Our Words Matter

She opens her mouth in wisdom
and on her tongue is kindly counsel.

Proverbs 31:26

I’m returning to our visit to Mount Carmel in Israel today. A recent verbal fumble on my part brings me back to an incident which occurred while we visited the chapel at the top of the mountain that day.

When we arrived at the chapel, another group had already assembled there to read scripture, preach and pray. Our guide Yossi asked permission for us to join them which they readily allowed. While the group offered their final prayer, a priest came in. Without any introductions, he announced, “This is a Catholic Church. Remove your hats!” When he saw that some of the women were about to obey, he added, “The men. Only the men must do this.” With that, he abruptly left.

Though I wasn’t certain, I was somewhat sure that this group was of a Christian denomination other than Catholic Still, they had entered this holy space with the certainty that God would hear their prayers there. They were also dressed for the windy and rainy cool weather as were the rest of us. Because they were so thrilled to be there and because the tiny chapel’s door was wide open to the outdoor elements, I surmised that these pilgrims had given little thought to the locations of their hats. In the end, I was very annoyed with that priest for not extending the welcome Jesus would have.

Now fast forward to my return home and my bout with jet-lag. On my first full day back, I had an important conversation with someone whom I consider to be a friend. Somehow, in the midst of our verbal exchange, I exhibited the unwelcoming attitude of that priest. Ugh… Though I apologized immediately and explained that my fatigue had gotten the best of me, the damage was done.

Perhaps that priest was having a bad day, too.

Merciful God, I acknowledge my thoughtlessness, my judgmental attitude and my own need for forgiveness. Please help me to do better and help me to inspire others to do the same.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved


The Leper Within

Our return trip to Israel stirred memories of our first adventure there. As was the case last time, it rained a bit for a few days. Still, I appreciated the weather. The fifty and sixty-degree temperatures provided welcomed relief from the cold we’d left behind in Gurnee. Our guide Yossi shared our gratitude for the weather. However, it was the rainfall which pleased him. Israel currently suffers with a drought and Yossi viewed every raindrop as a precious commodity. While driving between sites, I marveled once again at the stark contrasts in Israel’s geography. Because Yossi’s commentary was familiar this time around, I concentrated more fully on the view beyond my window. A short bus trip often carried us through both rocky stretches of desert and lush greenery. While the bulk of Israel’s population fills its flourishing cities, a persistent remnant of its citizenry abides in the desert. Those who make their homes in these arid conditions are particularly attentive to any decrease in rainfall. Their struggles multiply when this occurs. So it was that this rainfall was a much appreciated blessing.

Community takes on great importance for desert-dwellers. Their survival depends upon their supportive interactions with one another. One of our fellow tourists is a seasoned traveler who has learned a great deal along the way. She was familiar with a sort of “desert code of hospitality” which compels those who dwell there to welcome travelers. Offering shelter to one who happens by is simply the humane thing to do. Yossi pointed out that though some who inhabit these tiny hamlets voiced displeasure with government supported settlements which abutted their property, they eventually welcomed these newcomers as well. Their new neighbors’ efforts have provided improved irrigation, fresh crops and work opportunities for them. In spite of the difficult conditions, these cooperative efforts have transformed vast lifeless parcels into productive green oases. I smiled each time I passed one of these Bedouin settlements. “What amazing things God’s people can do,” I thought, “when we work together,”

Today’s scripture passages drew my thoughts back to those unlikely desert communities. Both today and in ancient times, relationships with ones neighbors made the difference between survival and extinction. This is the reason a leper’s plight was so completely devastating. Leprosy was one of the most dreaded afflictions encountered by our Old Testament counterparts. Today’s passage from Leviticus (13:1-2, 44-46) tells us that isolation was the indisputable remedy for the disease. Though being plucked away from ones life and loved ones did nothing for the leper, isolating him or her from others protected the community from the same fate. The people felt no sympathy for lepers because they considered sin to be the cause of their disease. They believed that those afflicted were simply living out the consequences of evildoing on the parts of their parents or themselves. Centuries later, Jesus’ contemporaries treated lepers with equal contempt. In today’s gospel (Mark 1:40-45), Mark tells us of a leper who ignored the law’s mandates to remain isolated and who boldly approached Jesus. This man had lost everything and he had nothing more to lose. Jesus welcomed the poor man in spite of the sores which betrayed his disease. Then, somehow through his ravaged skin, this leper felt the warmth of Jesus’ love. Somehow, in spite of the hatred and disdain in the eyes of his neighbors, this man saw acceptance in Jesus’ eyes. Somehow, this leper found the courage to kneel before his Lord. Moved with compassion for this suffering soul, Jesus cured him with a single touch.

I think each of us can recall moments when we’ve felt the misery of the lepers chronicled by Leviticus and Mark. Painful circumstances chip away at our spirits. They wound us both psychologically and physically. Sometimes, they isolate us from those whom we need most. Fortunately for us all, Jesus recognizes our pain. Jesus separates the appearances of things from the reality of our suffering and Jesus heals us. Though our recoveries may not be as visually dramatic as that of the leper, we do recover.

The desert communities I observed in Israel will continue to flourish because of their unlikely liaisons. Those involved have set aside their religious, political and cultural differences in order to dwell with one another on common ground. Today and every day, you and I are invited to do the same. Though each of us has a bit of that loathsome leper within us, we also carry a bit of Jesus everywhere we go. Like the leper who couldn’t keep his healing a secret, we share our good news with those whom we meet along the way. Through one act of kindness after another, we bring life to the deserts of suffering which afflict us all.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Like Mary…

Mary said, “I am the maidservant of the Lord.
Let it be done to me as you say.”

Luke 1:38

I once again found a few minutes of quiet. I retraced my steps to the living room where our Christmas Tree reigns. Though it is the tree’s fragrance which invariably beckons me in to appreciate its splendor, it is the village at its feet which keeps my attention. Every year, my husband lies on the floor under our tree for hours to fashion his current vision of Bethlehem. Though Mike’s placement of the houses and trees, cars, figures and skating pond vary from year to year, they always sit in humble deference to the crèche.

With only five days left of Advent, my Christmas Spirit got the best of me. This wonderful phenomenon drew me to the place where Mary’s “yes” to the Angel Gabriel came to fruition. As I gazed at the images of Mary and her baby, I considered the difficulties that turned this poor teenager’s world upside-down. I realized the insignificance of my own troubles and even those of our world in the grand scheme of things. I thanked God for loving us so much that God never loses confidence in our ability to make things right, one loving act at a time.

With that, I considered the practicalities of the next five days which need my attention. Somehow, I look to dealing with each one with a mixture of Mary’s love and my own. I look to dealing with them with joy!

Generous God, today I honor Jesus’ mother with my own loving response to whatever lies on the path before me.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Welcome!

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Psalm 23:5

When I was a little girl, dinner time was the best part of my day. Though I enjoyed our meals which were typical of a blue-collar family of the era, I enjoyed the family which gathered to partake of them far more. Because my dad worked nights, dinner time was our first opportunity to spend quality time with him most days. This was “morning” to him and my dad almost always exhibited his sense of humor as he started his new day. We often laughed as much as we chewed throughout these shared meals.

Happily, my parents’ welcoming spirits remain with their children. We all do our share of opening our homes and our hearts to others. I’m particularly grateful that my parents’ example taught me to extend hospitality even to those who are less than friendly toward me. At my parents’ table, I found the tools and the willingness to invite in any of God’s children who want to take a seat and “chew” on whatever is on their minds. These tools have served me well all of my life.

It seems to me that we have no better example of welcoming others than we find in God. Jesus did an amazing job of revealing God’s loving ways toward all of humankind. In our goodness and our sinfulness, God finds us worthy of the present moment and of the amazing things to come!

Welcoming God, you respond to all who call your name. Even when we fail to turn to you, you welcome us into your embrace.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

They Serve and Protect Us

Upon their hands, the angels shall bear you up,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.

Psalm 91:12

On this Veteran’s Day, I cannot help thinking about those who serve and protect us both nearby and far away. It seems that every passing day gives reason for us to pray a bit more fervently for their safety. Whether they serve us overseas or here at home, these dedicated personnel have set aside their personal lives to do so. Ones politics doesn’t matter in their regard. They serve us and protect us regardless.

Though I know God remains with each one in spite of what may come his or her way, it is a worthy endeavor to keep them in our prayers just the same. At the same time, let’s add a prayer of thanks for the hundreds of thousands of veterans among us. Though it is only recently that we’ve acknowledged the toll taken by active military service, all of our veterans have suffered in one way or another simply because they have served this country of ours.

Happy Veterans Day, Dear Veterans and Veterans-in-the making. Thank you for everything!

Dear God, bless them generously and be with them all.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Angelic Friends

To the angels God has given the command
to guard you in all your ways.

Psalm 91:11

Some time ago, my sister invited me to accompany her to a talk at her church by a woman who believes strongly in the presence of angels in our lives. I happily tagged along because the topic was familiar territory to me. Very early on, the good sisters taught me about God and about these special helpers who dutifully keep an eye on each one of us. It had been a long time since I’d heard any talk of angels…

The woman’s presentation did not disappoint. She related both her own angelic encounters and those of many others which she’d collected and researched. She’d certainly done her homework ruling out other explanations for many impossible-to-explain events. Afterward, while we enjoyed refreshments, a few hard-to-convince skeptics admitted that they were truly moved by what they’d heard. So was I.

Over the years, I’ve been privy to similar accounts. Because I’m willing to listen, many people have shared their stories with me. They most often begin with: “I’m going to tell you this, Mary, because I know you’ll believe me…” Their sincerity and their own efforts to explain away what occurred leave me no choice but to accept the validity of what they share.

Our current difficult times invite us to open ourselves to God’s angels. Whether or not they fit the descriptions offered in the scriptures and other holy writings matters little to me. Having someone in our corners from the spiritual realm is a great gift. Though I believe God is always with me, it’s nice to know that God’s helpers are here as well.

Dear God, thank you for these unexplained glimpses of your goodness.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved