Pray With Certainty

Then Abraham said, “May the Lord not be angry,
but let me speak just once more…”

Genesis 18:32

The promise of springtime has also brought the promise of eternity with the end of some lengthy illnesses and other unexpected departures from this life. Recent wakes and funerals bring to mind a springtime loss of my own…

Thirty years ago, I stood at my step-father’s bedside with an aching heart. Emphysema had transformed the muscular carpenter I once knew into a shadow of his former self. I prayed and asked the God of Abraham to watch with me for a while. Like Abraham, as soon as I had God’s attention, I began negotiating.

First, I asked for relief for my dad’s difficult breathing. When I felt assured of that much, I went on. I requested strength for my mom and for the rest of us to remain present to him for as long as needed. I knew God was listening as always and so I continued. In the end, I dared to set limits on the “as long as needed” part. Indeed, I challenged God to hear and to respond to my prayer as Jesus promised God would do.

Just a week later, we walked with my step-dad through his passing. When all was said and done, I apologized to our patient God for my insolent and demanding prayer. I also thanked God for taking this second dad of mine home. In spite of my tears, I smiled and promised to pray with the conviction of Abraham many more times before God and I meet face to face.

Loving and Patient God, thank you for listening and for responding with more than I could ever hope for.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Life-Giving Water

Beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul…

From Psalm 23:2-3

The Dead Sea is a popular attraction in Israel. It rests sixteen miles east of Jerusalem and covers 300 square miles. When referenced in the scriptures, it’s called The Salt Sea. Most often, this formidable body of water is cited simply to describe the location of more important places. Though our ancient counterparts likely weren’t aware of the chemistry involved, the waters of their Salt Sea are actually almost 25% mineral salts. It seems to me that we should return this powerful body to its original name. Modern-day visitors appear to agree because they come in droves to seek its amazing power to rejuvenate ones skin, ones health and perhaps much more…

As we approached the shoreline, we found ourselves in the midst of a tourist haven. People from everywhere had come to experience the Dead Sea’s therapeutic powers firsthand. Many wore swimwear in an effort to soak themselves in this apparent fountain of youth for as long as possible. My husband and our tour-mates joined in the fun and fury by making their way down to the black mud beach. They waded into the water as far as their rolled-up jeans would allow.

As for me, I waited at a small observation area which offered a breathtaking view. After taking in the sea air and the inspiring surroundings, I watched as drenched pilgrims made their way back to the tourist center to warm themselves and to replace their swimsuits with dry clothing. Some laughed. Some seemed uncomfortably cold. Some seemed rapt in prayer, perhaps asking that this would be the “something” which relieved their suffering. As each one passed, I prayed as well. “Dear God, help them to find what they’re looking for.”

As we boarded the bus for our next adventure, I realized that I’d been blessed with something unexpected. Though I hadn’t touched a drop of that amazing water, my soul was at peace and all was well in my little corner of the world.

Generous God, thank you for the many unexpected surprises which come our way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Find The Good!

Accordingly, Jesus sent Peter and John off with the instruction,
“Go and prepare our Passover supper for us.”

Luke 22:6

While in Israel, we celebrated a special Shabbat Dinner with a local family. It was Friday night just after Sabbath began when we poured into the modest apartment of an Orthodox Jewish couple. This couple shared their Sabbath experience to extend their good will and to provide an opportunity for them and their guests to eat and pray together. This was an authentic experience which included one toddler, two preschoolers, Mommy, Daddy, Grandma, Grandpa and us guests. Our hosts also invited a few friends.

After settling into our places, this couple asked us to introduce and to share something about ourselves. In the process, one of the couple’s guests spoke of his emigration to Israel. Noam is 29 and a native of Baltimore, Maryland. He’d moved to Israel a year earlier for his job. Noam described his immediate uneasiness within this foreign culture. Though he is a good Jew, Noam was unprepared for life in this strange place. He found people to be refreshingly, and sometimes frighteningly, direct. His mild-mannered demeanor proved to be no asset as he tried to assimilate. Still, Noam persisted. He recognizes that life isn’t perfect anywhere on this earth and that it’s up to each one of us to find the good wherever we are and the goodness within ourselves. With only this revelation to guide him, Noam eventually decided to make Israel his permanent home. Though he couldn’t explain the reason, he felt that he truly belonged in this place.

I was taken aback by Noam’s bravery, his perceptiveness and his persistence. As we continued our meal together, I wondered where I might look more carefully for the goodness around me. Perhaps I need to look within as well…

Dear God, you send each one of us into this life filled with goodness. Help us to find the goodness in one another and to do good wherever we are.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

In Mary’s Footsteps

Mary, called the Magdalene, from whom seven devils had gone out…
From Luke 8:2

I admit that the attitudes of Jesus’ contemporaries toward illness and other maladies have troubled me most of my life. I was surrounded by sick people from the time I was very young and I couldn’t accept that any of my loved ones deserved their suffering. The adults around me must have agreed because they explained that these events were simply a part of life. All that one could do in response was the best he or she could. “Poor Mary Magdalene,” I thought. My only consolation in her case was that she knew Jesus’ personally. “Lucky Mary!” I added.

As I considered Magdala in Jesus’ day, I imagined Mary Magdalene doing her best to maintain her stature in spite of the mysterious illness which plagued her. I also wondered if Mary maintained this facade when she first met Jesus or if she immediately revealed the pain which tormented her. Whichever the case, when Mary made her way to Jesus, her life changed forever.

While looking over the ruins in Magdala, I recalled the main street which is flanked by the remains of numerous shops. Archaeologists suggest that pottery, fresh produce and woven cloth were likely sold there. Shops which sported small pools likely sold locally caught fish. Another street flanked by a row of houses was part of a neighborhood arranged in grid-like fashion much like ours at home. Near the shore of the Sea of Galilee are remains of a warehouse and huge storage vessels. Magdala was home to a bustling economy and, in spite of her mysterious affliction, Mary Magdalene held her own among prosperous business people and her well-to-do neighbors. This was quite an accomplishment for a First Century woman.

Dear God, help me to walk through my circumstances with the persistent competence of Mary Magdalene.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Holy Snow?

Let the sea and what fills it resound,
the world and those who dwell in it;
Let rivers clap their hands,
the mountains shout with them for joy
before the Lord.

Psalm 98:7-9

Though the snowy cold often inconveniences us a bit, I cannot deny that wintertime captivates me. While early December’s warmth provided excellent conditions for Christmas shopping, the cold which followed made the last few days before Christmas a challenge for most of us. Still, intermittent showers of frozen flakes uplifted my spirit. I find nothing more beautiful than an ice-clad tree and an undisturbed expanse of hardened snow. Add the crunch of that snow under my feet and a chilling wind around me and I’m in heaven! I willingly volunteer to be the driver in the worst winter weather. You see, even then, I find peace in the midst of nature’s havoc.

Why this affinity with this difficult season? I’m not certain. I can only guess. The “winters” of my lifetime have snowed a plethora of challenges and sorrows and disappointments upon me. Still, I emerged from each storm with renewed hope, increased stamina and a stronger resolve to carry on. Perhaps winter, when most living things lie dormant beneath the surface, symbolizes the potential to be found in the many unexpected places, circumstances and people in our lives. Perhaps knowing that spring will eventually come inspires my hope that, indeed, life is everywhere, in everything and in everyone!

Creator God, thank you for the beauty of this world that so inspires my hope. Help me to uncover that hope for those around me, whatever the season.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Sense

When I got up this morning, I planned to check this reflection for typos and then to schedule it for next Sunday (today, to you, Dear Reader). This was before I heard the news regarding that horrific shooting in Las Vegas. Suddenly, the sadness within me and around me took a back seat to the events unfolding fifteen hundred miles away. I had written about that overwhelmingly painful place we visit when our heartache gets the best of us. I’ve been there. I know some of you have been there as well because you’ve shared your stories with me. “There” is that place far beyond disappointment and well past anger. “There” is that place where our misery gives way to tears as we wonder what to do next. I’m writing of those times when you or I or a loved one has done everything right only to discover that, in spite of our best effort, the result is completely wrong. After watching subsequent news reports, I’m certain that those hurt and their loved ones question this wrong turn in their reality. In today’s gospel (Matthew 21:33-43), Jesus offers the parable of a landowner who has been to this place as well…

The landowner in Jesus’ story is a savvy businessperson who’s done everything necessary to net a healthy crop of grapes from his property. Jesus told his audience that the man “…planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine-press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.” It seems that this landowner was a person of means accustomed to engaging in such transactions. He employed tenants to whom he’d given housing and a living wage to tend his vineyard. As a result, these tenants enjoyed the opportunity to live respectably and the landowner increased his holdings. This arrangement should have been a sweet deal for all concerned. Unfortunately, the tenants didn’t live up to their responsibilities in all of this. They wanted much more than their fair share. At harvest time, when the landowner sent his servants to retrieve his share of the grapes, two were beaten and one was killed. What should have been a simple settling of accounts developed into an ugly scenario. When the landowner sent a second cohort to gather what was his, they were met with violence as well. Completely shocked by this outrage, the landowner sent his son to settle the matter. He was convinced that the tenants would respect his son and hand over what was due. Unfortunately for the landowner and his son, the tenants viewed the young man as an obstacle. Those tenants killed the man’s son to secure his inheritance for themselves.

I would never have predicted this end to Jesus’ parable. The landowner had behaved appropriately in everything. He was a good businessperson who paid his employees well. When things went completely wrong and he lost his own son, what more was there to do? Jesus posed this very question to his followers who responded, “…He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.” Though I see what those present were getting at, I can’t let go of the reality that nothing will bring back the landowner’s son. If I’d been in the landowner’s shoes, I would have been able to do nothing more than to weep over the senseless loss of my child until my tears ran out. Neither future tenants nor bountiful harvests nor successful business deals of any sort would fill the emptiness within me. The families of those lost in that Las Vegas shooting likely share these sentiments.

I’ve puzzled over this parable. In the process, I’ve discovered that I don’t like being immersed into a scenario which so accurately echoes the events which cause us heartache today. I’m reluctant to analyze Jesus’ words. Still, the pain of the moment compels me to do just that. Deep within, I realize that God will eventually make sense of everything. Deep within, I realize that God shares that “sense” with us if we take the time to attend to it. It is God’s “sense” of things which makes it impossible for me to leave that landowner in his misery. It is God’s sense which insists that this isn’t the end for those hurt and lost in Las Vegas. Though Jesus never offered an outcome to his parable, I will. I say the landowner left those tenants to the authorities and then moved on. How could he find solace in further bloodshed when his son’s death had robbed him of so much? I say that the landowner found a way to get past his trauma. I say that God entered into the landowner’s story to assure him that he wasn’t alone. I say God helped him to embrace this life once again. I say God will do the same for our Las Vegas friends and for us.

God entered into your story and mine long ago. I think it began the day God first breathed life into us. This is the reason that, as sorrowful and hurtful as life can be, we somehow pull ourselves up to begin again Actually, it is God who offers the hand on which we balance ourselves and finally make it back to our feet.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved