God’s Best Work

God looked at everything God made,
and God found it to be very good.

Genesis 3:31

While flipping through the stations on our TV, I saw that I’d just missed a travel show which featured Israel. “What a bummer!” I told myself. Rather than allowing disappointment to set in, I pulled out the photo album which chronicles my husband’s and my visit there.

I still can’t get over the emotions which welled up within me as I walked through Nazareth and Capernaum and Magdala. Jerusalem took my breath away once again as I poured over those photographs. While in Israel, I walked through so many precious places. While taking in each one, I came to realize that I’d returned to my roots, actually, to all of our roots! In the Holy Land, I caught a glimpse of God’s handiwork. Every building and hillside, desert and mountainside drew me in. Every face invited me to wonder how many of those I met could trace their family trees back to the families of Joseph or Mary. Whether or not that was possible, I know that we can all trace our roots back to God.

Whether creation occurred within seven days or as a result of The Big Bang, God started it all. God started us all. Seeing ancient ruins which date back to Jesus’ day and beforehand, I couldn’t help being awestruck. What amazed me even more is that God continues to look carefully upon us, each and every one of us. With every glance in our directions, God finds even more which is very good.

Loving God, help me to realize how much you value each one of us and help me to love my neighbors as you do.

©2021 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Gift of Love

O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the
secret recesses of the cliff, let me see you,
let me hear your voice,
for your voice is sweet and lovely.

Song of Songs 2:14

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. I’ve been organizing our gifts near the tree so they’ll pique our grandchildren’s curiosity as soon as they come inside. In the process of arranging them, I realized one was missing. It’s something I couldn’t disguise very well, so I hid it under my son’s bed. In the midst of retrieving it, I bumped a plastic container which was also under his bed. I began to tell myself that I would ask him to take it home with him until I realized it was mine. Busy as I was, I opened the bin to examine its contents. I smiled as I retrieved one of the treasures inside. It was my husband’s and my wedding program. I recognized it immediately because the cover bears the scripture passage from The Song of Songs which I cite above. How fitting it is that I reflect on it today!

Mike and I selected this passage because we were taken in by the painful longing this lover expressed for his beloved. The author of Song of Songs used this lover who spoke so passionately to depict God who desperately sought to be reunited with God’s people. The scriptures tell us that this longing persisted for centuries. On the first Christmas, God expressed this insatiable love face-to-face and heart-to-heart in the most tangible way possible. God expressed divine love in the gentle cooing of this newborn baby who would spend his life convincing us all that God’s love for us is very, very real.

In the midst of my Christmas preparations, revisiting this passage proved to be a most unexpected and welcomed gift to me. I wish you the same!

Loving God, thank you for the precious gift of your love.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Option A or B or…?

When they heard the sound of God moving about in the garden,
the man and his wife hid themselves…

From Genesis 3:8

When I was a child, we had two family bibles. One was a nicely bound family edition and the other was intentionally kid-friendly. This large book consisted of cardboard front and back covers which held together several booklets. The covers and booklets were held in place by extremely long fabric laces. The seventy-two booklets which eventually completed this bible arrived by mail every month. With each delivery, my mom carefully undid the laces, removed the bible’s covers, inserted the new booklet, replaced the covers and retied the laces. Afterward, I poured over the new arrival.

Every page included colorful illustrations and reasonably understandable text. When I finished perusing each new edition, I habitually returned to the first book’s story of Adam and Eve, the snake and that forbidden tree. The Garden of Eden amazed me almost as much as heaven did. “Why,” I often wondered, “did Adam and Eve eat that stupid apple when God had given them so much else?”

In the years that passed since I posed that question, I accumulated a measure of maturity and wisdom. I found that life in this world poses similar questions every day. I also discovered that it’s up to us to answer as best we can in the moment at hand. Is Option A really my best choice or is it as foolhardy as eating that apple? It’s up to me to figure it out. In the mean time, God watches with great love and with great faith in my and all of our ability to do what’s best.

Dear God, the second and third and twenty-ninth chances you give us seem more important than ever these days. Please be with us as we do our best to choose wisely.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Forgiven and Always Loved

God says, “From the least to the greatest, you know me.
I forgive your evildoing and remember your sin no more.

Jeremiah 31:34

My husband spent the afternoon searching for flowers to plant around our yard. Armed with mask, gloves, hand sanitizer and the resolve to social distance, he enjoyed a safe and productive afternoon. I took advantage of the quiet house by sitting at my keyboard to write. Sadly, I wasn’t as productive as Mike. Before beginning, I glanced at photos from my childhood which rest inches above my keyboard. Rather than offering my usual reminiscent smile and then getting to work, a recent bit of self-doubt turned my thoughts to a painful aspect of that childhood.

When I was little, I was a bit too sensitive. I was no less innocent than most children, yet I took even the smallest reprimand to heart. Though the adult involved quickly forgot whatever I’d done, my guilt remained with me. All of this was my own doing. My parents never belittled my siblings or me. Though a teacher may have given me reason to question my ability to be forgiven on occasion, this wasn’t the norm. I eventually came to understand, at least mentally, that those who love us don’t hold grudges. It was my own propensity to retain guilt which caused my angst. These decades later, this tendency remains to some extent. So it was that my self-doubt prevailed until I remembered the words from Jeremiah which I cite today.

This and numerous other passages reference God’s forgiveness. Each one assures us of God’s absolute love and God’s absolute inability to be separated from any one of us. Though we try to run away, God remains with us and within us. Neither we nor anyone else can impose enough guilt upon us to repel God. For this, I’m most grateful!

Loving God, help us to let go of our guilt as quickly as you do. Only then will we be free to embrace your love.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

All God’s Family

There were also women present looking on from a distance.
They were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger
and Joses, and Salome. These women had followed Jesus when he
was in Galilee and they attended to his needs.

Mark 15:40-41

It is evident to scripture scholars that both Peter and Mary Magdalene traveled with Jesus throughout his ministry. The groups traveled together, while Peter led the male cohort and Mary led the woman. The gospels are filled with references to the men, especially the twelve who were Jesus’ closest friends. There is little mention of Mary Magdalene and most of the other woman until Jesus’ crucifixion.

In Jesus’ day, women were of minimal value in the public sector. It is to Mary Magdalene’s credit that she managed her own affairs. Many women left as widows or who were alone and childless lived in dire poverty. In the Jewish community, the rare woman boasted political power. Spiritually, women were ostracized during their menstrual cycles and after childbirth. They regained their standing only after they were cleansed in the temple. Still, none of this kept Mary Magdalene and the other women from Jesus as he hanged on the cross. Though they were certainly not allowed to come to the foot of the cross, they were there.

Each one of us has suffered injustice, prejudice, ridicule and worse as a result of a quality over which we have little or no control. How often we have been devalued by others in spite of God’s propensity to call each one of us son or daughter. Just now, what a blessing it is that so many around the world have come together to fight COVID-19, to find the antidote that will save those who are ill and to develop the vaccine that will protect the rest of us. The gender or skin-color or age or ethnicity of the heroes who accomplish these things won’t matter. What they do on our behalf will matter more than ever!

Today, God invites us to recognize and to value the world-full of brothers and sisters God has given us to love.

Loving God, help me to see my human family as you do.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Real Life Lessons

When he saw the crowds, he went up on the mountainside.
After he sat down, the disciples gathered around him…

Matthew 5:1

Even from afar, the Mount of the Beatitudes exudes beauty. This deceptively peaceful setting is also known as Mount Eremos. Its name is derived from Greek and means “solitary or uninhabited”. I laugh as I type this fact as the opposite must have been true of this place the day Jesus offered his hope-filled lessons in living.

While Matthew placed Jesus on a mountainside for this discourse, Luke described the site as a level place. A close look clears up this discrepancy as there are numerous level places on the hillsides of Galilee. Jesus could have delivered his sermon from any one of them. More important is the value of Jesus’ teaching that day. Matthew’s indication that Jesus sat before he began mustn’t be overlooked. Those who taught in the temple always sat before offering their lessons. Jesus made a point when he followed suit. Once again, it was quite clear that Jesus taught with authority.

As for me, I’ve found myself weary of the empty words of an assortment “authority figures” throughout my life. What a life-giving experience it was when my parents and a favorite teacher and a respected public figure and my priest asked no more of me than they asked of themselves! This is precisely the experience of those who heard Jesus that day. This was their experience every time Jesus opened his mouth because Jesus’ actions always spoke louder than his words.

Loving God, thank you for sending an authentic representative to share your loving ways with us.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved