God’s House

Father, keep them in your name
that you have given me, so that
they may be one just as we are one.

From John 17:11

This morning, my friend-since-kindergarten texted. A recent errand had placed my friend in close proximity to our old neighborhood. Because he’s as taken with that neighborhood as I am, my former classmate detoured through our former digs. This trek included a drive past his high school and mine. Of course, all of this ushered me back in time as well…

We grew up on the West Side of Chicago. Beside our church and school buildings, I was awed by the mysteriously awesome synagogue which stood a few blocks north of our parish church. I’d passed this building numerous times. Every time, I looked upon this stone-clad edifice with high regard. My mom had explained that this was a Jewish temple. She said that our doctor probably prayed there. As for me, I was convinced that the Lord God certainly lived in that holy place.

Years later, our neighborhood demographics and this building’s ownership changed. I remember exhaling a sigh of relief when I heard that it would remain God’s house. The synagogue was sold to a Christian church and it would serve as their place of worship. This thrilled me at the time because I knew that God would continue to live there.

You know, just as my friend and I continue to love our old neighborhood, God continues to love all of the places in which God dwells. I’m convinced that God loves that versatile place of worship as I do. Still, I’m even more convinced that God loves the spaces we make for God in our hearts even more!

Gracious God, thank you for residing in our houses of prayer and in our hearts.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

Share Your Treasure

When they fulfilled all the prescriptions
of the law of the Lord, they returned
to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong,
filled with wisdom,
and the favor of God was upon him.

Luke 2:39-40

When each of our sons was born, we planned his baptism shortly afterward. No discussion was necessary, except regarding who the godparents would be. In our minds, it was only natural to share our faith with our children. This endeavor went far beyond the day the priests poured water over our sons’ heads. We weren’t sharing membership in the church as much as we were sharing our relationships with God.

I discovered very early on that my parents did a good job of this. Though times were often tough, they always saw the silver lining in their circumstances. Perhaps what they actually saw was God watching over them. Even when my young dad faced his own passing, he referenced this God who would see to everything for us and for him. As for me, knowing that God understands even when others don’t has sustained me through many a trial and tribulation.

You know, when Mary and Joseph first took Jesus to the temple, they planted the seeds of Jesus lifelong relationship with his faith community and with God. When we introduce our children to God, our efforts are no less important. However we relate to our Maker, let’s share this with our kids.

Dear God, thank you for reaching out to us in such a variety of ways. Help us to share the treasure of knowing you with our children.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

There’s Room for Everyone!

“For my house shall be called
a house of prayer for all peoples.”

Isaiah 56:7

I attended a meeting a few weeks ago where we attempted to finalize our parish’s Christmas preparations. In the process, we chuckled over our futile attempts each year to provide seating for everyone who will come to church on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Though such discussions sometimes include comments regarding the Christmas and Easter “Birds” whose only appearances for worship occur on these two holy days, this wasn’t the case. Rather, our head usher and others came up with more ingenious ways to squeeze in as many chairs as possible. Each one intends to make all of God’s children welcome as best he or she can.

All concerned work extremely hard to prepare our beautifully adorned church, amazing music and engaging liturgy. Everyone from our youngest parish children to our devoted seniors is involved. Our hope is that we’ll assist all of those who join us in feeling welcomed as they gather to pray together. After all, it’s Christmas!

Loving God, you open your house to all who come to your door. While some of us feel free to knock often, there are others who shy away. Please reveal yourself in our efforts as we prepare for Christmas so that all of your children realize that they are welcome to your home any time and always.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Ambassadors of Love

Behold, you are pleased with sincerity of heart,
and in my inmost being you teach me wisdom.

Psalm 51:8

While organizing my desk for the umpteenth time, I came across an article about church. Recent reflection regarding my own role within the church prompted me to reread this lost treasure. Afterward, I acknowledged that the negative impact of some have distracted me from the amazing good that the church has brought to my life and to the lives of many others. These “others” include both believers and non-believers who have been served by those good souls who do their best to live out their love for God.

I truly believe that God lives among us and within us both inside and outside of our institutional religious affiliations. Whether we worship in a synagogue, mosque, temple, church or elsewhere, within a faith community or alone, our most important God-related responsibility is the same: To live out our relationships with God in our relationships with one another. The technicalities which separate our various denominations must never separate us from one another.

Loving God, open our hearts to your wisdom. Make us all good ambassadors of your love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Home Really Is Where Our Hearts Are

My granddaughters recently spent a weekend with Grandpa and me. All the while, the girls kept us running. In an effort to sap a bit of their endless energy, we walked to a nearby playground. It was the perfect haven for the girls to climb, run, slide and swing with abandon. Grandpa and I watched from the swings until we were drafted into their play. This merry-making continued throughout the afternoon, our walk home and the remainder of their stay with us. When I wondered aloud how I kept up with classrooms filled with equally energetic children, my dear husband reminded me that I was a few years younger when I did so. I reluctantly admitted, “I suppose so…”

The week after the girls left, a bout with nostalgia beckoned me back to that playground in spite of the rain that threatened. Since no one else was silly enough to risk being soaked, I reclaimed the swing I’d occupied a few days earlier. When I taught, I occasionally took a turn swinging with the children just to assure them that I enjoyed playing, too. When I was a little girl, I did the same on the well-worn swings in my backyard. Those swings also served as my favorite place to contemplate life. As I sat on that swing, I found myself in need of doing just that.

I gave in to my mood as I slowly eased myself back and forth. The seemingly endless misery which had punctuated the news from both nearby and afar had filled me with melancholy. I wondered if the approach of Independence Day 2018 had contributed to those feelings. My Dad passed away the morning of July 4, 1959; it is my late uncle’s birthday and we attended my Aunt Rita’s wake on this date some years later. Perhaps it was my anticipation of the fireworks which would soon brighten the night sky. This family connection inspires fireworks anytime and anywhere to shout “resurrection” to me. I secretly wished that someone nearby would engage in a preemptive launch to test his or her Independence Day contraband. When no one obliged, I closed my eyes to visualize fireworks from my past, from childhood, from the bicentennial celebration in Washington D. C, and those that touched us all ten months after September 11, 2001. I’ll never forget the Statue of Liberty standing in all of her glory as fireworks of every color formed a sparkling halo around her head.

Unfortunately, that mental image of Lady Liberty intensified my unrest. When I was in high school chorus, we sang an inspiring selection drawn from the inscription at Lady Liberty’s feet: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the restless refuse of your teeming shores. Send these, your homeless tempest-tossed to me… I lift my lamp beside the golden shore. Patriotism meant many different things when I sang those words in the sixties. Still, I couldn’t deny the fullness which swelled up in my heart every time these words passed my lips. Those feelings emerged again as I sat on that swing. This nation’s willingness to display these mighty words at our shore has demanded quite a commitment from all who call this country our home. As I continued to swing back and forth, I wondered how we will fulfill this commitment in the days ahead. Before I could begin my list of suggestions, a drop of rain hit my forehead and trickled down my nose. When several additional drops quickly followed, I abandoned that swing and ran home.

Having a place to call home is a basic need which we all share. The one who first penned “Home Sweet Home” wrote much more than a cliché to be immortalized by crafters. Indeed, this author’s wisdom explains Jesus’ pain in Mark’s gospel (Mark 6:1-6). It was early in his ministry and Jesus had done well. He’d cured the sick and worked other wonders which attracted quite a following. In the passage cited, Jesus had returned home to the place he’d grown up among his loving parents and neighbors. There, Jesus would be himself. There, Jesus would relax and share his message without restraint. Sadly, as it happened, it was there that Jesus experienced unexpected and painful rejection. Jesus’ community believed he was simply too good to be true. They chose to dismiss Jesus rather than to recognize that God had been at work in and through their neighbor. That lack of acceptance pushed Jesus away to continue his mission elsewhere.

Every new day brings us opportunities to welcome, to support and to comfort one another. Each of us knows the rejection Jesus felt far too intimately to allow it to touch others. God calls us to be the torches which light the way home for all of our sisters and brothers. Whether here at home in Lake County, in a city across the country or on another continent, we are each called to care for those we meet along the way. You know, Jesus was most at home in the places where he was accepted and where he was free to lovingly serve God’s people. We are most at home when we experience and when we do the same.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved