See With God’s Eyes

Throughout my life, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the array of sources which reveal God to me. The people I’ve been given to love top that list. My earliest memories include my parents’ heroic efforts. They were constant reminders of our God who I was assured loved me even more than they did. The affection of my family and friends helped me to see God even more clearly. I came closest to understanding God’s love for me the day I was told my dear husband and I were going to have a baby. Though I knew nothing of the little one who would change our lives forever, I loved him more than anything. This phenomenon recurred after we were told we’d never have another child and yet we did. Once again, unconditional love took root and I came to know God more intimately. As my writing often indicates, I’ve seen God in the wonder of creation. I’ve also discovered God in words both written and sung and in wordless musical compositions. Oddly, I’ve even found God in the dialogue between characters in a sitcom rerun. Did the screenplay writer know what I would find in those words decades later? In the end, I’ve found the most compelling evidence of God’s love for us in the words and works of Jesus.

During Lent, we share some of our richest scripture passages. Their writers skillfully wove together threads of temptation and triumph, suffering and healing, sin and forgiveness. The fabric which resulted offers an image of Jesus who brought peace, hope, acceptance and love to God’s people. Last week, we recalled Jesus’ encounter with the woman from Samaria at Jacob’s well. Jesus didn’t need the water he requested of her. It was the woman who thirsted for far more thirst-quenching waters. As always, Jesus responded by quenching the thirst he saw within the depths of that woman’s heart. Jesus revived her spirit that she might truly live anew. Today, we turn to Jesus’ encounter with the man born blind. Since birth, this man’s very existence had been tied to sin. In the eyes of the people, the man’s parents must have sinned terribly. To the people, it was their transgressions which prompted God to impose blindness upon their son. In the eyes of the people, this fruit of sinful parents was of little worth. It is no wonder that those who saw the man after his cure failed to recognize him. They’d passed him on the road often, but had never taken the time to look upon his face. It seems to me that they were the blind ones. They were blind to God’s presence within themselves and within one another. They were blind to God’s presence within the man who was born blind. It was Jesus whose vision was intact. Jesus saw every trial and tribulation which devastated the people and which ravaged their spirits almost beyond repair. What draws me to Jesus is his generous response to his contemporaries and to you and me.

I don’t think haphazard thoughts or my vivid imagination allow me to see God in the world around me. It is Jesus who inspires me to see God in everything. More importantly, it is Jesus who inspires me to see God in those I meet along the way. Jesus saw with God’s eyes and he taught his contemporaries just as he teaches us to do the same. When we look with God’s eyes, we see the pain of our coworkers and our neighbors, our friends and our own family members. We see unrest on the other side of the world as well as in our own backyards. Trauma in all of its forms tears at our spirits with marked precision. It also blurs our vision. Even when we attempt to proceed with the clearest of vision, it is sometimes very difficult to find God in the difficulties at hand.

Please don’t let my assessment of things-gone-awry discourage you. Scripture scholars and historians tell us that life was no better in Jesus’ day. Still, Jesus persisted in seeing the people and the situations around him with God’s eyes. Remember, Jesus came into this world as a helpless child, just as each of us does. Jesus grew up in a family much like our own with parents who rarely understood what he was up to. As an adult, Jesus stood out from the crowds around him because he saw things differently. Though many came to appreciate Jesus’ ability to see them with God’s eyes, others responded with contempt. While Jesus rolled up his sleeves to do everything he could to make the lives of those around him what they were meant to be, his adversaries rolled up their sleeves and planned his demise. Jesus’ circumstances were no better than our own, yet he persisted in seeing them with God’s hopeful and loving eyes.

As I consider the new vision the man born blind experienced at Jesus’ hands, I can’t help feeling gratitude for the same gift in my life. After all, it is when I step back to see things with God’s eyes that I find hope. So it is that I hope that I never stop seeing God in everything around me and I wish the same for each one of us. Jesus continues his work through me and through of all us and it’s up to us to roll up our sleeves and to make it so.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Always Responds… ALWAYS!

A few weeks ago, Grandpa and I visited the Chicago Botanic Garden with our daughter-in-law and grandsons. As soon as three-year-old Danny returned from preschool that day, we put on our warm coats, packed the car and drove off to Highland Park. When we arrived, Baby Ben nuzzled in the cuddly carrier which Kim had donned for the occasion. We made our way to the outdoor railroad exhibit, a quaint wonderland featuring eighteen model trains which chug along a maze of tracks. Each one snakes its way around beautifully carved wooden replicas of familiar sites such as The Lincoln Memorial and Wrigley Field, Mount St. Helen’s and a Napa Valley vineyard. Though we’d enjoyed the exhibit earlier this past summer, we returned to allow Danny another glimpse of his favorite things: TRAINS!

As we ambled into the exhibit, I noted Danny’s excitement and his extremely cooperative demeanor. Danny remembered our last visit and he seemed determined not to allow anything to prevent him from spending as much time as possible with his beloved trains that day. As it happened, we traced and retraced our steps through the exhibit for two wonderful hours. In the end, Danny’s hunger got the best of him and he happily joined us for the walk to the car. The promise of a hot dog from a favorite local eatery quickly sealed the deal!

As Mike drove to the restaurant, I listened to the chatter in the backseat between Kim and her little boys. Because Ben had awakened during the transfer from baby carrier to car seat, Kim attended to both simultaneously. I smiled as she cooed at Ben while also reading to Danny. Our grandsons seemed quite satisfied with Mommy’s ability to multi-task. When we arrived at the restaurant, Kim toted Ben in his car carrier and Grandpa took Danny’s hand. We ordered that precious hot dog for Danny, another for Grandpa and a salad and wrap for Kim and me. While we waited, Danny once again assumed his sweetest demeanor to coax Mommy into allowing Grandpa to show him the video games and candy machines hidden in a nearby nook. Don’t worry. No purchases were made. Just looking at that amazing array kept Danny’s attention until the smell of that hot dog drew him back to our table.

As we ate, I watched as Danny negotiated with Mommy regarding his lunch. Though he really wanted that wonderful hot dog, he seemed to want the French fries that accompanied it even more. So it was that Danny talked his way into being allowed two fries between each bite of hot dog until both were gone. In the mean time, Ben howled. While she explained the lunch rules to Danny, Kim nuzzled Ben under her cover-up and into position for his lunch. All the while, Kim also managed to enjoy her salad and to converse with Mike and me. I smiled to myself as I recalled similar days with our own sons. As hectic as life proved to be much of the time, Mike and I would do it all again for them. I’m certain Kim and our son Tim feel the same way.

I share this adventure with you because it seems to get the core of today’s passage from Mark’s gospel (Mark 10:46-52). Mark tells us that Jesus and his disciples had just left Jericho amidst a sizable crowd. In spite of the circus around Jesus, Bartimaeus who had been born blind called out, fully expecting Jesus to hear him. Those with Jesus seemed oblivious to the poor man’s plight. They told him to be quiet, perhaps in an effort to keep Jesus from being bothered. Still, Bartimaeus persisted. When Jesus heard him, he asked the others to bring him forward. When Jesus asked what he wanted, Bartimaeus responded, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus responded immediately.

Bartimaeus’ faith in Jesus’ love for him touches me. As I consider his story, my grandsons come to mind. Older brother Danny shares Bartimaeus’ faith. When something is really important to him, Danny knows he can turn to his Mommy and Daddy without risk of disappointment. Though Danny’s every whim isn’t fulfilled, his parents provide him all that is necessary and so much more, like that trip to the railroad exhibit. Ben is only three months old, yet he’s already learned the same. Though his requests often come through tears of hunger rather than sweetly engineered negotiations, Ben’s needs are also fulfilled in generously loving fashion.

God does the same for each of us. Recently, Meg prayed, seemingly without avail, for a measure of peace in a very important area of her life. I listened and I prayed with her, also seemingly without result. Meg’s cause was desperate and reached to the core of her being. Hopeless as her plight seemed, she prayed with all of her might. So did I. We prayed in unison and alone for some time. Then, in a single day, in the midst of seemingly mindless kindness at the hands of a few friends, everything changed. Joy replaced Meg’s despair; confidence replaced her uncertainty; a bright future replaced the dark days which threatened. In that cluster of what seemed to be unremarkable moments, God responded. Just as Jesus responded to Bartimaeus, just and Kim and Tim respond to Danny and Ben, just as Mike and I respond to our sons, God responds to you and me… ALWAYS!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Never Blind To God’s Love

A few weeks ago, my husband-the-deacon surprised me with an “honorable mention” in his homily. Mike shared that he’s noticed that I occasionally become cranky when the tasks at hand threaten to overwhelm me. He quickly added that he’s also discovered that I’ve found ways to alleviate my angst when this occurs. I walk outdoors or browse through our family photo albums to put things into perspective and to transform my mood. The gospel that day featured Jesus’ transfiguration and Mike hoped to encourage us all to transform ourselves and one another when our troubles threaten to get the best of us. Because I was relieved by the harmless nature of Mike’s homily reference, I didn’t tell him that he neglected to share the third means by which I transform my worries into peace of mind: I write. I set aside everything and return to my book. This manuscript chronicles my life and its focus is the ongoing influence my loved ones, my church and God have had on me. Returning to these transforming episodes even for a few paragraphs puts the woes of the present in perspective. Afterward, I embrace what lies ahead with new energy and new eyes.

Most recently, these therapeutic writing sessions have been influenced by our trip to Israel. Though this was our second venture to Jesus’ homeland, I experienced something new every day. While the ruins and other attractions hadn’t changed, my appreciation of them had. I moved beyond the externals before me to the life Jesus actually led. The images offered by religious artwork don’t always portray the realities of life in Jesus’ day. As our guide often said, “This is a crazy place. But we do our best.” Jesus lived in crazy times as well. As the locals scurried about to tend to the business at hand, I imagined Jesus peering beyond the determined faces of his contemporaries and into their hearts. Jesus always found ways to open the eyes of those around him to God’s love. He’s done the same for me all of my life. Recently, an unexpected encounter unearthed memories I’d buried long ago. I was so taken aback that I shared my misery with my poor husband: “Back then, nothing could have prepared me for what happened and I didn’t know what to do!” Oddly, just speaking those words reminded me of how far I’ve come since. That evening, I returned to my manuscript. Though I’m only on page 93, those pages offer a lifetime of examples of the “new eyes” God has given me. Happily, these eyes remain open to God’s love no matter what!

Today, John’s gospel (John 9:1-41) promises new eyes to anyone who makes the effort to turn his or her attention to God. In this passage, it is the man born blind who focused the people’s attention on Jesus. This man kept a daily vigil at the side of the road. Though he saw nothing with his clouded vision, he sensed activities of every sort around him. The blind man’s persistence likely irritated passersby into providing the few coins and morsels of food which helped him to survive each day. On the day John references, this man sensed that something was different. On that day, he knew that someone in the crowd passing him would provide far more than a day’s sustenance. It didn’t take the blind man long to recognize his hero. Fortunately for the blind man, it didn’t take Jesus any time at all to recognize him.

What must it have been like when Jesus smeared that bit of mud over the man’s eyelids? I don’t think the man flinched a bit. Did he sense the power in Jesus’ fingers? When he rinsed his eyes in the Pool of Siloam as Jesus asked, did the man feel the love which brought him his first glimpse of the light of day and the light of God? When questioned by onlookers, the man attributed his cure to “that man they call Jesus.” When the Pharisees inquired about the cure, the man referred to Jesus as “a prophet.” This event caused such a raucous that even the man’s parents were brought in for interrogation. In their fear, they referred the Pharisees back to their son who called Jesus “the Son of Man.” The Pharisees failed to appreciate the blind man’s new vision. Rather, they rewarded the man’s faith by casting him out of the temple only to meet Jesus once again. It was during this second encounter that Jesus became much more than a prophet. In this encounter, the man who was once blind saw God.

In Mike’s homily, he referenced those occasions when I forget to view my world with the new eyes God has given me. I’m not always like that blind man who didn’t miss a thing. When Jesus crossed his lonely and painful path, the blind man used his new eyes and he saw Jesus for who he was: The embodiment of God’s love for him. When Jesus opened the eyes of the man born blind to this love, Jesus opened our eyes to the same. The blind man happily learned that it isn’t up to us humans to judge who is worthy of God’s love because God loves us all. It also isn’t’ up to us to determine who is worthy of our love. Our task is to move beyond the blindness of the Pharisees, to see who is in need of our love and to share it freely.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Can You See Me Now?

As I read today’s gospel about Jesus’ encounter with the man who was born blind, I couldn’t help thinking about someone we met in Israel. Though he could see as well as the rest of us, our new friend was deprived of his vision from birth just like the man born blind. Still, he had much to add to the memorable adventure my dear husband and I enjoyed there. We know our tour director Nancy well as she is a parishioner here at St. Paul’s. As a result, we were certain this trip would be everything we expected. Our tour guide was another matter. Yossi never ceased to surprise us with his wealth of information, his passion for his work and his passion for life in general. While he provided amazing commentary throughout, Yossi also left us to our own thoughts as we absorbed the people and sites around us. Yossi smiled all the while as he revealed Israel’s treasures one by one.

We eventually discovered that Yossi didn’t always have access to those 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 community, everyone worked to supply everyone with what they needed. In his case, Yossi observed people who were inclined to take all they needed, but who chose not to work. These “lazy ones” soured Yossi’s view of this lifestyle and unwittingly inspired his dedicated work ethic. 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’s keenly aware of the plight of Israel, its people and their neighbors both friendly and otherwise. 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.” I eventually discovered that nothing is farther from the truth.

Yossi carried his backpack everywhere. Among the items he needed for the day, Yossi carried musical instruments. Some days, Yossi sported his flute. Other days, he carried 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. Yossi did this throughout our tour whenever the Spirit moved him –and I mean that literally! Yossi offered his most precious concert in Emmaus in the Crusader church there. He surprised me for my birthday with Schubert’s Ave Maria. I tried to sing along, but was so taken with this gesture that I could only listen. Yossi played with his eyes tightly closed as his music drifted heavenward. I knew then that Yossi prays, though perhaps he doesn’t see this.

Whenever we visited a site associated with Jesus, Yossi pulled out his iPad and directed us to open our “books” to a given gospel. It didn’t matter that we had no bibles. Yossi read passages he’d chosen to bring us back to the Teacher who had changed everything for many of us, perhaps even Yossi. I began to wonder if our guide called himself a “secular” Jew because he didn’t want to be confused with “religious” Hasidic Jews. Yossi found them overbearing. In Yossi’s mind, they seem to have “blinded” themselves with rules and regulations. They’ve lost sight of their concern for all of God’s people because these rules have taken precedence over everything and everyone else. In Jerusalem, Yossi lead us to a Christian church where a small community of Messianic Jews worship. When he introduced the woman who would tell us about her fellow Jews who believe in Jesus, she turned to Yossi to insist that he could offer the same explanation effortlessly. Yossi only smiled as he urged her on.

John’s gospel (John 9:1-41) tells us that the man born blind was completely misunderstood by his neighbors and the temple authorities. They saw his parents as sinners who prompted God to impose this affliction on their son. In their eyes, this man deserved to suffer. Only Jesus looked through the man’s opaque eyes into a heart broken by a lifetime of misjudgment and isolation. It occurs to me that Jesus is doing the same for Yossi. Though he was robbed of seeing God until he was freed from that Kibbutz, something -or Someone- impels Yossi to open his eyes to the gifts God offers him today. Yossi read those scripture passages with the passion of a true believer. The things Yossi shared came from deep within his heart. Yossi inspired me as much as the places we visited in Israel, perhaps more so. In the end, it seems to me that Yossi is far closer to God than he lets on, so close that it’s impossible for him to hide this. In spite of Yossi’s once-impaired vision, God is hard at work within him, just as God is working within you and me.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Look with God’s Eyes

Last weekend, my parents would have celebrated their seventy-third wedding anniversary. For numerous reasons, I find myself anxious to celebrate on their behalf. After all, my life is what it is as a result of my parents’ influence…

My mom worked at the Sears catalog warehouse when I was a little girl. This began as an annual part-time arrangement several weeks before Christmas and a few weeks afterward. My mom did this to ensure her family a “nice” Christmas. My dad worked as an assistant railroad yardmaster year-round. He did so to provide his wife and children a “nice” life. Both of these efforts tested my parents’ stamina and creativity. While they met this challenge admirably, creating a loving home for my siblings and me was the best part of what they did together.

Our home was actually a modest three-bedroom flat which housed my uncle and grandfather as well. In spite of our cramped quarters, the door remained open to family and friends. When our household shrank due to our grandfather’s and then our uncle’s passing, Daddy consoled us with talk of heaven and their renewed health. We had no choice except to be happy about the newfound joy both men experienced. When Daddy passed away, our mom repeated his message with deep conviction. Though she went to work full-time and our tight family budget tightened a bit more, my mother preserved the love in our home in full earnest.

My life would be very different if my parents’ positive perspective had been the opposite. A few years into my own marriage, I wondered what inspired the great faith which empowered my parents to smile and to remain optimistic through even the greatest tragedies. I asked my mom what she and my dad did when they discovered his illness and his prognosis of only a year more to live. Without hesitation, Mom answered, “We lived it to the full!” My dad continued to work for as long as possible and my mom did everything else. She helped my dad to conserve his energy so he could enjoy as many of that year-full of days as possible. It was a few days into his last hospital stay when we almost lost him during the night. When our mom arrived the next morning, Daddy told her what had happened. In a gesture of generosity which I may never be able to repeat, my mom reminded my dad of the consolation he offered when our grandfather and uncle passed away. She went on to ask him why he worried. God would take care of us in his absence. Though the ache in her heart intensified with every word, Mom went on to give her thirty-nine-year-old husband permission to let go. During the night that followed, he did.

As I read today’s gospel (Mark 10:46-52), the perceptiveness of the blind man overwhelmed me. Though his eyes could not see, the man knew that Jesus was near. The blind man’s uncanny perspective reminds me of my parents’ vision. Though his physical vision was non-existent, this man saw more clearly than the rest of Jesus’ followers. This man who was blind clearly saw what Jesus offered. Mark wrote, “…he kept calling out all the more, ‘Son of David, have pity on me.’” Hearing him, Jesus rewarded the blind man’s faith by asking him what he wanted. The blind man responded, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus sent the man off with his wish fulfilled. Yet, rather than leaving, the man followed Jesus. His choice to do so touches my heart. The blind man’s life had been terribly difficult. He could have allowed his circumstances to destroy his hope and to turn his heart to anger and self-pity. Man of hope that he was, he didn’t allow this to happen. Though unable to see the physical world around him, this man saw that life is worth living. When Jesus arrived, this man saw Jesus’ message unfold before him. The blind man saw Jesus so clearly that he was convinced Jesus would take care of everything. It was this hopeful vision and not his newfound sight which caused this man to follow his Lord.

My parents’ vision allowed them to be happy in spite of the many tragedies which touched their lives. Like the blind man in today’s gospel, they chose to see things as God sees them. As I worked through my worry over our little grandson’s premature birth, I came to understand and to appreciate my parents’ vision and that of the blind man more fully. Today, you and I are invited to do as my parents did: To see God’s gifts as the man born blind saw them; to seize every opportunity to embrace this life; to look beyond the fear, the sadness and the sorrow that threaten. Today, God invites us to adjust our vision in order to see the joy that is the center of everything. Today, we open our eyes to God’s persistent and unconditional love.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be Gracious and Humble

“…everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted”

From Luke 18:9-14

Perhaps the Cubs’ tickets my son gave to my husband and me jarred this memory. Perhaps it iss the amazing news that three Chicago sports teams won games with in hours of one another. Whatever the source, vivid images of my mom and Cubby Ron Santo fill me up today…

My sisters and I enjoyed outings with our mom as often as possible, usually every week. This was our subtle attempt to keep track of her health while enjoying her company. One such outing took us to Santo’s, a local restaurant owned by the famed third baseman of the Chicago Cubs. This particular day, Ron Santo made one of his frequent appearances and mingled with his patrons. As soon as my mother saw him, she flew out of her chair to greet him. Ron Santo graciously shook her hand. Unfortunately for him, my mom did not let go. She pulled the poor man to our table. “You have to meet my five daughters,” she told him.

Ron Santo never stopped smiling as my mother dragged him across the room. When he arrived at our table, we tried to apologize for our mom’s enthusiasm, but he would have none of it. Ron Santo looked around at each of us and said, “Well, you sure have beautiful daughters, just like their mother!” After chatting with us for several minutes, he gave our mom a warm hug and then went on his way. When we left the restaurant after dinner, Ron Santo made a point of saying good-bye to our mom.

Though this beloved Cubby is remembered for so much more, I am certain my mom reminded him of his kindness when she met him at heaven’s door.

Loving God, help me always to appreciate the people who see the good in me. It is their gratitude and support which sustain me. And please bless Ron Santo and my mom with heaven’s best.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved