Time To Let Go…

A time to keep and a time to cast away.
From Ecclesiastes 3:6

I’ve persisted in my effort to purge our home of unneeded items. This is in spite of the fact that most of these items hide in closets, drawers and a storage room in our basement. The old adage “Out of sight, out of mind” certainly applied in this regard until recently. I’m committed! With that, I turned to some boxed books I’d retrieved from my study. Where would I begin?

I started with an assortment of inspirational books. Each one touched me the day I received it. Still, I hadn’t looked at most of them for years. I decided it was my turn to inspire and placed all but two of them in my give-away box. My collection of novels had renewed my empathy for my fellow humans in many ways. Still, though I’d reread a few of them, I likely never will again. I kept the autographed copies and added the remainder to that give-away box. There was no question regarding my books on death, dying and the hereafter. They sustain my hope, so I kept every one. My children’s books feed my imagination and strengthen my bond with our grandchildren. I decided to keep a few and to donate the rest to my favorite after-school program.

I’d spent over an hour on this task when I discovered an old catechism. A bookmark rested at the chapter entitled GRACE. I learned long ago that grace is God’s very life within us. I laughed as I noted that a bit of grace had flowed through almost every book I’ve ever read. Still, in spite of this joyful revelation, I hauled that box of give-away books to the garage with a promise that I’ll deliver it ASAP!

Loving God, thank you for the gift of inspiration I find in the written word and for my ability to let go of a few of those books.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Passion for Goodness

Though I’ve frequently referenced my efforts to purge our home of the things we no longer need, this daunting task is far from completion. A few weeks ago, after I attended a retirement gathering, I was compelled to renew my efforts. I decided to focus on remnants from my own retirement. It had been a while since I stowed my desk name plate and some other items which made my office my own and I decided this would be a good place to start.

When I opened the box labeled RETIREMENT, I found a congratulatory plaque, my old business cards and the last school directory in which I was listed. I’d actually kept my final appointment book as well. I flipped through the pages and rediscovered the variety of activities that filled my days back then. When I read Teen Court Meeting and Suicide Prevention Task Force, a tear formed. Suddenly, I was immersed in a passionate discussion regarding youth offenses with local police chiefs, high school students and school district administrators. Just as quickly, I moved on to a meeting with the coroner, school social workers and mourning family members. I’d joined them to develop suicide education and prevention programs. I always left such gatherings with my adrenalin pumping. I was determined to do something which would have a positive impact upon the issue at hand. In the end, I did all that I could.

Needless to say, I didn’t do much purging that day. Rather, I turned my attention to this writing. The scripture passages cited exude passion and I found that my encounter with that memorabilia had placed me in the appropriate frame of mind to address this topic. I was extremely passionate regarding my work in education and the numerous causes which drew me in. I admit that I’m equally passionate regarding the issues we face today. The suffering featured in newscasts and headlines shakes me to my core. Perhaps it’s my status as a retiree which makes these things seem even more urgent than the issues I encountered as a teacher and administrator. My husband can assure you that I often speak aloud to the news anchor on hand in spite of the fact that I’m not being heard. While reading the paper, I’m equally verbose. Apparently, retiring from my career in education didn’t include retiring my passion for what I deem to be right and good. Today’s scriptures indicate that I’m not alone in this regard.

Jeremiah, Paul and Jesus were driven by their passion as well. They determined what was right and good and they shared their convictions regardless of the expense to themselves. Today’s first reading (Jeremiah 23:1-6) vividly illustrates Jeremiah’s anger. He didn’t take kindly to those who scattered the people and shirked their responsibility to care for them. His people had been devastated by their lack of leadership and their sense of loss. They’d been left with no one to cling to in their fear. Shepherds entrusted with sheep risked everything to protect their animals. Jeremiah insisted that those entrusted with God’s people are expected to do no less.

Paul echoed Jeremiah’s passion. Today’s second reading (Ephesians 2:13-18) is one of Paul’s many reminders that God’s presence in our lives is a treasure to be cherished. It is this presence which gives meaning to all that we do. Paul’s passion stemmed from a single encounter with Jesus. That pivotal meeting knocked Paul to the ground from which he rose a changed man. Paul couldn’t contain the peace which flowed from knowing that God was with him. As a result, he exhibited Jeremiah’s passion for God’s promises and God’s people in all that he said and did. Paul’s passion was fueled further by the example of Jesus who set aside everything to care for weary souls.

Jesus’ passion is undeniable. Today’s gospel (Mark 6:30-34) recounts the disciples’ return after having been sent off two by two to minister to the people. When they reunited with Jesus, the disciples excitedly reported all of the good works they’d accomplished. While Jesus shared their excitement, he also shared their fatigue. Exhilarated as they were, Jesus knew that they needed to rest. With that, he led the tiny band to a boat which would carry them off for a bit of seclusion. Of course, when the people heard of this parting, they set out on foot to the very place where Jesus and the disciples hoped to rest in solitude. Tired as he was, when the ever-attentive Jesus saw the crowd, the gospel tells us, “…his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” Jesus’ love for God’s people diminished his fatigue. His passion for what was right and good energized Jesus enough to minister to each and every one.

Today, those charged with caring for God’s people succeed at times and they fail at times. Like Jeremiah and Paul, you and I are called to add to the successes and to intervene when things run amok. When we allow our passion for what is right and good to lead us, we make positive differences in ways we may never realize. All the while, God is with us to rekindle our passion and to renew our energy along the way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Authentic in Word and Deed

When you read this, my dear husband and I will have returned from an unexpected second trip to Israel. I write “unexpected” because Mike and I were completely surprised by this opportunity. As it happened, our tour director’s able assistant was unable to accompany her on this year’s trek. As a result, Nancy asked Mike if he would consider coming along to help her to manage the group. My husband-the-traveler immediately responded in the affirmative. It was only after a minute or two that he qualified his response by adding that he should probably check with me before committing. Though I had been habitually reluctant to embark upon flights of serious length, last year’s adventure cured me. The people and places we encountered in Israel touched me deeply. This inspiration diminished any discomfort I’d felt while in air. I told Mike that he absolutely should make the trip and that I would do so as well.

One of the treasures I looked forward to seeing once again was our on-site tour guide. Yossi’s wealth of information, his passion for his work and his passion for life enhanced his commentary throughout. Though it took the entire duration of the tour to get to know Yossi with some depth, our effort was richly rewarded. Yossi didn’t always have access to his country’s treasures. He was raised in a Kibbutz and, as Yossi described it, “God was ripped from my heart as a young child.” Within that socialist environment, everyone worked to supply the community with what was needed and that was all that mattered. Yossi celebrated the day his family was able to leave that place to fend for themselves with some autonomy. At the same time, Yossi remained community-minded. He is keenly aware of the plight of the Israeli people and their neighbors both friendly and otherwise. He acknowledged that, while political conditions indicated otherwise, most of the people who occupy Israel get along with one another. Yossi also considers himself to be a secular Jew. Still, Yossi told us often, “You must pray for the people of Israel; for peace here.” I found this to be a curious request in light of his “secular” status. Yossi seemed to read my thoughts as he added, “You must do this. I don’t know how to pray, but you do.” While watching Yossi interact with those around him, I discovered that nothing was farther from the truth.

Yossi carried his backpack everywhere. Among the items he needed for the day, Yossi included musical instruments: his flute and a tiny guitar-like instrument, perhaps a balalaika. At our first stop in Caesarea, we visited the complex constructed by King Herod more than two thousand years ago. It includes a hippodrome, the ideal setting for the first of many concerts with which Yossi gifted us. Whenever the Spirit moved him, Yossi played. He offered his most precious concert in the Crusader church at Emmaus when he played Schubert’s Ave Maria. Yossi played with his eyes tightly closed as his music drifted heavenward. Yes, Yossi prays.

As I read today’s gospel (Mark 1:21-28), I considered what it was that caused Jesus’ contemporaries to take notice of his teaching. Unlike the scribes who lectured in the synagogue week after week, Mark tells us that Jesus offered “a new teaching with authority.” The implication, of course, is that perhaps the scribes weren’t as convincing in what they preached. The scriptures suggest that this was the case because the scribes’ words and actions were a mismatch. Mark tells us that, unlike them, Jesus spoke from the depths of his soul. There was no trepidation or uncertainty in his voice. Perhaps it was this certainty which allowed Jesus to cast out the demon who tormented that man in the crowd. Mark tells us that the demon was certainly convinced of Jesus’ authenticity because the demon addressed Jesus as “the Holy One of God.” Indeed, Jesus not only spoke of the Reign of God; he also made God’s presence in human history a reality through his compassionate responses to those he met along the way. In today’s vernacular, “Jesus talked the talk and he walked the walk.”

When Mike and I toured Israel with Yossi, Yossi didn’t merely share his observations. He illustrated his love for his homeland and for humankind in his every interaction. I determined that Yossi prays because he lives like a man who is attuned to God’s love and concern for us. This is the reason I took Yossi’s words to heart. My association with Yossi gave me a small taste of what those who followed Jesus experienced. In spite of their lowly stature, Jesus shared himself with them. The people took Jesus’ words to heart because he lived what he preached. Little did they know that Jesus truly was the Holy One of God. They had yet to discover that the life of this itinerant tradesman-turned-rabbi would change everything. For you and me, it’s different. We do know Jesus and all that he stands for. So it is that we do our best to live accordingly.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Again?

My people hear my teaching,
listen to the words of my mouth…

From Psalm 78:1-2

Very early in my career, I came to understand some very important aspects of teaching. I had to get the attention of my students, keep their attention by making what I had to say interesting and understandable, and I had to give them reason to remember what I shared with them.

As a reading teacher, I became very good at convincing my most reluctant students to read just about anything. The greater challenge came in convincing them to approach their textbooks with the same enthusiasm. I sympathized with them because I know that actually applying what we learn can be extremely difficult in this world of ours.

When I prepare these reflections, I suppose I’m teaching in a way. I sometimes wonder if I’m being too redundant. Do I touch upon the topic of God’s love too often? The answer to this question came before I finished typing it. I don’t think any of us can hear too much regarding God’s love. When I doubt that I’m loved by those around me, I remember that God is also around me and my doubt is dispelled. Regardless of who else is in the crowd, God watches over me. When I doubt that I can possibly be forgiven, the world’s response to my guilt doesn’t matter. God always looks beyond what I have done to embrace me and to encourage me to be begin anew. No, I don’t think any of us can hear -or read- too much about God’s love. God’s love is what makes this life do-able.

Loving God, thank you for loving us so completely, no matter what!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Timely Inspiration

To every thing there is a season,
and a time to for every purpose under heaven.

Ecclesiastes 3:1

I’ve discovered that I write best when I’m not surrounded by clutter. My recent file cabinet purchase allowed me to clean off my desk and to empty a few drawers. In the process, I eyed the bookcases nearby. “There’s no time like the present,” I told myself. “I can tackle a shelf or two and still have time to write today.” I looked lovingly upon novels, books on death, dying and the afterlife, inspirational books, children’s books and an old catechism.

Each inspirational book touched me as it had on the day I received it. They inspired my creation of a “To Keep” pile. The novels had renewed my empathy for my fellow humans. I kept the most memorable and began a “Give Away” pile with the rest. My books on death, dying and the hereafter sustain my hope. I kept every one. Children’s books feed my imagination and strengthen my bond with our grandchildren. I decided to keep few at home and to give the rest to them.

I’d spent an hour with these treasures when I picked up that old catechism. I would have added it to the “Give Away” pile if a bookmark sticking out of it hadn’t piqued my interest. It marked the chapter entitled GRACE. I learned long ago that grace is God’s very life within us. I looked at the array of books before me and prayed, “Lord, your grace has flowed through every one of them.”

Though I had no intention of tackling those boxes at that particular moment, I prayed further, “Your timing is impeccable.” My desk-cleaning had refreshed my approach to writing and my book-sorting had refreshed my soul.

Dear God, your loving presence inspires me again and again.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Rescued!

For God will rescue you from the snare of the fowler,
from the destroying pestilence.

Psalm 91:3

The other day, I ran into a former colleague. Years ago, I’d trained her and several other teachers to implement a reading program for first graders. Our students were those who weren’t progressing in reading. The intent was to give them the tools they needed to become competent readers. This teacher and her wonderful classmates certainly made me look good! They applied all we’d learned together and helped numerous children who might otherwise have found themselves in first grade for another year.

I bristled for a few moments as we recalled the outcome of our efforts. After two wonderfully successful years, the “powers that be” determined that we wouldn’t be allowed that critical third year to prove the staff’s and program’s worth in spite of the fact that the children’s classroom performances and test scores reflected extremely positive outcomes. To say the least, this news devastated me. I told my former colleague that I’d never before felt this helpless in my workplace. When I left my office for air that day, I didn’t notice a soul. I literally ran away from this terrible setback by hurrying down the corridor. Later, a fellow teacher asked why I ignored her greeting when I’d walked past her earlier. I had no idea she’d spoken to me. At that moment, tears threatened until a small voice intervened. My friend laughed as I relayed what the little boy before me asked that day. “Hi, Mrs. Spinach. I’m coming to your class today, right?” I quickly responded, “Of course you are!”

You know, neither this teacher nor our colleagues nor I could change this unfortunate decision. Nonetheless, we could arm our current students with the skills they needed to read, and this is exactly what we did for as long as we could. Now, whenever I feel that there is nothing I can do to improve things, I simply listen for a small voice to show me the way.

Loving God, you rescue me again and again with a small voice which points me in the right direction.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved