Celebrate God!

Last week, my husband and I drove north to our cabin to take care of a bit of upkeep. Before you invest any sympathy on our behalf, let me assure you that we find such tasks at our get-away to be therapeutic and relaxing. This time, Mike planted a few pots of flowers while I cleaned the kitchen. Mike went on to repair an outdoor light while I went through the linens to determine what needs to be replaced. At the end of that day, we happily cooked and ate dinner, cleaned up and headed to the couch and recliner. I picked up a book I’d begun a few weeks earlier and Mike grabbed the remote. When he scrolled through that evening’s offerings, Mike weighed his options. Would he watch an episode of one of his favorite dramas or settle for a few reruns from the 60s? Because the poor guy was tired and fighting a lingering cold, I encouraged Mike to settle for those vintage offerings. This allowed him the luxury of dozing off at will and it allowed me to read without distraction. As it happened, the dialogue from the lighthearted comedies he selected provided a soothing background as I read. The subject matter of the volume in my hand brought comfort as well. Another expert had scripted a summary of his findings regarding life after this life and his every word immersed me more deeply into an ocean of peace.

This is Trinity Sunday and I’m sharing my Wisconsin adventure because it offered me a glimpse of the essence of today’s celebration. Trinity Sunday differs from the other major feasts of the liturgical year. Christmas, Easter and Pentecost mark events which continue to shape our relationships with God. On Trinity Sunday, we celebrate God’s wonder. Just as Mike and I found ourselves relaxed and at peace in our little cabin, we all find ourselves most at peace when we nestle in close proximity to God. Still, though we try to embrace this peace as often as possible, we sometimes imitate the clumsy efforts of those who came long before us when we do so.

The Old Testament tells us that Moses’ contemporaries viewed God as Creator, Ruler and Judge. They approached God with tempered hope and a good deal of trepidation. Today’s reading from Deuteronomy (4:32-34. 39-40) offers an example of Moses’ responses to God’s often impatient people. Moses pointed out that though they repeatedly doubted God’s concern for them, God responded every time to their needs. God fed them with morning meals of manna and suppers of quail. God quenched their thirst with a fountain of water in the midst of the desert. Still, in spite of God’s ongoing presence to them, fear overwhelmed the Israelites even as they approached the Promised Land. It was then that God made God’s presence more visible than ever to them.

Today’s reading from Romans (8:14-17) reminds us that Jesus revealed God’s presence and God’s love quite tangibly. When Jesus embraced his life among the people, he underscored the value of even the most ordinary aspects of our lives. Jesus learned to love and to respect his parents, neighbors and friends. He grew into adulthood with useful skills and a deep faith in God. Jesus used his public ministry to reveal the nature of God’s love for us. The One whom the Israelites saw as Creator, Ruler and Judge became “Abba” to Jesus’ followers. Through his own acts of kindness, mercy and love, his preaching and parables (Do you remember the Prodigal Son?), Jesus made one thing clear: That, above all else, God is the most loving parent any of us will ever know. Sadly, the disciples returned to the fearfulness of the Israelites when Jesus ascended into heaven. Fortunately, it wasn’t long afterward that God’s presence among us became undeniable. God’s Spirit arrived in a stormy flurry and filled up the disciples so completely that they couldn’t contain themselves. They burst out of hiding from that upper room and filled the streets of Jerusalem with the good news of God’s love for us all.

I mentioned earlier that I began with Mike’s and my Wisconsin adventure because it offered us a glimpse of the gift we celebrate today. Mike and I enjoy the cabin because it rests in the midst of the best of creation. The interior is simple, but truly comfortable. The phone seldom rings and our internet activity is limited to a minute or two on our iPhones. When I use our offline laptop to write, the words flow more freely than ever. Our isolation from our hectic lives at home frees us to inhale the fresh country air and to tune in to our briefly unencumbered hearts. These interludes free us to experience God’s presence more fully. On this Trinity Sunday, God assures us that we’re in very good company wherever we are. Whether we’re worried and impatient as the Israelites were or uncertain and feeling abandoned as the disciples were, God is with us. Though we can’t always drive north to quieter environs, we can find quiet moments to spend with our Abba wherever we are. It is during these quiet times that the God we celebrate this Trinity Sunday assures us once again that we’re never alone.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Whispers of Peace

After the earthquake there was fire,
but the Lord was not in the fire.
After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound…
God’s voice…

From 1 Kings 19:12

On our first day of touring, after visiting Caesarea, we went on to the Baha’i Gardens on Mount Carmel. I was anxious to see them because rainy weather had kept us from exploring the gardens during our first trip to Israel. The intricately tiled pathways were off-limits as they were too slippery for walking. This time, the weather cooperated and we explored the grounds freely. This worldwide home of the Baha’i Faith hosts thousands of pilgrims annually. Though the gardens before me were breathtaking, my thoughts turned to another temple I’d encountered decades earlier…

I attended college in the north-easternmost part of Chicago just south of Evanston. When venturing north, I caught glimpses of the Baha’i Temple there. This was one of the most peaceful places I’d ever encountered. I knew nothing of the Baha’i Faith, its rituals and prayer and I really had no desire to learn more. Still, I found that the space they’d created near the shores of Lake Michigan provided the perfect setting in which to empty myself of my concerns and to focus upon God. Though the structure’s huge dome was architecturally impressive, its furnishings were sparse. Perhaps this environment provided me a tangible to nudge to empty myself of the minutia which cluttered my psyche and my heart. That place proved to be quite conducive to prayer.

As I walked the Baha’i grounds in Israel, I marveled at their loveliness. I also marveled at the plethora of ways we humans have found to relate to God. I hoped that my own efforts to build “church” among God’s people induced a measure of the peace I’d found in that temple and deep within myself. I hoped and I prayed that this is, or soon will be, what I’ve done…

Faithful God, we need only to listen to hear your peace-filled breath. Help me to nudge others your way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Patience…

He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together,
he guards them as a shepherd guards his flock.

Jeremiah 31:11

A friend’s recent visit to Rome conjured thoughts of Pope Francis. Just as he stole my heart from the balcony over St. Peter’s Square after his election, he did the same to my friend when she caught a glimpse of him. Francis’ humble demeanor characterizes his efforts to lead God’s people as one of God’s people.

Francis stuns some while touching the hearts of others with his approachable demeanor and his openness to reform in the church and in the world. Francis seems keenly aware of Jesus’ propensity to embrace outcasts. This pope is also keenly aware of Jesus’ generous and indiscriminate rendering of healing and mercy upon all who require them.

If you have a family, you understand how difficult it can be to fix things which have gone awry over the years. Sometimes, delicate urging is all that is needed. Sometimes, strong and deliberate effort is required. In this family which I call “church”, it seems that Francis faces both. When I become impatient because change seems to come too slowly, I consider our dear pope’s smile and the considerable effort it must require of him at times.

While Francis sorts out what is and isn’t essential from his perspective, we must try do the same. Regardless of our religious affiliations or lack thereof, we all have relationships with God. It is up to us nurture these relationships lovingly, just as God does.

As for change… all in God’s time…

Loving God, give me patience with what is. Be with me as I make the best of it as best I can.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Prepare For The Journey

They laid the sick in the marketplaces
and begged him to let them touch
just the tassel of his cloak.
All who touched him got well.

From Mark 6:56

Lent 2017 is just two days away. I spend a good deal of time reflecting about this season because it is precious to me. Every year, I try to set aside these forty days much the way a couple sets aside time for a second honeymoon. If my husband and I are smart enough to retreat and regroup to nurture -and sometimes recapture- our love for each other, it makes sense to do the same in our relationships with God. So it is that I am attempting to recapture the zeal of my childhood Lents by actually planning for this special walk to Easter.

The gospels leave little doubt regarding Jesus’ popularity with ordinary people. Though the temple hierarchy saw Jesus as a threat and the Romans considered him a nuisance, those of little or no stature found everything in him. The sick sought out Jesus at all costs, while others with less obvious needs also found their way to him. This is the reason Lent is so precious to me. It gives me the time to get to know more about that irresistible Jesus who doesn’t need a thing from me, but who longs for my company just the same.

Today, I will plot the journey which I’ll begin on Ash Wednesday. Today, I’ll do as the people of Jesus’ time did and plan ahead for my special encounter with him.

Good and Gracious God, as I prepare for my Lenten journey, encourage me with a glimpse of that heart which is blind to my sinfulness and loves me as I am.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Enduring Presence

Last week, when our son traveled to London for work, he graciously allowed his dad to tag along. Father and son left Friday which gave them the weekend to tour before Tim’s work began Monday morning. Since Tim had been there before, he planned to point out London’s highlights which my husband will hopefully share with me one day. As for me, I was left in a very quiet house for the duration. The idea behind all of this, according to my husband that is, was that I would take advantage of the quiet and return to the book I’ve been writing for half a decade. As it happened, I dropped them at the airport Friday afternoon, fought traffic all the way home, responded to the call that announced they’d indeed take off on time, enjoyed an omelet for dinner, and headed to my keyboard. It was after eight o’clock when I actually began rereading and editing the seventy pages I’d already written before adding another word. It was long after midnight when I crawled into bed.

Though I’m usually an early riser, I woke the next morning after 9:00. I climbed out of bed amazed that neither my neighbors’ lawnmowers nor their dogs had waken me earlier. As I made the bed, I told myself that I needed the rest. I also told myself that the quiet house was a very rare commodity which I must use well. With that, I created a mental “To Do” list: Answer email, write this reflection and return to my book. After congratulating myself for committing to such a productive day, I did my morning exercises and headed downstairs for breakfast –or was it brunch? Regardless, I intended to enjoy the view of our backyard as I ate.

I’m always drawn in by the outdoors. However, that morning my long-neglected manuscript distracted me. This book chronicles my relationship with God and its evolution over the years. My experiences growing up in the city and afterward provide the backdrop of this lifelong adventure. Friday night’s rereading and editing had filled me with memories of the best and the most difficult experiences of those years. That Saturday morning, our backyard full of nature’s treasures couldn’t compete with the images that danced in my head. The truth is that those precious memories evoked uncontrollable smiles.

As I tended to the breakfast dishes, it occurred to me that the trials and tribulations which had punctuated my life to date had ended as well as the good times. Even when scars had been left behind, the sense of relief or amazement or gratitude over having survived thoroughly diminished them. I attribute this phenomenon to God’s continued presence in my life. It is this relationship which assures me that I’m never alone in anything. With that, I returned to my keyboard and to my manuscript to convince my eventual readers that the same is true for each one of them.

I haven’t yet finished my book. So it is that on this Trinity Sunday, I’m using this space to assure all who read this that God is indeed a constant in our lives. This feast of our God who is Creator-Parent, Son and Spirit provides the perfect opportunity to celebrate the Almighty’s unending interaction with humankind. The scriptures tell us that God walked the earth in the company of the first woman and man. God provided all that they needed to care for themselves and for one another. When they chose to forsake these gifts, God continued to love them and to extend friendship to them again and again. When humankind continued to err, Jesus entered into our history.

In all that he said and did, Jesus revealed God in a most tangible way. Jesus loved unconditionally. He showed us that to lead, we must serve, to be first, we must be last, and to save our lives, we must give them up for one another. Jesus ended by suffering a death he would repeat for any one of us. Finally, God’s Holy Spirit penetrated human fear dramatically and profoundly. When the first disciples acknowledged this presence among them and within them, they shed all of their uncertainty and came out of hiding to spread the news of God’s love. Though their lives weren’t carefree, they were blessed in unimaginable ways, just as mine has been. The disciples realized that God was with them in everything and so must we.

Finally, I understand the disciples’ sense of urgency as I commit myself to my long-neglected manuscript. You and I know so much more than the disciples knew. You and I have two millenniums of amazing outcomes to fuel our faith. Our challenge is to use this knowledge of God’s loving presence to change the world. What better way is there to celebrate this Trinity Sunday and every day with which we are blessed? Just as I hope to use my manuscript to spread the word, I need to use all that I say and do to do the same. Truly, we are all called to assure those we’ve been given to love that God loves us all and is with us all every step of the way.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved