Gifts Everywhere!

Let rivers clap their hands,
the mountains shout with them for joy
before the Lord.”

Psalm 98 III:7-9

The four seasons captivate me, each one with its own variety of nature’s grandeur. Spring arrives with only the slightest hints of renewed life-in-the-making. Summer brings hope-fulfilled in lush green carpets of grass and blossoms of every color. Though fall’s sometimes gloomy days replace summer’s vibrancy too quickly, its own colors renew my fascination with the outdoors. Yet, in spite of all of this beauty, I find myself most taken in by the coldest season of the year. The other day, blustering winds hinted at winter’s impending arrival. I realized that winter will soon draw me in with its onslaught of snow and cold perhaps a bit sooner than I’d hoped. Still, I find nothing more beautiful than an ice-clad tree or an undisturbed expanse of hardened snow. Add the crunch of that snow under my feet and a chilling wind around me and I am in outdoor heaven!

Having written that, I see that the piles of leaves I raked this morning now flutter about in the wind. They crackle as they fly and I wonder if they’re actually laughing at my wasted effort. Mounds of snow will require similar and perhaps equally futile attention when they arrive in not too many weeks. Still, I look forward to winter.

You see, it is during winter that most living things lie dormant beneath the surface. To me, they symbolize the potential to be found in so many unexpected places and people. Recent gatherings with family and friends revealed gifts which too often lurk beneath the surface. Finding these treasures in those I’ve been given to love elicited pure joy. These wonderful encounters rekindled my hope, just as winter does. Though it may be hidden for a while, life is everywhere!

Creator God, help me to appreciate your gifts whatever the season.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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God’s Welcome

When a friend shared the highlights of his trip to New York City, I smiled knowingly at almost everything he said. I was impressed that he’d managed to take in as much during his adventure as my husband and I had done in two trips to the Big Apple. This conversation prompted me to unearth the photos which chronicle our New York stay. Though this writing awaited me, I allowed those photos to lead my reminiscing for a full half-hour. When I finally turned to today’s scripture passages, I realized that time had been very well-spent. Let me begin by telling you about those trips…

During our first stay, we lodged near Battery Park in Lower Manhattan. I recalled that I couldn’t contain my excitement when I found that we were able to see the Statue of Liberty from our hotel room. During our second visit, we stayed in Times Square. These locations gave us the opportunity to see the city from two completely different perspectives. Though tourists filled Battery Park, its lush green expanses and proximity to the harbor kept it from feeling crowded. Though Times Square can only be described as frenetic, it proved to be truly inviting in its own colorful way.

Times Square teems with people from dawn to dusk and into the wee hours of the morning. Bright lights and sidewalk vendors provide some of the color and scents unique to this amazing hub of activity. Before that trip, a friend had told me that her favorite Times Square activity had been people-watching. She traveled to New York fairly often. Whenever she was there, she made her way to the two-story McDonald’s where she sat by a second floor window. From that perch above the sidewalk, she enjoyed the wave of humankind which passed by. When my husband and I were there, we quickly understood my friend’s fascination. Mike remarked that he heard people speaking a number of different languages. As for me, I saw amazingly chiseled faces with long and short noses, high and mid-placed cheek bones and very full and very thin lips. Numerous shades of hair color topped my fellow humans as they made their way. I wonder what those passers-by saw as I passed them by.

Though we’d spent most of our stay in Time’s Square during that second trip, we ventured off to the World Trade Center site. We stopped to pray in St. Paul’s Chapel/Trinity Church which had miraculously survived the horror of September 11, 2001. Afterward, we went on to Battery Park to re-acquaint ourselves with Lady Liberty. I immediately walked to the base of the statue where Emma Lazarus’ poem is displayed. Its words speak Lady Liberty’s welcome to all who come her way: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” Tears stung my eyes that day just as they do today. I stopped typing just long enough to whisper my thanks that I have a place to find solace when I’m feeling tired and tempest-tost and poor. There’s a space reserved for this purpose just for me in God’s heart.

Today’s readings from Numbers (11:25-29) and Mark’s gospel (9:38-43, 45, 47-48) underscore our welcome into God’s unconditional love for each one of us. Numbers tells us that Moses’ followers complained because two among them hadn’t blessed with the spirit of Moses, yet they received the gift of prophesy like the rest. Joshua told Moses to stop those who seemed to have no business doing God’s work. While Joshua questioned the authenticity of those interlopers, Moses declared that he wished all of the people exhibited those powers. In the gospel, this phenomenon repeated itself. John complained that an outsider had healed someone in Jesus’ name. John grumbled that he told the man to stop, but he didn’t. Jesus repeated Moses’ response. “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.” In other words, Jesus told John to leave the man alone!

It seems to me that the greatest gift which accompanies our humanity is the place you and I hold in God’s heart and the company we share with one another. God fashioned the differences which make us who we are. Who are we not to love what God has created? Perhaps Mike and I were so taken by the truly diverse population of Times Square because each person who passed us by illustrated the uniqueness of God’s best work. Perhaps I’m so taken with Lady Liberty’s words of welcome because they echo God’s invitation to you and me to seek refuge in God’s embrace when nothing else will do. How touched we should be that God trusts us to spread the good news of this welcome to everyone we meet along the way!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Unique and Gifted You

“I have found my servant;
with my holy oil I have anointed him…”

Psalm 89:21

Since enjoying my cousin’s eightieth birthday party a few weeks ago, my earliest memories have emerged frequently. This celebration was reminiscent of our overflowing family gatherings of long ago. Whether observing the holidays, a christening, birthday, graduation, wedding or funeral, we came together. I grew up down the block from our church and numerous people passed our house on their way to Mass each week. Though at the time I was too to greet them all, I enjoyed their makeshift parade. By the time I took my first job at a grocery store at age sixteen, I’d become quite adept at interacting with others. This came to good use when I began my teaching career. I enjoyed the array of children each new year brought my way. Imperfect as they were, there was something special to love in each one of them. I took great pleasure in pointing out and enjoying each of their unique gifts.

You know, we’re all God’s anointed ones. Each of us is sent out to bless those around us and to bless this world with the unique gift of our self. Will you join me in taking a look in the mirror today? Let’s see what we have to offer one another. Let’s see what we can do to repair this suffering world of ours.

Thank you, Dear God, for loving us so much that you entrust this world and all of us to each other.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

O is for…

For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork;
blessed shall you be and favored.

Psalm 128:2

O is for Original. I had difficulty settling on today’s word. I was torn between “original” and “opus” because each word describes an extremely important aspect of our existence. Each and every one of us is an original. Even my cousins who are identical twins are very different people. Still, I cannot dismiss the word “opus” because each of our lives is precisely that. You and I are unique and important works which God has contributed to our human family. Our part in all of this is to contribute our own unique and important work to the mix. Whether we compose or construct or cause things to happen, our opus is vital to the rest of humankind. Whether this work is a lifelong process, a singular effort at a particular moment in time or a combination of the two, our original opus will make an impact upon others in a way that no one else’s work can.

My first reaction to all of this is to feel the weight of the world upon me. Then, I consider the great and small works of those I’ve met along the way. I realize that the grandeur or smallness of their actions means little to me. It is their presence and their delivery which changed everything. Each person’s original opus impacted me in a unique way. The same is true of my own work and yours!

It’s up to each of us to make a contribution to this world; to seize the opportunities before us and make the most of them. Hmmm… Opportunities… O is for the Opportunities which we embrace to complete our own Original Opus. How about that!

Loving God, be with us as we bring our unique talents to fruition.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A is for…

God is with us;
God is our strength.

Psalm 46:8

A is for Abundance. Each of us is a treasure-trove to ourselves and to one another. We’re filled with abundant gifts which no one possesses in the same configuration as we do. It is up to us to look within for our own abundance and to share it generously with those we’ve been given to love. It is also up to us to find and to acknowledge the abundance in others that they may do the same.

Unfortunately, as abundant as our gifts may be, we sometimes misuse them or fail to use them as best we can. Sometimes, we’re simply too tired or too distraught to help those around us. We’re even unable to help ourselves. This is when we must turn to God’s abundance which is always a prayer away: God’s abundant love, God’s abundant understanding and God’s abundant faith in our ability to pull ourselves together and begin anew. Yes, we even have an abundance of second chances!

Loving God, thank you for the abundance which enriches our lives.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Back To The Basics

God shall rescue the poor when they cry out,
and the afflicted when they have no one to help them.

Psalm 72:12

I enjoyed teaching in spite of those occasional days when both my students and I were not at our best. On such days, I learned not to become angry. Rather, I acknowledged all of our humanity and the troubles which sometimes accompany it. With that, the kids and I took deep breaths and moved on. Near the end of the school year, these days threatened to increase in frequency because all concerned where in dire need of summer break. It was then that I found a creative and productive way to lighten our collective mood.

It was late May when I challenged my second graders to list an alphabet’s worth of things which they hoped to do during the coming summer. Afterward, they wrote short paragraphs and drew illustrations for each entry. In the end, I stapled these into each child’s “My Summer Wishes” book. This effort provided ample subject matter which carried over into most of our lessons during those last days of school. It also netted a precious memento of each child’s hope for better things to come.

Not long afterward, I remembered this alphabetic effort. To ease myself through a trying time, I used one letter per day to designate one of God’s gifts to me. This little exercise changed my attitude and truly led me to a much better result than I expected. Tomorrow, I’m going to return to the basics. It will be the first of twenty-six days of reflections inspired by the ABCs.

Loving God, regardless of the troubles which beset us, from A to Z, you face them with us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved