Beloved King

In an effort to organize my thoughts for this writing, I decided to ignore the mist in the air and to head outdoors for a much-needed walk. I reread today’s scripture passages and then bundled up for my trek into autumn. Much to my surprise, I found that the threat of rain had retreated and the clouds had separated just enough to allow an occasional glimpse of blue. I whispered a prayer of thanks for my good fortune and then set my pace for the duration. In an effort to clear my head, I set aside today’s topic and concentrated on the fleeting color around me. Recent winds, my dear husband and our diligent neighbors had removed most of the leaves along the way. The few which remained on the sidewalk made no sound as I walked over them. The morning’s drizzle had robbed them of their crackling crunch. Still, I gave thanks for their once-brilliant color which had so generously gifted us all.

As I walked, I noticed a few stubborn leaves clinging with all of their might to otherwise barren branches. As I continued on, I saw that several more determined leaves held tightly to the trees they called home. Each one seemed unwilling to give in to the inevitable. I imagined these leaves mustering their strength in the face of the cold wind and giving thanks for every additional second during which they remained in place. Those determined leaves had lived life to the full as best they could and they weren’t about to let go before they absolutely had to do so. Those leaves which clung so tightly to their branches weren’t in alone their efforts. I also discovered a smattering of their counterparts nuzzled close to the bases of bushes and fences. I congratulated them for a job well done. I also reminded them that their work on this earth isn’t finished. They will swirl and settle and swirl in the air again until the first heavy snow forces them into a final resting place. While they will eventually lose their leaf-like appearance to decay, they will also enrich the soil. That soil will nourish the trees which will produce another season’s leaves. These new leaves will repeat their brave predecessors’ purposeful ritual.

In spite of my effort to clear my head, those leafy encounters filled my head with a renewed understanding of today’s feast day. For this I was also most grateful. Today, we observe the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year which is The Feast of Christ the King. This timing is intentional. We’ve spent the year reading and listening to scripture passages which recount Jesus’ life and his teachings. Jesus used both his word and his example to teach God’s ways. Jesus preached love, mercy and forgiveness, joy in the face of poverty and peace in the face of suffering. Jesus worked very hard at convincing those he met along the way that God loves us just as we are with all of our human frailties intact. This is the reason Jesus publicly referenced God as his Abba, his Daddy, and the reason Jesus invited us to do the same. While Jesus provided a lifetime of good example, he assured us again and again that God expects only what we are able to do, nothing more and nothing less. Jesus spent his time with the seemingly unworthy, shunning the presumptuous ones who attempted to use his acquaintance to increase their stature. Jesus loved the poor in spirit and the materially poor and he always made time for them. In the end, Jesus hung on a tree with all of his might, determined not to let go until he had to let go. On this Feast of Christ the King, I imagine Jesus pondering the brave leaves who hold onto their trees as he once did. I imagine Jesus smiling because he knows that just as their work to enrich the soil continues season after season and year after year, his work continues in and through the lives of all of God’s children. Yes, through you and me.

As I considered the innumerable reasons I have to give thanks for Jesus’ impact upon my life, his presumed kingship never entered my mind. I researched the history of today’s feast because I wondered why we call attention to the one title which Jesus seemed least anxious to acquire. I discovered that in the grand scheme of church history this feast is relatively new. This observance was established in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. Pius served during extremely difficult times when communism and fascist governments threatened many. Pius hoped that this feast would draw attention away from those political bullies and toward Jesus who ruled with the authentic power of God’s love. When I consider Jesus’ kingship in this light, I find good reason to celebrate.

On this Feast of Christ the King, I rejoice in the many lessons I found among this year’s crop of leaves. Their brave journeys through spring’s budding, summer’s lush exuberance and fall’s decay opened my eyes once again to the wonder to be found in Jesus’ life. So it is that today I celebrate Jesus, our Jesus who clung to a tree to complete his life and to let go of it, just as you and I will do. Even more so, I celebrate the life Jesus lived before letting go of that tree, for it is that life which teaches me how to live and how to love as God asks.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Counter The Storm With Love

Little children,
let us love in deed and in truth
and not merely talk about it.

1 John 3:18

A storm is brewing just beyond my window. What an odd phenomenon to hear the local television meteorologist speak of the possibility of snow. We’ve just turned our calendars to November! Though she offers encouragement with a promise that sunshine will return tomorrow, it fails to dispel the gray which lurks beyond my window today. Though I do enjoy the cold, I enjoy sunlight as well.

It occurs to me that, on occasion, my knowledge of human nature fails me as much as the weather does. I sometimes ignore this wisdom and “push buttons” that would best be left alone. Though I know well what will come next if I attempt to have the last word, I speak in spite of myself. When the thunder in my adversary threatens, I push when I should let go. I forget to let love take care.

Like raking leaves after a windstorm or shoveling snow after a blizzard, I make feeble attempts to right the things I’ve done wrong. Sometimes, I succeed. Sometimes, the damage is too extensive to repair. As I affirm my resolve not to repeat these transgressions, the sun breaks through the clouds. God remains with me as I transform my good intentions into good deeds.

