The God of Love

While enjoying various gatherings over the past few weeks, several family members and friends asked me to pray for them. In the midst of the revelry of the moment, those making these requests had apparently held on to their strong belief in the power of prayer. Each one seemed convinced that his or her request for prayers was the most sensible action to take at the moment. Each one also seemed to do so with the full expectation that any prayers offered on their behalf would certainly be heard. Since I share these convictions, I happily agreed to pray as best I could for each one. At the same time, I puzzled a bit over their timing. That these family members and friends were thinking about God in the midst of various festivities touched me deeply. I wondered what it is about this God of ours that inspires us to pray twenty-four seven regardless of where were are and whom we are with. Though I can’t be certain of anyone else’s experiences of God, I can share my own adventures in this regard…

As a child, I often puzzled over the things I learned about God. I imagined God to be the kindly and caring Creator who appeared in our children’s bible. I still remember the rendering of God looking lovingly upon Adam and Eve and the menagerie of animals provided to keep them company. My experiences within my family confirmed my impressions. I was only five when my uncle became ill. The 1950s offered no antibiotics to fight pneumonia. The curvature of my uncle’s spine further complicated his condition. As a very young child, Uncle Gee contracted polio which left his spine severely bent and compromised his breathing. When he first became ill, we gathered in the living room to say the rosary for our uncle’s recovery every night. When it became evident that he wouldn’t survive, my mom changed our intention from “a full recovery” to “a happy death.” Because this dear uncle lived with us, his looming loss was devastating. My dad responded by assuring us that all would be well. My dad held us close as he explained that Uncle Gee was going to heaven. My dad insisted that everything in heaven is perfect and that God would make our uncle perfect as well. The pneumonia would be gone and Uncle Gee’s back would be as straight as can be. When my uncle passed away a few days later, I cried because I would miss him. Still, I knew that all was well. God came through for my uncle and God would do the same for both of my grandpas and my dad who passed away just a few years later.

As I grew into a second grader, I continued to puzzle over the things I learned about God. Though I’d known about Jesus, I didn’t consider how Jesus fit into my image of God until the year I received First Communion. I listened carefully to all I was taught about Jesus. I found that my image of Jesus was quite tangible. I liked the things Jesus said. The parables Jesus told concurred with the image I had of my kindly and caring Creator. All that Jesus did illustrated the magnitude of God’s love for me and for everyone else. Young as I was, I found great joy and great consolation in the knowledge that, no matter what I did, God would always love me.

It was on or about my thirteenth birthday that the things which seemed so clear a year or month or day earlier became inexplicably murky. While I continued to puzzle over the things I’d learned about God, I realized that life in this world isn’t at all perfect. Sometimes the adults around me disappointed me. What was worse, when I looked in the mirror, the sweet little girl I used to see had morphed into someone I hardly recognized. Though the adults around me continued to share their wisdom regarding God, I puzzled over my impressions of God all the more. Fortunately, Confirmation approached and becoming an adult Christian became the topic of the year. I had plenty of opportunities to puzzle over every sort of “what if” scenario. “How would an adult Christian respond?” my teachers asked. In the end, my classmates and I learned that our choices would grow in difficulty and in importance as we grew older. In the end, we also understood that we didn’t have to make those difficult choices alone. God’s Holy Spirit would inspire and strengthen us, clarifying the situation every step of the way until we made our own ways home to heaven. Once again, I liked what I heard regarding the constancy of God’s love for me. Perhaps all of those who’ve asked me to pray for them in recent days have become convinced of the same. Perhaps this is what a lifetime of friendship with God does for us!

This is Trinity Sunday and we celebrate God in all of God’s wonderful glory! Though my childhood musings cannot begin to explain the Trinity, Jesus did so again and again. In everything he said and did, Jesus insisted that ours is the God of Love, the all-caring Creator who breathed life into each of us. Through his life among us, Jesus revealed that ours is the God of Love who became one of us to reveal the true happiness found in caring for one another and in opening our hearts to God’s love. When Jesus’ life among us neared its end, Jesus promised us all a lifetime of encounters with the God of Love whose Spirit comes in the raging winds and the gentle whispers which urge us on to do our best and to be our best. Yes, on this Trinity Sunday, we celebrate our lifelong friendships with God, the God of Love who remains with us and within us though everything. We celebrate God who hears our every prayerful request and who responds with perfect love!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Enjoy The Rest

He makes me lie down in green pastures…
Psalm 23:2

Long ago, I dubbed my husband the “travel aficionado” of our family. He takes great pleasure in exploring new places and getting to know the people who inhabit them. These adventures leave him refreshed and ready to tackle our daily routine once we return home. In the past, as Mike planned these wonderful excursions, I wasted away the days of anticipation with my worry about small spaces in airplanes and anything and everything which “might” go wrong. The good news in all of this is that I’ve come to share in my husband’s enthusiasm. These days, I look forward to get-aways near and far as much as Mike does and this is a very good thing.

As I reflect further on Psalm 23, I see that my persistent God is behind my husband’s travel efforts 100%. This very God knows everything and certainly understood my reluctance better than I did. Fortunately for me, I finally attended to God’s desire to make me lie down in green pastures as willingly as Mike has. I finally allowed God to see to it that I get the rest and enjoyment I need by inspiring my husband to plan on. God is attending just as carefully to providing moments of rest for you. I encourage you to embrace these opportunities every time!

Loving God, thank you for caring for us even when we’re reluctant to care for ourselves.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Celebrate God!

Last week, my husband and I drove north to our cabin to take care of a bit of upkeep. Before you invest any sympathy on our behalf, let me assure you that we find such tasks at our get-away to be therapeutic and relaxing. This time, Mike planted a few pots of flowers while I cleaned the kitchen. Mike went on to repair an outdoor light while I went through the linens to determine what needs to be replaced. At the end of that day, we happily cooked and ate dinner, cleaned up and headed to the couch and recliner. I picked up a book I’d begun a few weeks earlier and Mike grabbed the remote. When he scrolled through that evening’s offerings, Mike weighed his options. Would he watch an episode of one of his favorite dramas or settle for a few reruns from the 60s? Because the poor guy was tired and fighting a lingering cold, I encouraged Mike to settle for those vintage offerings. This allowed him the luxury of dozing off at will and it allowed me to read without distraction. As it happened, the dialogue from the lighthearted comedies he selected provided a soothing background as I read. The subject matter of the volume in my hand brought comfort as well. Another expert had scripted a summary of his findings regarding life after this life and his every word immersed me more deeply into an ocean of peace.

This is Trinity Sunday and I’m sharing my Wisconsin adventure because it offered me a glimpse of the essence of today’s celebration. Trinity Sunday differs from the other major feasts of the liturgical year. Christmas, Easter and Pentecost mark events which continue to shape our relationships with God. On Trinity Sunday, we celebrate God’s wonder. Just as Mike and I found ourselves relaxed and at peace in our little cabin, we all find ourselves most at peace when we nestle in close proximity to God. Still, though we try to embrace this peace as often as possible, we sometimes imitate the clumsy efforts of those who came long before us when we do so.

The Old Testament tells us that Moses’ contemporaries viewed God as Creator, Ruler and Judge. They approached God with tempered hope and a good deal of trepidation. Today’s reading from Deuteronomy (4:32-34. 39-40) offers an example of Moses’ responses to God’s often impatient people. Moses pointed out that though they repeatedly doubted God’s concern for them, God responded every time to their needs. God fed them with morning meals of manna and suppers of quail. God quenched their thirst with a fountain of water in the midst of the desert. Still, in spite of God’s ongoing presence to them, fear overwhelmed the Israelites even as they approached the Promised Land. It was then that God made God’s presence more visible than ever to them.

Today’s reading from Romans (8:14-17) reminds us that Jesus revealed God’s presence and God’s love quite tangibly. When Jesus embraced his life among the people, he underscored the value of even the most ordinary aspects of our lives. Jesus learned to love and to respect his parents, neighbors and friends. He grew into adulthood with useful skills and a deep faith in God. Jesus used his public ministry to reveal the nature of God’s love for us. The One whom the Israelites saw as Creator, Ruler and Judge became “Abba” to Jesus’ followers. Through his own acts of kindness, mercy and love, his preaching and parables (Do you remember the Prodigal Son?), Jesus made one thing clear: That, above all else, God is the most loving parent any of us will ever know. Sadly, the disciples returned to the fearfulness of the Israelites when Jesus ascended into heaven. Fortunately, it wasn’t long afterward that God’s presence among us became undeniable. God’s Spirit arrived in a stormy flurry and filled up the disciples so completely that they couldn’t contain themselves. They burst out of hiding from that upper room and filled the streets of Jerusalem with the good news of God’s love for us all.

I mentioned earlier that I began with Mike’s and my Wisconsin adventure because it offered us a glimpse of the gift we celebrate today. Mike and I enjoy the cabin because it rests in the midst of the best of creation. The interior is simple, but truly comfortable. The phone seldom rings and our internet activity is limited to a minute or two on our iPhones. When I use our offline laptop to write, the words flow more freely than ever. Our isolation from our hectic lives at home frees us to inhale the fresh country air and to tune in to our briefly unencumbered hearts. These interludes free us to experience God’s presence more fully. On this Trinity Sunday, God assures us that we’re in very good company wherever we are. Whether we’re worried and impatient as the Israelites were or uncertain and feeling abandoned as the disciples were, God is with us. Though we can’t always drive north to quieter environs, we can find quiet moments to spend with our Abba wherever we are. It is during these quiet times that the God we celebrate this Trinity Sunday assures us once again that we’re never alone.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Life-Giving Water

Beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul…

From Psalm 23:2-3

The Dead Sea is a popular attraction in Israel. It rests sixteen miles east of Jerusalem and covers 300 square miles. When referenced in the scriptures, it’s called The Salt Sea. Most often, this formidable body of water is cited simply to describe the location of more important places. Though our ancient counterparts likely weren’t aware of the chemistry involved, the waters of their Salt Sea are actually almost 25% mineral salts. It seems to me that we should return this powerful body to its original name. Modern-day visitors appear to agree because they come in droves to seek its amazing power to rejuvenate ones skin, ones health and perhaps much more…

As we approached the shoreline, we found ourselves in the midst of a tourist haven. People from everywhere had come to experience the Dead Sea’s therapeutic powers firsthand. Many wore swimwear in an effort to soak themselves in this apparent fountain of youth for as long as possible. My husband and our tour-mates joined in the fun and fury by making their way down to the black mud beach. They waded into the water as far as their rolled-up jeans would allow.

As for me, I waited at a small observation area which offered a breathtaking view. After taking in the sea air and the inspiring surroundings, I watched as drenched pilgrims made their way back to the tourist center to warm themselves and to replace their swimsuits with dry clothing. Some laughed. Some seemed uncomfortably cold. Some seemed rapt in prayer, perhaps asking that this would be the “something” which relieved their suffering. As each one passed, I prayed as well. “Dear God, help them to find what they’re looking for.”

As we boarded the bus for our next adventure, I realized that I’d been blessed with something unexpected. Though I hadn’t touched a drop of that amazing water, my soul was at peace and all was well in my little corner of the world.

Generous God, thank you for the many unexpected surprises which come our way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Transforming Experiences

A recent Facebook post from overseas reminded me that it has been twelve years since my dear husband located his family in Croatia. Back then, when there were no replies to numerous letters Mike had sent to the only family address he knew, he did what any good Catholic would do. He wrote to the parish priest in Krasić, his family’s village. Some weeks later, Mike received a response which included names, addresses and some family history. I encouraged Mike throughout this pursuit until I realized that he actually intended to travel to this foreign land. Though I shared Mike’s interest in his newly discovered family, my intolerance for flying had drained my desire to board a plane in order to meet them.

Fortunately for me, throughout the interim I was completely taken with the communication between Mike and his Croatian cousins. When we eventually prepared to visit them, I was able to put that long flight out of my mind until I boarded the plane. I concentrated on the people and places which would await us when we arrived and I was not disappointed. When I boarded the plane for our trip home, my fear of tiny airplane seats and hours of confinement had diminished a bit. It was eased into the shadows by memories of the beautiful people who had become my family, too. Our adventure in this once foreign place transformed my spirit in truly unexpected ways.

This transformation has continued throughout the years since. When we returned to Croatia with Mike’s American cousins, I found it a little easier to set aside my fear. Later, while preparing for flights to Germany and then to Italy, my anticipation of the things to come overpowered my fear even more so. Last year, when Mike and I traveled to Israel, my transformation seemed to near completion. I was anxious to begin this journey so I could walk where Jesus and Mary of Magdala walked and sail the Sea of Galilee where Jesus engaged in so much of his ministry. Rather than being a source of discomfort and fear, the flight to the Holy Land provided the opportunity to reflect on the treasure which awaited me. When I boarded that plane to Tel Aviv, I bore little resemblance to the woman who first traveled to Croatia more than a decade earlier. When I boarded the plane home, I knew I would never be the same.

Our visit to Jesus’ homeland transformed me to my core. Though I’ve always enjoyed the ability to conjure up reasonably realistic images from Jesus’ life, his time among us took on new meaning in the dusty streets of Magdala, the ruins of Nazareth and the busy byways of Jerusalem. During those eight days, I was very much aware that I was walking among Jesus’ people. The most peculiar aspect of this was that I felt completely at home among them. Not long after this trip, Mike was invited to assist in guiding a tour in Israel this coming year. It took no transformation to make Mike-the-Traveler jump at this opportunity. As for me, because my transformation has taken a dozen years, Mike was completely surprised when I announced, “I’m going, too!”

I share all of this because today is Transfiguration Sunday. Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 17:1-9) takes us to a mountainside where hope comes alive in the glimpse of eternity which Jesus, Moses and Elijah provide the disciples. Never before have Peter, James and John seen anyone in the dazzling forms Jesus, Moses and Elijah assume. Though those heavenly entities appear to be completely comfortable in their states, poor Peter, James and John stand agape in their wonder and their confusion. Jesus’ only response is to order them to say nothing “…until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” A transfiguration of their own was certainly in the making!

You know, my fear of tiny airplane spaces was debilitating at best. It threatened to rob me of many life-changing experiences. Fortunately, the persistence of my dear husband and the treasure I discovered at the end of each flight nudged me along. Every time I responded to these urgings, I changed a bit more until the day I truly looked forward to flying. Though this isn’t the most significant transformation which has occurred in my life, I share it to illustrate the sometimes lengthy process which leads to meaningful change. Peter, James and John persisted as best they could. Though they saw Jesus in all of his glory, they ran away when Jesus needed them most. It took each one a lifetime to realize who Jesus is and who they had become. Today, we celebrate our opportunity to do the same, one small, but important step at a time.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Enduring Presence

Last week, when our son traveled to London for work, he graciously allowed his dad to tag along. Father and son left Friday which gave them the weekend to tour before Tim’s work began Monday morning. Since Tim had been there before, he planned to point out London’s highlights which my husband will hopefully share with me one day. As for me, I was left in a very quiet house for the duration. The idea behind all of this, according to my husband that is, was that I would take advantage of the quiet and return to the book I’ve been writing for half a decade. As it happened, I dropped them at the airport Friday afternoon, fought traffic all the way home, responded to the call that announced they’d indeed take off on time, enjoyed an omelet for dinner, and headed to my keyboard. It was after eight o’clock when I actually began rereading and editing the seventy pages I’d already written before adding another word. It was long after midnight when I crawled into bed.

Though I’m usually an early riser, I woke the next morning after 9:00. I climbed out of bed amazed that neither my neighbors’ lawnmowers nor their dogs had waken me earlier. As I made the bed, I told myself that I needed the rest. I also told myself that the quiet house was a very rare commodity which I must use well. With that, I created a mental “To Do” list: Answer email, write this reflection and return to my book. After congratulating myself for committing to such a productive day, I did my morning exercises and headed downstairs for breakfast –or was it brunch? Regardless, I intended to enjoy the view of our backyard as I ate.

I’m always drawn in by the outdoors. However, that morning my long-neglected manuscript distracted me. This book chronicles my relationship with God and its evolution over the years. My experiences growing up in the city and afterward provide the backdrop of this lifelong adventure. Friday night’s rereading and editing had filled me with memories of the best and the most difficult experiences of those years. That Saturday morning, our backyard full of nature’s treasures couldn’t compete with the images that danced in my head. The truth is that those precious memories evoked uncontrollable smiles.

As I tended to the breakfast dishes, it occurred to me that the trials and tribulations which had punctuated my life to date had ended as well as the good times. Even when scars had been left behind, the sense of relief or amazement or gratitude over having survived thoroughly diminished them. I attribute this phenomenon to God’s continued presence in my life. It is this relationship which assures me that I’m never alone in anything. With that, I returned to my keyboard and to my manuscript to convince my eventual readers that the same is true for each one of them.

I haven’t yet finished my book. So it is that on this Trinity Sunday, I’m using this space to assure all who read this that God is indeed a constant in our lives. This feast of our God who is Creator-Parent, Son and Spirit provides the perfect opportunity to celebrate the Almighty’s unending interaction with humankind. The scriptures tell us that God walked the earth in the company of the first woman and man. God provided all that they needed to care for themselves and for one another. When they chose to forsake these gifts, God continued to love them and to extend friendship to them again and again. When humankind continued to err, Jesus entered into our history.

In all that he said and did, Jesus revealed God in a most tangible way. Jesus loved unconditionally. He showed us that to lead, we must serve, to be first, we must be last, and to save our lives, we must give them up for one another. Jesus ended by suffering a death he would repeat for any one of us. Finally, God’s Holy Spirit penetrated human fear dramatically and profoundly. When the first disciples acknowledged this presence among them and within them, they shed all of their uncertainty and came out of hiding to spread the news of God’s love. Though their lives weren’t carefree, they were blessed in unimaginable ways, just as mine has been. The disciples realized that God was with them in everything and so must we.

Finally, I understand the disciples’ sense of urgency as I commit myself to my long-neglected manuscript. You and I know so much more than the disciples knew. You and I have two millenniums of amazing outcomes to fuel our faith. Our challenge is to use this knowledge of God’s loving presence to change the world. What better way is there to celebrate this Trinity Sunday and every day with which we are blessed? Just as I hope to use my manuscript to spread the word, I need to use all that I say and do to do the same. Truly, we are all called to assure those we’ve been given to love that God loves us all and is with us all every step of the way.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved