L… Love!

You shall love God…
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

From Matthew 22:37-38

L is for Love. This is a tough one. I don’t have a bit of trouble loving God. Though I admit to having had words with our patient Creator, this is the result of my certainty of God’s love for me. God invited me into a relationship. When I accepted, I committed myself to being completely honest in our interactions. This is my only choice. After all, if I choose not to share my true feelings, God knows them nonetheless.

Early on, a wise teacher shared that there is something lovable about every one of us and that it is up to us to discover what this is. This observation has helped me a great deal over the years. Though I don’t have a flawless track record, I can honestly say that I don’t hate anyone. Still, though I love my neighbor in theory, putting that love into practice sometimes poses a challenge. The good news here is that I do try. The better news is that joy is the result of these efforts.

The toughest part is loving my neighbor as I love myself. Sometimes, I’m judgmental and much of that judgment is directed toward me. If I fail to love myself enough to allow myself the luxury of being a frail human, how can I love my neighbors enough to allow them to do the same?

Love is a tricky endeavor at best. Still, it’s the best work we can do and the best source of our joy. The words from Matthew cited above aren’t a directive. They’re an invitation to heaven on earth.

Loving God, thank you for creating us in your image, especially when it comes to our ability love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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The One Without Sin…

“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her.”

From John 8:7

I turned off the television and told myself, “I must be getting old!” The last item in the newscast I’d abandoned highlighted a recent scandal, this time by a political figure. I chose not to listen further because I’ve heard far too much of the same as of late. Scandals used to shock me. They shook my faith in whichever of our human institutions was affected. Still, though our morality is more than a little lax these days, we continue to pick up stones and to throw them whenever given the chance.

The woman caught in adultery sinned. I know. If she had not, Jesus wouldn’t have felt the need to forgive her. Still, Jesus offered his absolution. Then, Jesus sent her off with a single bit of advice: From now on, do not sin any more. Though I’m incapable of writing a treatise on sin, I think there is a lesson here. Jesus’ point is that God is far more merciful than we when it comes to our failures and the things that bother us most seem far less consequential to God. It seems to me that we need to leave the judgment of our sisters and brothers to our merciful God. We have more than enough of our own sins to fret over. Perhaps we need to leave our own judgment to God as well. God is far more patient and forgiving of us than we are of ourselves.

The moral of the story? Lighten up! We must forgive our adversaries and forgive ourselves. God is a firm believer in second chances and we should be, too!

Forgiving God, thank you for your enduring mercy and forgiveness. Be with us as we try to forgive as you do.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

See With God’s Eyes

Throughout my life, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the array of sources which reveal God to me. The people I’ve been given to love top that list. My earliest memories include my parents’ heroic efforts. They were constant reminders of our God who I was assured loved me even more than they did. The affection of my family and friends helped me to see God even more clearly. I came closest to understanding God’s love for me the day I was told my dear husband and I were going to have a baby. Though I knew nothing of the little one who would change our lives forever, I loved him more than anything. This phenomenon recurred after we were told we’d never have another child and yet we did. Once again, unconditional love took root and I came to know God more intimately. As my writing often indicates, I’ve seen God in the wonder of creation. I’ve also discovered God in words both written and sung and in wordless musical compositions. Oddly, I’ve even found God in the dialogue between characters in a sitcom rerun. Did the screenplay writer know what I would find in those words decades later? In the end, I’ve found the most compelling evidence of God’s love for us in the words and works of Jesus.

During Lent, we share some of our richest scripture passages. Their writers skillfully wove together threads of temptation and triumph, suffering and healing, sin and forgiveness. The fabric which resulted offers an image of Jesus who brought peace, hope, acceptance and love to God’s people. Last week, we recalled Jesus’ encounter with the woman from Samaria at Jacob’s well. Jesus didn’t need the water he requested of her. It was the woman who thirsted for far more thirst-quenching waters. As always, Jesus responded by quenching the thirst he saw within the depths of that woman’s heart. Jesus revived her spirit that she might truly live anew. Today, we turn to Jesus’ encounter with the man born blind. Since birth, this man’s very existence had been tied to sin. In the eyes of the people, the man’s parents must have sinned terribly. To the people, it was their transgressions which prompted God to impose blindness upon their son. In the eyes of the people, this fruit of sinful parents was of little worth. It is no wonder that those who saw the man after his cure failed to recognize him. They’d passed him on the road often, but had never taken the time to look upon his face. It seems to me that they were the blind ones. They were blind to God’s presence within themselves and within one another. They were blind to God’s presence within the man who was born blind. It was Jesus whose vision was intact. Jesus saw every trial and tribulation which devastated the people and which ravaged their spirits almost beyond repair. What draws me to Jesus is his generous response to his contemporaries and to you and me.

I don’t think haphazard thoughts or my vivid imagination allow me to see God in the world around me. It is Jesus who inspires me to see God in everything. More importantly, it is Jesus who inspires me to see God in those I meet along the way. Jesus saw with God’s eyes and he taught his contemporaries just as he teaches us to do the same. When we look with God’s eyes, we see the pain of our coworkers and our neighbors, our friends and our own family members. We see unrest on the other side of the world as well as in our own backyards. Trauma in all of its forms tears at our spirits with marked precision. It also blurs our vision. Even when we attempt to proceed with the clearest of vision, it is sometimes very difficult to find God in the difficulties at hand.

Please don’t let my assessment of things-gone-awry discourage you. Scripture scholars and historians tell us that life was no better in Jesus’ day. Still, Jesus persisted in seeing the people and the situations around him with God’s eyes. Remember, Jesus came into this world as a helpless child, just as each of us does. Jesus grew up in a family much like our own with parents who rarely understood what he was up to. As an adult, Jesus stood out from the crowds around him because he saw things differently. Though many came to appreciate Jesus’ ability to see them with God’s eyes, others responded with contempt. While Jesus rolled up his sleeves to do everything he could to make the lives of those around him what they were meant to be, his adversaries rolled up their sleeves and planned his demise. Jesus’ circumstances were no better than our own, yet he persisted in seeing them with God’s hopeful and loving eyes.

As I consider the new vision the man born blind experienced at Jesus’ hands, I can’t help feeling gratitude for the same gift in my life. After all, it is when I step back to see things with God’s eyes that I find hope. So it is that I hope that I never stop seeing God in everything around me and I wish the same for each one of us. Jesus continues his work through me and through of all us and it’s up to us to roll up our sleeves and to make it so.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Rules That Matter

The arrival of a new baby quickly turns the lives of all concerned upside-down. Our newest grandchild offers proof positive in this regard. Fortunately, his parents and older brother have adapted quickly and all is well. Some changes aren’t as easy to negotiate. So often, our daily lives are complicated by a difficult diagnosis, an unexpected job loss or a loved ones tough times. I can’t imagine how those in the midst of the wildfires on the west coast and the storms and floods on the east coast have coped. At the same time, violence in neighborhoods across this country continues to upend lives just as brutally. All the while, many others struggle in the grip of difficult realities which have become their daily lot. Though there is much joy to be found throughout our earthly lives, persistent drudgery can be mercilessly discouraging. When I gaze at my new grandson, I can’t help tearing up because the human condition hasn’t evolved much over the centuries. As he sleeps peacefully in my arms, he gives me reason to do all I can to improve life in this world as best I can for him and for us all.

My conviction that things haven’t changed much since we humans took residence on this earth was underscored when my husband and I traveled to Israel. I imagined Jesus making his way through the crowds, sometimes alone, but most often in the company of his friends, curious onlookers and those seeking something beyond their sadness. In Capernaum, Magdala, Nazareth and Tabgha, I envisioned Jesus responding to the sick, the lonely and the downtrodden. Their suffering piqued Jesus’ compassion and his love. He did what he could to ease their pain. My little grandson and all of those whom I’ve been given to love do the same. Whether a family member, neighbor or stranger, I find it very difficult to walk away from his or her troubles. Yes, Jesus, I get it most of the time.

Jesus knew that none of us get it right all of the time. His most pressing concern was to love us and to teach us to love one another. Issues arose when those who should have done this best failed to prioritize love. Oddly, this should have been nothing new to the temple hierarchy who irritated Jesus most in this regard. In today’s reading from Deuteronomy (4:1-2, 6-8), we find Moses presenting the Ten Commandments to the people. They’d exhibited hard-heartedness repeatedly while they wandered in the desert and they desperately needed guidance regarding their relationships with one another and with God. In response, God inspired Moses to present the people with ten simple laws. These straightforward principles would guide them in loving God and in loving and caring for one another. The Pharisees knew this story well, yet they grew those ten commands into hundreds of precepts which oppressed the people rather than uplifting them. The second reading from James (1:17-18, 21-22, 27) indicates that this was an ongoing problem. This excerpt was written in response to some in the early church who attempted to put faith alone above their love and concern for one another.

In today’s gospel (Mark 7:1-8; 14-15; 21-23), Jesus made his point. The Pharisees once again criticized Jesus for not following the letter of the law regarding temple rituals. They were quite indignant over Jesus’ and his followers’ apparent disregard for these mandates. The disciples ate with ritually unclean hands. When he touched the sick and ostracized who were off-limits in the temple, Jesus himself became ritually unclean as well. Jesus responded to these accusations by pointing out to the Pharisees that they had allowed their devotion to ritual to replace their devotion to God and to God’s people. The Pharisees valued clean hands far more than they valued the people. They valued meticulous obedience to their precepts far more than the people’s heartfelt prayer. Though God had provided the Ten Commandments to guide the people in forming a loving community, the Pharisees separated them into the worthy and the unworthy, the clean and the unclean. So it was that Jesus enlightened them on the matter. Jesus knew that none of us is perfect. He also knew that we make up for our shortcomings in any situation with love. At times, this requires setting aside a rule or two so we can touch a heart just as Jesus would.

As I turn my eyes to my sleeping grandson, I admit that it’s easy to set aside my own agenda for this lovable little child. If only that was the case with everyone I meet along the way! Today, God asks each of us to do just that for all of God’s children, lovable and otherwise. Jesus put it quite simply to the Pharisees and to us all. God asks only that we do our best to be the best we can. When we fail, God asks that we forgive ourselves, forgive one another and get on with the business at hand. God knows better than we that sometimes our role in the business at hand is simply to walk away. That business, by the way, has nothing to do with tracking our failings or those of others. The business at hand has everything to do with loving one another as Jesus did and as only we can.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Is There Something I Can Do?

If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets,
neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.

Luke 16:31

The most frustrating times of my teaching career, and throughout my life for that matter, have occurred when mean-spirited adults refused to do the right thing. At school, it was a teacher who refused to admit an error, a principal who refused to support a teacher whom she didn’t much care for, a lunch monitor who exhibited an attitude toward certain kids or a custodian who took his time when his least favorite teachers called for help. This list, which goes on and on, exists in just about every human institution including our circles of friends and our families. Our school secretary often observed, “Jesus himself could show them different and they’d still act that way!”

Luke’s gospel tells us that a hungry homeless man died on a rich man’s doorstep simply because the man didn’t notice him. When I consider my own annoyance with those who refused to do the right thing at work, I wonder how many times I’ve been guilty of the same. How many times have I avoided or simply not noticed a situation in which I could have done some good? Would it have mattered if Jesus himself had tapped me on the shoulder to get me moving? It occurs to me that perhaps Jesus is tapping at the moment. For some reason, I’m compelled to ask, “What might I have done to help those seemingly mean-spirited people to embrace a more positive stance?” Hmmm… What might I have done?

With that, I see that it’s time that I forget about the omissions of others. Rather, I need to tend to my own ability to take notice and to take care whenever the opportunity arises.

Patient God, help me to see those who need me with your eyes and to respond to them with your heart.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

L is for…

His father caught sight if him and was deeply moved.
He ran out to meet his son, threw his arms around his neck and kissed him.

From Luke 15:30

L is for Love. This is a tough one. I don’t have a bit of trouble loving God. Though I admit to having had words with our patient Lord, this is simply the result of my certainty of God’s love for me. God invited me into a relationship. When I accepted, I committed myself to being completely honest in our interactions. After all, if I choose not to share my true feelings, God knows them nonetheless.

Early on, a wise teacher shared that there is something lovable about every one of us and that it is up to us to discover what this is. This observation has helped me a great deal over the years. Though I don’t have a flawless track record, I can honestly say that I don’t hate anyone. Still, though I love my neighbor in theory, putting that love into practice sometimes poses a challenge. The good news is that I try and that joy is the result of these efforts.

The toughest part is loving my neighbor as I love myself. Sometimes, I’m judgmental toward myself. If I fail to love myself enough to allow myself to err on occasion, how can I love my neighbors enough to allow them the same luxury? The passage above from Luke is taken from the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It’s an invitation to stop judging one another and to stop judging ourselves. Like that son, we must allow ourselves to be forgiven and to move on.

As you see, love is a tricky endeavor. Still, it’s the best work we can do and the greatest source of joy available to us.

Loving God, thank you for creating us in your image, especially when it comes to our ability love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved