Dance for Joy!

As I continue my journey through Advent 2019, I renew my resolve to bring a bit of Christmas to every day. While trying to do my best in this regard, images of dance in many forms fill me up. My dear husband and I attended some very special weddings this past fall. We recently received a link which allows us to view photos from one of them. While Mike and I enjoyed them all, I most liked the photos which captured guests on the dance floor. Though I’m not at all a good dancer, my feet take over when I’m happy and I dance. Our granddaughters’ first response to joy is to dance. They dance after a good soccer move, when opening birthday gifts and when allowed special outings with their friends. Our grandsons dance when we agree to watch Charlie Brown’s Christmas for the umpteenth time. I must admit that they come by this propensity quite naturally as their parents are great dancers. I think our grandchildren are onto something when they throw themselves into moments of joy like these. I think we’re onto something as well when we embrace the joy that comes our way with enthusiasm.

Last Sunday’s scripture passages pointed to the difficulties which threatened Jesus’ loved ones. Fortunately, they responded as best they could to make the most of their situations. Today’s passages offer frequent references to joy, joy that is powerful enough to elicit a dance. In the first reading (Isaiah 1:1-10), Isaiah describes the day when one will come who is filled with the spirit of the Lord, “…a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength.” This one will embody these things so perfectly that he will transform this wretched world into God’s holy mountain, a second Eden where peace and joy reign over everything. How wonderful it would be to enjoy just one day in such a place!

In the gospel (Matthew 3:1-12), John the Baptist emerged from the desert after praying, contemplating and making Isaiah’s message his own. John’s enthusiasm and passion were great and people in a variety of circumstances came to listen and to be baptized by him. Even some Pharisees and Sadducees sought John’s baptism. Perhaps they worried that John spoke the truth regarding the one who was to come. What a joy it would be to share John’s certainty! In his letter to the Romans (Romans 15:4-9), Paul encouraged his followers to recognize that Jesus personifies everything which Isaiah’s and John’s audiences hoped for. Paul pointed out that we who have seen, heard and touched Jesus for ourselves have no choice but to rejoice. What a difference it would make in our lives if you and I fully embraced what Jesus has to offer!

It was just two weeks ago on the Feast of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, that we focused upon Jesus’ last moments. Though this observance is meant to be a celebration, there wasn’t must to dance about as we listened. The gospel told us that the day darkened and Jesus’ life began to slip away. Still, Jesus offered God’s peace and everlasting joy to a most unlikely recipient. While passersby jeered at Jesus and one of the criminals who hung with him demanded to be saved, Jesus’ second companion in death simply asked for mercy. Overcome with love, Jesus dismissed his own suffering to dance the dance of compassion. Jesus offered this criminal ultimate joy and his own dance into eternity. Apparently, there is always reason to be found to dance.

I know that it’s unlikely that Isaiah and Paul, the apostles and the man crucified next to Jesus danced their way to many places in this life. Though Jesus knew the outcome of his work, it’s unlikely that he danced his way to find breakfast each morning and then on toward the waiting crowds. Though I dance with our grandchildren every time Grandpa and I visit them, I don’t physically dance my way to the grocery store or the gas station or to anywhere else my errands take me. I don’t even dance into church for Mass each week. Yet, like the man on the cross who asked Jesus to remember him, Isaiah and Paul, the apostles, you and I have reason to dance.

Jesus’ love impelled him to respond to someone in need regardless of his own suffering, The love that we have come to know impels us to dance the dance of love as well. We respond to the imperfections of this life just as Jesus did. We find the courage to dismiss our own worries long enough to turn to those who need us. This Advent and always, we do our best to be like Jesus. Though our legs may not move in choreographed fashion, our hearts dance the dance of with love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

F… Faith!

God remembers forever this covenant
which God made for a thousand generations…

Psalm 105:8

F is for Faith. I discovered very early on that faith is a gift to be treasured. For me, faith is that sense deep within which keeps me ever-mindful of God’s presence in my life. 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. Knowing that God is with me and within me sustains me in the best and the worst of times. Though I’m imperfect in numerous ways, God’s love for me urges me on. My faith is further nourished by the beauty of humanity-at-large, the wonders of nature, an amazing book, a heart-warming movie and lyrics or a melody which touches my heart. Everything and every person around me impacts my faith in one way or another.

My response to all of this is to reveal my faith in all that I say and do. My tenderness might bring life to faith that once lay dormant within another soul. My compassion might heal when medicine falls short. My presence might dispel persistent sadness. A card or phone call or visit might offer a reminder that we are deeply loved. Our efforts in this regard might just offer an experience of God which another person would otherwise not have.

My faith in God’s love for me is truly the most powerful catalyst in my life.

Loving God, help us always to remember that YOU ARE WITH US and that YOU LOVE US FOREVER!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Let’s Do Something!

It was July 10 when the world received the news. The last of those twelve young soccer players and their coach had been rescued from that flooded maze of caves in Thailand. I’ll never forget my relief and absolute joy over this miracle. Though those who cooperated in this rescue did their very best to help, they knew from the onset that their success was unlikely. Still, with their hope intact all the while, Thailand’s best combined forces with experts from several other nations and together they accomplished the impossible. When news of the rescue spread, we were no longer Thai or American, Chinese, Australian, Israeli or English or anything else. We were one people who rejoiced together because thirteen of our brothers had been saved.

During the days and weeks since, I admit that I’ve been fixated upon this rescue and the good which we can accomplish when we work together. Worldwide support of those twelve boys and their young coach renewed my conviction that we are indeed capable of reaching beyond the barriers which seem to separate us. We really can work together when we have something truly important to accomplish! As I write, I realize that I’ll likely share this story with whoever will listen to me or read my work for quite some time. Much to my relief, John’s gospel assures me that this is a good thing. John offers a retelling of one of the most beloved stories in the scriptures. The featured event is recounted at least six times in the New Testament. This is quite remarkable because the Christmas story is reported only once in Luke’s gospel. Jesus’ death and resurrection are chronicled only four times, once by each of the evangelists. What was it that compelled early scripture writers to place such emphasis upon Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and fishes?

In his gospel (John 6:1-15), John wrote that Jesus had crossed the Sea of Galilee to seek some much-needed rest for his disciples and for himself. A crowd followed along because they’d witnessed Jesus’ numerous healings. The people couldn’t get enough of the hope that Jesus so generously offered. When Jesus looked upon the fatigued and famished multitude before him, he was moved with compassion. Jesus asked the disciples where they might find food for them. Stunned by Jesus’ incredulous request, poor Philip responded that two hundred days’ wages couldn’t purchase enough food for the crowd. Though he knew this would be of little help, Andrew pointed out that a boy among them had five barley loaves and two fish. Jesus somehow acquired the boy’s basket of food and he transformed it into the meal for thousands which has been remembered ever since.

As I considered this miracle, it occurred to me that I’ve never given much thought to the boy with that basket of bread and fish. Why did he give them up? He’d held his basket in the midst of a hungry horde who had no prospects for their next meal. He was probably hungry himself after his trek to the mountainside and the long afternoon he’d spent listening. Did anyone else attempt to cajole the boy into sharing his meager provisions? How did he get close enough to Jesus to be noticed? More importantly, why did the boy part with what might have been his own last meal for some time? Did he like Jesus? Did Andrew urge the boy to give it up? Did the boy’s parents insist that he part with his food? Did Jesus himself approach and say, “Will you share your food with me?”

I also don’t know why those experts and divers in Thailand left everything to try to save the thirteen captives in those flooded caves. While Jesus’ poor disciples were faced with providing an impossibly huge meal, these poor rescuers battled impossible circumstances. As Jesus’ plan unfolded, we know that the boy gave up his basket of food and that the disciples did their parts to distribute the food as Jesus asked. We also know that these Twenty-First Century rescuers literally dove in to assess what lay ahead and to do everything within their power to succeed. Throughout that rescue operation, I asked, “How is it that they find the courage to persist? How is it that, even when they’ve lost one of their own, they continue on?” Perhaps the boy in the gospel parted with his bread and fish because it was the thing to do. Perhaps those rescuers and their supporters simply did the same.

Perhaps this is the reason the scripture writers focused upon this story. Every day of this life, we’re all challenged to do something as well. Most of the time, these are small opportunities which we can take on alone or with the help of a friend or two. Sometimes, the outcome will be as unlikely as that mountainside banquet. Perhaps once in our lifetimes we’ll be challenged by an adventure as frightening as that flooded cave rescue. Whatever our circumstances, we’re asked again and again, “Will you do something?” Like that boy with the basket of food and those brave rescuers, let’s try to answer, “Yes!”

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

F is for…

God remembers forever the covenant
which God made for a thousand generations…

Psalm 105:8

F is for Faith. I learned early on that faith is a precious gift. For me, faith is that sense deep within which keeps me ever-mindful of God’s presence in my life. 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, my faith has been life-giving and life-saving. I’m not referencing my religious affiliation here. I’m writing about my conviction that God is. It seems to me that it is often the faith deep within -or our search for faith- which urges many of us in the direction of our churches, synagogues, mosques and temples. My faith community includes precious people and other treasures which nourish my soul. They sustain me in the best and the worst of times. Still, my faith is also strengthened by the beauty of humanity-at-large, the wonder of nature, an amazing book, music which touches my heart and soul and the breath-taking goodness in a fellow human.

I think I best exhibit my faith when I live out my appreciation for God’s presence in my life by revealing it in my attitudes and actions. Whether or not I’ve attended a religious service any given week seems less important than the manner in which I conduct myself the other six days. I’ve been deeply touched and inspired by many people who have no religious affiliation at all, but who exhibit God’s greatness in most of what they do. It seems to me that when we live with love, generosity and concern for our fellow humans, we are most faithful.

Faithful God, because I know you, I do my best to live accordingly.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Hope Morphs Into Joy

Last Sunday, I began my Advent journey with a heart filled with hope. I’d parted with a tiny village of Christmas houses which had been with my husband and me since our first Christmas together. Though I had second thoughts, I found the courage to leave them at the St. Vincent De Paul Thrift Store because I gave in to the hope that another family would treasure them as much as I. A few days later, while I prepared for my day to babysit for our little grandson, his mommy called to say that Danny was under the weather. No one knew if this was a reaction to recent immunizations, teething or a little “bug” of sorts. As a result, Mommy planned to stay home with Danny. When I offered to help out as needed, Mommy asked if I could sit for just an hour while she took care of a few things. I happily obliged.

When I arrived, I immediately noticed the difference in Danny. This crawling-walking-talking little imp confined himself to Mommy’s lap. His slight fever dulled his typically sparkling eyes and he was unusually quiet. In an effort to keep our time together as normal as possible, I took Danny on our usual morning tour. We looked out the living room windows to check the weather and assess the condition of every leaf-shedding tree we could see. We stopped at the piano for one verse of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and then moved on to the wall of family photos. I was heartened when Danny perked up at the sight of Grandpa’s picture. We continued our walk past a mirror where I made silly faces (never to be repeated in public) to amuse him. Danny couldn’t help laughing aloud at each of my attempts. When we ended our walk in his room, I asked Danny if he wanted to work at his desk which is a little table-top toy with lots of musical gadgets. When I pressed a button to start the music, Danny perked up a bit more. When I pushed a second button, Danny began to chair-dance in my lap. He looked at me and smiled as he moved in sync with the beat of the song. For the first time since I’d arrived, Danny seemed truly joyful and I knew he’d feel much better in short order.

You know, whenever Danny hears music and whenever he is particularly happy, Danny dances. When I read the scriptures passages for this Second Sunday of Advent, I realized that Danny is on to something. We are all meant to embrace the joy which comes our way with Danny’s enthusiasm. In Isaiah 1:1-10, the prophet describes the day when one will come who is filled with the spirit of the Lord, “…a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength.” This one would embody these things so perfectly that he would transform this wretched world into God’s holy mountain, a second Eden where peace and joy would reign over everything. In Matthew’s gospel (3:1-12), John the Baptist emerged from the desert after praying, reflecting and making Isaiah’s message his own. John’s enthusiasm was so great that throngs of people came to listen and to be baptized by him. Even Pharisees and Sadducees sought out John’s baptism in an effort to be prepared for God’s promised one. It is Paul’s letter to the Romans (15:4-9) which encourages us to recognize what Isaiah’s and John’s audiences could only hope for. Paul pointed out to his followers and he points out to us that we have seen the one of whom Isaiah spoke. He is Jesus who opens his arms and his heart to everyone who seeks God. Paul expected all who had seen to live accordingly. Indeed, we are a people of hope-fulfilled and we have no excuse not to dance!

I recognize that it is unlikely that Isaiah or Paul, the apostles or Jesus’ other followers danced their way through this life on a daily basis. Jesus himself likely didn’t dance his way to breakfast each morning. Though I dance with Danny every time Grandpa and I visit him, I don’t dance my way into the grocery store, the cleaners or wherever else my errands take me. I don’t even dance into church for Mass. Still, like Isaiah, Paul, and Jesus’ other followers, you and I do have reason to dance. Jesus’ love impelled him to respond to others regardless of his own fatigue and the numerous plots against him. In the same way, God’s love for us compels us to work within our circumstances to love one another and, yes, to dance with joy on occasion. The imperfections of this life simply cannot stop us from responding to those in need. We muster the courage to dismiss our own suffering and turn from our own pain to care for those we have been given to love. Like Jesus, though our legs aren’t moving in choreographed fashion, our hearts dance with love because we have seen and we know true joy.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

F… for Faith

He remembers forever his covenant
which he made binding for a thousand generations…

Psalm 105:8

F is for Faith. I learned very early in my life that faith is a gift to be treasured. 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 which sustains me in the best and the worst of times. Still, my faith is also sustained by the beauty of humanity-at-large, the wonder of nature, an amazing book, music which touches my heart and soul. Everything and everybody around me sustains my faith in one way or another.

I think I appreciate God’s presence in my life best when I reveal it in my attitudes and actions. When I succeed, my presence offers an experience of God that another person may otherwise not have had. My tenderness may bring life to faith that once lay dormant within another soul.

My faith tells me that God is the most powerful catalyst in my life. When I welcome others into my life with tenderness and without judgment, I share my faith and reveal a bit of God-the-Catalyst to them.

Faithful God, my faith in you is strong because I know that your faithfulness to me and to all of your children is everlasting. Help us always to remember that YOU ARE and to live accordingly.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved