in Israel. When I returned home, I pulled out the albums which chronicle our trips there. Within minutes, that unexpected sense of peace which greeted me in the Holy Land returned…

For reasons unknown to me, the time I spent in Israel felt very much like a family reunion. Several years earlier, Mike and I had traveled to Croatia to meet his cousins there. Two years ago, we flew to Quebec to meet my dad’s family. Last summer, we traveled to Sicily to visit Mike’s grandparents’ hometown. Each of these encounters left us with a heartwarming sense of belonging. I’d experienced precisely the same in Israel. When I pondered this phenomenon, it occurred to me that going to the Holy Land was a family reunion as well. My own story began there long ago when the one whom they called “Teacher” laid the foundation for everything of importance to me. Jesus revealed the essence of God’s love and our capacity to love one another. I wouldn’t be the person, child, sibling, wife, mom, aunt, grandma and friend I am today if I hadn’t taken these lessons to heart. Though our family trees may not indicate that we share our genealogy, Jesus and I are family just the same. Every encounter with Jesus’ history in the Holy Land proved to be an encounter with my own history as well. When I revisited our photos of The Jesus Boat, I understood why I take today’s passage from Luke’s gospel (Luke 5:1-11) to heart.

We read a great deal about fishermen and boats in the gospels. Though some of his followers abandoned their fishing businesses to follow Jesus, he went back to their boats often to get from place to place, to preach and to rest. Though no one can say with any certainty that Jesus set foot on The Jesus Boat, this vessel is definitely a relic from Jesus’ day. Because it was discovered just north of Magdala and just south of Tabgha, Jesus may have looked upon this boat as he lingered on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The boat is displayed in a museum in Kibbutz Ginosar. There I learned of Moshe and Yuval Lufan, brothers and fellow fishermen like Peter and Andrew. They discovered the ancient boat buried in mud near the shore of the Sea of Galilee. I was struck by the excitement of these two who couldn’t hide their amazement over this discovery. Their treasure shook both the archaeological world and the spiritual world to their cores. No one had ever before unearthed such an old vessel in such complete condition. This bit of Jesus’ history is particularly special to me because it gives life to Luke’s telling of Jesus’ adventure with Peter and Andrew, James and John.

As Luke tells it, Jesus had been preaching among a crowd near the Lake of Gennesaret (also called The Sea of Galilee) when he saw Simon washing his nets. Jesus boarded Simon’s boat and asked the fisherman to pull his boat into the water just a short distance from the shore. Simon must have been taken with Jesus because he obliged immediately. After preaching from Simon’s boat for some time, Jesus asked his unsuspecting friend to sail into the deep water and to cast his nets once again. Practical man that he was, Simon pointed out that he’d worked all night in the same area and had caught nothing. Still, Simon did as Jesus asked. Almost immediately, the poor man’s nets became so full that they threatened to tear. Simon’s fellow fishermen came to the rescue as his boat might have sunk under the weight of those fish. Having seen The Jesus Boat first hand, I understand Simon’s fear! Still, small as that boat was, Luke tells us that Simon seemed to fear something else far more than his sinking boat. Witnessing this miracle filled him with absolute awe and trepidation. Simon seemed to wonder, “Who am I to be in the company of this Jesus who can work such wonders?” Indeed, Simon followed this thought with a command to Jesus: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

Jesus’ response to the fearful Simon is the reason I take Luke’s account to heart. Though Simon doubted what part he could possibly play in Jesus’ plan, Jesus remained steadfast in his confidence in Simon. Though one day Jesus would rename his humble friend Peter, it was the essence of the old Simon which compelled Jesus to ask him to follow him and to work at his side. Whenever I doubt myself, I must open my ears as Simon did to God’s call. Incapable and unworthy as I may seem to me, I must never doubt my place in God’s world and God’s plan. Nor should you!
©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved