U is for Unity

These are my mother and brothers and sisters.
Whoever lives as God asks is family to me.

From Mark 3:34-35

U is for Unity. A few week’s ago, we gathered at my nephew’s home. His sister lives in California and was home for a visit. Ralph invited us over to see her. Our family is quite large. These days, it’s difficult to gather us in one place at any one time. Still, almost thirty of us came out to visit with Cece and one another that day. What fun! My own siblings and I have grown into very different people, yet we each manage to bring our own variety of joy to these gatherings. The same is true of my nieces and nephews and my own sons. Though they all set out to form friendships and families of their own, they find their way back to their roots to reconnect with the family which gave them their start. For me, the best part of these gatherings is watching familial interactions unfold. How nice it is that we still manage to get along!

It seems to me that this should also be true of our human family. God breathed life into every one of us with the hope that we’d live these lives to the fullest. We needn’t congregate in the same worship places or in any worship place at all to express our appreciation. It seems to me that we do need to respect one another and to see one another as God’s children. We need to love one another as we love ourselves. We need to open our eyes, our minds and our hearts to better understand perspectives which sometimes differ from our own. Understanding our differences doesn’t mean that we have to embrace them. It does mean that we must learn to coexist amidst our varying points of view. I do this best when I set aside the non-essential details of these things and focus upon the most essential needs of this world.

God has breathed life into billions of unique children since time began and God loves each and every one. God’s only request is the same as that of any loving parent. God asks only that we learn to get along.

Loving God, you love each one of us. Help us to work together to transform the world we share into a fitting home for us all.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Stand Together

“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs
under the table eat the family’s leavings.”

Mark 7:28

I was born into an Irish and Italian neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago. Since only the tiniest drop of each bloodline flows through me, I had no preference for either group. The truth is that I envied them both, especially on St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s Days when they celebrated their heritage with great flourish. For the most part, I’m French Canadian. There is no designated day for me to do the same. Though my own family celebrated rich traditions which were the direct result of my nationality, I longed for a more colorful and universal display of our heritage. By third grade, many of these neighbors moved away. New African-American neighbors took their places. At that time, I discovered that my new neighbors found themselves in the same situation as I. No one outside of their own families celebrated their heritage with a flourish either. Sadly, most outsiders looked upon my new neighbors’ rich heritage as a threat or a curse. As for me, my new neighbors became my friends.

This childhood experience evolved into a lifetime of effort to overlook ethnicity and the numerous other differences which often separate us. Perhaps it was providential that I spent my career working with children. My classroom provided the perfect forum in which to honor both our personal uniqueness and our common qualities. In the process, I think I succeeded in honoring my students for who they were while also respecting the heritage of each one. I hope I do the same today for all of those whom I meet along the way.

God of us All, it seems that we manage to separate ourselves into differing factions more than ever these days. We continue to find reason to stand apart. Please inspire us with your loving and welcoming ways before it’s too late.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Gifts of Peace

Their amazement went beyond all bounds.
“He has done everything well!
He heals the deaf and the mute!”

From Mark 7:37

As I made my way out of the store the other day, a teen-aged girl and someone who seemed to be her younger brother made their way in. I couldn’t help hearing as this young woman advised her young companion regarding how to deal with someone who was giving him trouble. Though I’m not certain of how that conversation ended, I liked what I heard as I passed by. This young woman’s wise advice reminded me of a former student from long ago…

I could hear Frankie telling her classmate, “Nasty, nasty, nasty. He’s just nasty, so ignore him!” Frankie, a fifth grader who was wise beyond her years, had mastered the art of defusing misbehavior. Though she would never allow one classmate to physically hurt another, Frankie ignored verbal assaults and she taught those in her company to do the same. Frankie single-handedly prevented many a playground altercation by simply walking away. While the teacher in me addressed any assault, verbal or otherwise, I truly respected Frankie’s approach to getting along in this world.

As I walked on to my car, I prayed for the young woman I’d passed and her little brother. I asked God to help her to replace his anxiety with a bit of peace.

Dear God, thank you for the peacemakers among us. Help us all to learn from those who try to diffuse our troubles with a measure of peace.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Rest! It’s Okay!

Jesus went into the district of Tyre.
He entered a house and wanted no one to know
about it, but he could not escape notice.

Mark 7:24

I’d been running errands all morning and I was grateful for the long line ahead of me. Oddly enough, I truly appreciated the opportunity to lean on my grocery cart and to stand still for a few minutes. While enjoying this bit of peace, a person ahead of me in line remarked that he would be wealthy if he had a dollar for every minute he spent waiting. As this man hurried out of the store, I chuckled to myself. I had found wealth in these seemingly wasted moments.

It seems to me that all of us are too busy far too often. This is nothing new, as Jesus experienced the same. Though Jesus longed for a bit of peace, there was always someone who needed him more than he needed his rest. This is the reason Jesus rose very early and stole away for quiet time as often as possible. Jesus made it his business to care for others, and, once in a while, to care for himself.

The moral of the story is this: It is perfectly fine and truly necessary to acknowledge our fatigue because we find the energy and the will to care for others in our own rested spirits. The moral of the story is: Rest when you need to!

Dear God, I’m grateful that others occasionally need me. Help me to remember that I occasionally need me as well.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Is Good!

“If I just touch his clothing,” she thought,
“I will get well.”

Mark 5:28

I know I shared this yesterday, but I’m grateful enough to repeat myself in this regard. I truly am grateful that my parents introduced me to God. Their perspectives regarding God’s love and concern made this life manageable for them and they’ve done the same for me. This shared awareness of our Creator gives me great insight into the many good people whom I’ve met along the way. Though we sometimes belong to different faith communities or to none at all, our shared membership in God’s family makes all of the difference in the world.

I’ve told you about her before. Still, thoughts about our relationships with God bring her to mind once again. Sister Gerard was convinced of one this over everything else: God is good! Sister Gerard first spoke this phrase to me six decades ago. My great-aunt was a dynamic and lively little nun. After spending much of her career teaching at a boarding school for boys, Sister shared, “I’ve taught convicts and bishops, lawyers, janitors and butchers, and I love them all. God put them all into my life. God is good!” When Sister Gerard was assigned to a parish school in Chicago, we were able to see her more often. I listened attentively as she shared stories about her teaching career and life among the sisters. Eventually, bouts with cancer mandated her assignment to the sisters’ mother-house. This kept her close to the hospital where she received treatment. During this final assignment, Sister Gerard busied herself by visiting the elderly sisters, of whom she was one, to keep them company during their hospitalizations.

Through all of this, Sister Gerard maintained her conviction regarding God. During her treatment, she frequently observed, “God is good!” At ninety-two, Sister Gerard discovered that her final bout was a losing battle. She smiled at me from her sickbed as she admitted, “I was a little upset that Jesus didn’t cure me this time around. Then, I thought about where I’m going and I thanked Him! God is so good!” When my sweet aunt passed away, her funeral was truly a celebration of new life.

Good God, thank you for my parents, Sister Gerard and all of the amazing people who share your goodness with the rest of us. Strengthen all of our faith in your goodness and love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

You’ll Know…

Whatever place does not welcome you
or listen to you, leave there and
shake the dust off your feet…

Mark 6:11

I find it extremely difficult to shake the dust off my feet. I usually find peace in the familiar and I’m reluctant to make a change when the status quo is working. The few instances in which I’ve done so were the result of impending danger, both physical and psychological, to someone I love or to me. This propensity to stay connected is partially genetic and partially learned. My parents opened their door to everyone. My mom often said, “I leave the door open. If people choose not to come in, it’s their loss.” Jesus welcomed everyone who crossed his path as well. Since I subscribe to Jesus’ way of life, I try to welcome people as he did.

Still, there are people who really aren’t good for us. They may not cause physical harm, but they do take a psychological or spiritual toll on us. I find that if my gut is having a strong reaction to someone, I need to listen. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I need never to speak to this person again. However, it may mean that I should limit our contact. Sometimes, this limit can only be achieved when I vacate the premises. The same can be true of situations, be they our jobs, circles of friends, neighborhoods and even our churches. I need to listen to my gut regarding these as well.

This may seem like an odd topic for a spiritual reflection, I know. However, I have good reason for sharing this. Sometimes, good people think that part of “being good” is to allow themselves to be hurt unnecessarily. I truly believe that God could not disagree more.

Dear God, keep us safe and wise. Help us to recognize harm and guide us away from its source.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved