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Gift…

I have a “keep it forever” box. In it are gifts. Drawings and early scribbles from my babies. Love letters. Notes from my students. Cards from friends. Bits and pieces of one’s heart placed lovingly on paper and given to me. To an insurance adjuster it is worthless. But to me, it is priceless.

Today my husband and I have been married for 24 years. I would like to give him a keep it forever something. Last year I said thank you for the gift he has been to me. I thought this year it might be time to give something back.

So baby, these are my gifts to you:

I give you the gift of being heard. Your hopes, your dreams, your worries and hurts, your stories and jokes, your Snapple facts 🙂 … Share these with me. I’m listening.

I give you the gift of belief. Belief in who you are and who you can be. Belief in endeavors you wish to pursue. Belief in you as husband, father and friend.

I give you the gift of shared adventures. Whether racing up some mountain, navigating strange foreign cultures, trying crazy new foods, running all night, or something so wild we have not dared to imagine it yet, these I share with you.

I give you the gift of kind words. Words to you and words about you. I promise to be your biggest fan. Not blind. Not oblivious to challenges or faults. But honest enough and intentional enough to choose to acknowledge all that is good and true about you, to you and to others.

I give you permission to speak. Permission to speak hard words to me when needed. I do not promise I won’t be hurt. Nor can I assure you I won’t lash out at you. But I say to you that I need your input in my life. So if you are courageous enough, and I believe you are, say on.

I give you permission to not speak. 🙂 I give you the gift of long silent hours shared on the porch, or the beach, or a run, without the need to say anything.

I give to you my vulnerability. My hopes and dreams, my fears and worries. Not so you can fix them. But so you can know me. I trust you with me.

I give you the gift of years. Years to know one another better. Years to add to the deep well of our shared experiences. Years of laughter and tears. Years of sunsets, and chocolate, and dinners with friends. Years of watching our children build lives of their own. Years of playing with grandchildren. Years of ripening and deepening and becoming.

Happy Anniversary, Mike. I love you!

P.S. The chocolates at the top of the post are yours as well. 😉

Coming Clean…

“The springtime of the Fast has dawned, the flower of repentance has begun to open…” 

I’m a reluctant housekeeper. This is not to say there are wild animals living in our home, or an accrual of partially empty food containers growing science experiments. Well, that might be hasty. I do have teenagers…

Most of the time, it takes the whole of my domestic skill just to stay ahead of the obvious piles. Dishes washed. Laundry dried and folded. But this week I am  dusting blinds, washing windows, and venturing behind furniture to battle dust bunnies (or in my case badgers). It’s “clean week” in the Orthodox Church. One of the accompanying traditions is a thorough cleansing of the home. It is another of the ways life and faith become delightfully, disturbingly tangled.

I drag chairs away from the walls and am astounded by spider webs, fuzzballs, filth. How many times have I sat comfortably in that chair with my nose in a book, completely oblivious to the  contamination?

Last night, during the Cannon of St. Andrew, a bit of furniture got dragged away from the walls. Putrid piles of pollution were exposed. In me. The chanters sang familiar stories of those who chose folly rather than faith, and I was reminded that the story is my own…

“Instead of the visible Eve, I have the Eve of the mind: the passionate thought in my flesh, showing me what seems sweet; yet whenever I taste from it, I find it bitter…I have stained the garment of my flesh, O Savior, and defiled that which was made in Thine image and likeness…I have clothed myself in the torn coat that the serpent wove for me by his counsel, and I am ashamed.”

“I alone have sinned against Thee, I have sinned more than all men; Reject me not, O Christ my Savior. Thou art the Good Shepherd: seek me, the lamb that has strayed, and do not forget me. Thou art my beloved Jesus, Thou art my Creator; in Thee shall I be justified, O Savior.”

Looks as though the both of us need some attention. My house and me. So I keep dusting and scrubbing. And as I dust, I pray. I ask God to keep unearthing the hidden things. It is a terrifying prospect, to be perfectly honest. But I would have Him restore His image in me. To rid me of that which is false. However hard He must scrub.

Have mercy upon me, O God, have mercy upon me.

“O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen.”

*All quotes in the post taken from The Lenten Triodion.

So This is Love…

Love…the raw, earthy, sustaining sort…takes many forms. Recently, on a single weekend, several of those bumped up against one another in a most poignant configuration. I was so arrested by the beauty of it, the range, that I have not been able to stop thinking about it. Here, a snapshot…

Friends gather to shower my lovely daughter and her little one to be with gifts, with wisdom, and with love. Laughter. So much laughter. Knowing nods from young moms as she is given an enormous coffee mug. “Oh yeah, you’ll need that!” Cheers and amens for the gripe water. Ooos and ahhhs over ruffles, and pink, and soft, and sugar and spice.

And finally, a prayer. Hands on. Hearts open. Interceding for mom, dad, and baby. And my daughter is reminded that she is part of a community of women who have her back. Who are seeking God on her behalf…on behalf of her daughter. Who promise to be there for her, with her.

This is love.

Just after I return from the shower, we load up the fam and head for the airport. Bennett, Kali and Kaleb Green arrive this day. They will sleep this night in their forever home. It has been a long journey. Longer than the thousands of miles from Ethiopia to Nashville. For them. For their new family. Arduous. Costly. And completely worth all of it.

Love has done this.

Before ever I saw Rafik, I knew him. His was one of those names that showed up over and over as Kelsey talked about her first trip to Malawi. His was the solemn, cherubic face that somehow made it into so many of her photographs. The first time I saw him running toward us on his tiny little legs, I understood why. Ken Morris, the missions pastor who has led so many teams to Malawi, has this to say about little Rafik:

For the past three years, this child, this person with the purest of loves, did more to disarm teams of reticent, apprehensive, cautious Americans than any other single person in Adziwa. Rafik would quietly walk up to any team member who had empty arms. He would get their attention and then, with the warmest eyes and biggest smile, fling his arms over his head. Without saying a word his actions announced to the American guest, “I’m so glad you’re here, I really want to be your friend. Please pick me up!”

On February 18th, in the Lilongwe Central Hospital in Malawi, 4 year old Rafik died. Cause of death: “sores in the head”. Cause of death: Poverty.

Ken Morris again,

More than once I thought of Rafik and wondered what God had planned for this special young child. Would he be a teacher, a pastor, a community leader? I thought, “As we watch him grow up, there are some of us who could help him dream and consider options he otherwise would most likely never imagine.” Today I see that God had it in mind that Rafik would be the one to help us dream and consider options that we might not otherwise consider.

For many of us in America, the poor and vulnerable people of the world are little more than a statistic. For some of us, God has used Rafik to grab our hearts and connect us more deeply and personally with a community of orphans, widows and caring families who daily battle the many threats of poverty.

This too, then, is love.

Love is costly. Always. It is a cost worth paying. Always.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
~I John 4:7

 

*Shower photos copyright Angela Davis

Godspeed

Godspeed

Dusk is falling on the snow out of doors. It presses against the windows in shafts of deep indigo. Flames flicker in red glass before the icons. The stillness is deeper than night. We two are alone. He and I. A pillar burns at his head and at his feet. And I read…

Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen!

I see him in other days. Reverently standing before the icons. His body weary with years, but his countenance radiant. Illumined from within. I hear his gentle voice in the liturgy, “For Thou art a good God Who lovest mankind and unto Thee we ascribe glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.” And I read…

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.

I remember him sitting across the table, eyes twinkling, as he recollected his childhood in Austria, and his vagabond days as a young man traipsing across Europe and India, collecting stories and seeing God with new eyes. I read…

I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.

I did not know he was a potter. An iconographer. I wish I had known him better. This I do know, he was a man of great humility. Softly he moved among us.  I read…

He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.

For almost twenty-four hours someone has stood where I stand, reading the words of the gospels over him. A last gift to this man who has given so much. Standing with him…accompanying him on his journey…to the Presence of God.  I read…

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.

In a couple of hours, the church will be packed with mourners. Six priests, some from neighboring parishes, will pray the funeral service over him, assisted by a host of deacons. We will sing of memory eternal. Then we will file before him one last time. We will bow before him as he has so many times bowed before us. We will kiss his hands, his face. Speeding him on to the great cloud of witnesses who beckon to him.

Godspeed, Father Seraphim! May your memory be eternal.

Father seraphim
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. ~Psalm 116:15

*Unattributed Scripture quotes taken from Luke 24 and the first 6 chapters of John, the portion it was my privelege to read.

A Blessing Unsolicited

It is not at all the way I imagined it would be…in those moments…when I dreamed for my daughter…recklessly…without bounds.  It is not the way I dreamed it for myself.  I always envisioned myself as an obnoxious grandmother…of the sort who would relate, in excruciating detail, each moment of the pregnancy, birth and childhood….to my long-suffering friends, as well as to blog readers, mere acquaintances, seat mates on planes, unfortunate cashiers….   Instead, we have eased into it…with fragility, and uncertainty…timidly feeling our way…one…step…at a time.

My daughter is having a baby.  She is eighteen.  She is not married.

I grieve for her.  I grieve for the fact that sadness and regret have wrapped their murky tendrils around a moment meant to radiate white-hot with joy.  I grieve because raising children demands so much of you in the best of circumstances.  And now, it will demand more.  And I grieve for her dreams.  Dreams that must be amended…or postponed…indefinitely.

And yet…..

Life is a gift.
ALWAYS.
Unanticipated. Perhaps.
Not asked for.
But Wanted.
Oh, yes!
Most assuredly
WANTED!!

And JOY persists…nudging, warming, and sometimes erupting into glorious raptures.  Because we have made a space for it.  Because we have learned, through follies of our own, that God takes a peculiar pleasure in transforming what seem to be impossible situations into vibrant displays of His glory.

I watch my precious daughter as she becomes particular about caring for her body to protect the baby.  I watch her dream and study.  I see her unfolding…like a blossom…the sweet, fragile beauty that has been clasped so tightly…unfurling.  I see the intensity of her love for this tiny one who she has never met growing her…stretching her.  And I know this will continue to call something out in her…will help her to find things in herself…she does not even know exist…yet.

I am not naive.  I know this will demand more of her than either of us can imagine.  But I keep asking myself my friend Gail’s favorite question, “What does this make possible?”  And, I confess, I find the possibilities exhilarating.

Friends and family members have exceeded our wildest imagination in the extravagance of their grace and love.  It has been good to see the people of God walk in their roles as lovers and redeemers.  It is another lesson in the power of community and in the futility of living alone.

So, we embrace our unsolicited blessing.  We see it for the marvelous gift it is.  We dream, and we giggle, and we indulge cravings, and we buy stuff, and we celebrate.  Be fairly warned; you have not heard the last of this little one.  I have a whole lot of obnoxious to make up for.

Little bit is to be a spring baby, due April 14th.

Meet my new love:

Baby

On Christ Without the Church

A number of years ago, Anne Rice–famous for her Vampire Chronicles series before vampires were all the rage–made the startling announcement that she had returned to the Catholic church, exchanging atheism for a life of faith.  Recently, she again surprised readers and fans, as well as the faith community, with this post to her Facebook fan page:

“For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”

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She makes a number of compelling arguments in defense of her decision in a recent interview with Christianity Today.  Though I respect her integrity in following her convictions, and though I identify with a great many of her frustrations, I find I cannot embrace her solution.

There was a time when I thought I could…when I very nearly did.  Several close friends and family members had been trampled upon by arrogant, thoughtless church leaders leaving them wounded and weary.  I had personally known deep disappointment in a community into which I had poured myself for years.  I began to see the Church as an impediment; something standing between Christ and me.

It has been a painful lesson, but I have come to understand that God uses “quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious” people in our lives for our salvation, just as He uses us for theirs.  They help that which is hidden in us bubble to the surface.  It’s not always pretty.  But, the Church provides a “safe” place for us to bump up against one another.  “Like iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Prov. 27:17)

I also find myself challenged, inspired, and nourished by the lovely folks in my local parish.  We feed one another.  We care for those who are hurting.  We rally around those in crisis.  We are family.

If I reject Christianity, with it’s contentious, judgmental, angry, abusive members, I also reject the thousands of believers who rush into disaster situations serving, feeding, clothing, building houses.  I reject organizations like Compassion International and World Vision who sustain and empower, one child, one family at a time.  I reject teenagers who work extra jobs so they can go love on kids in Africa.  I reject families who labor tirelessly to help orphans find their forever homes.

I confess, it is considerably more palatable to relate to a Savior who never snaps at you, who doesn’t wag on over dinner, who is not self righteous or needy.  But Christ made it rather clear that we have a responsibility to one another.  And, in his last recorded prayer, that tender lament in John 17, His fervent desire is that we be one.  It is impossible to become one with another while living in isolation.

So I’m in.   For the long haul. Do I wish we more accurately reflected Christ in EVERY action? Most assuredly!  But I hope I will always be humble enough to learn from those around me.  They have so much to teach me.

I close with words of another literary figure who had his own issues with the church.  An observation from C.S. Lewis:

If there is anything in the teaching of the New Testament which is in the nature of a command, it is that you are obliged to take the Sacrament, and you can’t do it without going to Church. I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off.

I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.


*All bolds in the post are mine, used for emphasis, including those in both quotes.

Forgiveness

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Candles flicker.  Lights are dim.  The fragrance of incense hangs in the air.  And my priest bows…TO ME.  “Forgive me, a sinner.”  The humble dignity of this moment is too much for me.

The triumph of sin, the main sign of its rule over the world, is division, opposition, separation, hatred.  Therefore, the first break through this fortress of sin is forgiveness: the return to unity, solidarity, love.”
~Alexander Schmemann

A father kneels before his young daughter, standing next to me.  “Forgive me, a sinner.”   “God forgives you, and I forgive you.”  They embrace.  I realize I have forgotten to breathe.

Across the room, I see one sister stand before the other.  I can’t hear the words, but I know what they are saying.  I don’t know the stories each of them carries of the other…the hurts, large and small, known and unknown.  But the radiance in their faces as they hold one another, and as smiles turn to sweet laughter, say that the slate is clean…that all is as it should be.

“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  ~Jesus  (Matthew 6)

My dear friend stands before me.  I think of all the ways I have failed her…all the ways I wish I had been a better friend.  “Forgive me a sinner.”  It feels so small…so simple.  Her eyes tell me all was forgiven before I even asked.

My Tuesday morning Bible study ladies…  As I approach each of them, I think of the prayers, the laughter, the tears, and the truth we have shared.  I am honored to bow before them.  They are my heroes.  “Forgive me…”

This evening’s Vespers ushered us into the Orthodox Lenten season.  It happened before our eyes.  The priests and deacons changed their outer garments to purple, and precious little girls put purple cloths under the icons.  The tones of the hymns became somber.  We were reminded that just as Adam and Eve were exiled from the garden, we are exiles.  We are far from Home.

But we are journeying.  Together.  Toward the Kingdom.  Toward Home.  We begin…clean.  Tonight, in one of the most moving services I have ever been part of, each person in the church bowed before every other person, one by one, and said, “Forgive me, a sinner.”

Who could know all the stories that lay under those words?  The hurt feelings, suspicions, misunderstandings…  But tonight, we humbled ourselves and proclaimed, one to another, I am sorry for my sinfulness.  I am sorry that I hurt you.  Please, forgive me.

It was astonishingly beautiful.  I couldn’t stop weeping.  I thought of how my heart grieves when my children hurt one another, and how sweet it is to see them reconciled.  I imagined God looking down upon so many of his children tonight as they were reconciled.  His heart must be glad.

“I pray for them…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”  ~Jesus  (John 17)

We closed the evening singing a Paschal hymn. “Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”  We sang it in hushed voices, knowing there is yet a long, treacherous journey ahead of us.  But the words fill us with hope.

I want to travel unencumbered by unsettled business.  I am asking myself, “Where are the other relationships in my life where I need to ask forgiveness?  And who have I not forgiven?”  Forgiveness is a gift I can choose to give, even to someone who has not asked for it.

How about you?  Is there a name that has already popped into your head?  Someone with whom you need to have a difficult conversation?  Today.

Forgive me.

Sacred Threshold

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sacred the power, being, or realm understood by religious persons to be at the core of existence and to have a transformative effect on their lives and destinies.

threshold any place or point of entering or beginning…

 

I probably should not write this at all.  I know I will not say it well.  For every breath I help you breathe with me, there will be a thousand others unbreathed. And yet, words brought me here.  I wonder how many of those who shared their words with me thought they did not say it well?  For every fragrance, every whisper of wonder, of holiness, on a page or across a table…how many others were left locked up in their hearts?  So I write.  I treat of that which defies explanation.  I invite you to peer with me inside a mystery…

Sometimes life takes the most unexpected turns. A couple of years ago I came to a place of crisis with God.  I felt I had pursued Him all my life, and that He had eluded me.  And I was angry.  Perhaps I had approached Him badly, in error, but it was not for lack of trying.  Funny how sometimes the very road we try to take to God is the one that perpetually leads us away from Him. I felt compelled to prove myself to God, as though I must earn His love.  I would have told you I did not believe this was true.  But I lived my life every day as though it were.

I came to a place of devastation when it became clear to me that I was incapable of being good enough…when I could truly see the blackness inside me.  I was in deep despair.  I felt that if I were to surrender my endless, futile attempts to find worth in myself that I would simply cease to exist.  It felt like death!

It was the best thing that ever happened to me.


“When we are nothing, we are in a fine position to receive everything from God.”
~Richard Rohr God began to woo me.  I know He has done it all my life, but much of the time I was too busy doing things ‘for Him’ to take notice.  He met me on runs and in early, quiet hours when everyone was still asleep.  He met me in novels, in poetry, and in His Word.  I saw Him in His creation and in great works of art.  He spoke His healing words to me through friends.  You know who you are.  There will never be enough words to say to you how important you have been to me.  I love you more than I can say.

Then came the most unexpected gift of all. Up until about three years ago, I had never known anyone personally who was Orthodox.  My only encounter with Orthodoxy was purely historical.  But all of a sudden, I was ambushed.  Blessed Ambush!  A friend, then several aquaintances, then a circle of beautiful, wise women, and finally a family.  Books, podcasts, music…I couldn’t get enough.  And worship! That was the most compelling of all.  Orthodox believe that in the Divine Liturgy we literally enter the Kingdom of God.  I believe it.  I believed it the very first time.  There is a blessed otherness…such a profound sense of holiness.  Sometimes I can hardly breathe for the weight of it.

Today, on Saint Nicholas Day, I crossed a threshold.  Today I became part of the Orthodox Church.  Mike and I have walked most of this last year with the congregation at St. Ignatius.  We have fasted together, celebrated together, struggled and learned together, and entered the Presence together.  My soul has been nourished in ways I could never have imagined.  And I am learning to live in God…to revel in His Presence…to come to Him honestly with all the best AND worst things about me, and to experience His joy in me.

God knew my heart so much better than I did.  He knew how to help me find Him. My friend, Monte, tells me that when a lifeguard goes to help someone in distress, he will not engage the swimmer until he stops struggling, otherwise the distressed swimmer can drown them both.  But once the swimmer has exhausted himself, then he can be saved.  Once I was thoroughly exhausted, God helped me find the means whereby I could finally know Him.

Yesterday, I made my first confession in preparation for today. I began with a written prayer, then shared those things with the priest that weighed most heavily on my heart and those that present persistent challenge.  It was a solemn and weighty experience.  He spoke words to me that Christ would have spoken had he been there.  After this, I knelt and Father Stephen placed his stole over my head. He told me that just as the stole covered my head, Christ’s blood had covered my sins.  Hot tears flowed down my face as his words planted themselves deeply within me and forgiveness became a palpable reality.

This morning, after affirming that we accept and submit to the essential tenets of the Orthodox faith, we were anointed with Holy Chrism (oil).  As Father Stephen made crosses with the oil on our foreheads, eyes, nose, ears, chest, hands and feet, he said “the seal of the Holy Spirit” and the whole congregation cried out “SEAL!!” I felt like my chest was a great ball of fire.  I could not stop the tears.  That God would be so kind to bring me to this place where I could breathe Him and wear Him when I had been so ready to walk away from Him is too much for me. Receiving the Body and Blood for the first time with my dear sisters and brothers was a completely transcendent experience.  Heart pounding, knees trembling, filled with wonder.  May it ever be so.

At lunch today my dear friend, Gail, said to my fellow celebrants, Giorgio and Mike, and to me that today we only lifted the lid to the treasure box.  She assured us that there are enough treasures inside to last us a lifetime.  I believe her.

“You do not resolve the God question in your head…it is resolved in you when you agree to bear the mystery of God.” ~Rohr

Photographs in the post courtesy of our friend Joel Smith.  At the top of the post, Mike and I with Father Stephen.  Above, with Mike and Gail Hyatt, dear friends who have been such an important part of our journey and today stood with us as our sponsors/godparents.  Also, Keith Coley and Giorgio Kemp.  Beautiful irony: Giorgio was in my third grade choir.  His mother Rhonda was my homeschooling mentor.  We have danced in and out of one another’s lives for years.  What a blessed gift to be Chrismated on the same day.  Many years, dear friend!

A Dream Strayed Into Daylight

Sparkling water trips over stones

Whispering breeze rustles leaves

Heart whisper

Soul breath

Transparent eyes

A dream strayed into daylight


Delicate petals

Sweet scent

A Rose

Exquisite intoxication

Lavender delirium

Columbine spell

A dream strayed into daylight


Extravagant brilliance of sunset

Spectacular resplendence of fall

Delicious agony

Orgasm of pain

A dream strayed into daylight


Breathless silence

Blanket of snow

Icy flakes on bare skin

Violent exhilaration

Thunderstorm, rain

A dream strayed into daylight


Raspberries

Fragrant exotic delight

Cabernet

Mysterious and warm

Chocolate

Decadent, bitter and dark

A dream strayed into daylight


Elegant threshold

Ecstatic response

Transcendence

Abandon

Bliss

Pieces of Heaven

Diverted to Earth

A dream strayed into daylight

~SM~


*I owe a great debt to C.S. Lewis for the title line.  While reading Til We Have Faces, the phrase “a dream strayed into daylight” lodged itself in my mind.  It actually has a negative connotation in the book.  But for me, it was magic. It made me think of all those experiences, all those moments when, perhaps only for the space of a breath, I have touched the otherworldly.  Lewis called it “joy”.  This poem has rolled round in my head, in bits and pieces, ever since.  I have been blessed with a great many transcendent moments.  The words and phrases above commemorate some of them.

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