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

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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

D is for Depth

Jesus said to them,
“Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.”

Mark 1:17

D is for Depth. I wonder if Jesus appreciated the irony when he called Simon and Andrew to follow him. They were already experts regarding what lay beneath the surface. After all, they were successful fishermen. Still, Jesus asked them to cast their nets into much deeper waters. Jesus asked them to set their sights upon fellow souls…

It seems to me that I deal best with the challenges before me when I look beneath the surface as well. Most things aren’t as they seem. Just as Simon and Andrew made a science of studying the waters to determine where best to cast their nets, I must study the circumstances and people around me before casting a word or deed in their direction. This means I must withhold my judgment as well.

Depth… Of all of life’s gifts, I think I appreciate most the understanding of another soul. What a gift it is when someone delves beneath the surface to discover what actually makes me tick! What a gift it is when I care enough to allow another to share the depths of his or her spirit with me!

Dear God, you reside within the depths of each one of us. Teach us to cast our nets with care as we seek to find you within one another.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Aging Happily!

Only goodness and kindness shall follow me
all the days of my life.

Psalm 23:6

In a few weeks, I’ll be a year older. I admit that I fully appreciate the opportunity to hang on to each year’s newly awarded number for the duration. After all, I usually don’t get used to my new “age” until a few months into it. I also admit that the efforts of my husband, our sons, our daughters-in-law and our grandkids sooth the sting of getting older. I find great pleasure in all of their secretive planning. The behind-the-scenes activity is the best part of whatever will transpire.

This wasn’t the case when I was a little girl. I had one birthday party. Because our household budget was perpetually stretched to its limit, I continue to be amazed that I dared to ask for this party and that my mom agreed to host it. I have no recollection of the planning. I recall that my three friends joined me for ice cream, cake and games that day. I remember my best friend’s gift because he slipped that shiny half-dollar into my hand ever so gently. This party was extremely important to me because I longed for the recognition that only a “birthday boy” or “birthday girl” receives. In the end, however, I was completely overwhelmed by it all. Because my shyness kept me from enjoying that limelight, I stood by and watched.

This year’s birthday and the many I’ve shared with my family are quite different. There is never cause for shyness because these are my very own family. I’m never uneasy or self-conscious with them because my roles as wife and Mom and Grandma are steeped in shared love. What is there to be overwhelmed by, except the joy of it all?

Loving God, once again I thank you for my loved ones, the gift of their love and the gift of your love..

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Time Enough…

While listening to our favorite oldies station in the car, I was thrilled when The Byrds 1965 hit Turn! Turn! Turn! began to play. Some time ago, my friend who shares my nostalgic tendencies sent me a link to a YouTube video of this beloved song. Though I rarely click email links, I was thrilled to do so at the time. When my husband and I returned home after our errands, I searched for that link with hope for a replay. Happily, I found that treasure and then sat back to listen. I wasn’t disappointed. The Byrds had put the text from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 to music almost verbatim. When they released their potential hit, this American Folk Rock Band did so in an effort to promote world peace. Throughout the years since, I’ve listened intently to both this melody and the original passage from Ecclesiastes which was often read at funerals I’d attended. Every time, whether spoken or sung, those amazingly simple words filled me with inexplicable peace.

For those not familiar with The Byrds’ rendition, every verse begins, “To everything, turn, turn, turn. There is a season, turn, turn, turn. And a time for every purpose under heaven.” If you read through the song’s lyrics or the scripture passage, you’ll find that there is a time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant, to reap, to kill, to heal, to laugh and to weep. There is also a time to build up and to take down, to dance and to mourn. According to both sources, there is a time for every purpose under heaven. The song and the scripture passage end with the assertion that there is also a time for peace. Insisting that this was the case even in the tumultuous 60s, the Byrds added, “I swear it’s not too late.” I admit to my own very strong inclination to insist the same. Even today, it’s not too late for peace among us here at home and around the world. This passage from Ecclesiastes isn’t among the scripture readings we’ll hear at Mass this weekend. Still, it seems to me that the Ordinary Time scripture readings from recent weeks and today indicate that Jesus was very much aware of the timing of the events of his life. Jesus was also very much aware of our need to infuse peace into each and every one of those events.

After much prayer and reflection, Jesus went to his cousin John to be baptized. It was time for Jesus to begin his public life. Not long afterward, Jesus attended the wedding in Cana with his friends. Very much aware of timing herself, Mary sought Jesus’ help when the couple involved ran out of wine. If she acted quickly, they would suffer no embarrassment over this turn of events. Jesus initially seemed unhappy with Mary’s timing. Still, on second thought, he abided by his mother’s wishes and provided the wine that was needed. At the same time, Jesus’ friends realized it was time to allow their belief in Jesus’ friendship to grow into belief in his ministry. In today’s gospel (Luke 4:21-30), Luke tells us that Jesus found himself in the midst of seemingly poor timing when he preached for the first time in his home town of Nazareth.

It was in the synagogue where he grew up that Jesus read this passage from the Prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, and to proclaim a year of the Lord’s favor.” When he finished, Jesus set aside the scroll and told the people that this saying had come to fruition before them. While his neighbors marveled at his knowledge of the scriptures, they also wondered why Jesus performed no good works among them. After all, those closest to Jesus certainly deserved a miracle or two. Apparently, Jesus felt that the timing wasn’t right or perhaps that his neighbors’ hearts weren’t ready. Rather than offering a miracle, Jesus responded with a lesson. Jesus insisted that ones proximity to a temple or preacher, priest or prophet, bible or scroll had little to do with ones relationship with God. It was the generosity of a person’s spirit which spoke volumes. When one reached beyond the peaceful confines of his or her own comfort zones and time zones to those in need, one demonstrated his or her proximity to God most clearly. Sadly, the timing wasn’t right for Jesus’ neighbors. They weren’t ready to recognize the peace to be found in aligning themselves with God’s timing and with God’s love. They didn’t understand that, whether the opportunity was a one-minute encounter with a homeless person or a lifelong relationship, it was always the right time to love as God loves. It was always the right time to find true peace.

I admit that I sometimes join Jesus’ neighbors in failing to take advantage of God’s timing and God’s peace. When I look back upon the happiest and the most trying episodes of my life, I realize that there truly is a time for every purpose under heaven. There is a time to be born and a time to die. Between those two events, God sees to it that there is also time enough to plant, to reap, to heal, to laugh and to weep, to build up and to take down, to dance, to mourn and to love. God sees to it that there is always time enough to transform our little corners of the world with peace by loving just as Jesus loved and as only we can.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved