Time To Dance?

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

Ecclesiastes 3:4

My husband and I planned to attend three weddings this summer. At the moment, the two earlier weddings have been cancelled while the third dangles in uncertainty on our calendar. We looked forward to celebrating with each couple. I would have found it encouraging and, yes, a bit romantic, to wish these hopeful spouses all of the best for their futures together.

I admit that I also looked forward to dancing at their receptions. I usually begin with a slow dance in my husband’s arms. Afterward, he retreats to join anyone else who isn’t dancing while I continue on with a friend or family member whose spouse has also retreated from the dance floor. In the end, the dancer within me takes over for as long as I can move. Though she sometimes has a difficult time guiding my feet into the prescribed steps for a given dance, she always succeeds in freeing me to abandon my inhibitions and to rejoice in the music at hand.

Needless to say, there will be no such dancing for us in the foreseeable future. Still, the words I cited above from Ecclesiastes nudge me to try. I truly believe that God intentionally created us with the ability to party. This is one of God’s most creative ways of reminding us to take the time to relax and not to take ourselves or this life too seriously. Like you, I know we’re immersed in one of the most serious times of our lives. Still…

…Our grandchildren amuse us with three-way FaceTime calls. Friends resend emails and Facebook posts which force us to laugh aloud. We walk outdoors and shout cheerful greetings to those we see while social distancing at twice the prescribed footage. We telephone those we love, but cannot see and we pray for everyone. Yes, we are in this together and we are called to turn our mourning into dancing whenever we can!

Gracious God, thank you for our ability to transform our tears into laughter and our mourning into at least an attempt to dance.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Advent of Joy

Love your neighbor as yourself.
From Matthew 22:19

As I strung lights around our Christmas Tree, I remembered my mom doing the same half a century ago. I loved watching her transform the year’s bare tree into our living room’s centerpiece. While perched on a small ladder, she placed ornaments strategically. Those that reflected most were hung near the brightest lights. Though we lived in a crowded flat, there was always room for that tree and the tiny village she’d fashion beneath it.

The Christmas I recall most vividly, our dad had passed away the previous July. Young as I was, I wondered how my mom found the strength to celebrate that year. In spite of the sadness which remained with us all of those months, my older sister Rita joined Mom in preparing special gifts for each of us. On Christmas Eve, our parish priests asked my brother to walk his wagon down to the rectory. Raoul returned with a beautifully wrapped package for himself and his five sisters. Who could have expected more? None of us did, but it came…

After Christmas dinner at home, we went on to Aunt Claire’s and Uncle Steve’s home to celebrate with our extended family. My aunt and uncle ushered us to their Christmas Tree for more gifts. Though all concerned knew that nothing could replace my dad, they did their best to emulate his love for us. Though I can’t name the gifts I received that year, I continue to feel the love offered which has sustained me for a lifetime.

In spite of the terrible loss my family experienced, those who loved us did their best to bring joy to that long ago Christmas. It seems to me that we observe Advent best when we do the same for one another.

Loving God, help me to bring joy to others in everything I say and do.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

It’s Time To Prepare

On that day,
A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse…

Isaiah 11:1

While at the grocery store the other day, I saw a fellow shopper wearing a very familiar sling. I couldn’t help asking if he’d had shoulder surgery. The poor guy wearily replied in the affirmative. After encouraging him as best I could, I wished him a speedy recovery and returned to my grocery list. I’m certain shopping took me twice the time that day because memories of my own shoulder surgery emerged in full force…

When I counted back in time, I discovered it was six years ago that I had my shoulder repaired. I recalled timing the surgery to allow Thanksgiving and Christmas preparations to distract me from the painful recovery which I was warned would come. As it happened, these distractions weren’t as helpful as I’d hoped. Still, the pain wasn’t as horrific as expected either. I eventually learned to put my incapacity to good use. As a result, I embraced Advent 2013 with great fervor.

You know, Advent 2019 begins tomorrow. Once again, I’m given four weeks to engage in joyful anticipation of Christmas. Most years, it’s extremely difficult to find the time to truly joyfully anticipate this feast. There’s just so much to do! As I look ahead to the next twenty-four days, I’ve decided to recapture the simplified life-style which was forced upon me after my surgery. This year, I’m going to prioritize, organize and enjoy the wait for Christmas. I’m also going to have to look for that fellow with the shoulder sling to thank him for the inspiration. My fervor during Advent 2019 will be better than it might have been as a result of my conversation with him.

Loving God, this year, help us to all celebrate Advent and Jesus’ birth with resounding joy.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Mary Rejoices

“My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
From The Magnificat

I needed a break from the hustle and bustle of the past few days. I rummaged through my car to find a favorite Christmas CD which features The Magnificat. Then, I rummaged through my son’s closet in search of his old CD player. When I remembered that I’d given it away, I returned to my desk and slipped the CD into my computer…

The words which are attributed to the Mother of Jesus took my breath away as they always do. When the song ended, I contemplated Mary’s choices and the mindset with which she faced what lay ahead. When Mary embarked upon motherhood, she also embarked upon a treacherous journey. Mary’s worldly lot would be uncomfortable at best. Still, her spirit rested in the presence of the Lord. Mary endured because she trusted in God’s faithfulness to her.

I recalled the peace I enjoyed as a child when I knew God was with me as well. Over time, the troubles of this life dulled this awareness and I attended more to what was wrong around me than to what was right. I have to admit that there have been moments as of late when this phenomenon has repeated itself. Still, when I place myself in God’s presence once again, my journey becomes do-able once again.

It seems that our own perspectives and our awareness of God’s intimate proximity to us make all of the difference in the world. Mary thrived amidst a lifetime of challenges because she realized that she never walked alone. The Magnificat echoes Mary’s realization of God’s promise to her, to you and to me. Like Mary, we amble along in God’s company every step of the way.

Loving God, thank you for remaining with us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Is With Us!

Merry Christmas??? Yes! Merry Christmas! No, I haven’t mixed up my writing schedule. This is the reflection for the First Sunday of Advent. Christmas Day’s edition will appear in a few very short weeks! Though I join you in acknowledging the time crunch which imposes itself upon us every December, I can’t help turning my thoughts to the Christmas Miracle. My lengthy to-do list hasn’t distracted me from the fact that God isn’t waiting for December 25 to celebrate and neither should we. God touches this earth and each one of us with Divine Love in the present moment just as God has done throughout human history. Today, I encourage you to join me in taking notice…

I admit that I normally become as miffed as anyone at the early arrival of Christmas inventory in shops and malls. Halloween candy and costumes used to give way to these things every November 1. This year, Christmas decorations and cards sat on shelves right next to their Halloween cousins. Oddly, I surprised myself this year when I caught a glimpse of the first wave of decorations for Christmas 2018 and I smiled. The truth is that I welcomed this distraction from the terrible events which have plagued this world for what seems like forever. Though I didn’t need another thing for myself, I browsed among the crèches and nativity statues, trees and ornaments, scented candles, miniature houses and red bows on display. Each one did its part to warm my heart. I truly enjoy the Christmas Season. I always have. This year, I’m especially grateful for this interlude with peace on earth. I hope with all of my heart that you and I will somehow make this peace last throughout the New Year and long afterward.

As I began this writing for the First Sunday of Advent, I contemplated the meaning of these weeks before Christmas. Here at St. Paul’s, we’ll acknowledge Advent with thoughts of love and hope, joy and peace. This is a happy departure from my childhood when we embraced Advent as a penitential waiting period. Our Advent attempts at self-denial resembled our Lenten efforts. The intent was to purify our hearts for the coming of Jesus. Fortunately, we adjusted our tone a bit in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. Our somber waiting morphed into joyful anticipation of Jesus’ arrival. Rather than denying ourselves, we engaged in positive activities such as sharing with the less fortunate and behaving more kindly toward one another. Rather than waiting with somber attitudes, we looked toward our commemoration of Jesus’ birth with happy hearts. While I applaud our “joyful anticipation” mode, there is much more to the Advent Season than either approach acknowledges.

You see, as much as I readily embrace the Christmas Season and the goodness that it draws from so many people, I also realize that there is a good deal of sadness in this world of ours. The daily news reminds us that people everywhere suffer greatly. My encounters with people closer to home tell me that many who seem to lead blessed lives quietly bear unspeakable burdens. I’m grateful that the occasional human interest news story reveals the best of life among us. I’m even more grateful when someone nearby shares a small miracle which has touched his or her life. Though these small encounters with joy seem the results of uncommon blessings, the truth is that God’s blessings are with us day in and day out. God’s blessings aren’t doled out in accord with the season at hand. God is present in our lives wherever and whenever God is welcomed to do so. This is also the case when God is unwelcome or denied. The Christmas Miracle is God With Us today and every day until we join God in our forever home.

If this is the case, how do we celebrate Advent? I looked to my dictionary for guidance. “Advent” is derived from the French and Latin words for “arrival; to arrive, happen; to come.” Interesting. For decades, I’ve concentrated on waiting for Christmas. This year, my dictionary and the scriptures tell me that Advent isn’t a time to wait after all. Rather, Advent is an opportunity to acknowledge that, indeed, God has arrived. There is nothing to wait for because God is here. In today’s scriptures, Jeremiah (33:14-16), Paul (Thessalonians 3:12-4:2) and Luke (21:25-28, 34-36) tell us of the signs of what is to come. They call all of God’s people to prepare for those things as best they can. We embrace this challenge by recognizing God who is present among us and within each one of us.

Perhaps those early Christmas marketers had the right idea after all. We should begin to think Christmas thoughts long before Halloween. We should think thoughts of God With Us every day and always! Though we’ll pack away our Christmas decorations with the onset of the new year, we mustn’t pack away our awareness of God’s presence. So it is that I invite you to begin celebrating Christmas 2018 and every Christmas afterward before you read my last line today. When we acknowledge that God is with us, we increase the joy that comes and soften the sorrow that touches us so often. Knowing the I’m not in this alone certainly brings a smile to my face. Imagine what God at your side will do for you! As I wrote above, “Merry Christmas!”

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Time To Wait

Jesus went into the district of Tyre.
He entered a house and wanted no one to know
about it, but he could not escape notice.

Mark 7:24

It’s Thanksgiving week… While standing in a linear mass of humanity at the checkout this morning, I whispered a prayer of gratitude for those retailers who’ve agreed not to open their doors on Thanksgiving Day. Of all of the holidays we celebrate in this country, Thanksgiving Day is the one we can enjoy without regard for any of our religious affiliations or lack thereof. So it is that I said, “Blessed be those employers whose workers will enjoy the holiday with their families this year!”

With that, I returned to my grocery list to see that I had everything I needed. A voice from the front of the line distracted me from my work. This person remarked that he would be wealthy if he had a dollar for every minute he spent waiting. As he hurried out of the store, I chuckled to myself. I had already found wealth in these seemingly wasted moments when nothing more than to wait was demanded of me. While the world rushed about me, I found the time to contemplate my blessings and their Generous Source.

Perhaps this is the reason Jesus often rose early and stole away for quiet time. The scriptures tell us that Jesus’ moments of peace were usually disrupted by those who needed him. The same is too often true of you and me. Still, as Jesus did, we find the time to respond and then to sneak away once again.

Dear God, this world of ours grows busier every day. Still, help us always to find the time to love one another as you do.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved