I… I Am

God replied to Moses: I am who I am.
Then God 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’re 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 control to get my attention. These nudges come most often in the beauty of nature, an unexpected encounter, in a great idea or encouraging words. Fortunately for me, God always finds a way to let me know that God is indeed with me.

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 reveal God’s presence through my own presence to them.

Loving God, help me to be open and accepting, merciful, forgiving and generous with my time and treasure. Help me to make your presence tangible, especially to those who consider themselves less-than-lovable today.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Truly Wonderful Lives

This is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Today, the church closes the Christmas Season just as we have in our homes. I admit that I delayed the process for as long as possible. It was only when a local meteorologist promised bearable temperatures that I set aside my reluctance to assist my husband. Because our younger and more daring friend assisted Mike with the outdoor lighting, I tended to the indoors. I urged myself on with this year’s take-down-the-tree viewing of It’s A Wonderful Life. Because I began my work in the living room and the television is in the family room, I raised the volume enough to allow me to hear the dialogue while I worked. This film is such a part of me that I can visualize every scene without watching a single frame. While the guys rolled up light strings outdoors, George Bailey and I became reacquainted indoors.

As I boxed ornaments and rolled up my own portion of lights, I celebrated the many people to whom George’s life had made all of the difference in the world. As I absorbed the dialogue, images from George Bailey’s life flooded my memory. The selfless decisions which defined George elicited frequent tears. Though I’ve seen the movie numerous times, I suffered every disappointment with George as though I had no idea that things would work out in the end. “Poor courageous George,” I thought to myself. “If only you realized just how good you are!” And so it went until the movie ended and our Christmas Tree was bare.

When Mike and I finished the tasks at hand, it was time to commit our tree to the parkway. There it would wait for a public works employee to toss it into a truck for the trip to the Land of Mulch. As I considered that barren tree, it occurred to me that George Bailey felt like that tree far too often. He should have felt good about the wonderful things he’d done for others. He saved his brother’s life and that of a sick child who was sent the wrong medicine by a distraught pharmacist. He took over his father’s business to prevent the loss of many jobs and many more homes. He used his own savings to send his brother to college in his place. All the while, George fought temptation in the form of Mr. Potter, the most miserly man in town, to stand up for God’s riff raff. Yes, George Bailey was a good man who gave the working poor and many others something to live for. Finally, when George felt that he had no more to give, the God-of-the-Riff-Raff stepped in through Clarence, a bumbling angel-to-be. If you watch the movie, you can join George in celebrating what truly was a wonderful life. Celebrating our lives on this earth is the point of our celebration of The Baptism of the Lord.

Matthew’s gospel (3:13-17) tells us that John the Baptizer was deeply inspired by Jesus. When Jesus asked to be baptized, John was reluctant to cooperate because he felt Jesus should baptize him. Though pleased with John’s faith, Jesus asked John to baptize him just the same. After John immersed Jesus in the Jordan River, God entered into the scene to announce to all who would hear, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” These words, proclaimed from the heavens over Jesus, were meant just as readily for John the Baptist, for the George Baileys among us, for you and for me. Though they don’t echo from the clouds above, God speaks these words just as clearly in the depths of our hearts. God’s words resound every time we embrace the difficult, selfless choices that make all of the difference in the world to those around us. When we feel we have no more to give, like George who was tempted to hurl himself off a bridge, God steps in. Though God’s appearance may not be as tangible as that of Clarence, God’s presence is very real.

Though I know how It’s A Wonderful Life will end, I cry through it every time I watch it. This phenomenon repeated itself in Jesus’ life as well. Jesus prayed often. Jesus revealed God’s love in his actions toward those who needed him and in stories like the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Jesus knew his life would end well, yet he suffered more disappointment and discouragement along the way than George Bailey. The same is true of you and me. Though our faith tells us that all will be well in the end, we worry inconsolably. When we fail to see the value of what we do, we join George Bailey on that bridge. Still, it’s when we’re on that bridge that we must recall George’s joy when his life was given back to him. It’s when we’re on that bridge that we must recall God’s words at the baptism of Jesus and realize that they are meant for us as well. “This is my beloved… with whom I am well pleased.” Yes, when we’re on that bridge, our lives are given back to us as well. This happy ending is truly the happiest beginning we will ever know!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Time For Love

He entered a house and wanted no one to know
about it, but he could not escape notice.

From Mark 7:24

It’s Black Friday. Though early cyber sales and sneak previews drew much attention, crowds in stores and malls everywhere swell exponentially with every passing minute today. As I considered the mass of humanity of which I was a part this morning, I whispered a prayer of gratitude for those retailers who agreed not to open their doors on Thanksgiving Day. Of all of the holidays we celebrate in this country, Thanksgiving Day is the one we all enjoy without regard for our religious affiliations or lack thereof. I thanked God for the generosity of these employers whose workers enjoyed the holiday with their families yesterday.

After uttering a mental “amen” I returned to my list to determine where to go next. A voice near a cashier distracted me. This person remarked that he would be wealthy if he had a dollar for every minute he spent waiting. As the man hurried out of the store, I chuckled to myself. I’d found my own wealth in the few seemingly wasted moments which allowed me to get my bearings. While the world rushed about me, I also found the time to pray.

Perhaps this is the reason Jesus rose early and stole away for quiet time as often as he could. The scriptures also tell us that these moments were usually disrupted by those who desperately needed Jesus. The same is true of you and me. Today, will you join me in trying to respond as Jesus would? Let’s bring a bit of Jesus’ patience, concern and love to the mass of humanity out there!

Dear God, our world grows busier every day. Help me to respond to those caught in the midst this busyness as you would. Remind me to pray a bit, too.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

At Home With God Wherever

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

While growing up, I lived around the corner and down the block from our parish church. This close proximity allowed me the opportunity to drop in whenever I felt the need. I took the term “God’s House” seriously and literally. I knew in my heart that when I went into church I was in the company of the Almighty. I also knew that I was always welcomed there. I felt quite assured of this because high above the sanctuary in the domed ceiling the words of Matthew 11:28 which I’ve cited above were written in gold. What more assurance did I need?

As I grew older, my parents and teachers taught me that God also abides within each one of us. I took this lesson to heart without reservation. Regardless of how pressing an issue might be, I could talk to God wherever I was, not only in church. Though I still popped into church for impromptu visits, I learned to pray in earnest wherever I was when circumstances merited this.

I’m happy to share that it has become a lifelong habit to converse with God in good times and in bad wherever I am and whenever I’m not talking to someone else. I’m also happy to share that I still enjoy those special moments in God’s House.

Loving God, thank you for inviting me into your consoling arms wherever I happen to be.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Best Friend Forever

God is near to all who call…
From Psalm 145:18

While de-cluttering my bookshelves for the umpteenth time, I came across a stack of prayer cards. One caught my attention because it is a homemade creation I picked up at a craft sale some time ago. The anonymous prayer featured on the card expresses the sentiments of someone who wishes each of us to experience God as powerfully as he or she does. This prayer doesn’t ask that others are blessed with a keen knowledge of church teaching or of the scriptures or of theology. Though these are all good places to seek some understanding of God, this prayer asks that we sense God’s presence not only with our minds, but with our hearts as well. It occurred to me that this prayer’s author knows God in the same way that he or she knows the best of friends. What is more amazing is that God seems to reciprocate this relationship in very tangible ways.

I’ve taken that prayer card and given it a new home on my desk. Every day when I check my calendar, it reminds me to talk to God with the open and loving heart of this prayer’s author. I can think of nothing better for any of us than to truly understand with our heads and our hearts that God loves us passionately and remains with us always. Indeed, God is a best friend to us all.

Dear God, thank you for showing yourself to us in so many ways. Please, reveal your friendship so unmistakably that we can’t miss your presence around us and within us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Trilogy of Hope!

When I examined the opened bag of Halloween candy on the kitchen counter, I found that the good deacon had been trick-or-treating early. Apparently, he favors Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups because they were noticeably outnumbered by the other offerings left in our mini assortment bag of candy. As I contemplated where to hide the remainder of our Halloween cache, I realized that I hadn’t yet settled on a topic for this week’s writing. I’d read the scripture passages several times with the hope of being treated with a bit of inspiration. After I secured our Halloween treats in what I hoped was a deacon-proof hiding place, I returned to my computer. As I began to write, I admitted that the good deacon’s candy assault reminded me of how much I enjoy our annual Halloween Trilogy. Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day have always been sources of great hope for me. With that, I turned my thoughts to the two men at prayer in today’s gospel. Each had exhibited hope as well.

Luke’s gospel (Luke 18:9-14) shares Jesus’ observations of these two at prayer. The Pharisee was a devout man who followed the letter of the law to the nth degree. He offered his prayer at the front of the temple. With his eyes turned upward to heaven, he prayed, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity…” The Pharisee listed his virtues and good works, contrasting his situation with that of the lowly tax collector who bowed down at the back of the temple. That tax collector knelt on the floor with his head bent low. He dared not raise his eyes as he prayed, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” As I reflected upon this scene, it occurred to me that the reason for both men’s prayer was hope. Though they displayed their hope with very different attitudes and words, each man came to the temple with hope in God’s promises. After giving those present a moment to consider the scene, Jesus assured them that the tax collector’s hope was fulfilled by the Lord. This poor man had asked for forgiveness and he received it. The Pharisee, on the other hand, had asked for nothing. What did he receive in return? Both men prayed with hope, one daring to hope for God’s mercy and one quite hopeful that he already stood in God’s favor.

As I prepared to write, I smiled with the hope that I’d saved our Halloween candy from totally disappearing before this year’s trick-or-treaters came to the door. Afterward, I directed my hope toward Halloween Trilogy 2019. The costumed urchins who roam our neighborhoods on Halloween don’t realize that they’re echoing the efforts of long ago pagans who dressed in eerie garb to detract from the church’s celebration of All Saints’ Day. I’m glad that the children among us are unaware of the roots of their annual quest for candy. On this day, ignorance is bliss! They’re free to be children filled with the hope that they’re bags will hold as much candy as possible by the time trick-or-treat hours end.

While sorting through that Halloween candy, we adults turn our thoughts to November 1 which is All Saints Day. On this special day, we honor the souls who’ve gone before us to make their homes in heaven. They include all who enjoy God’s company in eternity, but who may not have been formally declared saints by the church. When we celebrate All Saints Day, we acknowledge that even at our worst, we hold the potential for sainthood within us. This is a bit of hope which I contemplate every Halloween as I dole out candy to the princesses, super heroes, hobos and vampires who make their way to my door. As my amused eyes soak them in, I wonder if God looked with equal amusement upon the Pharisee and tax collector who portrayed their hope so differently that day in the temple. As for me, I hope that God looks with amusement upon each of us as we journey home to heaven. I also hope that God is as generous with the blessings we need as we are with our Halloween candy. Actually, considering the number of Reese’s that went missing from the Penich candy supply, I hope God is more generous than we are!

The third day of our trilogy is November 2, All Souls Day (The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed). On this day, we remember all of our loved ones who’ve passed away. None of us is certain of how God handles our imperfections when we take them with us from this life to the next. Nonetheless, we are certain that these imperfections are met with mercy. This is the reason both the Pharisee and the tax collector prayed in the temple that day. Each came with the hope that God would listen because God loved him. It is our hope in the same loving and merciful God which urges our prayer for our loved ones who’ve passed away. Indeed, the potential for sainthood remains within them and within us all.

Hope-in-waiting and hope-fulfilled are the driving forces behind this week of goblins and witches, saints and souls. As I enjoy this trilogy of hope, I’ll pray that both the Pharisee and the tax collector within each of us will also walk among the saints one day.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved