Freedom to Worship

Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and follow after it.

Psalm 34:15

I recently overheard a young man mumbling about church. Apparently, his experience included far too many references to hell and damnation and far too few regarding community and caring and love. Because I know him reasonably well, I decided to pursue a conversation. Because he knows me reasonably well, he eventually worked up the courage to ask me why I still go to church.

After what evolved into a very productive and pleasant exchange, we went our separate ways. With us, we carried our understanding and respect for one another. In the end, we had agreed that all of us are free to relate to our loving Creator as best we can in our own ways. Some will be guided by a community of believers; some will be guided by other experiences; we’ll all be guided by our hearts.

I had the good fortune to grow up in a more-than-tolerant family within a diverse community. In the process, I met many good people who happened to look or to behave or to believe differently than I did. Still, they were very good people. The more my world expanded, the more these differences increased. Still, I encountered very good people who looked or behaved or believed differently than I did. It seems to me that God is pleased with all of our efforts when they cause us to turn from evil, to do good, to seek peace and to love one another.

Patient God, thank you for making each of us unique and for giving us all the freedom to live and to love you accordingly.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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God Welcomes Us All

But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you.

Matthew 5:44

A dear friend recently suffered a broken heart. While attending a worship service, her zealous pastor made it quite clear that there is only one true church and that those who do not belong to that true church will not enter heaven. Now my friend is a convert to her faith and her entire family is of a different faith. To complicate matters further, a family member is a minister in that “different” faith. The final blow came in the recent passing of someone dear to her who was also a member of that “different” faith.

As I responded to my friend, I admit that my heart vacillated between absolute empathy with her and complete anger with her pastor. In the end, I reassured my friend with everything I know about God’s indiscriminate love and I joined her praying for her pastor.

It seems to me that, just as God has sprinkled this earth with a variety of us humans, God has also revealed the Divine in a variety of ways. God leaves it to us to find what fits and to live accordingly. God also leaves it to us to allow one another the same courtesy.

Loving God, help us to emulate your inclusive and loving ways in our attitudes and actions toward all of your children.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

What Shall I Do With Him?

Pilate said, “Then what shall I do with this Jesus…?”
From Matthew 27:22

In just seven days, we’ll observe Good Friday. Where have the first thirty-four days of Lent 2019 gone? It occurs to me that I need to adjust my focus and to make the most of the coming week. My husband’s recent battle with lingering flu symptoms and my own cold have drained our energy. These things have lengthened our to-do lists and shortened the time I usually invest in writing. Still, my husband and I are recovering. We will catch up one of these days. In the mean time, I return my thoughts to the coming week and to this Jesus who puzzled poor Pilate so. I offer a prayer for this Roman Procurator who couldn’t bring himself to deal with Jesus justly. Though Pilate sensed that those who brought Jesus before him had less than honorable intentions, he couldn’t move beyond his fear to question their intentions. Rather, he allowed that relentless mob to lead him.

This same Jesus rarely puzzles me. It is Jesus who revealed God’s limitless love and mercy to me. It is Jesus who inspires me to love my neighbors and enemies alike and to stop along the way to help anyone who needs me. Though I fail too often, it is Jesus who encourages me to try, try again to do my best. This is all that Jesus -and God whom Jesus revealed- ask of us.

During the seven days which take us to Good Friday, let’s answer Pilate’s question, “What shall I do with this Jesus?” Let’s respond to Pilate and to everyone else who wonders through all that we do. Jesus inspired me with the way he lived. Let’s do the same for one another.

Loving God, help us to share your love as Jesus did.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

See Jesus In Their Eyes

Pilate said, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”
All of them said, “Let him be crucified!”

Matthew 27:22

I’ve decided to seek a bit of guidance as I attempt to continue my Lenten efforts. This has become necessary because I’ve been far more busy than I’d like to be these days. My poor husband also has the flu, apparently one of the strains that this year’s flu vaccine doesn’t prevent. Juggling all of this has kept me from the moments of contemplation which normally fuel my days. So it is that I am plotting my path a bit more strategically, lest Easter surprises me before I’m ready. To guide my efforts, I’m turning to The Stations of the Cross. Though this ages-old prayer isn’t completely historically accurate, it certainly brings to life the spirit in which Jesus walked that road for us…

The First Station: Jesus is Condemned to Death

Jesus could have called down a legion of angels to rescue him from the crowds’ hatred. Rather, he endured this unfairness which would rob him of his very life.

In the face of Jesus’ unjust condemnation, I ask myself how often I’ve wrongly judged others. Was this the result of my own prejudice or did I simply follow the crowd who shouted loudest? Either way, I’ve decided that from now on I’ll look for Jesus in the eyes of my adversaries. Perhaps when I see him there, I refrain from doing to them what that crowd did to Jesus.

Loving God, help me to set aside my judgmental ways to make room for your unconditional love in my heart.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Stand Together

“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs
under the table eat the family’s leavings.”

Mark 7:28

I was born into an Irish and Italian neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago. Since only the tiniest drop of each bloodline flows through me, I had no preference for either group. The truth is that I envied them both, especially on St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s Days when they celebrated their heritage with great flourish. For the most part, I’m French Canadian. There is no designated day for me to do the same. Though my own family celebrated rich traditions which were the direct result of my nationality, I longed for a more colorful and universal display of our heritage. By third grade, many of these neighbors moved away. New African-American neighbors took their places. At that time, I discovered that my new neighbors found themselves in the same situation as I. No one outside of their own families celebrated their heritage with a flourish either. Sadly, most outsiders looked upon my new neighbors’ rich heritage as a threat or a curse. As for me, my new neighbors became my friends.

This childhood experience evolved into a lifetime of effort to overlook ethnicity and the numerous other differences which often separate us. Perhaps it was providential that I spent my career working with children. My classroom provided the perfect forum in which to honor both our personal uniqueness and our common qualities. In the process, I think I succeeded in honoring my students for who they were while also respecting the heritage of each one. I hope I do the same today for all of those whom I meet along the way.

God of us All, it seems that we manage to separate ourselves into differing factions more than ever these days. We continue to find reason to stand apart. Please inspire us with your loving and welcoming ways before it’s too late.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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