Little By Little in Life

FB TornadoWe live about 200 yards away from where the 200 yard wide Farmers Branch tornado touched down early Sunday morning.  Great trees that provided shade fell, creating opportunity for homeowners to rearrange or start over again where the loss occurred.  My walk through the neighborhood yesterday let me see the various responses from neighbors who were outside cleaning up.  I was impressed by the person who expressed anxiety about the cost of the damage along with gratitude for a chance to get new fence and do something different with that flowerbed.

Reconciling these paradoxical feelings requires a wide angled lens that allows them to exist without trying resolve the conflict they may create.  I am unable to wrap my mind around the inner workings of a 200-yard wide natural phenomenon, even after seeing its path firsthand. So, expending my energy wondering how people should feel or respond under such circumstances doesn’t seem to be very helpful.GIving Smile

Instead, I asked the man if I can help him move a heavy piece of fence to the side of the road for pick up.  After moving a couple of pieces, l continued my walk.  As I left, there was no handshake, just an exchange of smiles, which felt more powerful than any words I could have offered. The half smile we both exhibited allowed both of us to feel a sense the gratitude that naturally arises when we are able to carry one another’s load for just a brief moment.

 Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

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Published in: on May 26, 2015 at 8:00 am  Leave a Comment  

A Memorial Day Prayer: Offered at the 2015 City of Irving, Texas’ Service

Gracious and Ever Giving God,

Irving Memorial ParkOn this Memorial Day, we pause to reflect upon our blessings as a nation and the high cost of those blessings. We offer our prayers of thanks and intercession, remembering the many brave men and women who gave their lives throughout the history of our country to protect us from harm. We salute each person who served our country on our behalf. We particularly remember those who sustained injury in mind and/or body in the course of their service.Service to Country

Thank you for the freedom we enjoy, for opportunities to flourish, and for the security of our land. Thank you for those who have risked their lives for liberty: both for citizens of this land and for the sake of those in other lands who are straining to be free from all tyranny so they may realize the fullness of life, unfettered liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

VietnamMemorialwallWe pray for the families and friends of those who have given their lives. May they be comforted in their sadness. May they be reassured the sacrifice of their loved ones contributes to a worthy cause. May they entrust their ultimate fate into your gracious hands.

Thank you for a day set apart, for celebration and its solemn remembrance; considering the sacrifices of many. Make us more aware of how blessed we are as a nation, may our gratitude cause us to be more faithful stewards of your gifts, particularly the least and the last of your children.PrayforPeace

We know ultimate peace will not come until your kingdom is here in all of its fullness. Nevertheless, we pray for a foretaste of the future. We ask for the growth of peace throughout our world today, so that fewer men and women will have to risk and sacrifice their lives. This is our pray offer in the name of the Holy One who is both merciful and just! Amen.

God Breathes Gently Acts 2: 1-21

what_nowHas the wonder of Easter worn off? It has been seven weeks since we declared with bold voices: “He is risen, He is risen indeed” It was 50 days ago when we invited everyone to sing the Hallelujah Chorus; relishing in the Easter miracle, like the end of a great play. He has risen, now what? The early followers of Jesus may have felt some of this same confusion. The story wasn’t over, but they couldn’t have known things were just getting started. Though Jesus stayed with his followers for a few weeks, fifty days later they were left alone to sort out what to do next.

Fifty days later, things got interesting with a fantastical scene as people, including Jesus followers, gathered for the Jewish High Holy day of Shavuot. What people experienced on that day stretched their language to the point of poetic hyperbole. They said the arrival of the Spirit was so palpable it was like a mighty rushing wind filling the entire room. Everyone’s presence was transformed in such a way it was like fire had fallen onto their heads and their words broke through the walls and into the streets.

Anyone run for cover during the weather last night, spending some family time in the bathroom or closet? Folks in Van, Mineral Wells and other parts of North Texas have heard a sound like the rush of a violent wind filling the entire room. Sadly, the chaos resulted in destruction and even death for some while others nearby were spared. As storms passed over our house last night, I thought of Pentecost; a preacher is never fully off work.Spring Storm

I wondered if the first Pentecost was like a spring storm? Were the people assaulted by the Spirit like a tornado that caused them to run and hide under desks with their hands over their heads to shield them from the chaos? That makes Pentecost a terrifying scene and perhaps it was a knee bender in more than one way. Fear and trembling isn’t what we usually associate with the Pentecost experience, more like joy and wonder.

My youthful experience with the Holy Spirit consisted of a baptized version of my conscience; acting like a cartoon angel sitting on my shoulder telling me what is right and wrong. Reading this story as an adult caused me to wonder if I was missing something of the Spirit. This happens when we read of the crazy, tangible, and active stuff God does in the Bible. This Good Book is so full of color and fire and God’s tactile presence, that includes the breaking open the Red Sea, the voice of God thundering from Sinai, a small band of trumpets knocking down city walls, heavenly fire cast down to destroy false Gods, not forgetting resurrections from the dead.

jumpDo we expect to witness the Spirit doing fantastic things? Surely, each one of us must wonder if we will ever see the things we read in the Bible happen under this roof? We want to be present when 5000 people are fed as five loaves and two fish are multiplied. We would love to witness the faith of the ill making them well and literally see the blind regain their sight. We’re not sure if those things still happen. Thus, a spirit of resignation has fallen on Christ’s 21st century church, though we still believe and pray. We continue to come weekly and confess these things that happened so long ago are true, yet we’re unsure if they’ll happen ever in our lifetime.

I admit, the story of Pentecost is a bit insane. Let us not allow it to become a foreign account of strangeness that happened long ago. The Spirit isn’t confined to the past, only offered in this story as a memory of the glory days when God was close enough to touch and see. Pentecost didn’t just happen back then for those people. We didn’t come the morning to only remember something in history. We came wondering can it happen again.witness a miracle

God hasn’t changed nor left us alone with only stories from an old book of the way things were when God was obviously more present and active. Pentecost can happen here and now in our midst. We can live the story that began long ago by becoming a part of it. We know the Pentecost story not just because we read it each year from Acts 2. We know the story of Pentecost because at a point in our lives God broke in and changed us by the pulsing of the Spirit through our hearts. The Spirit showed up in our lives and we embraced it; realizing it had been there all along.

John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” is considered his masterpiece. It stands as one of his most important achievements in all genres of music. Coltrane’s liner notes on the album reveal his intention to offer the song and album as a humble offering, a way of telling God thank you. Earlier in his life, he had lost his job with the Miles Davis Band because of his battles with alcohol and heroin. His own words declare God saved him. So he records “Love Supreme” as a prayer with his sax and his ensemble.

John-Coltrane-A-Love-Supreme-LPThe motif of God’s love is interpreted musically in a repeated riff that he plays in all twelve keys of his instrument. Coltrane concludes his solo and quietly begins to chant, “A love supreme … a love supreme,” singing the same four notes played by his bassist. After chanting “A love supreme” sixteen times it slowly tapers off, knowing they had expressed God’s love in every voice they could conceive. There was nowhere God’s love didn’t get the last word according to Coltrane. Persons of little faith speak how; “A Love Supreme” has let them have a glimpse of God.

How would a self-penned essay describe our faith journey? Many of us don’t think of our faith in terms of Pentecost. Though, we grew up in a tradition that valued the unlikely conversion of a drug-addict-turned-preacher or the atheist-turned-apologist. Yet, our experiences don’t align to that kind of salvation drama. We came to faith more subtly, like waking or standing up. Our spark caught fire after years of stoking. The slow train of faith took us to the right place, but sometimes we feel our faith story lacks pizzazz because there was no fire and thunder blasting from the clouds.

Yet, we might write in our faith essay that God breathed gently and spoke to us in a whisper; no, not in thunderous voice and as loud as a rushing wind. Sometimes the Spirit is gentle, it’s as light as breath. There is not a formula for the way God’s Spirit shows up. We can’t put it in the order of worship- Greeting, Scripture Reading; Spirit Anoints Church, Chaos Ensues, followed by a wonderful Organ Postlude.God in Bottle

We wish we could put the Spirit experience in a Mason jar with a tight lid, and then seal it. Then we could open it up when we need a divinity jolt. We wish we could tie the Spirit up on the front porch and peek out the kitchen window every once in a while to make sure it was still there. But, God’s Spirit is wild and unpredictable and cannot be contained. While sometimes it may come as a mighty wind, there are many other times it alights lightly on our hearts, so gently we barely feel it but it is a real spiritual experience.

A question threads itself through the Bible: “Is God with us?” The way the question is answered changes throughout history. Let me suggest a more important question, “Do we intentionally look for God who is always with us?” God is with us! Let us pay closer attention, so we might see the majesty of God in the grandeur of a new day. Look, God is holding our hand as we trek through a desert time in our lives. Open our heart and feel the joy of dancing with the Holy One as we cooperate with God and partner with other persons being the hands and feet of Christ on earth. Can we feel the gentle wind of God warm our hearts on this Pentecost Sunday?

Breathe SpiritThe word for Spirit in all languages is wind of breath. God isn’t far; God is as close as our breathing in and out. We have never been alone, because the God who threw out the stars and spun out the universe also breathed life into all things, including our own souls. Exhale deeply, and then inhale; every breath we take is the Spirit of God enlivening our spirit. This will continue until we breathe our last breath on earth, which will become our eternal breathe. In the meantime, breathe; God’s Spirit is as close on this Pentecost Sunday as it was on the first Pentecost Day.

Love Never Fails: John Coltrane

John-Coltrane-A-Love-Supreme-LPJohn Coltrane “A Love Supreme” is considered his masterpiece. It stands as one of his most important achievements in all genres of music. Coltrane’s liner notes on the album reveal his intention to offer the song and album as a humble offering, a way of telling God thank you. Earlier in his life, he had lost his job with the Miles Davis Band because of his battles with alcohol and heroin. His own words declare God saved him. So he goes record “Love Supreme” as a prayer with his sax and his ensemble.

The motif of God’s love is interpreted musically in a repeated riff that he plays in all twelve keys his instrument. Coltrane concludes his solo and quietly begins to chant, “A love supreme … a love supreme,” singing the same four notes played by his bassist. After chanting “A love supreme” sixteen times it slowly tapers off, knowing they had expressed God’s love in every voice they could conceive. There was nowhere God’s love didn’t get the last word according to Coltrane. Persons of little faith speak how; “A Love Supreme” has let them have a glimpse of God.

Published in: on May 23, 2015 at 7:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Decluttering Our Lives

CLUTTERWe are to be householders who bring out from their household things both old and new” (Matthew 13:52). This allows Jesus to be a “winnowing fan” that separates the grain from the chaff in our faithful practices and traditions (Matthew 3:12). This doesn’t mean religious practices are all “grain” and the outsiders are all “chaff.” Laying all things before the gracious Spirit of Christ will broaden our love for God and neighbor, fostering a greater eagerness to expand the reach of our arms of love.

It all starts with a willingness to set aside what is old and unneeded; dying is an essential part of living. Yet, we have a tendency to resist change and fight off death, by propping up our unhealthy love affairs with our small and comfortable traditions. This is our way to maintain the status quo, which we all question in our more honest moments of living. Yet, letting go is a rare pattern for the human condition and even more so in the history of formal religion.hold lightly

We can know the deeper love of God and neighbor if we will release the old, so the new can enter. We must be willing to cultivate a life of contemplation that enable us to see with clarity what is real in our lives and what is not. Intentional introspection discards that which is passing, merely trending, or even destructive, so it can embrace that which is enduring and eternal.

Once our eyes are open, we can see our way so we might take courageous steps of faith away from those former ways and head ‘down’ into the well of God’s love. The deeper we fall, the more our hearts will be filled with greater love of God and neighbor. Over time, we find ourselves willing to go to new places, so we might meet new people, sharing that which we have received, a Fountain of Love that never runs dry.well_spring

The Wrong Way May be the Right Way

great-reversalThere are two approaches to spiritual life. We can exclude and triumph over the negative parts, leading us to a kind of heroic spirituality based on willpower and achievement. But if we are honest, what we are really doing is excluding the dark side that we don’t want to look at, or the people we don’t want to deal with.

Instead, we can integrate the negative–forgiving and accepting the imperfection, agreeing with Paul the supposed inferior is “the most indispensable.” We won’t strive to remain “innocent (the word means “unwounded”)  because the way toward resurrection and universal life is through Christ’s grace that is always sufficient.

Grace is Sufficient

Thanks R. Rohr!

Let Go: Jochabed Style Exodus 2: 1-10

Profiles_in_CourageCourage shows up in health workers who put themselves in harm’s way to treat infectious disease. Courage shows up in persons who champion causes in the face of personal consequences. Courage shows up in a person who faces illness with more composure than I could imagine. Courage shows up in persons who honestly, but lovingly critique their own tradition. I could mention many you who are courageous in what you do. Thanks to God for the ways you are faithfully courageous in this Body.

We’re living in a day that requires persons of the church to move beyond letting our actions do the talking to becoming more courageously invested in what is needed for the living of these days. The day calls for “moral grandeur and spiritual audacity” says Rabbi Herschel. It requires willingness to courageously plunge headfirst into some unknowns.

The older we become the more conscious we are of missed opportunities. We think of how little it would have taken to move beyond business as usual. There were risks we weren’t willing to take for a variety of reasons. Please, don’t unfairly imagine how happiness was missed by seconds. Missed chances are simply chances to grow our courage for the next time.opportunity

Jochabed, the mother of Moses is thought of as a minor biblical character, yet she plays a major role in Hebrew history because of her courage. This profile of courage can be helpful as we think about implementing our HCI prescriptions. Great courage will be needed in the days ahead.

Pharaoh orders the killing of the male Hebrew infants. Jochabed, desperate to save her son, fashions a basket, daubs it with pitch, and puts the child in it. She takes him to the Nile and stands in the river with her feet in the mud and her face ravaged by grief. She gives the basket a bearing as her son is nudged into the current. Love gave her the courage to not love her child so much she couldn’t protect or save him. Pharaoh’s daughter finds the child and Jochabed is called to serve as his nurse. (go figure) In the moment we’ve freeze-framed, she doesn’t know that. In that moment, Jochabed is courageous, trusting what she loves most into a current she can’t control.

Leslie-Harris-JochebedOur desire to be in control comes naturally. Doing what Jochabed did doesn’t come natural. Those ancient Hebrew families who felt threatened at the prospect of male infants being slaughtered would have hunkered down. We hold to essentials, which are certain and jettison the extraneous in uncertain times. We say function over form; or change the structure, not the content. Jochabed exhibits a counter-intuitive wisdom: courageously letting go of the child she loved into the current of God’s hand in history.

Jesus looked for forms of faith that were counter-intuitive in his day. He admonished those who worshipped him, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father.” To those who projected too much onto him he said, “Why do you call me good? Only God is good.” Jesus said to Mary in the garden, who only wanted to feel his personal touch again, “Don’t hold on to me.” Saying this is not how you will know me. These are hints that suggest there are some faith practices according to Jesus that needs to be released.

Letting go of what we’ve loved most, trusting our future into God’s hands is a great image for this day. Jochabed can be our model, as we consider letting go of things we love and trusting something better is ahead.christos kurios

There’s no permutation of history in which Christ isn’t present. The eternal Word became flesh to tell us Christ is always present in each aspect of our human lives despite any degree of swirling circumstances. Christ is still Lord even if every Bible is lost. Christ is still Lord even if every church closes. Christ is still Lord even if last believer stops believing. God’s hand is still active both with and without the things we love most. We can trust Christ’s Spirit in this Body of Christ to show us the way into our future through his palpable and saving presence in our letting go.

We could all say amen to letting go those things that hold us back and say we look forward to our future and head to Sunday lunch. Business as usual gives a nod to nice thoughts heard in church on Sunday. I want to invite us to make personal this eternal truth to the circumstances of our lives and church. Today, let us be very specific: What do I need to let go so I can join God in reshaping First Church, Irving so the next generation and me will have a place that shines the light of the world into our world?hold lightly

This may mean holding lightly to some of our assumptions; so we can be set free from lesser matters we obsessively focus on each day. Let us not hold so tightly to faithless worry created by our need to protect something that may not need saving. Let us quit wearing ourselves out collecting resources to perpetuate activities we fear if they disappear we’ve failed.

All shall be well” Julian of Norwich could say, not because God “fixes” all things but because all things are God’s and God is alive and well. I invite my fellow Jochabeds with heavenly courage let go into the current what is precious but no longer needed. It will come back just as Moses ended up back in Jochabed’s arms. When it comes back, it may look differently, but this time we will hold it with new freedom that has less fear, which will produce a deeper joy. May God’s bless our letting go, so we may see our way into God’s appointed future for the sake of this church and community, which Christ loves as much, if not more than, we. Let go and Let Godlet-god

A Martian Sunset: Seeing Beyond What We Can See

Francis of Assisi must have known, at least intuitively, that there is only one enduring spiritual insight and everything else follows from it: “The visible world is an active doorway to the invisible world, and the invisible world is much larger than the visible.” A union of the material and the spiritual worlds exists beyond what we can see fully.  This is what the incarnation of “Christ” came to do for all who have limited vision.  Christ embodied both that which we could see and not see.  He was a prototype that married the visible and invisible together, teaching that ‘in Christ’ we can do the same.

Mars SunsetTake this sunset over Mars, finally for the first time, on Curiosity’s 956th solar Mars day — April 15, 2015, to all us Earthlings this capture lets us see the colors of Mars sunset.  We get a glimpse at what we have not seen fully until this day.  May it cause us to pay attention closer today so we might see beyond the visible, to real but yet seen world of the divine.

Published in: on May 13, 2015 at 7:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Things Mom Said-Proverbs 3: 5, 6

Mom BDI don’t know what makes one woman a good mother and another one of similar circumstance named not so good. I know every mother feels the mix of being both a good mother on some days, and often never good enough. They are like every person who shares the air on the planet; we are all a mix of mostly good who have a tendency to get in our own way.

I never fully appreciated the silver haired lady whose hair color caused motorist to stop, a claim my mom made often. I do know my mother loved me through adolescent years that surely caused her to question everything, including herself. She was a widow of two small children, doing a job with little thanks. We thanked her in small deeds like hand painted jars, when we were young and in easy words like, “You’re the greatest!”, as we grew older. The gratitude we expressed wasn’t the reason she thanklessly did all the things a good mother does for her children.

There’s no other force like the sway the love of a child has over a mother. Sophia says to Tara or Gigi, “I wuv’ you,” they melt. Chloe cuddles and Torie or Terri they cry. Olivia’s entrance into the world caused her family to drop what they were doing and come from all parts to welcome her into the world. Her aunt Lauren talked her boyfriend to flying her to Georgetown in his Cessna to see Olivia and her parents on Friday evening.GIrls are Home cropped

The depth of love a mother feels is why she stays upright in the bittersweet days of parenting that are filled with joy mixed with anguish. She knows the crushing impotence of watching a child travel alone paths that lead to the thrills of victory and agony of defeat that inevitably come. Sometimes, all a mother can do is offer words that become wiser as the child grows older.

This brings me to wiser words shared by my mother. The words seated in her soul were not her own words, but words that come from the Proverbs. One of the last gifts I bought had these words on it to say to her again, “I hear you mom”. Let me connect her guiding verse to her go to phrases and catch words, praying they cause us to recall the things our mothers say. I thank her grandchildren for helping me recall the things mom said.

Mom teachingTrust in the Lord with all your heart-My mom was a smart woman. Her head was filled with stories of history that guided her. She possessed a nimble mathematic mind for calculus and trigonometry. She had advance degrees early in adulthood and held tight to her value that a broad education was the key to life. She practiced what she preached, by saving so she could pay for both my sister and I to attend Baylor University.

My head was floating as I entered the thin air of university life, jumping straight from adolescence to the world of academia. Expectations changed quickly as professors raised the bar and I encountered a student body that was singularly focused. It felt like I had grown up overnight, except I didn’t have bills to pay and no responsibility for anyone other than myself.

I would come home and spat off what I was learning, She patiently listened because she was genuinely interested.  While wrestling with the new ideas she inserted a favorite sayings, “Don’t let your mind get ahead of your heart.” Trust in the Lord with all your heart. It was her way of saying no matter how many degrees I obtain; I must not forget my faith.

It’s likely, a mother or a mother like figure told you to trust in the Lord with all your heart. She knew what was going on in the heart is more valuable than what is in your head. She loved you so much she would often express her hope that your heart is being shaped by a faith that goes beyond what you can know. My mom said, “Don’t let your head get ahead of your heart.”Peace Out

Don’t rely on your own insight– Mom had an even temperament; she was born with it. There were times when she was frustrated; yet, she rarely expressed those feelings with words. She was slow to speak. When she felt something was just wrong her words of discontent were either “phooey or fiddlesticks”. It befuddled me how she could remain so low key in big moments with such benign words.

Then, I would hear these words from the Proverb loudly in my heart, “Lean not on your own understanding” citing the King James Version of the proverb. Though she was a smart, she didn’t need to comprehend all matters. Instead, she would look at what she couldn’t understand and say phooey or fiddlesticks, which translates, “Don’t rely on your own insight.”

We’re not all born with an even temperament. We have the cognitive ability and the spiritual sense to acknowledge limitations. We’re set up for failure when we’re solely dependent on our own insights. At times, we have to say phooey or fiddlesticks, which translates, “Don’t rely on your own insight.”

grandkids kissing sillyIn all your ways acknowledge God-Mom wanted to know her students, neighbors, and stranger alike. She went beyond asking ‘How are you?’ to ‘Who are you?’ Her interest in other persons came from genuinely wanting to connect with the person before her. Persons often commented how much she cared after meeting her for a few moments or knowing her for many years. Her care for others was her way of acknowledging God.

She connected to students who were unwed teenage moms, incarcerated youths in a drug rehab, and adults completing their High School education. She knew more than their names and the needed assignments they were to complete. She celebrated their accomplishments and cried when life set them back. She acknowledged God by acknowledging the persons who she served with the same love and interest she felt God bestowed on her.

I learned a phrase I never heard mom speak. We, along with three of our four children, were enjoying the patio last Sunday with our granddaughters too. The oldest, Lauren, has a new interest. Her sister asked his middle name. Lauren hesitated and was reminded what grandma said, “You don’t kiss until you know their middle name.”

Mom acknowledged God by relating to others the way she related to God, personally and intimately. She expected her family to do the same. This meant you don’t kiss until you know them (at least their middle name). We invest in knowing who others are, so our lives are enriched by their presence among us. In all our ways acknowledge God is translated, “You don’t kiss until you know their middle name.”Mom and Dad Wedding day

God will direct your path–Mom grew up poor but privileged. That meant her father and mother did not have much material wealth; working as a seamstress and gas station manager. They privileged their kids by so that my mom and uncle were afforded a good education. Though I am there were days my grandparents weren’t sure how they would make ends meet, yet they were a people of deep faith, sure God was directing their paths, regardless of what challenges they faced.

My mother was a widow at age 36. I was eight and my sister was four. In 1967, a widow faced hard choices. My father was a rising professional and the sole supporter of the family. Most widows her age remarried. Instead, Mom pushed forward, declaring to her children in word and deed God would direct our paths. Her understanding of these words was expressed in her own idiom to anyone facing uncertain days. She would say, “Life is a pendulum, it may swing one way, but it will swing back.”

We’re all poor but privileged. We know life brings its share of good and not so good days. We can let that which can makes us feel poor break us. Or, we can trust God is directing our paths, which can be translated, “Life is a pendulum, it may swing one way but it will swing back.”

Mom take up phones croppedThese are some of things my mom said. Let me tell you one thing she did any person can do on any day. The last time my mom was with her grandkids before the surgery, which she didn’t recover, she invited them to her apartment for game night. She greeted them with a basket; instructing them to place phones in it because she wanted their undivided attention that night. Mom knew the first rule of wisdom: Pay Attention. For eighty plus years she paid attention to the voice of God and to the lives of others. On this night she wanted the undivided attention of her grandchildren.

Mother’s Day is a chance to give others undivided attention in response to God’s undivided attention to our lives. A life of undivided attention better hears God say, “Trust in the Lord with all our heart, rely not on our own insight, but in all our ways acknowledge God and God will direct our paths.”

Happy Mother’s Day

Only Lovers Get God

Lovers at Cafe le FleurRichard Rohr starts another day:” ..much of the weakness of the first 2,000 years of reflection on our doctrines and dogmas is we’ve tried to understand them with a rational mind instead of through love, prayer, and participation itself. … In the end, only lovers seem to know what is going on inside of God. To all others, God remains an impossible, distant, … just like the stars and planets.”

Published in: on May 12, 2015 at 6:42 am  Leave a Comment  
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