Patient God, help me respond to every storm with rays of love, just as you do.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Seasoned Joy

“Let the sea and what fills it resound,
the world and those who dwell in it…”

Psalm 98, 1:7

Each of the seasons captivates me with its own variety of nature’s grandeur. Spring arrives with hints of renewed life-in-the-making. Summer brings hope-fulfilled in lush green carpets of grass and blossoms of every color. Though fall’s sometimes gloomy days replace summer’s vibrancy too quickly, its own colors renew my fascination with the outdoors. Still, in spite of all of this beauty, I find myself most taken by the coldest season of the year. Today’s blustering winds hint at winter’s impending arrival. Winter will soon draw me in with its onslaught of snow and cold. I find nothing more beautiful than an ice-clad tree or an undisturbed expanse of hardened snow. Add the crunch of that snow under my feet and a chilling wind around me and I am in outdoor heaven!

Piles of leaves I raked an hour ago flutter about. I hear them crackling as they fly and I wonder if they are laughing at my wasted effort. Mounds of snow will require similar and perhaps equally futile attention when they arrive in not too many weeks. Still, I welcome winter. You see, during winter, most living things lie dormant beneath the surface. To me, they symbolize the potential to be found each one of us. Recent outings with family and friends revealed amazing gifts which too often lurk beneath the surface. Finding these new or forgotten gifts in those I have been given to love reminds me of the hidden treasures I find after my annual encounters with winter. Though it may be hidden for a while, the gifts of this life are everywhere and in everyone I meet along the way.

Creator God, thank you for the beauty of this world and of our human family.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Happy Thanksgiving!

Give thanks to God;
bless God’s name for he is good:
the Lord whose kindness endures forever…

From Psalm 100:4-5

This past week, my morning walks have not been as entertaining as they were in early November. The cold temperatures challenge my ability to dress appropriately. I struggle to layer myself lightly enough to engage in a brisk walk, but heavily enough to stay warm for the hour I spend outdoors. Once outside, I’ve discovered that the late autumn wind and diligent neighbors have removed most of the leaves along the way. I no longer enjoy the opportunity to crunch and crackle them beneath my feet as I amble along. The good news is that the late November sky provides plenty of opportunity for contemplation. The other day, the blue eastern sky glowed with bright sunlight while ominous charcoal thunderheads filled the sky to the west. It occurred to me that there was a great story here, until a couple of leaves distracted me.

These stubborn leaves seemed to cling to otherwise barren branches with all of their might. As I continued on, I noticed that, in spite of the wind that battered and shook them, several determined leaves held tightly to the trees they called home. Each one seemed unwilling to give in to the inevitable. I imagined these leaves laughing in the face of the cold wind and giving thanks for every additional second that they were able to hold on. These stubborn leaves had lived their lives to the full as best they could, and they were not about to let go before they absolutely had to do so.

This morning, I found that most of those determined leaves have finally joined their counterparts, swept away by wind and humankind. Only a few remained, stuck at the bases of bushes and fences. As I passed by, I silently congratulated them for a job well done. I also acknowledged that their work on this earth is not complete. They will rustle and settle and rustle again until the first heavy snow forces them into a final resting place. Though they will eventually lose their leaf-like appearance to decay, they will enrich the soil. That soil will nourish the trees which will produce another season’s leaves, some of whom will enrich my morning walks and repeat their brave predecessors’ stubborn ritual. Oddly enough, these leafy encounters on my treks around the neighborhood have provided me with a renewed understanding of today’s celebration of Thanksgiving.

If you’ve been attuned at church, you realize that we spend a good deal of time listening to Jesus teaching us the ways of his Father. Jesus preached love and forgiveness, joy in the face of poverty, and peace in the face of suffering. Jesus tried very hard to convince us that his Father –Our Father– loves us as we are with all of our human frailties. Though Jesus provided a lifetime of good example, he assured us again and again that God expects only what we are able to do, nothing more and nothing less. Jesus spent his time with the seemingly unworthy, and he shunned the presumptuous ones who would use his acquaintance to increase their own power and stature. Jesus loved the poor in spirit and the materially poor, and he always made time for them. In the end, Jesus hung on a tree with all of his might, stubborn and determined not to let go until he had to let go. I imagine Jesus pondering those brave leaves who held onto their trees as he once did. I imagine Jesus smiling. He knows that just as their work to enrich the soil continues season after season, so does his work continue in and through your life and mine.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I give thanks for the lessons to be found in the lives of my precious leaves and in the life of my precious Lord. I give thanks for my family, for the blessing they are to me and for the opportunities they give me to share God’s love in a very personal way. I give thanks for my work here at home, at church, in my neighborhood and everywhere that I encounter those God has given me to love. I give thanks for the drab brown leaves who cling to trees and then fall, only to give life in seasons to come. I give thanks for the Christ, our Lord. For it is Jesus who clung to a tree as well that he might give life to you and to me and to all of God’s children. Most of all, I give thanks for the life Jesus lived before embracing that tree. It is this life which teaches me how to live and how to love to the full. What more do I need?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Generous God, thank you for everything. You gifted us with Jesus who revealed your love and mercy in everything he said and did. Thank you also for the leaves and all of creation which remind us of your amazing promises and plans for each one of us.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved