Ask God…

But the hand of the Lord was on Elijah…
From 1 Kings 18:46

If you don’t recall the details, check 1 Kings 18 regarding Elijah…

I admit that I thought about Elijah’s wrath throughout our stay in the Holy Land and long after we left Mount Carmel. The good news is that Elijah’s fiery presence often gave way to his contemplative side. Elijah said that he was on fire with zeal for God. Before he did most of what he did, Elijah prayed. Elijah’s ability to withdraw into God’s presence empowered him to act with conviction on behalf of his fellow humans.

I admit that I sometimes avoid Old Testament texts because I don’t want to be reminded of the violence recorded there. Elijah’s encounter with the priests of Baal is no exception. Still, as I contemplated further, I realized that Elijah did the best he could in the time and place where God situated him. I wasn’t there and I don’t know the details of all that occurred among his people. In the end, it isn’t up to me to judge.

Each of us finds ourselves in particular times and places over which we have little control. Nonetheless, you and I are called to respond as best we can and as only we can. This is good reason to imitate Elijah’s contemplative side. When in doubt, Elijah always prayed. It seems to me that we should do the same.

Loving God, thank you for offering us your company and your counsel. Remind us to seek both often.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Peaceful Revelations…

The Lord’s fire came down and consumed the holocaust…”
From 1 Kings 18:38

While in the Holy Land, I found myself thinking about Jesus at every turn. How could I not? Jesus had spent his entire life in the vicinity. Our visit to Mount Carmel adjusted my focus a bit. People had lived in that mountain’s caves since prehistoric times. It’s been considered a sacred place for what seems like forever. My knowledge of Mount Carmel begins with the Prophet Elijah.

The scriptures tell us that Elijah became impatient with Israel’s leadership. King Ahab married Jezebel, a Phoenician princess. Jezebel introduced Ahab and his people to her god Baal. Jezebel also saw to the murders of several prophets. As a result, the people’s ties to the God of Israel faded quickly. After much prayer, Elijah challenged the priests of Baal to build an altar and to place a sacrifice upon it. These priests were to ask Baal to light a fire to burn their offerings. Though 450 priests prayed fervently, their sacrifice remained unlit. Elijah also built an altar. He prayed that the God of Israel would set his sacrifice afire. Though Elijah had doused everything with water to prove his point, a bolt of lightning lit Elijah’s sacrifice. Elijah went on to kill those priests of Baal.

Our guide shared that this account is found in the Book of Kings, but he offered no opinion of its authenticity. Yossi is an archaeologist, not a scripture scholar. As for me, I’m no fan of bloodshed and no fan of religious intolerance. However, I do understand Elijah’s devotion to God. In this case, I hope Kings’ author adjusted these events to illustrate a point: Elijah did what he needed to do to turn his people back to their Lord.

Unlike Elijah, you and I need only to live with compassion and generosity to reveal God to others. When we love one another and behave like one family, we say all that needs to be said about God.

Loving God, help us to reveal you in all that we say and do.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Let Us Pray…

In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, goodness, faith…

Galatians 5:22

I’ve shared before that one of the most precious and inspiring treasures we encountered in Israel was our tour guide Yossi. Though this was our third trip to Israel, we never tired of Yossi’s commentaries regarding the sites before us, his homeland, Jesus and life in this world. Every encounter revealed another facet of this remarkable man.

Remember, Yossi was raised in an Israeli kibbutz where communism ruled and God was extinct. He describes himself as an atheist who loves his country, but who is also acutely aware of its flaws. Yossi asked us often to pray for his people as all concerned needed to set aside their differences. They needed to live in peace. Now Yossi is an archaeologist and a professor of this subject at the university. Still, his scientific and non-religious background never kept him from asking us to pray…

When we visited one of the Holy Land’s beautiful churches, Yossi pulled his flute from his backpack. This dear man who claimed not to know God settled himself in the sanctuary to play. As Yossi blew into his flute, he closed his eyes. Each note fulled that church and our hearts. A visible peace enveloped Yossi. I whispered to myself, “You may think you’re an atheist, Yossi, but just now you’re closer to God than many of us will ever be. Thank you for allowing me into your holy space.”

Yossi thought he couldn’t pray. Yet he spoke to God quite clearly through his music. Sometimes, you and I feel distant from God as well. Sometimes, life’s circumstances or the troubles brewing deep within us seem to rob us of God’s presence in our lives. It is during these times that we must do as Yossi did that day. We must settle into the sanctuary which is our hearts and pour out our hearts to God. Just as Yossi likely discovered that day, God is far closer to us than we know.

Dear God, thank you for remaining with us in everything!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

Withdraw Into God’s Company

But the hand of the Lord was on Elijah…
From 1 Kings 18:46

My experience on Mount Carmel revealed that Elijah’s fiery presence was complimented by his contemplative side. Elijah said of himself that he was on fire with zeal for God. One doesn’t become this close to God without spending time in God’s company. Before he did most of what he did, Elijah prayed. Elijah’s ability to withdraw into God’s presence and then to act with conviction has inspired many over the millenniums since he walked among us.

Today, Mount Carmel is inhabited by Carmelite priests. These modern-day religious do their best to emulate Elijah’s contemplative and worldly sides. They pray alone and with one another throughout the day. They also serve their brothers and sisters on the outside. Carmelites strive to maintain a sort of detached attachment with the rest of us. They work hard to make our world a better place without becoming fully a part of this world. Theirs is a tough assignment, but they manage to pull it off without wielding Elijah’s sword.

Several pilgrims from around the world joined us on Mount Carmel. One group from the Philippines had gathered inside the small chapel to share scripture and to pray. They invited us to join them. When they’d completed their devotions, our guide Yossi began his flute concert in the sanctuary. Together, we sat in silence, completely drawn in by Yossi’s reverence. Once again, our guide who claims not to know how to pray inspired the rest of us to do just that.

Loving God, thank you for revealing yourself and for calling us in so many unexpected ways.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

By Peaceful Means…

The Lord’s fire came down and consumed the holocaust…”
From 1 Kings 18:38

After leaving Caesarea and our stop at the Baha’i Gardens, we drove to Mount Carmel. Our guide explained that the word “Carmel” comes from two Hebrew words for “vineyard” and “God”. This mountain’s plush greenery had earned it the title of God’s vineyard. Though people had lived in the mount’s caves in prehistoric times, my knowledge of Mount Carmel begins with the Prophet Elijah.

The scriptures tell us Elijah had become impatient with Israel. Their king had married a Phoenician. The people’s religious practices and ties to the God of Israel weakened as they turned their attention to the queen’s idol Baal. Elijah responded by challenging the priests of Baal. They were to build an altar, place a sacrifice upon it and ask Baal to provide the fire to burn this offering. Though 450 priests prayed fervently, their sacrifice remained unlit. Elijah built an altar as well. He prayed that the God of Israel would set his sacrifice afire. Though Elijah had doused everything with water to make his point, a bolt of lightning ignited it. Elijah ended this encounter by slaughtering all of Baal’s priests.

Though he shared this story during my last visit to the Holy Land, our guide didn’t do so this time. Perhaps the unrest in nearby countries inspired this omission. Yossi is no fan of bloodshed; nor am I. Scripture writers sometimes adjusted settings or numbers or events to illustrate a point and this account seems to be no exception. In the end, Elijah did what he felt he needed to do to turn his people back to their Lord. Unfortunately, today’s world is unsettled by many who claim to do the same in God’s name.

I need to reveal God’s presence among us more peacefully. When I live with compassion and generosity, love my neighbors, care for them and respect them, I say best what needs to be said about our Beloved Creator.

Loving and Patient God, help us to love you and to love one another as best we can and help us to promote peace all the while.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved