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Wednesday 24 July 2024

Abundant, profligate, indiscriminate, and reckless love

Here's the sermon I shared at St Andrew's Wickford this morning:

The Royal Horticultural Society says that sowing seeds outdoors is very straight forward – just think of how many plants scatter their seeds and they grow where they land as soon as it is moist and warm. The secret to success when sowing seeds outside is to prepare a good seedbed, free of weeds and with a crumble-like soil-surface texture. Beds should be dug over in advance to allow time for the soil to settle. Cover the bed to suppress weeds then level the surface and create a crumble-like tilth picking off any remaining weeds and debris. Other problems to be addressed include pigeons and other birds which can be a pest.

Just as in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13. 1 – 23), the RHS guidance is that seeds are less likely to grow well where there are weeds, debris like rocks and stones, or where birds can eat the seeds. Seeds are likely to grow well in good, well-prepared soil. So far, so good; so far, so similar – the secrets of growing good crops were really no different in the time of Jesus from those of today. Given that as much was known then about sowing seeds as is known now, there is just one strange element to Jesus’ story and that is the fact that the sower deliberately sows seeds in the areas where seeds are less likely to grow, as well as in the prepared soil where the seeds are more likely to grow well. The sower is profligate with the seeds in a way that goes counter to the advice from the RHS which, as we have seen, is consonant with the understanding of sowing demonstrated by the parable. So why does the sower ignore good practice and deliberately sow seeds on the path, the rocky ground and among the thorn bushes? Does this strange aspect to the story tell us something significant about God?

The seed is the Word of the kingdom and the Word, John’s Gospel tells us, is Jesus himself. So, it is Jesus himself who is being scattered throughout the world as the seed being sown in this parable (perhaps in and through the Body of Christ, the Church). As the seed was sown indiscriminately, even recklessly, there was a breadth to what was going on here as the places that were known to be poor places for seed to grow were nevertheless given the opportunity for seeds to take root.

This suggests to us the indiscriminate and reckless nature of God’s love for all. It means that no part of our community or our world is off limits to Jesus or to us as the body of Christ. Within HeartEdge, the international, ecumenical movement for renewal within the broad church that has been initiated by St Martin-in-the-Fields and of which we are part, we express this in terms of churches seeking to be at the heart of their communities whilst also being with those who are on the margins or at the edge. By being at the heart and on the edge our mission and ministry will have something of the breadth with which the sower scatters the seed in this parable.

The sower scatters the seed indiscriminately because the life of Jesus can spring up and flourish anywhere. This means that the life of Christ grows outside the church as well as within it. As a result, our task as Christians is not simply to take the love of Christ to all parts of our community and world but also to be actively looking to see where the seed of Jesus is taking root, growing and bearing independently of anything that the church has done. Another of the key concepts for HeartEdge is that God is continually sending gifts to the church of people who we don’t expect or recognise as being Jesus. The renewal of the Church has not come from those already within it, so instead it is likely to come from those who are currently outside of or on the edge of Church.

There are many people and organisations of good will in our communities with which we, as churches, are not yet engaging who nevertheless are well disposed towards the Church and will give some form of support, if the right connection can be made.

There are also many people and organisations of good will in our communities with which we, as churches, are not yet engaging who nevertheless are acting in ways that bring Christ to others by giving food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked and visiting those in prison. We need to look for signs of God within our communities and then come alongside those people in solidarity and support for the ways in which they are bringing Christ to others.

The love of God as shown in the Gospels and in this parable is abundant, profligate, indiscriminate, and reckless. It is, as Jesus says elsewhere, pressed down, shaken together, poured out and overflowing. Jesus came to give us life in abundance, life in all its fullness, yet, within our churches we often operate with a mind-set of scarcity.

