Independence Day

My dream is of a place and a time where
America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth.

Abraham Lincoln

Though I normally cite a scripture passage to set the tone for these reflections, I couldn’t resist the quote above. While searching my desktop for something else, I found this amazing bit of wisdom from my favorite president…

On July 4, 1776, our forefathers (and fore-mothers!) saw this neophyte of a nation as just that: The last best hope of earth. Our collective history from that day forward has been punctuated with the very best humanity has to offer. It has also been tarnished by less-than-honorable behavior which has managed to soil us all a bit. Still, we carry on as one imperfect people who celebrate our freedom with every choice we make.

On occasion, I’ve looked upward to ask, “What were you thinking, Dear God, when you gave us free will?” God’s only response is the sound of Divine Laughter echoing throughout the heavens. As unhelpful… No, as terrible as some of our choices have been, God knows that someone somewhere always manages to draw good out of each one. It seems to me that this phenomenon is particularly important these days when so many of our seemingly cemented opinions of things clash at every turn.

On this wonderful day in our nation’s history, I invite you to embrace a bit of independence. Free yourself from your anger and discontent and embrace the good things that are in place around you. At the same time, consider this: Is there something you can do today in your little corner of this nation which will take this country a step closer to her place as the last best hope of this earth? If we can remember that not one of us is all bad, we may just catch a glimpse of the good lying within those with whom we disagree most. When we find that good, let’s all make the most if it!

Dear Patient God, make us good stewards of our freedom and of your love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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B is for…

Come! Behold God’s deeds,
the astounding things God has done!.

Psalm 46:9

B is for Blessed. You are blessed and so am I. We wouldn’t walk this earth if we weren’t breathed into existence by our creatively loving God. I use the adverb “creatively” intentionally. You see, God’s blessings sometimes befuddle me. Often, I don’t recognize them until long after a given person or circumstance has moved on. A lifetime of chance meetings, one-liners which lodge in my memory, unexpected friendships, opportunities and seeming setbacks prove this over and over again. Though I don’t always realize it, I am indeed blessed.

As I consider and offer thanks for the blessings in my life, I must acknowledge that these blessings include everyone around me. This is the challenging part because “everyone” includes those who occasionally give me a headache, a heartache, a soul-ache or worse. How can I look upon these people as blessings?

B is for Blessed. You are blessed and so I am. So it is that you and I must gently remove the wrapping which conceals the blessedness within ourselves and within others. It is then that we’ll discover the fullness of God’s blessings.

Loving God, thank you for my blessings, especially the blessing of those around me. I will try to find reason to be grateful in each one.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

By Peaceful Means…

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

After leaving Caesarea and our stop at the Baha’i Gardens, we drove to Mount Carmel. Our guide explained that the word “Carmel” comes from two Hebrew words for “vineyard” and “God”. This mountain’s plush greenery had earned it the title of God’s vineyard. Though people had lived in the mount’s caves in prehistoric times, my knowledge of Mount Carmel begins with the Prophet Elijah.

The scriptures tell us Elijah had become impatient with Israel. Their king had married a Phoenician. The people’s religious practices and ties to the God of Israel weakened as they turned their attention to the queen’s idol Baal. Elijah responded by challenging the priests of Baal. They were to build an altar, place a sacrifice upon it and ask Baal to provide the fire to burn this offering. Though 450 priests prayed fervently, their sacrifice remained unlit. Elijah built an altar as well. He prayed that the God of Israel would set his sacrifice afire. Though Elijah had doused everything with water to make his point, a bolt of lightning ignited it. Elijah ended this encounter by slaughtering all of Baal’s priests.

Though he shared this story during my last visit to the Holy Land, our guide didn’t do so this time. Perhaps the unrest in nearby countries inspired this omission. Yossi is no fan of bloodshed; nor am I. Scripture writers sometimes adjusted settings or numbers or events to illustrate a point and this account seems to be no exception. In the end, Elijah did what he felt he needed to do to turn his people back to their Lord. Unfortunately, today’s world is unsettled by many who claim to do the same in God’s name.

I need to reveal God’s presence among us more peacefully. When I live with compassion and generosity, love my neighbors, care for them and respect them, I say best what needs to be said about our Beloved Creator.

Loving and Patient God, help us to love you and to love one another as best we can and help us to promote peace all the while.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Patience…

He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together,
he guards them as a shepherd guards his flock.

Jeremiah 31:11

A friend’s recent visit to Rome conjured thoughts of Pope Francis. Just as he stole my heart from the balcony over St. Peter’s Square after his election, he did the same to my friend when she caught a glimpse of him. Francis’ humble demeanor characterizes his efforts to lead God’s people as one of God’s people.

Francis stuns some while touching the hearts of others with his approachable demeanor and his openness to reform in the church and in the world. Francis seems keenly aware of Jesus’ propensity to embrace outcasts. This pope is also keenly aware of Jesus’ generous and indiscriminate rendering of healing and mercy upon all who require them.

If you have a family, you understand how difficult it can be to fix things which have gone awry over the years. Sometimes, delicate urging is all that is needed. Sometimes, strong and deliberate effort is required. In this family which I call “church”, it seems that Francis faces both. When I become impatient because change seems to come too slowly, I consider our dear pope’s smile and the considerable effort it must require of him at times.

While Francis sorts out what is and isn’t essential from his perspective, we must try do the same. Regardless of our religious affiliations or lack thereof, we all have relationships with God. It is up to us nurture these relationships lovingly, just as God does.

As for change… all in God’s time…

Loving God, give me patience with what is. Be with me as I make the best of it as best I can.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love, Plain and Simple

Bless the Lord, all you God’s chosen ones…
From Tobit 13:8

I admit that recent events in this world of ours have urged me into a bit of a funk. Fortunately, a day with my grandson brought about a much-needed change of attitude. Though Danny is allowed little screen-time, we occasionally watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. This furry little tiger originated in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood which I watched with my sons decades ago. It amazed me that the mild-mannered Fred Rogers captivated Mike and Tim for the duration of his show.

The hallmark of Fred Rogers’ work was his ability to make his audience members feel special and important, wanted and cherished. I think my husband and I did a reasonable job of making our sons feel loved. They’re loved more than I can ever put into words. Still, regardless of the similar good efforts of those around us, we sometimes feel devalued and unwanted. In spite of my parents’ best efforts, I recall my own childhood moments of dejection and loneliness. It was then that I vowed to assure my future children that they are loved no matter what!

You know, some of the trauma in this world seems to be the result of rejection at some level. Perhaps it’s time for us all to acknowledge not only the worth of our loved ones and ourselves, but also that of all with whom we share this planet. Perhaps it’s time to recognize that while YOU and I are God’s chosen ones, so are our perceived adversaries. Perhaps it’s time to make love the hallmark of all that we say and do.

Loving God, be with us in our efforts to love one another, especially when it is most difficult.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Justice For All

Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for justice sake;
you shall be satisfied.

Matthew 5:6

While in Israel, I was amazed by the circumstances of its people and its property. Israel occupies a large portion of what we consider to be the Holy Land. Interestingly enough, the holiest places within its borders are controlled by various entities, including Muslims, Christians and Jews. Because our guide is an Israeli citizen who respects his countrymen whatever their beliefs and speaks Hebrew, Arabic and Italian (among other languages), he gained us access to sites where others are denied entry. Whenever this occurred, Yossi didn’t revel in his success. He simply pointed out that being respectful of the ways of others and meeting others on their own turf or terms usually leads to peaceful encounters which benefit all concerned. “This is the way to peace,” Yossi would say.

Perhaps this is the reason Yossi exhibited some impatience with his Hasidic Jewish neighbors. I was surprised to learn that they make up only ten percent of Israel’s population. Most of this sect live in their own neighborhoods where they adhere to the strictest code of conduct. Our guide also surprised me when he shared that eighty percent of the population is non-religious. It seemed to trouble Yossi to acknowledged that the holiest place on earth is home to so many non-religious people. Still, Yossi added that the strict rules and intolerance of a few soured many Israelis’ views of organized religion.

As I pondered all of this, I wondered how many of these “secular” Jewish people quietly worked toward change. I wondered how many of them also opened their hearts to something else as Yossi had.

Loving God, help us all to work toward justice with loving hands and loving hearts.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved