Seedlings of Peace

Act justly, love kindness, walk humbly with God.
From Micah 6:6-8

Smiling comes naturally to me. This means that whenever I meet people, I add a smile to the encounter. The truth is that I smile at most of creation when I have the opportunity to enjoy it. I smile even when I’m outdoors walking alone. Neither drizzle nor a cloudy sky dampens my fascination with the beauty around me.

This is the reason I was taken aback by the students in the school to which I was assigned some years ago. My office was located at one end of the building. The school office and the children I worked with were located at the other end. As a result, I walked the halls numerous times per day. Every time, I passed students. A few days into this assignment, I noticed the lack of smiles, or any acknowledgement for that matter, along the way. When I offered a “good morning” as I passed, students registered genuine surprise. It took many of them a week or two before they began to respond in kind. A few months into the school year, a colleague asked me why the students I met always greeted me. I told her that they were simply returning the favor.

It seems to me that if we desire peace and justice in this world, we need to plant seeds of that peace and justice wherever we find ourselves. A few seedlings scattered here and there will grow into a flowerbed and then a garden one day. To get there, though, we must first plant the seeds.

Loving God, inspire us to imitate your creative ways in our efforts to plant peace and justice in our world.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Dance to The Spirit’s Music!

May and June have proven to be very busy. My husband and I have or will be involved with an assortment of baptisms, graduations, birthday celebrations and weddings. We celebrated Mother’s Day and we happily look forward to Father’s Day. In the end, an amazing assortment of God’s children will have gathered at each of these events. More importantly, an amazing exhibition of God’s Loving Spirit among us will have unfolded as well. Though taken alone these events may seem to be commonplace, each is extraordinary in some way. A few weeks ago, one particular happening proved extraordinary in the most unexpected and amazing ways…

When a good friend approached his fiftieth birthday, his wife and children decided that this milestone called for a party. Their dear husband and dad had recently completed some extremely demanding training and he’d had a bit of a health-scare. To celebrate his successful outcomes in both areas, our friend’s family organized a gathering in his honor. My dear husband and I had the good fortune to be included. When the day arrived, the weather was uncharacteristically cooperative, so Mike and I spent the entire morning and afternoon working outdoors. Tired as we were afterward, we set aside our work to join our friends for what proved to be a truly enjoyable evening. When we arrived, the entire family warmly welcomed us in. After greeting the other guests, we settled in for lots of pleasant conversation and a delicious meal. It was shortly afterward that another friend pulled me aside and pointed out the karaoke machine. “What?” I asked. “Are we going to use it?” My friend assured me that the machine wouldn’t have a moment’s rest that evening. As the party continued, nothing proved to be more true than that observation…

Before I continue, I assure you that I know what karaoke is, that I love to sing and that I love to dance. I also admit that I’ve never used a karaoke machine, I’m a mediocre singer and I’m a terrible dancer. Before your imaginations enter high gear, I assure you that I drank very little, if anything, which might have inspired my participation that evening. Having said all of that, I also admit to having joined in singing and dancing to almost every song that was played for three hours. The best part of all of this is that the other guests did the same. They assured me that participating with abandon was the best way to unwind, to rejoice and to celebrate the moments at hand; yes, each and every one of those moments at hand. All the while, we joined as one to cheer on the-holder-of-the-microphone, all who served as his or her chorus and all who danced. As for me, a sense of joy and belonging and the absolute freedom to be me filled me up. I determined in short order that this was the best party I’d attended in my entire life.

My revelry culminated in my dear husband’s willingness to lead the singing of Mr. Bojangles. This 1968 release (Jerry Jeff Walker, 1968, Atco Records) has been a favorite since I first heard it. As Mike sang, I couldn’t help dancing as the story of the drifter-turned-dancer unfolded. When Mike sang about the poor man’s dog dying, I shed a few tears and touched my heart. When Mike sang, “Whoa, he jumped so high, clicked his heels…”, I couldn’t help myself. Though I’d never ever dared to do this before, something compelled me to click my heels as well. And so I did. I honestly didn’t realize the amazement of my feat until this roomful of friends gasped and then cheered in delight. Much to my surprise, I did the same twice more before Mike finished that song…

I share this story on Pentecost Sunday with good reason. I admit that, in spite of my productive day, I went to that party with a heavy heart. Old worries had resurfaced and I wondered if I’d be able to set them aside long enough to celebrate our friend’s birthday. As you see, my fear was unfounded. The loving spirit of those gathered that evening not only dispelled the negativity which threatened, but also filled me with absolute joy! You know, Jesus’ friends awaited the first Pentecost with far greater trepidation than my own. They’d arrived at Jerusalem in triumph only to have Jesus arrested and condemned five days later. Most of Jesus’ friends deserted him as he hanged dying on the cross. Those who remained could do nothing to save him. When Jesus rose and appeared among them, he remained for forty days. All the while, hope eased its way back into the disciples’ hearts until Jesus left them once again. Jesus’ parting words included a call to proclaim the good news to every creature and a promise that Jesus would always be with them. Still, when Jesus left, hope escaped his friends once again and the disciples hid themselves away from the people. It was in the midst of wringing their hands and wondering how they might survive this second loss of Jesus that God’s Loving Spirit filled them up. Finally, the disciples understood. Finally, Jesus’ message made sense of this life and the next. With that, the disciples burst out of hiding to proclaim their good news to all who would listen. God’s Loving Spirit propelled them just as it propels us forward again and again.

You know, I’ll never forget that wonderful birthday gathering. The loving spirit which permeated my friend’s home gifted everyone present with a mini-Pentecost of sorts. I think each one of us had a part in sweetening the joy of that evening and in fueling all of our hope in the reality of good things to come. Though life isn’t perfect for any of us, God’s love for us is perfect. And this is all that matters. On this Pentecost and every day after, may each of us sense God’s Loving Spirit within us and find reason to click our heals and to dance once again.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Bits of Peace…

Take care of this vine,
and protect what my hand has planted.

From Psalm 80:16

This first week of Advent, I continue my efforts to bring a bit of God’s peace to my little corner of the world. At the same time, I’ve had a bit of trouble maintaining the peace within and around me. It’s so difficult to feel at peace these days!

My little family and I are generously blessed. I express my gratitude to the Lord God daily –sometimes several times a day- for this. I cannot count how often I give thanks for the little things which compel me to smile so often. Still, others for whom I care deeply suffer greatly. Add to this the woes of our world and you see why I’m troubled. I feel helpless as there isn’t much that I can do to alleviate most of this. So it is that I pray for peace. I pray that peace will come to those I know and to all the world.

When nothing seems to change, I become impatient. I order God to take care of things. “I wouldn’t talk to you this way,” I say, “if you’d fix this!” It’s usually after such a conversation that I run into these loved ones. They share that, though all isn’t well, God is with them and they’re at peace. The same is true for the rest of the world. That occasional bit of good news renews my hope. In the face of these things, I turn to God once again. This time, I apologize and renew my promise to spread peace everywhere I go.

Patient God, thank you for your patient love and for trusting us with your peace.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Like Us…

As he walked along the Sea of Galilee he watched two brothers,
Simon and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea. They were fishermen.

Matthew 4:18

Today is Friday. Tonight, my husband and I will enjoy a fish fry at our parish church. We’ll join our fellow parishioners and friends for this Lenten ritual.

While in Israel, we ate a lot of fish. Like Jesus and his disciples, we took advantage of the well-stocked Sea of Galilee. I enjoyed my favorite meal in a restaurant on the shore of Galilee which specializes in preparing St. Peter’s Fish also known as tilapia. We were offered the opportunity to enjoy this local delicacy, just as Jesus’ contemporaries did, with head and scales intact. I admit that the authenticity of that offer didn’t tempt me a bit. I happily ordered a scaled filet without the head!

While we waited for our food, I enjoyed the circus around us. The restaurant was filled to the gills. Pardon my pun! Still, guests and wait-staff alike were in good spirits. A gentle breeze off the sea carried me back two millenniums to Jesus and his friends who likely enjoyed several meals on this very shore. Perhaps these were the few times when they felt truly carefree as they enjoyed one another’s company. I don’t often think of Jesus in “care-free mode” and I found this mental image of him to be quite inspiring.

You know, Jesus-the-Miracle-Worker is also Jesus-the-Human Being. When I remember that Jesus experienced everything just as you and I do, I find myself far more appreciative of all that he did for us.

Dear Jesus, thank you for being just like we are.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Share the News!

Mary went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,”
and then shared what he had told her.

John 20:18

While mulling over the coming year, I considered possible projects for our parish families. I’m part of a committee who deal with such things. Last year, we prepared for Christmas and Easter by engaging in various acts of generosity to assist those in need. I found myself overwhelmed by the kindnesses which seemed to grow with every passing week. I admit that recent events near and far compel me to long for the Christmas Spirit and Easter’s “alleluias”. I recall commenting often regarding my fellow parishioners’ good deeds. After all, good news really is hard to keep to oneself.

I admit to offering updates regarding our grandchildren to anyone who will listen. I’m just as eager when my news might be helpful to others. We’re all willing to spread the word when that word is worth spreading. We share a good book and diet tips that work. We tell our colleagues about inroads we’ve made with the new payroll technology and the new boss. We can’t keep the news of a long-awaited pregnancy or a cancer remission to ourselves for longer than it takes to scroll down to a number on our cell phones. I suppose this is the case today because good news is a limited commodity in this Twenty-first Century world of ours. The truth is that good news has been in short supply since the beginning of time. No wonder we share glad tidings whenever they come our way.

With that in mind, I share these glad tidings today: Regardless of what occurs around us and within us, God’s presence is the single consistency which we can always count on and, one day, God will turn all of our trials into good news!

Loving God, thank you for breathing your life into every minute of every day.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

You, You are my God!

My husband-the-deacon has been ordained for twenty-nine years and has preached homilies all the while. I have written this reflection for my parish bulletin for twenty-five of those years. In the process, Mike has occasionally run an idea past me. He’s also served as my part-time proof-reader. Still, we have never offered the same interpretation of a given week’s scriptures. While we’ve rarely disagreed on the focus of the passages, we have shared the wisdom we’ve drawn from them quite differently. This has been the case until today. When I read today’s gospel, I recalled a homily Mike preached at least a dozen years ago. Though I had no intention of echoing his sentiments in this reflection, I couldn’t shake the image of Mike walking back and forth in front of the altar as he spoke. After setting the scene, he suddenly stopped to say, “You! You are the Picard!” Let me explain…

My dear husband is an avid Star Trek fan. This began with the original television series and continued through Star Trek: The Next Generation and the Star Trek movies. Some years ago, after a rerun of The Next Generation, Mike announced, “There’s a good homily in that one!” Apparently, Mike filed that information away until months later when he read the same gospel we hear today in preparation for his preaching. He was very excited when he realized that would be the week he’d deliver his Star Trek-inspired homily. As for me, my thoughts and I headed in another direction as I ran up the stairs and sat at my keyboard to write. Though I can’t recall how I progressed that day, I can tell you that Mike had his homily fully prepared within a few hours. His only request of me was my opinion regarding the suitability of a Star Trek scenario for this purpose. After assuring him that this would be more than fine, I returned to my writing.

The following Sunday, Mike shared his love of Star Trek and Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s startling encounter with an alien race. Though the inhabitants of this planet in a distant galaxy looked human, they were quite primitive even by our 2017 standards. This was particularly troubling to Captain Picard and his crew. While exploring new worlds, they were bound by The Prime Directive which indicated that they must never interfere with the development of alien cultures. They were never to impose their own technological, scientific and other intellectual evolution upon people who had not yet discovered such things on their own. In this case, the aliens had witnessed the capabilities of the captain and his landing party before they realized what had happened. Much to their dismay, the crew’s arrival in bright lights and their seemingly magical powers closely resembled the “coming” of this people’s god as described in their holy writings. When the planet’s natives approached the good captain to offer their welcome, they dropped to their knees. Without hesitation, their leader announced, “You! You are the Picard!” The captain was beside himself because he had inadvertently violated The Prime Directive. Captain Picard was even more upset because he was being looked upon as a god, an extremely uncomfortable role for any of us. Fortunately, which is always the case in a Star Trek episode, everything ended well, as did Mike’s homily that weekend.

In today’s gospel (Matthew 16:13-20), Matthew chronicled a conversation between Jesus and his closest friends. Eventually, Jesus asked, “Who do people say that I am?” Some responded with what they’d heard on the street, that Jesus may have been John the Baptizer or the prophet Elijah. While they were quite willing to repeat what had come from the lips of others, none would declare what was in his heart except Peter. “You are the Christ,” Simon Peter proclaimed, “the Son of the Living God.” When he acknowledged God’s presence, Peter changed everything. Suddenly, Peter was much more than the often-outspoken and sometimes-unthinking student of an itinerant rabbi. Suddenly, Peter’s life took on new meaning because of his close association with God. Though Peter failed to fully understand the logistics of that relationship, he certainly understood what it meant to have Jesus at his side.

Though Captain Picard flinched a bit at representing a god to those primitive people, he eventually found a way to use their acceptance of him to guide them onto the right path. In the end, he left their culture intact while leaving them a little better off than they were before they had met. Poor Peter quickly found himself in a similar predicament. He may have wondered, “I’m with the Christ! Now what am I to do?” The scriptures tell us that though Peter’s subsequent efforts weren’t always perfect, he was certainly instrumental in revealing God’s love to this world. It seems to me that our prime directive is to do the same as best we can and as only we can.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved