I Can Do Something…

“Teach them to carry out everything…
and know that I am with you always…”

From Matthew 28:20

While going through boxes of mementos, I found a tiny plate just 5 inches in diameter. This antiquated bit of porcelain features a sketch of President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy. Though it isn’t fine artwork, it elicited a smile. I quickly recalled the enthusiasm of the early 1960s. Though I was only 9 years old and I didn’t know much about him, I cheered when JFK was elected. When Mr. Kennedy offered his inaugural speech, I learned something about his hope for the future. Our new president told us, “…ask not what your country can do for you-ask what you can do for your country.” I wondered what I could do.

Though in elementary school during JFK’s presidency, I clearly recall Khrushchev’s rants and our fear of communism. I remember the worry surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis and our relief over its resolution. Though we fretted and prayed about such things, I felt safe. Then, on November 22, 1963, everything changed. 1036 days into his term, President Kennedy was killed by an assassin.

I think the eve of this sorrowful anniversary offers the perfect opportunity to respond to President Kennedy’s request. Regardless of our religious and political affiliations, we all have good reason to do something because our collective future truly depends on it. So it is that, today, I’m going to stop wondering what I can do. Today, I’m going to do my part to make this country one nation again.

Dear God, you know our imperfections better than we know them ourselves. Still, you place your trust in us to care for this nation, for this world and for one another. Be with us as we do something which illustrates that your trust is well-placed.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

That Special Boat

He called them, and immediately they
abandoned their boat and their father to follow him.

From Matthew 4:21-22

While in Israel I had an encounter with a true relic which touched me deeply. Let me tell you about The Jesus Boat…

We read a good deal about fishermen and boats in the gospels. Though some of his followers abandoned their fishing businesses to follow Jesus, he went back to their boats often to get from place to place, to preach and to rest. Though no one can say with any certainty that Jesus set foot on The Jesus Boat, this vessel is definitely a relic from Jesus’ day. Because it was discovered just north of Magdala and just south of Tabgha, Jesus may have set eyes on this boat as he lingered on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

The day we sailed the Sea of Galilee, we also visited Kibbutz Ginosar where the Jesus boat is displayed. Before seeing it, we watched a short film which told the tale of Moshe and Yuval Lufan, brothers and fellow fishermen who discovered the ancient boat buried in mud near the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Though I’m certain their parts in the film were well rehearsed, neither brother could hide his excitement over this discovery. Their treasure had shaken both the archaeological world and the spiritual world to their cores because no one had ever unearthed such an old vessel in such complete condition.

Though the science behind The Jesus Boat’s preservation is fascinating, I am more fascinated by Jesus’ presence in all of this. Once again, it matters little to me whether or not Jesus sailed in this particular boat. What does matter to me is the glimpse into Jesus’ daily life and the lives of those he loved which this boat afforded me. When I gazed upon that ancient relic, I imagined Jesus out on the water with his friends. That day, I experienced just a bit of the amazing adventure that must have been!

Current events compel me to acknowledge that the contemporaries of Jesus also suffered. Though in Israel I recalled the best times Jesus enjoyed on his friends’ boat, I must remember that they and that beloved boat also endured terrible storms. Do you remember the gospel story of Peter and the others who feared for their lives as they were being tossed from wave wave to wave by a powerful gale? In the midst of it all, Jesus suddenly appeared on the water. Though I don’t expect Jesus to embark on foot across Lake Michigan to ease my worries today, I do expect that he remains close enough to hear every prayer I utter. Best of all, he responds. Speak up, because he’s listening to you as well.

Dear God, thank you for being present in the joys and the sorrows of life on this earth. Hear our prayers and those of all of your people.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Mighty Jordan

Later, Jesus coming from Galilee, appeared
before John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.

Matthew 3:13

We visited the Jordan River in the midst of terrible flooding. We’d had to reroute a few times because floodwater had blocked the roadway ahead. The Jordan flows freely along Israel’s western border. The Jordan is referenced often in the scriptures and our guide was anxious to lead us to its shore. However, when we arrived, we discovered that the tourist area where many modern-day pilgrims come to be baptized was closed off due to the flooding upstream. Those who’d hoped to step into the Jordan to engage in this ritual were ushered to a platform high above the river’s edge. Never daunted by a challenge, Yossi led us around that platform to a narrow gate several yards away. “Come quickly,” he ordered, “because we don’t want to be followed.” With that, Yossi led us to a deserted bit of shoreline which very much resembled what Jesus saw the day of his own baptism. Though I’d seen this place twice before, it’s significance overwhelmed me.

When Moses looked toward the Promised Land, he saw the Jordan River flowing down from Mount Hermon into the Jordan Valley. When Elijah the Prophet grew old and Elisha prepared to take his place, the two traveled to the Jordan Valley where Elijah’s days among us ended. Hundreds of years later, John the Baptist, last of the prophets of old, called people to repentance on the shores of the Jordan. They sealed their commitments with John’s baptism. The baptizer’s most significant baptism was that of Jesus.

The scriptures tell us that Jesus took his baptism seriously. Afterward, he spent forty days in the desert preparing for his public life among us. When Jesus emerged, he returned to John and to that river where the first five of his disciples joined him. As I knelt at that river’s edge, I dipped my fingers into the water. I left it to God to renew me as God sees fit.

Though getting to the shore of the Jordan proved challenging this time around, the result was an amazing encounter. These days, getting through the moments at hand prove challenging as well. It seems that there is a lesson in our Israeli guide’s approach. When our expectations are disrupted, all we need to do is to adjust accordingly. Just as God renewed me at the River Jordan’s edge, God will renew us all if we have the courage to proceed as best we can.

Dear God, as we respond to the challenges as hand, remind us often that you are with us all the while.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Peaceful Revelations…

The Lord’s fire came down and consumed the holocaust…”
From 1 Kings 18:38

While in the Holy Land, I found myself thinking about Jesus at every turn. How could I not? Jesus had spent his entire life in the vicinity. Our visit to Mount Carmel adjusted my focus a bit. People had lived in that mountain’s caves since prehistoric times. It’s been considered a sacred place for what seems like forever. My knowledge of Mount Carmel begins with the Prophet Elijah.

The scriptures tell us that Elijah became impatient with Israel’s leadership. King Ahab married Jezebel, a Phoenician princess. Jezebel introduced Ahab and his people to her god Baal. Jezebel also saw to the murders of several prophets. As a result, the people’s ties to the God of Israel faded quickly. After much prayer, Elijah challenged the priests of Baal to build an altar and to place a sacrifice upon it. These priests were to ask Baal to light a fire to burn their offerings. Though 450 priests prayed fervently, their sacrifice remained unlit. Elijah also built an altar. He prayed that the God of Israel would set his sacrifice afire. Though Elijah had doused everything with water to prove his point, a bolt of lightning lit Elijah’s sacrifice. Elijah went on to kill those priests of Baal.

Our guide shared that this account is found in the Book of Kings, but he offered no opinion of its authenticity. Yossi is an archaeologist, not a scripture scholar. As for me, I’m no fan of bloodshed and no fan of religious intolerance. However, I do understand Elijah’s devotion to God. In this case, I hope Kings’ author adjusted these events to illustrate a point: Elijah did what he needed to do to turn his people back to their Lord.

Unlike Elijah, you and I need only to live with compassion and generosity to reveal God to others. When we love one another and behave like one family, we say all that needs to be said about God.

Loving God, help us to reveal you in all that we say and do.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Amazing Family

You are my shelter; from distress
you preserve me;
with glad cries of freedom
you deliver me.

Psalm 32:7

We landed in Israel at 3:15 P.M. and made our way to our hotel by 5:00. After dinner with our tour group, we happily retired to our rooms and to bed. I knew our itinerary well and the days ahead promised to be busy. My husband and I had kept up quite well during our past two visits to Israel and I was determined to do the same this time.

That first night, I slept soundly for hours until a distant voice roused me. I ignored this intrusion until it persisted. When I went to the door of our room to listen, all was quiet. When I tiptoed toward the window, I discovered that the resounding voice had come from outdoors. I opened the drapes just enough to see the large dome from which it resonated. I finally realized that the voice was calling our Muslim friends to prayer.

As I pulled up a chair to the window, I couldn’t help smiling. I recalled the devout farmers and townspeople of old who relied upon pealing church bells to wake them to their workday and to prayer every morning. If you’re as old as I am, you may remember similar chimes pealing from church steeples to call us to recite The Angelus. When that voice ringing over Jerusalem gave way to silence, I watched the birth of the new day. As I enjoyed the beautiful sky, I marveled at the seeming differences which actually prove us to be more alike than we admit. There I was in the heart of a Jewish country listening to a Muslim call to prayer which was reminiscent of my Catholic upbringing. I wondered how many others around this world of ours were also turning their thoughts to God at that hour.

Loving God, you have an amazing family! Help us to love one another and to respect one another just as you love and respect each one of us.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

G… God

For this is our God,
and we are the people God shepherds,
the flock whom God guides.

Psalm 95:7

G is for God… and goodness, grace, generosity, gentleness, gift, gladness, glory, gospel, grandeur, gratitude, growth, gumption and a gaggle of other descriptors which apply to the God I have come to know and love.

Regardless of the name you prefer or the context in which you pray, God is all of these things and more for you, for me and for every soul blessed with the gift of life. Whether we were raised down the street from our church as I was or were never exposed to anything remotely similar, God is here for us.

For me, the evidence lies deep within. I’ve been aware of God’s presence in my life for as long as I can remember. If you are searching for more concrete evidence, consider this. Numerous books have been published and countless other references have been cited in the distant and recent past regarding encounters with life after this life. Many have passed through death’s threshold and returned to share their experiences. Whether a believer, an agnostic or an atheist beforehand, these travelers to the Other Side speak of the unconditional love, peace and acceptance which greeted them. Most conclude with great certainty that they have met God.

Though most of us will never return from this journey, we are gifted with God’s loving presence in our lives today. For me, the implications are twofold. First, I must cultivate my relationship with God as this is the source of the greatest joy I know this life. Second, I must share the benefits of this relationship by cultivating my relationships with those God has given me to love. After all, the best gifts are those which we share.

Generous and Gracious God, thank you for you.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved