Forgiveness

3904e2f4-b048-4bf3-83f1-bccdd2592165I have long pondered forgiveness, for years! It’s something that confuses me. Like forgiving my abuser. Like parents standing at their child’s graveside and considering how to forgive the shooter. Like a little girl forgiving the people that snatched her from her mother’s arms at the border.

Forgiveness can be confounding and elusive. It is not a merely a thing, or a conviction, or an emotion, or a firmly held belief. It is an act of the heart that can seem all but impossible. But the Bible seems very clear about forgiveness. When you have been wronged or betrayed by another person and you are in a tug of war with yourself about forgiveness, the words of Scripture face off with you as a challenge, perhaps even a rebuke.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Collosians 3:13)

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. (Mark 11:25)

For so many years, these and other Biblical admonitions troubled me. I felt as though the words stood in judgement before me. I would pray to be able to forgive. I would pray for light that could shatter the darkness around me. I would pray again, and again. Waiting. Hoping.

Eventually, I shared my inability to forgive with my spiritual director, hoping for guidance and wise counsel. We talked about it at length. I bared my most vulnerable places and revealed the unresolved anger that lived inside of those places. I mined the depths of my spirit and unearthed long-standing wounds of the soul. Our conversations were gently pushing me to a better place and shedding light on the reality that my inability to forgive was not disobedience, but unresolved pain. And then my spiritual director shared this quote with me.

Forgiveness isn’t telling someone it was okay to hurt you. 
It’s telling yourself  it’s okay to stop hurting. 

It doesn’t mean you have to trust them again. 
It means you can learn to trust yourself again. 

It doesn’t mean you have to give them a free pass back into your life. 
It means you are free to take your life back again. 

Forgiveness is simply emptying your past of its power to empty your present of its peace. 

― L.R. Knost

That experience was many years ago, but to this day, I live in the peace I found then. There is no doubt that my past did indeed have the power to empty my “present of its peace.” Reclaiming my peace made forgiveness possible, though it did not happen instantly. It’s not so easy to forgive a person who was never sorry.

Still, it was a process — a journey really — that I had to travel with God, praying all along the way that I would have the strength I needed. The journey was long and sometimes arduous. God was ever-present — patient and persistent. At journey’s end, there really was light, shining brightly where darkness had been. 

Was I healed of my sin of being an unforgiving person? After this journey, do I now forgive every person who hurts me? Sometimes!

Thank you, God, for your patient persistence. Amen.

Pondering through Advent

23DCD324-DEFB-436C-8942-C4ADA60DA52AYesterday, I mused on the tenderness of this season of Advent. The waiting. The darkness. The need to linger in the season with a sense of mindfulness.

To be honest, I want to shop with reckless abandon and find fun toys for my grandchildren. I want to bake all manner of Christmas cookie. I want to decorate every corner of my house, and if I had my way, ours would be one of those houses that people drive by at night to see all the twinkling lights.

But on that outdoor winter wonderland, I definitely do not have my way. My husband’s days of hanging lights on the gutters, placing a Santa on the roof, and wrapping the trees in tiny, twinkling lights are over. He has happily passed out of that season of his life.

For me, yesterday was baking day, and I made a new discovery about mindfulness and cookie baking. The two activities pair well. Dropping cookie dough by the spoonful onto a baking sheet is slow work. It gives one time to ponder. And pondering a is a good thing to do in Advent days. Good lesson learned, with the added bonus of having 200 cookies in the house!

While dropping cookies, one by one onto an old, scratched up baking pan, I pondered. Some thoughts hinted at my inner sadness. Other thoughts were of friends who are very ill and are walking this Advent journey in darkness. Other friends have lost people in their lives, and on this day, they find themselves in mourning.

As I do in most Decembers, I find myself, along with others in my family, feeling the sadness of having lost my youngest brother, Pete, to cancer. It happened many years ago, yet the hurt remains.

No doubt, this Advent journey can be a tender time. Yet we journey into the days ahead, not with a spirit of despair, but with a glimmer of hope. Even in the darkness, we begin to awaken, knowing that something new will be born in us just as it has every Advent. This is the season when we wash our faces and rub our sleepy eyes until we wake up, eyes wide open to the Light that sleeps in a manger.

Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

— Luke 2:19 New International Version (NIV)

Like her, I am spending my Advent days pondering — moving in mindfulness while holding tender feelings, heart longings, mourning in the soul.

And, of course, I’m waiting in the darkness. But I know, without a doubt, that light will shine. It always does.

 

Celebrate!

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New Faces of Congress!  Top row (L>R) Deb Haaland, Rashida Tlaib, Judge Veronica Escobar, Jahanna Hayes;   Bottom row (L>R) Ayanna Pressley, Sharice Davids, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Some voters hoped for a Blue Wave, others a Red Wave. There wasn’t much of a wave on either side of the aisle, at least not the enormous wave they wanted to see. What we did see was a Women’s Wave, at least 117 women elected on Tuesday, 100 Democrats and 17 Republicans. Now that is something to celebrate! Here’s the scoop, by the numbers:

  • Of the 117 women elected, 42 are women of color, and at least three are L.G.B.T.Q.
  • With some ballots still being counted, women have so far claimed 96 of the House’s 435 seats (it is expected to rise to 100), up from the current 84.
  • At least 12 women won Senate seats, which will bring the total in that chamber to at least 22 (that number is expected to rise by two), of the 100 seats that exist. There are now 23 women.
  • Women won nine governorships, of 50 total. Six women currently serve.
  • Overall, at least 10 more Congressional seats will be occupied by women than before.

On a night to remember and celebrate, here is what some of the women who made history said in their victory speeches:

“When it comes to women of color candidates, folks don’t just talk about a glass ceiling; what they describe is a concrete one. But you know what breaks through concrete? Seismic shifts.” 

  • Ayanna Pressley, who will become the first African-American woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress. She beat a 10-term incumbent in the Democratic primary and vowed to pursue “activist leadership” to advance a progressive agenda.

“We have the opportunity to reset expectations about what people think when they think of Kansas. We know there are so many of us who welcome everyone, who see everyone and who know that everyone should have the opportunity to succeed.”

  • Sharice Davids, a former White House fellow, is a lesbian; she and fellow Democrat Debra Haaland of New Mexico are the first Native-American women elected to Congress.

“In my family, there were no girl chores or boy chores. There’s just things to get done. So that’s what we’re going to do. I’ve got some big plans for this state.”

  • Kristi Noem, a Republican, will be the first female governor of South Dakota. She’s a four-term congresswoman who campaigned on her conservative record and her experience working on her family’s farm.

“We launched this campaign, because in the absence of anyone giving a clear voice on the moral issues of our time, then it is up to us to voice them.” 

  • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat from New York, became the youngest woman elected to Congress at age 29. She has never held elected office, and like Ms. Pressley, she defeated a white man who had served 10 terms in a Democratic primary.

So there you have it — a real occasion for celebration. No doubt, these women will re-shape America’s leadership. If you know women at all, you know that they often work harder, work longer, work with a passion that changes the world.

Congratulations and God speed to each of them. 

To the new faces of leadership: We applaud you. We celebrate you. We’re proud of you. We’re holding you in the light. We’re counting on you.

 

 

Statistics in this blog are from Maya Salam, published in a special post-election edition of The New York Times Gender Letter.

 

 

 

In the Light We Will Stand

 

1A6BB78E-B362-4076-8D9A-0F7A98F8B40A“I have perfect attendance pins for Sunday School going back thirty years, and until last week, I never knew that the Bible told the story of someone who had been raped.”

I have heard similar comments many times when preaching from my book about Biblical women, “Voices of Our Sisters.” The truth is that Scriptural passages like those described by Phillis Trible in “Texts of Terror” are not your Mama’s Bible stories. We don’t teach them in our classes and we definitely do not preach on them in church. The stories of violence against women in the Bible are as hushed as the stories of abused women today. Shame on us.

It was one year ago that The New York Times published an investigative article about how Harvey Weinstein had for decades paid off acusers of sexual harassment. 

“Culturally, the article hit like a meteor,” writes Maya Salam in The New York Times Gender Letter, “drastically altering the landscape around how sexual misconduct is perceived, sending the #MeToo hashtag viral and, in turn, triggering an avalanche of accusations against powerful men. It wasn’t long before #MeToo wasn’t just a turn of phrase — it was a movement.”

RAINN*, the country’s largest anti-sexual assault network, experienced a 30 percent increase in calls to the National Sexual Assault Hotline since the current #MeToo resurgence, and last Friday — the day after Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee — was the busiest day in the hotline’s 24-year history.

The women of this nation will not forget Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Women who have been harmed by sexual violence will revere her for her courage. Because our courage, survivors all, has often been small and our fear very large. We know that people will not believe our stories of abuse, and that instead they will blame us for bringing our terrible stories to light.

We will not forget Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, and we will remember Tarana Burke who first spoke #MeToo in 2007 to let young women of color who survive sexual assault know that they are not alone.

We will remember Alyssa Milano and her Tweet that reached dozens of countries and millions of people — over 1.7 million tweets included the hashtag “#MeToo,” and 85 countries had at least 1,000 #MeToo tweets.

So we join hands with those who understand us, hold on tightly, and speak our truth, because we need to move from darkness to light.

And in the light we will stand, hearts and spirits lighter because we have spoken our terror aloud. C47C1264-7179-455D-AA1A-6DF17B4673F8

In the light we will stand, even though staying in silence’s darkness would be easier. 

In the light we will stand, even as the people around us cling stubbornly to their darkness that screams out to us, “We will not hear you!”

In the light we will stand because that’s the only way to survive.

 

* RAINN — Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network

 

 

 

Beauty. Serenity. And a Spark of the Divine

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Loon Park on Arkansas’ Lake Maumelle. Photography by Steven Nawojczyk. Entitled “Beauty. Serenity.”

In the middle of the natural beauty of Arkansas, my friend took a photograph and entitled it “Beauty. Serenity.” It prompted me to ponder that for a few moments.

Beauty. Serenity.

I wondered what in my life brings beauty and serenity to me and to those around me. The questions trickled through my mind slowly as I tried to place qualitative and quantitative strictures on beauty and serenity. (As if one could really quantify the whole of what beauty is or see pure serenity through a human lens.) My quest to try to interpret beauty and serenity went on into the night and into the rise of a new day. Still I could not nail it down. It is as elusive as a butterfly in flight, defying explanation.

As for beauty, it seems to be something I can see, something I can look at and see what lies beneath shapes and colors and texture and form. It is when something I see takes on life, and in it, I see a spark of the Divine.

To truly see beauty, I must intentionally expose myself to it and to its full potential. The blossom of a flower. The trees in a verdant forest. The ocean waves moving gently upon the shore. The sparkle of a flowing stream. The majesty of a range of mountains and the vibrant green of a valley.

In each of these visual images, I might very well see a spark of the Divine. But I must first look, and see, and linger before such beauty long enough to see its depth. I must look into a blossom and into the leaves of a forest. I must gaze upon the glory of a mountaintop and walk slowly through a valley of green. I must sit at the edge of the sea and watch the waves greet the shore.

And then there’s serenity, the state of being that always seems to escape me. Serenity is the peaceful sense of calm that envelops a person’s soul and spirit. But I must first allow it, embrace it, and welcome it. When I can do that — and I readily admit that I seldom can — the spark of the Divine I will see most clearly is the light of the spark within myself. I love the wonderfully positive affirmation written by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee.

We have in us a divine spark that you can see. It’s a Light that shines in the human being. It’s our direct access to truth, our direct access to God. The purpose of all the spiritual practices that exist are to awaken that spark, to give it life, to give it energy, so that it can transform you. 

God, I would be transformed. Awaken that spark within me, so that its light will become a part of my very soul, Enliven in me the spark that brings transformation to every part of me that yearns for your Divine impulse.

The spark of the Divine is beauty and serenity all at once. It is in the moments that stop us in our tracks that we can truly see the beauty around us and within us.

It is in those unforgettable moments of life’s splendor, when we allow serenity to fully embrace us in gentle arms of peace, that we finally know deep rest.

It is when beauty and serenity link arms to surround us that we can truly know the spark of the Divine within. I recognize that spark, ever so often, in just a handful of my best moments. Even for that seldom-experienced grace, I am most thankful. 

So I wish for you the same kind of grace, that you might see beauty, know serenity, and visualize, within yourself, the spark of the Divine. The blessing I leave with you is best expressed by the 14th Century Persian poet, Hafiz.

I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in the darkness, the astonishing light of your own being.

 

 

 

 

 

Deep Peace

F1E55829-D720-4AA8-95D8-4777BD7A8562Two of my dear family members are carrying a heavy weight in their workplace. I watch them struggle week after week, carrying oppressive burdens. Both love their work and are dedicated to it. Both speak well of their co-workers. Both take on more responsibility than they should. Neither of them see an end to the high level of work they must accomplish. I can sense their need for comfort and healing, for rest and peace.

I have wondered what the solution might be. What is it that could make their existence more tolerable? What is it that could mitigate their stress and ease their chaotic spirits?

I believe that their need is for peace. Not just run-of-mill, ordinary peace. But deep peace that goes down into the very depths of the tumultuous spirit. They need deep peace, even while trapped in the midst of chaos, even when the tasks before them are overwhelming.

Deep peace is what makes life tolerable, even if we find ourselves in the center of chaos. To be sure, in this life, in these days, we will know chaos. Chaos can come with work stress and overachieving. Chaos can come with hurtful relationships, with financial stress, with aging, with illness, with divorce, with abuse, addiction, violence in the home. Chaos is very painfully real. It engulfs us when we experience life trauma of any kind.

We need deep peace.

But acknowledging the need for peace is definitely not the same as being filled with it. How in the world does one find peace when all around things are falling apart? It’s a fair question. It’s a question many of us have asked when yearning for even a brief moment of peace.

So it’s worth asking yourself the question: what is it that swirls around my life and robs my peace? What chaotic frenzy am I facing every day? What turmoil assails my life and wounds my spirit?

I wish I could say that I have a no-fail solution. I wish that I could declare for you the end of turmoil and the advent of deep peace. I wish I could proclaim the definitive answer for you, and for myself. But I cannot. I can say what I always say, knowing that people who desperately need peace might hear just empty words. Still, this is all I have: the promise of Scripture and a heartfelt blessing.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition . . . present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

— Philippians 4:6-7 (New International Version)

Finding your own path to deep peace may be a challenging path, a journey of winding and confusing roads. But it is a journey out of turmoil, and it is a journey worth taking. It is a journey that leads to serenity and peace. And when you have found deep peace dwelling within your spirit, your soul will rejoice and finally find its rest. With deep peace, you will experience fresh signs of hope, a faith reborn and renewed, and a refreshing shower of grace, grace for the present moment and for the days to come.

With my hope and prayer that you will find deep peace, please accept the words of this Gaelic Blessing, a benediction of peace:

Deep peace of the running wave to you,
Deep peace of the flowing air to you,
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you,
Deep peace of the shining stars to you,
Deep peace of the gentle night to you,
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you,
Deep peace of Christ, of Christ,
Of Christ the light of the world to you,

Deep peace of Christ to you.

— A Gaelic blessing

I invite you to listen to this video* of a choral performance of John Rutter’s beautiful music set to the adapted text of this ancient Gaelic Blessing. It is performed by the Cambridge Singers and the City of London Sinfonia. Conducted by John Rutter.

* This video features stunning photography as well as two painted versions of “The Light of the World” by artist William Holman Hunt. 

 

 

 

The Light Behind Me

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Photo by Łukasz Łada

At the risk of being too dramatic, I must say that on some days, my path seems dark. Whether caused by chronic pain, illness, or other challenges, I sometimes walk through patches of darkness — often immense patches of darkness that seem to go on forever. Dark thoughts about an uncertain future can flood my mind.

Much wiser persons than I have made sense about the veil of darkness that often covers our lives. Francis Bacon left us with these words:

In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present.

— Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

It is the dramatic contrast between darkness and light that leaves us perplexed. We can feel the promise of light on one day, and on the next, darkness prevails. So often, it is the darkness that wins the day, having its way with us. But then there is this thing we call faith.

Faith, we recall, is something that Jesus tried to explain over and over again to his disciples. They couldn’t quite get it. And like those twelve, we don’t quite get it either, that “faith” is at once simple and complex, available yet impossibly unattainable. At best, faith can be elusive.

But getting back to me on this dark day, here is a brief personal anecdote. I have my dialysis treatments for seven and a half hours every night. My dialysis machine has a screen that lights up in our dark bedroom. I have to read the screen at times during the night, and that troublesome screen shines in my eyes so intensely that I cannot see anything else in front of me.

That mundane daily experience teaches me that the most effective light in a dark place is not the light in my eyes that blinds me, rather it is the light behind me.

The light behind me stirs the depths of my soul, because I know that God’s light truly is behind me as I travel this journey. To know that the Light will guide my way is to again find my faith, in spite of illness, in spite of pain and suffering, in spite of uncertainty.

We uncover the holy mystery and the divine promise in the living words of Scripture.

The people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.

— Matthew 4:16 New International Version (NIV)

I do not know how it all happens, that this Scripture comes to life within me and gives me life. I do not understand a God that can find me in every dark place. I do not comprehend the miracle that shines light behind me in the middle of my darkest days. I do not understand how a light can dawn “in the land of the shadow of death.”

But I do know that my fickle faith transforms at times into something solid and steadfast, comforting and constant.

Light behind me, I think.

Thanks be to God.

Looking into the Sky

C6F419F0-5C81-4A26-B890-76C7BCD762FCFor Christians around the world, the end of the Christmas holiday occurs on Epiphany, the 12th Day of Christmas. It commemorates how a star led the Magi, or the three kings or wise men, to the baby Jesus. Epiphany is about finding Jesus — again — in a fresh new way, looking into the light that has the power to change our lives.

In his homily on Friday before Epiphany, Pope Francis called on the faithful to be like the Magi, who, he said, continued to look at the sky, took risks and set out bearing gifts for Christ.

If we want to find Jesus, we have to overcome our fear of taking risks, our self-satisfaction and our indolent refusal to ask anything more of life. We need to take risks simply to meet a child. Those risks are immensely worth the effort, since in finding that child, in discovering his tenderness and love, we rediscover ourselves.

Looking into the sky and taking risks is a way of life for women. We have found the need to look up, above the hurts of our lives. We have looked into the sky to escape misogyny, discrimination, disrespect and abuse. We have looked into the sky to search the heavens for hope when we have felt only despair.

It has not been for us just a flighty inclination to retreat from unpleasant realities through fantasy. Instead our sky gazing has been a way to pour our souls into the kind of change that makes life worth living. We have dreamed improbable dreams. We have been wise. We have been brave and persistent. We have taken risks and defied whatever was holding us hostage. We have been determined emboldened and empowered.  We have been inspired and ennobled. We have changed our world.

Like the three Wise Men, we journeyed, wise women in search of the child that would more fully empower us. Our desire and longing led us, like a fire burning within, until we found the flaming star in the night sky. And there we found Jesus —  again. So we celebrated. We rejoiced, because Jesus wanted for us a new day, a new life of respect and well-being and inspiration and hope. That is epiphany. Amen.

Life’s Darkest Place

IMG_5929Sometimes, the heart cries out in anguish, “Comfort me, God, in this my life’s darkest place.” There are times when all of us find ourselves in the midst of darkness. Almost despairing, we hope beyond hope for a new dawn. We speak our prayers, often with groanings too deep for words. We look deeper within, hoping that in the depths of our spirits, we will find an enduring faith. We turn to the comfort of Scripture.

If I had to choose one passage of Scripture that has been for me a source of constant comfort, I would turn to Second Corinthians.

In times of betrayal, I turned to this passage. In times times when I felt persecuted, I turned to this passage. In serious illness, I whispered the words of this passage in the deepest darkness of the night.

We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;
Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed . . .

For all things are for our good, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.

For which cause we faint not; but though outwardly we may perish, inwardly we are renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works within us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;

So we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporary; but the things which are not seen are eternal.

– From II Corinthians 4 (paraphrased)

I can only imagine how many survivors of the recent natural disasters have spoken the words of this passage, prayerfully and with hearts disconsolate. I can imagine many of them crying out from what feels like life’s darkest place. The hymn writer expresses so eloquently the presence of hope for all of us who find ourselves languishing, inviting us to bring our sorrows to the mercy seat of God.

Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish,
Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel.
Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish;
Earth has no sorrow that heav’n cannot heal.

– Thomas Moore, 1816

May those who are disconsolate this day find consolation in the lavish grace of God. May those who languish find respite in God’s never-ending mercy. May those who are suffering in what feels like life’s darkest place experience the brilliance of a new dawn. Amen.

 

A Perfect World?

IMG_5924When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.

– Buddha

Perfect is not a word I would use to describe the world. Ominous storms, wildfires, demonstrations of hate, violence, terrorism, threats of deportation, leaders devoid of compassion, homelessness, war, refugees seeking safe haven and shelter . . . This is just a partial description of the world we call our own. So perfect is but a dream. And yet, it is perhaps our calling to expend ourselves creating a more perfect world.

Today, my friend Elaine posted this passage on her wonderful blog, “The Edge.”

Learn where there is wisdom, where there is strength, where there is understanding, so that you may at the same time discern where there is length of days, and life, where there is light for the eyes, and peace.

– Baruch 3:14

The wisdom in these words prompted a time of contemplation for me. I pondered the refreshing possibility of finding “length of days, life, light and peace.” Sounds like getting closer to a perfect world.

In these unsettling days, that is the kind of world we long for, the kind of life we desperately want. And yet we find that at times we are crying out for peace, and there simply is no peace.

Baruch’s words present us with a task, a rather difficult task to be sure, but one that leads to the goodness of life we seek. Baruch’s wisdom calls for us to learn, to increase our ability for discernment. And most importantly, Baruch proclaims our critical need to discover where we might find wisdom, strength and understanding.

My world is filled with incessant voices — politicians, governmental leaders, media personalities, newscasts that include everyone who has an opinion on every possible subject. Certainly, I have the choice to turn off the news and listen to soothing music on Pandora. And I do that frequently.

But the state of the world is so volatile that I am compelled daily to be aware of what is going on. In fact, that is a part of my personal mission — to know what is going on and to respond by making my voice heard advocating for justice and compassion. Which is exactly the reason it is so important to “learn where there is wisdom, where there is strength, where there is understanding.”

So may we all create moments when we can silence the incessant voices and instead enter into quiet times of solitude, contemplation and prayer. That is what we can do for a very imperfect world that seems to be falling apart. In the process, we will more clearly hear the voices that lift hope high before us. In that holy space where hope abides with us, we will find “length of days, and life . . . light for the eyes and peace.”

Tikkun Olam is a lovely jewish concept defined by acts of kindness performed to heal the world, to perfect or repair the world. The phrase is found in the Mishnah and is often used when discussing issues of social justice, insuring compassion and care for persons who are oppressed.

Tikkun Olam! Heal the world! This is our highest calling.

Is it even possible to create a perfect world? Maybe not. But shouldn’t we envision it, work for it, pray for it, ennobled by God to return our world into the perfect creation of God?

May God guide us in making it so.

 

(Visit my friend Elaine’s blog at https://theedgeishere.wordpress.com/2017/09/08/contemplative2017-wisdom-4/)