Lent 8 ~ Gentle Writing

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When I called, You answered me;
You built up strength within me.   ~  Psalm 138: 3

          For a long, long time, whenever I had been too much in the world and needed to be cleansed and renewed, I would reach for my beloved Anne of Green Gables books. I would begin from the first book and in the months that followed, bit by bit, weave my way to the last book in the series. There’d be a queer ache in my heart as I turned the last pages because it meant I had to return to this world, that the all too brief respite was over, the safe shelter turned back.

          Since Covid struck, due to working from home, I found myself with far less time to read. I would begin working at dawn and go on till well past 1 or 2 in the morning the next day. There just wasn’t the time to settle down with a book, much less an Anne book that tolerated no rush, requiring me to shut out the world and lose myself in another lifetime.

          But the yearning in my heart for gentle writing was as strong as ever. I ached for a love that was tender and strong, coming from a life lived for home and hearth. I didn’t want writing that depicted bull strength, however much of a person who lived for Christ. I wanted to be held and soothed, not by banal platitudes, but by a heart that understood sorrow as much as it did joy and love.

          Of course, I only vaguely knew what I needed.

          As usual, God had just the right balm for me.

If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your heavenly Father give good things
to those who ask him.   ~  Matthew 7:11

          Some time ago, my friend, Ann, told me of a blog, lightly suggesting I check it out. It was the Rabbitpatch Diary. Its mere name sent thrills through me, the illustrations of bunnies and blooms warmed my heart immediately.

          But nothing prepared me for the depth of love I found there. Old-fashioned love that spoke most deeply to my heart. Love I had not grown up knowing but which God nevertheless taught me day by day as I got married and started my own little rabbitpatch. As time went by, my love for the writer, Michele Warren, grew as I fell deeper and deeper in love with her gentle, tender mother~heart. I waited to read her posts, her words tripping through my heart like a little brook, washing away the grit and grind of a hard day. A working woman too, she lived the very life I often forgot to seek. In every line she wrote from the depths of gentle love, Michele took me to the Heart of God.

When I called, You answered me;
You built up strength within me.~  Psalm 138: 3

          I never imagined that the longing in my heart for gentle counsel would be answered in this way.

          But my spirit called and He indeed answered.

Lent 7 ~ Prayer for the Green

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          It’s a terrible thing indeed to be ruled by the green of jealousy. I grew up in a home where both my parents suffered from this wound. I remember meeting people, the forced polite comments and the pretending over someone’s good fortunes. But I remember also, once we returned home, the roiling that went on endlessly. They seemed to live in an eternal fire. As a result, I learned early on to fear any good news coming from other people because of the effect that would have on my parents. They just couldn’t be happy for anyone. My mother always excused such reactions by blaming her difficult life, how much harder it had been for her than for anyone else and that it wasn’t fair that she had to still endure so much and yet receive so few blessings from God. Inevitably, it would all wind back to me. I was the blockage that prevented God’s blessings from coming through, because I wasn’t sufficiently smart, diligent or pretty to bring her the fame and glory that others had.

          This morning, my thoughts went back to that reliable stand-by: that our jealousies should be excused because of our sufferings, because we have far less than others. It is very convenient, isn’t it, to blame personal hardship for our inability to join our hearts to the joys of our friends and loved ones.

          But we can’t all have the same kisses from heaven, can we? If we were to argue that we deserve to be blessed the same way others are, then it also means we ought to receive their crosses too. Yet, we grind to a halt there. We want the good others have but none of their pain.

          It makes for a very sad and unpleasant life, being chained to this demon that never dies. To look at skies blue and gold and yet not see it. To watch the winds sing their hymns as they play among trees and blooms, but not hear a single note because we live in the demon’s lair where another’s happiness is our worst pain.

          Today, I read the words of my friend, Ann, that we pray for those suffering from jealousy. Some days I can. But some days, the remembered pain is just too close. Today is one of those days. Today, I am a little hard of heart. I tell myself I will not be hypocritical and pray a prayer I do not mean for those who have hurt me and who continue to hurt me in this way.

          Still, Ann’s words hover gently nearby. How do I love? I finally ask myself.

          Then, ever so lightly I sense the angel speak, “You do not have to name them.” 

          And just like that, the prayer slips forth with ease.

Lent 6 ~ Journey

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When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi,
He asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven
.”   ~  1 Peter 5: 1 – 4

          Whatever Peter proved to be right up to the time of Jesus’ capture and subsequent Crucifixion, to earthly sight, he was no rock and certainly not one to be trusted with the keys to heaven. He wasn’t too keen on dying for heaven and tried to persuade Jesus to this view. In trying to protect Jesus from capture, Peter left Malchus with one ear less but later, vigorously denied the same Jesus he claimed to have loved.

          Jesus knew all of this would come to pass; yet, He proclaimed,

And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven;

          Because Jesus knew that Peter was a work in progress. That it would be a journey for Peter to go from being an impulsive and tempestuous man to being loyal and steadfast, humble and obedient to the point of death.

         Before Lent, in 5 words, God had defined Lent for me:

Descend into your inner room

          I misconstrued it to mean that I had to immediately reach the depths of this inner sanctum by the first day of Lent. That is why I put myself under unnecessary pressure. Now, seeing the word Descend clearly and finally, I understand that I have to journey into my inner room. It is not a thing to be achieved in a day. There will be things that I have to face in myself. Things I have to learn to let go of and to heal from. A journey and a process. Some things must come before others, just as it did with Peter. Peter’s whole life was a journey into his inner room. So is ours. Perhaps that is why God said, Descend, – not, Go.

Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My heavenly Father.”

          Descending into our inner room is a conscious and deliberate journey towards Illumination.

For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My heavenly Father.

          It is a journey into the Heart of God.

Lent 5 ~ Just Turn Up

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          Just a couple of days into Lent, something began to gnaw at me – I just couldn’t seem to quieten down. With work moving ahead with full force, one project ending tomorrow but others either lined up or well on their way, my hours were already packed. Now, with devotional practices special to the season of Lent added on, I seem to be running, gasping from one port to the other.

          Something tells me that this is not the way it should be.

         Just before Lent began, I saw the words, Descend into your inner room. And yesterday’s sermon by my priest made clear that Lent is a period of withdrawing from the world in order to bring ourselves face-to-face with God. He spoke of the Desert Fathers and of hermitages and monasteries. Moving away from noise in order to hear God clearly.

          Listening to my priest, I understood why I had been feeling out of skip with the season. But I did not have the luxury of escaping to a quieter place or even that of a reduced workload. Being on lockdown meant that the whole family was working or studying from home so there were constant distractions and disruptions. Lockdown also meant that I could not quieten down in church before the Blessed Sacrament. God surely knew all that, so what was I to do to descend into my inner room instead of being suspended halfway?

          The answer was unexpected.

Let go, said God.

          I was still trying to control my Lenten walk to some extent. In my praying of the daily decade of the Luminous Mysteries for healing, I fret over the people I am praying for, concerned I have missed someone out. As I go about my day, my radar is up, searching for souls who need to be added on for my Luminous Rosary because guilt whispers in my ear that I have no right to stand before God with arms anything less than full.

          But God is saying just the opposite. He is saying, Let go. In trying to descend to my inner room, paradoxically, I am also the one stalling my descent. His call for me is only to be obedient in praying the prayers He has given me. It is not for me to meddle in who I am to pray for nor to get distracted in checking if my prayer cart is full, if everyone is on board. Likewise, it is not on me to peck and poke, trying to discern the connection between my Luminous decade for the day and the prayer needs I am praying for. God alone decides where my prayers and sacrifices should go. And if there’s anything beyond that which I need to know, He’ll tell me – but in His time. All He asks for is my obedience and trust. Not much, far less than what I’ve put upon myself.

        Just turn up, says my Lord, with a smile in His voice.

 

Lent 4 ~ Only on the Hungry

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If you bestow your bread on the hungry
    and satisfy the afflicted;
Then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
    and the gloom shall become for you like midday;  ~  Isaiah 58:10

          A project of more than 2 years goes into its final days and I’m ready for it to end. I think I’ve given my all and that makes me very happy indeed. The relief is great too – suddenly I seem to have a lot more cheer and energy for home chores and cooking.

          Today, those verses from Isaiah come to raise my heart to hope once more. Basking in its warmth, my eyes trace the last verses over and over.

          Presently though, I sense a tiny shifting and an unseen finger gently pushes the first verse to the front.

…bestow your bread on the hungry…

          I sense someone watching me. Waiting to see if I’m paying attention. If I will be humble and contrite enough admit the truth.

Did you bestow your bread on the hungry?
 Or did you kill yourself trying to feed everyone?

          There’s no hiding from the truth, not when the question pierces so gently, so lovingly thrust.

Did you bestow your bread on the truly hungry? How often did you allow guilt to decide how much to do, how far to go?

When you were so tired, yet kept pushing on, how often was it for the truly hungry? How often was it because you kept hearing, You are lazy, that voice from the past? The past that has no place in this present?

How often did you try to feed everyone?

How often did you let the wolf in?

          I answer from my heart, Often enough.

          I hear my own voice tell me,

When you go back, feed, bestow your bread.

But only on the hungry.

 

Lent 3 ~ Wounded to Seek

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Pride may go before a fall, but jealousy goes before destruction.   ~  Gladys Taber

 

          Disturbed is the heart and mind ruled by jealousy; no peace does it have, no sleep too. And what a suffering it is to be wounded by another’s jealousy. 

          Which is why I have learned the hard way to flee from people in whom I discern jealousy. With such people, I am never on stable ground. There is nothing I can do to appease a jealous heart. A good day in such company never ensures a fine morrow. So many hours I’ve wasted pondering and dissecting absurd responses and reactions. So many times, I’ve abased myself to heal the wounded vanity of a jealous soul, just to secure a sunny day.

          But it never lasted. 

          These days, I no longer try to make the world a sweeter place for anyone determined to be bound to jealousy; it is an exercise in futility. Yet, whenever the angel knocks at my door and tells me it is time, I need to fight my hurt at remembered pain, and place the soul in need before the God who heals. Who better to seek the healing of jealousy than the one wounded by its venom?

          Because we live in hope that one day, some day, such a soul will rise to a day, upon which dawn has broken and darkness gone.

Lent 2 ~ Choose Life

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If, however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen,
but are led astray and adore and serve other gods,
I tell you now that you will certainly perish;
you will not have a long life
on the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and occupy.
I call heaven and earth today to witness against you:
I have set before you life and death,
the blessing and the curse.
Choose life, then,…

Deuteronomy 30: 17 – 19

          About 9 years ago, I made a very difficult decision. I did not arrive at that point easily. Struggling and agonizing, I wanted to choose what was right, but fear and doubt were like storms inside of me, blinding and deafening me. It reached a peak on Christmas Day. On a day when I should have been happy and rejoicing, I was instead quaking with fear over an obligatory phone call I had to make. It wasn’t just this one time. Over the years, such calls had assumed a troubling pattern. Preceded by fear and of being sick to the stomach. Crushing relief when it was over. Despite my torment each time, it never occurred to me that such a dark and debilitating fear is a sign of something very wrong indeed.

          But something changed that Christmas Day. We had returned to my husband’s hometown and towards evening, I went out with my husband for a short drive around town with our toddlers and baby. We had taken an old, almost forgotten route, lined by worn homesteads and poor roads. Here and there, we saw people gathered in gentle pockets among old-fashioned flowers and trees, friends and neighbours finding any reason for an evening chat, as children pooled together in the warmth and cheer of simple, country games. People looked up as we drove by, and in their curious yet even gaze, I sensed friendliness, an uncommon acceptance and love.

          As we left that little village behind us, I returned to my present, to that dark fear. Suddenly, my heart saw what I hadn’t before: the wrongness of it all. In that little village in our rear view mirror was life as it should be. Even though I knew not a single one of those simple villagers, it was clear to my spirit that we had just passed through a place where, despite poverty and its attendant woes, hearts resolutely chose life.

          The minute we arrived back at my in-laws’ house, I made a decision that would forever change my life and that of my young family. I decided I would not make that dreaded call and that I would never call again. It was never a question of sealing my heart against others. It was a decision to walk away from almost 40 years of worshipping at the altar of fear.

If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God,…
you will live…   ~   Deuteronomy 30: 16

          Today, for some reason, someone has brought back to me that old evening of 9 years before. So that I would understand clearly what I hadn’t before: that in decisively choosing to reject the idol of fear, I had actually obeyed the first Commandment – I am the Lord your God; you shall not have strange gods before me.

          And that when I chose His Commandment, I chose life.

Lent 1 ~ The Angel’s Lent

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          My Lent direction came a little early this year – only it took me some time to realise it and to reconcile myself to it. One bright blue Sunday morning, as the winds sang aria after aria around our old home, my eldest son did something he doesn’t normally do – and certainly not on a Sunday. He began to clean his room. And one of the things he cleaned was his tiny St. Michael figurine I had bought him years before. With characteristic tenderness, he held the figurine and probed its contours with a damp cotton bud. I smiled and left him to it.

          It was late in the evening, much of the day run its course, when I had some time to my thoughts. From my seat in the living room, I gazed outside at the sun~warmed evening, winds stirring strong the leaves on the trees. Watching those breezes, I felt them lay something by the door of my heart.

The St. Michael’s Lent prayers

          And a stillness stole into my heart. It was the second time the prayers had come by this week. The second time accompanied by these unusual winds, singing and singing hymns only the angels knew the words to. Each time the winds came upon me, I would tilt my face towards them and silently ask the same question,

Is it you, St. Michael?

          For some years ago, St. Michael had taught me that when the winds blow strong and  a quiet comes upon my spirit, that would be the sign of his angelic presence.

          In reply to my asking, I almost felt his quiet yet strong affirmation borne by those winds as they brushed against my heart. So, it was him. And he was asking that I say those Lent prayers again.

          Still, I hung back. It was only 3 years ago that I had become acquainted with the St. Michael’s Lent prayers. Both times, they had come during deep personal strife, my anchor in the storm of pain. They were indeed prayers for when the whip and lash of the storm is great.

Battle

          That very word had resounded several times to me as January quietly folded her heart and passed her life to February.

Battle

Battle

Battle

          Now, both the word and the prayer formed side by side before me. It should have sufficed. And yet, my heart sought a final confirmation – because the St. Michael prayers is no simple undertaking. To be said for 40 days, they were for me by far the most demanding of prayers. Coupled with their significance of being battle prayers, prayed when in deep suffering, I was more than a little reluctant. I wanted peace. I was tired of fighting.

          At that very moment, my son came into the living room. Quietly, he placed something on the hall cabinet. Daddy will mend it, he said. Turning away from the waning evening marking the skies with its final pinks and tangerines for the day, I saw my son’s tiny St. Michael figurine on the cabinet top. Its sword had detached.

The St. Michael’s Lent prayers are also known as the Sword of St. Michael.

          Just like that, it was enough for me.

          My Lenten devotions this year is to be the St. Michael’s Lent prayers – but begun on the very evening of my understanding and acceptance. My Lent is to be one of battle.

          This year, it will be one of healing too as I sense heaven ask for a decade of the Luminous Mysteries Rosary each day.

          As the sun rises from its slumber on Ash Wednesday morn, it rises more golden orange than ever before. My angel’s sign, tender reminder that he walks beside me.

          And so it begins, this Lent of 2021. The Angel’s Lent.

Winding Down

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          It has been a week like no other. Busy with work, I was at home on quarantine due to a non-close contact coming down with Covid, and trying not to get frustrated over my town’s bungling health system. Then, on Tuesday, I got the dreaded call. I had to be swabbed due to a truly close contact from work testing positive for Covid the previous week. At the testing centre, I stayed calm, not wanting to add to the inexperienced staff’s stress. One other colleague had no such concerns and raised a ruckus as we were all quarantine tagged for a second time.

          I drove home from the test, filled with noise inside of me, thinking about how another 10 days of quarantine was going to find its form. Since my town is on Enhanced Lockdown for 2 weeks and the rest of the country on Lockdown, there was no chance of travelling anywhere. But being quarantined at home meant not being able to even go out to town for grocery shopping. It meant relying on my husband to do it. I thought of the shopping list I had carefully written out for him just a few days back. One list that would keep us comfortable for a week – if not more.

          My husband had come home with a quarter of the items on that list – despite staying out far longer than I usually did. He is a very capable shopper but that day, he went into one store and that was it. No zipping around town for him. Clearly, he had none of my frenzy. And that told me just how the shopping for the next ten days of my quarantine was going to be. 

          Determined to pick my battles, I let that slide. We weren’t going to starve. And I was capable enough of making meals out of anything.

          Funny how such a tiny moment like that could set the tune for the rest of the days. The hours went forth from that little choice, falling into more mellowed lines, unmarked by any unnecessary hurry.

          It was into this slow hours that I realised that Lent would be upon us soon. Every Lent for years now, God has come to open a door, leading my spirit on a journey never taken before. But in order to discern, I have to still my spirit and ask – and listen.

What is my Lent to be, Lord?

          Today, something began to take form. The winds had been blowing for days now. Some of its words I understood, some I didn’t catch. Yet, slowly, understanding had begun to slip its arms around my heart.

Every message must be discerned.

And every discernment put to the test.

          Just as I was to go deeper, a dart was fired from outside. All the hundred plus members of my organization had to be swabbed for Covid now. No clear reason was given; we were just expected to obey or the Law would be invoked against us. Still, not wanting to have a swab up my nose or throat more times than necessary, I hastened to make some calls. After some conflicting information by the authorities, it was nevertheless settled that I had to be swabbed yet again, 4 days after the previous one, and despite testing negative for the virus.

          I decided quickly, hurriedly dressing and driving fast to the testing centre. I wanted to be there early and out before the rest of my noisy, garrulous lot descended. I wanted to get everything over and done with and return to my relatively orderly life.

          I was done in less than an hour. Reluctantly driving home along deserted roads, wanting so much to drive fast and drive long along familiar tree-lined routes, I went over the sudden change in the past hours. A calm and serene morning, blessed by gentle sunshine and tipsy birdsong. Then, a shot of confusion out of nowhere. The ensuing ruckus. Granted, I was not the only one affected; everyone was – in their own way. 

          But the personal timing of it set off some bells. Coming just as I was going to step inside this inner room, deepen my discernment, make out the path ahead, it was obvious to me someone or something didn’t want me leaning in to God. It wanted me frazzled and distracted, overly busy.

          Short weeks ago, just before life turned upside down, I saw the words, The Time for Work is Over. While I didn’t think it meant quitting my job, I sensed a hidden layer to the words – as I did an invitation to parse and to understand what it meant to me.

          Today, the mists part a little. I am going into a time when work will surely continue but must not be allowed to dominate. As with the background music that plays in a restaurant, that music has its purpose but it is not there to take over the dining experience. Likewise, this is something I need to learn to manage. To continue to work hard and honestly earn my wages, yet not allow it to cloud my vision nor mute my listening. 

          For the winds that continue to blow insistently have words hidden in their lows and swells. Only the quiet of winding down can reveal all.

Lamp of Nazareth

          Deep in the old trenches of work once more, God came today to steer my heart to His Light.

          For a long time, February had been the month of Lourdes for me, in remembrance of Our Lady of Lourdes and her apparitions there. So, through the days of February, I try to live my hours as close to Her as my fickle self possibly can. Yet, given that I am once again back in the thick, thorny thickets of work, I did wonder more than once if this work year would be any different. My two superiors were back at it again – casually loading up our schedules, blatantly defying lockdown regulations, secure in the confidence that enforcement officers would baulk at coming so far out here to the boondocks to check on us.

          Mere weeks into the new year, I am already as tired as before.

          But the start of 2021 has not been bone-dried out of its miracles for me. For the first time in such a long while, I have woken up each day and gone out to work with a little skip in my step. Despite the amount of work set before us each day, I have gone to it with much enthusiasm. This was only possible due to the Christmas miracle of joy and rest and sufficient quiet.

          Yet, my spirit yearns for more. Not so much for a reduced workload as much as for freedom from tyranny – for it is back in full force now.

          The Lord has come to me many times to say:

Tell My people how much I love them. Tell My people that they are not alone and that I am with them. Tell My people that My Holy Spirit provides power, grace and love each day of their lives. Tell them miracles are there for them every single day, but they must look for them. They must expect them; they must want to experience My love.   ~ Look for Miracles Every Day, Steve Greco, Catholic Stand 

          Since reading those words, I have been spurred to tug at God’s robes to ask for more miracles. Each time I asked for miracles, I also asked His forgiveness for the thanklessness in my heart, if anything was blinding me to the many flowers already in bloom in my life this year.

          And of course, even as I pray, I have a very clear idea of what shape and form my miracles should take. I am, as ever, ready to give God the helping hand He doesn’t need.

          Two days ago, Jesus sent His spirit to open my eyes. One of my superiors stopped by my table with an unsettling gleam in her eye and casually put forth a proposition for me to extend my already long working hours and conduct yet another programme. I don’t know whether it was because I was already up to my eyes in work at that moment or if it was due to something else – but a calm yet firm refusal immediately sprang to my lips even before I could think up counter arguments. What I could see of her face above her mask tightened, obviously angered that I had dared to defy and refuse and she quickly moved on to seek support elsewhere.

          Coming home after work, I slumped to the floor, very, very tired. Dinner needed to be cooked, the younger kids needed help with studies and the house needed some cleaning. The birds were noisily chirping their evening farewells as they lifted into skies painted in swells of pink and tangerine. Even as I heard them, their songs I could not seek. There was no time to rest; yet, it was also too difficult to get up and to get going.

          Suddenly, an unseen hand pushed to memory a dream I had of this same woman last year. Of her entering my bedroom and stealing my rest. It was then that I realised that this superior needed to be fought off.

          And that Someone had done it for me that day.

Miracle

          But that superior is never one to take a rebuff well, and too soon, I was slightly beset with anxiousness about what traps she’d lay out for me next.

          Nonetheless, God was already ahead. The next day brought a bout of energy and a slice of wily wisdom. Covid came a little too close and some colleagues had to give up their work time. With some maneuvering, I could take on a bit more, freeing me from the need for extended hours. That put me out of the crosshairs of that woman.

Another little miracle.

          Then came the next miracle. Due to a colleague coming down with Covid, we came under the very scrutiny my boss was hoping to evade. He was then forced to allow us to work on a schedule that blended on-site work with working from home. That gave me 2 beautiful days of working from the peace and quiet of my little nest.

          Today was my first day of working from home and it filled me with tufts of early spring sweetness. Despite being up till past 1 a.m. working on reports and plans, I rose early in glee of being home. It was into this rising dawn within me that God told me something that I had not known before.

That the month of February was also dedicated to the Holy Family.

          And with that, God gently lit the Lamp whose light I was to follow. In my fears over work-related reprisals and doubts over the validity of my resistance, when guilt shadows me, whispering I must do more, more, more, my heart must flee to Nazareth. Into the hearts of Three who lived hard days within the untroubled sweetness of the Divine Will.

          Today, as every little feathered friend sought the dawn sun hidden within fleecy skies, He taught me once more that even as others seek to set their yoke upon me, my heart must be resolutely illumined by the Lamp of Nazareth.

          In the quiet of its humility, courage and obedience, lived unwaveringly by a Mother, a Father and a Son.