The church is getting smaller and becoming narrower. Those regularly attending worship are fewer. The church’s reputation and energy are becoming associated with initiatives that are introverted and often lack the full breadth of the gospel. In response we often focus on what our church doesn’t have, who isn’t there, and what problems it faces. In a deficit culture we begin with our hurts and our stereotypes, and find a hundred reasons why we can’t do things or certain kinds of people don’t belong. As churches we are often quick to attribute our plight to a hostile culture or an indifferent, distracted population or even a sinful generation; but much slower to recognise that our situation is significantly of our own making. In the imagery of this parable when we focus on our deficits, we are focusing on the path, the rocky ground and the thorn bushes.

By contrast, in HeartEdge, we believe that churches can do unbelievable things together by starting with one another’s assets, not our deficits. We believe churches and communities thrive when the gifts of all their members are released and they build one another’s assets. We are enough as local communities because God has given us what we need in each other. We also believe that God is giving the church everything it needs for the renewal of its life in the people who find themselves to be on the edge. Wisdom and faith are found in the places of exile and rejection. The rejected are to be sought out because they are the energy and the life-force that will transform us all. If you are looking for where the future church is coming from, look at what the church and society has so blithely rejected.

The life of the church is about constantly recognising the sin of how much we have rejected, and celebrating the grace that God gives us back what we once rejected to become the cornerstone of our lives. Thus is deficit turned to plenitude, threat turned to companionship, and fear turned to joy. This is the life of the kingdom. The life of the kingdom of God is found in recognising the abundance of the seed that is continually being sown. The life of the kingdom of God is found when we expect and look for the growth of that seed at the heart and on the edge, often in unanticipated ways, in surprising places and in unexpected people.

May we commit to being a people who live out of the abundance of God, rather than our scarcity, by beginning with our assets, not our deficits; both those within our church and those without. Amen.

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Tuesday 23 July 2024

Artlyst: Cedric Morris And Arthur Lett-Haines Gainsborough House

My latest exhibition review for Artlyst is on Revealing Nature: The Art of Cedric Morris and Lett-Haines at Gainsborough's House:

'‘Revealing Nature: The Art of Cedric Morris and Lett-Haines’ extends our appreciation of Morris and Lett considerably by foregrounding Lett’s work alongside that of the better-known Morris and by the range of Morris’ work shown. In doing so, our understanding of what drew so many artists to Benton End to be part of the East Anglian School of Art and Design is also enhanced.

Suffolk, more generally, provides additional opportunities to sample the work of artists linked to Benton End. I took the opportunity to visit several churches containing work by Rosemary Rutherford. Rutherford attended the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing, where she focused on flower paintings and landscapes. Although an excellent painter of religious scenes in addition to landscapes and flowers, she is best known for her stained-glass windows, striking examples of which can be found within reach of Sudbury at St Mary Boxford, St Mary the Virgin Walsham-le-Willows, and St Mary Hinderclay. The Memorial Window at Walsham-le-Williams has St Catherine surrounded by a vibrant array of flora and fauna, as Lett-Haines also sought to do in his work. In the same church is a marvellous depiction of Christ walking on the water among several impressionistically rendered Thames barges. As with some of Morris’s images, the lifting of darkness in this image could be a response to changes in their wartime experiences.'

Find out more about Rosemary Rutherford - here and here.

Interviews -
Monthly diary articles -
Articles/Reviews -

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Karen Peris - Flowers.

Seen and Unseen: The collective effervescence of sport’s congregation

My latest article for Seen & Unseen is entitled 'The collective effervescence of sport's congregation' and explores some of the ways in which sport and religion have been intimately entwined throughout history:

'[Dr. Mark] Doidge notes that “Regular congregation at a sacred space to perform collective rituals creates a ‘collective effervescence’ where the individuals become a community and identify themselves as such”. He also notes the similarities with sport which provides a “way of understanding who we are - who we socialise with, how we see other people, and the ways in which we interact with others” – and which is, like life, “about rivalries and competition, solidarity and teamwork, division, and unity”.
 
These similarities can lead some to privilege sport over religion but Doidge argues that sport “should recognise that religion is a key part of many people’s identity and sense of self, and work hard to be inclusive for all”.'

My first article for Seen and Unseen was 'Life is more important than art' which reviews the themes of recent art exhibitions that tackle life’s big questions and the roles creators take.

My second article 'Corinne Bailey Rae’s energised and anguished creative journey' explores inspirations in Detroit, Leeds and Ethiopia for Corinne Bailey Rae’s latest album, Black Rainbows, which is an atlas of capacious faith.

My third article was an interview with musician and priest Rev Simpkins in which we discussed how music is an expression of humanity and his faith.

My fourth article was a guide to the Christmas season’s art, past and present. Traditionally at this time of year “great art comes tumbling through your letterbox” so, in this article, I explore the historic and contemporary art of Christmas.

My fifth article was 'Finding the human amid the wreckage of migration'. In this article I interviewed Shezad Dawood about his multimedia Leviathan exhibition at Salisbury Cathedral where personal objects recovered from ocean depths tell a story of modern and ancient migrations.

My sixth article was 'The visionary artists finding heaven down here' in which I explored a tradition of visionary artists whose works shed light on the material and spiritual worlds.

My seventh article was 'How the incomer’s eye sees identity' in which I explain how curating an exhibition for Ben Uri Online gave me the chance to highlight synergies between ancient texts and current issues.

My eighth article was 'Infernal rebellion and the questions it asks' in which I interview the author Nicholas Papadopulos about his book The Infernal Word: Notes from a Rebel Angel.

My ninth article was 'A day, night and dawn with Nick Cave’s lyrics' in which I review Adam Steiner’s Darker With The Dawn — Nick Cave’s Songs Of Love And Death and explore whether Steiner's rappel into Cave’s art helps us understand its purpose.

My 10th article was 'Theresa Lola's poetical hope' about the death-haunted yet lyrical, joyful and moving poet for a new generation.

My 11th article was 'How to look at our world: Aaron Rosen interview', exploring themes from Rosen's book 'What Would Jesus See: Ways of Looking at a Disorienting World'.

My 12th article was 'Blake, imagination and the insight of God', exploring a new exhibition - 'William Blake's Universe at the Fitzwilliam Museum - which focuses on seekers of spiritual regeneration and national revival.

My 13th article 'Matthew Krishanu: painting childhood' was an interview with Matthew Krishanu on his exhibition 'The Bough Breaks' at Camden Art Centre.

My 14th article was entitled 'Art makes life worth living' and explored why society, and churches, need the Arts.

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New Order - World In Motion.

Monday 22 July 2024

Artworks in the Diocese of Chelmsford

My latest article for Church Times is about the artist Enid Chadwick, whose painting 'The Baptism of Christ' hangs in St Mary's Runwell. There are many interesting artworks to be found in the Diocese of Chelmsford; a fact I have been involved in highlighting previously through art trails in the Barking Episcopal Area - see here, hereherehere, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Most recently, I have included a listing of artworks to be found in the Basildon Deanery here and the Wickford and Runwell Team Ministry here and here. See also my post about artists in Broomfield - here.

On the back of these and other sources of information, here is a partial listing of artists with work which can be found in churches within the Diocese of Chelmsford:

  • Mark Angus: St Mary the Virgin Maldon.
  • G.F.Bodley: St John the Baptist Epping.
  • John Bridgeman: St Bartholomew East Ham.
  • Sarah Burgess: St Edmund Chingford.
  • Edward Burne-Jones: Ilford Hospital Chapel.
  • William Butterfield: St Catherine Wickford.
  • W.D.Caroe: St Barnabas Walthamstow.
  • Sir Hugh Casson: St Andrew Greensted-Juxta-Ongar.
  • Mark Cazalet: Chelmsford Cathedral; St Alban Romford.
  • Enid Chadwick: St Mary Runwell.
  • Fyffe Christie: St Margaret Stanford Rivers.
  • Margaret Chilton: St Andrew Leytonstone.
  • Clayton & Bell: St Barnabas Walthamstow.
  • John Coleman: St Andrew Romford.
  • Ninian Comper: St Barnabas Little Ilford.
  • John Constable: St James Nayland; St Mary Dedham.
  • Anne Creasey: Christ Church Thamsview.
  • Robert Crutchley: St Michael and All Angels Manor Park.
  • Hilary Davies: St Andrew Leytonstone.
  • Lewis Davies: St Andrew Leytonstone.
  • Louis B. Davis: St John Seven Kings.
  • Georg Ehrlich: Chelmsford Cathedral.
  • Peter Eugene-Ball: Chelmsford Cathedral; St Alban Romford.
  • Leonard Evetts: St Paul Goodmayes.
  • Faith-Craft Works: St Barnabas Walthamstow; St Paul Goodmayes.
  • Eric Gill: St Barnabas Walthamstow.
  • Angela Godfrey: St Peter-Ad-Vincula Royden.
  • David Griffiths: St Andrew Ilford.
  • Hans Feibusch: St Martin Dagenham.
  • David Folley: St Andrew Wickford.
  • Anthony Foster: St Peter Aldborough Hatch.
  • Peter Foster: St Martin of Tours Basildon.
  • Wilfrid Gabriel de Glehn: St Michael Theydon Mount.
  • Charles Gurrey: St Alban Romford; St Barnabas Walthamstow.
  • Charles Hare: St John the Baptist Epping.
  • John Hayward: St Peter-Ad-Vincula Royden.
  • Henningham Family Press: St Peter Harold Wood.
  • Gwynneth Holt: All Saints Stock; St Andrew Hornchurch; St Margaret of Antioch Downham; St Mary Broomfield.
  • Derek Hunt: St John Seven Kings.
  • John Hutton: Chelmsford Cathedral; St Erkenwald Barking; St George Gants Hill.
  • Thomas Bayliss Huxley-Jones: Chelmsford Cathedral; St Martin of Tours Basildon; St Peter Aldborough Hatch.
  • George Jack: St Margaret Barking.
  • C.E. Kempe & Co. Ltd: St John the Baptist Epping; St John Seven Kings.
  • Mark Lewis: St Margaret of Antioch Ilford.
  • Alison McCaffrey: St Edward Romford.
  • Morris & Co.: Holy Cross Hornchurch; St Paul Goodmayes.
  • Nicholas Mynheer: St Bartholomew East Ham.
  • Kjellaug Nordsjö: Diocesan Retreat House Pleshey; St Margaret Barking.
  • Joseph Nuttgens: St Martin of Tour Basildon.
  • John Piper: St Paul Harlow.
  • John Pitt: St Alban Romford.
  • Jane Quail: St Paul East Ham; St Paul Goodmayes.
  • Patrick Reyntiens: St Alban Romford.
  • Caroline Richardson: Church of the Good Shepherd Collier Row; St Luke’s Chapel Queen’s Hospital Romford; St Peter Harold Wood.
  • Richard Richardson: St Peter-Ad-Vincula Royden.
  • Zdzislaw Ruszkowski: St Peter Harlow.
  • Rosemary Rutherford: St Edmund Tendring; St Laurence Bradfield; St Mary Broomfield; St Paul Clacton-on-Sea; St Peter Nevenden.
  • Jamie Sargeant: St Alban Romford.
  • Henry Shelton: All Saints Goodmayes; All Saints Hutton; St Barnabas Walthamstow; St Luke’s Chapel Queen’s Hospital Romford; St Paul Goodmayes.
  • F.W. Skeat: St Margaret Stanford Rivers.
  • Charles Smith: St Barnabas Walthamstow.
  • Peter S. Smith: St John Leytonstone.
  • Francis Stephens: Church of the Holy Innocents, High Beach; St Martin Chipping Ongar; St Peter-on-the-Wall Bradwell.
  • Alan Stewart: St Margaret Barking.
  • Steven Sykes: Holy Trinity & St Augustine of Hippo Leytonstone.
  • Josephina de Vasconcellos: St John the Baptist Epping.
  • Leonard Walker: St Martin Chipping Ongar.
  • Peter Webb: St Mary Woodford.
  • A.Wyatt: St Peter Aldborough Hatch.
  • Alan Younger: St Andrew Leytonstone; St Mary Woodford; St Paul Woodford Bridge.

I'm looking to extend the list in order to make it more comprehensive, so do let me know of any artists or locations that are missing. 

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Joy Williams - One Day I Will.

St Mary the Virgin, Maldon, and Mark Angus











St Mary’s Church, Maldon is now and has been throughout its history a beacon for the town’s community and visitors. Known as the Fishermen’s Church its tower guides many sailors and their craft into the Hythe.

Maldon, an ancient and historic town lying at the head of the Blackwater Estuary, is a small market town 40 miles east of London and a short distance from the cathedral city of Chelmsford. St. Mary’s parish covers the southern and eastern part of the town. St Mary’s Church is an 11th century Grade 1 listed building with a closed churchyard. The fishermen’s church stands above The Hythe overlooking the River Blackwater acting as a beacon to incoming shipping.

With its flint-rubble walls and impressive tower, it remains an interesting and attractive landmark in Maldon. A stained glass window by Mark Angus was installed in the south wall of the church for the 8th August 1991 to commemorate the Battle of Maldon in AD 991. A statue of the defeated Saxon leader Byrhtnoth stands at the end of the Promenade over the River Blackwater, where he lost his life in an attempt to stop the Viking invasion.

Since 1978 Mark Angus has gained his reputation in Britain and Europe for his expressive stained glass art, and especially in architecture, with windows for churches and cathedrals as well as for other public and private spaces. Important examples include complete schemes for Oundle School, Spinkhill Parish Church, Berkhampstead School, and Perth Baptist Church (all UK), and St. Raymund Parish Church in Breitenberg near Passau (Germany), and windows for the cathedrals of Durham and Guildford (UK). More recently comprehensive schemes for St. Fintan’s Church, Raheen (Ireland), St. Mary’s Church, Sheffield (UK), and for St. Ursula’s Hospice, Niederalteich (Germany).

Whilst retaining an interest in church stained glass, and in glass painting generally, present interests move towards acrylic painting, and printmaking, especially vitreography, together with artist’s books. Vitreography is a technique where prints are created from glass sheets, resulting in images of great light and subtlety. Predominant in Mark Angus’ imaginative narratives are the figure, dialogue and interaction, and the human self in space. Combined with letterpress Mark Angus is working on making unique artist’s books and prints.

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Deacon Blue - Dignity.

Sunday 21 July 2024

Exhibitions update: Jackie Burns, Mike Fogg and Ho Wai-On

Several of the artists who have exhibited at St Andrew's Wickford or as part of the One Beautiful World Arts Festival are either exhibiting currently or have documented their exhibition online: 

Lunar Lullabies, Sunday 8 June - Sunday 6 October 2024, Firstsite Gallery

Jackie Burns, who exhibited at St Andrew's last year, is exhibiting some of her aerospace artworks in a group exhibition of over 200 artworks and objects curated for the Lunar Lullabies Exhibition at Firstsite Gallery, Colchester.

Mike Fogg FCIPS, Compass Photography, Wednesday 10 July – Sunday 4 August, Rayleigh Windmill

Mike Fogg, who exhibited at Wickford Salvation Army as part of the One Beautiful World Festival, specialises in capturing images of landscapes wherever he travels. This exhibition includes images from Mike’s recent trip to New Zealand, such as Wairere Waterfall.

From Hong Kong to Wickford, exhibition webpage from Ho Wai-On

Ho Wai-On has documented her exhibition From Hong Kong to Wickford which we showed at St Andrew's last year. From Hong Kong to Wickford was an exhibition of Wai-On's lifetime interaction with UK and Hong Kong based artists/people that have resulted in many creative works. Her webpage contains most of the stories displayed about the exhibits and those who created them and some of the images. More of the images can be seen in the music video.

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Ho Wai-On - Wisdom And Love.

In Praise of Stop

Here's the sermon that I shared today at St Andrew’s Wickford:

When you use the Lectionary to decide on the Bible reading for a particular service, as we do in this Church, you sometimes wonder what the people who chose the readings were thinking when they made their choices. The Gospel reading for today (Mark 6: 30-34, 53-end) misses out the wonderful stories of Jesus feeding the five thousand and walking on the water which have stimulated thousands of sermons and instead all we get is Jesus travelling around towns, villages and farms meeting large crowds and healing people and, as the preacher, you think; well, how am I going to get a sermon out of that?

One interesting thing about this selection of verses is that we see Jesus attempting to take some time out from ministry together with his disciples and being frustrated in the attempt because the demands of the crowds around them were too great. That continues to be the case in ministry whether we are lay or ordained but the busyness of ministry here in the Wickford and Runwell Team Ministry and in our weekday lives cannot be sustained if it is not fed by regular times of withdrawal for prayer and recuperation.

That was Jesus’ regular practice. We read of him getting up long before daylight, leaving the town and going to a lonely place where he could pray. In order to pray effectively and well he needed to get away from the demands of ministry and away from his disciples too. He needed to be alone with God in order to recharge his batteries for further ministry to come and this is his pattern throughout his ministry; active mission together with others combined with withdrawal for individual prayer and recuperation. It was what he tried to demonstrate to his disciples in today’s Gospel reading and it needs to be our pattern too.

I’m reminded of an exhibition by the artist Micah Purnell which was called In Praise Of Stop . This was an exhibition which reflected on the theme of Sabbath as Resistance by exploring 'the practice of the fourth commandment in a contemporary age.' The exhibition included thought-provoking aphorisms such as ‘Nothing takes practice’, ‘Switch off to connect’, ‘Thou shalt not prepare for tomorrow’ and ‘Everything comes from nothing’. 

In a similar vein is the book written by Stephen Cottrell, the Archbishop of York, which is entitled ‘Do Nothing to Change Your Life: Discovering What Happens When You Stop.’ In this book Cottrell invites us to slow down and stop … and breathe. He asks, ‘When was the last time you had a real day off? Ditched the 'to-do' lists? Switched off the phone? Had a lie-in? Sat in the bath until the water went cold?’ Most of us, he suggests, live at break-neck speed. Busy lives - work, family, friends, endless tasks - leave us with little time to sleep, never mind stopping and reflecting. We urgently need to learn to nurture our inner slob. As Isaiah 30:15 says, ‘In return and rest you shall be saved.’

In a book called 'The city is my monastery', Richard Carter writes that 'Rest is given to us as the culmination of creation’ and that the ‘whole of creation moves towards this time of Sabbath, and our lives have no meaning simply as cycles of survival without this arrival at the place of wonder and rest.’ The rest that is ultimately the culmination of creation is that which we will experience in heaven. Sabbath is our anticipation of that experience in the here and now.

‘Creation is not complete,’ he writes, ‘until God rests on the seventh day and contemplates all creation.’ Therefore, 'God blesses time’ and ‘consecrates it as holy.’ The whole of creation is moving towards this time of Sabbath, ‘and our lives have no meaning simply as cycles of survival without this arrival at the place of wonder and rest.'

‘When we rest, we imitate God - we enter into the rhythm of God's time,' but, more than that, 'if Sabbath is God's time, it does not end in the keeping of the Sabbath - the Sabbath enters into all our time.’ ‘When we keep Sabbath, everything we do can be infused with that sense of God's presence.'

He describes a day on holiday in Kefalonia where he pays attention to every moment of the day – the bread he buys from the bakery, the person who serves him, the wrapping in which it comes, the feel and taste of it. Later in the day, he writes, ‘I sat on the beach and watched people playing in the sea … I swam, ate bread and ripe tomatoes, and these actions were like a prayer.'

So, Richard Carter suggests that Sabbath rest is not simply about stopping but more so about an attitude of the heart which slows us in everyday life to appreciate and enjoy what we encounter in our daily lives.

In lockdown we all experienced an enforced Sabbath. An unattributed poem that was circulated on Facebook at that time suggested that our lockdown experience could be a moment in which we learn how to rest and experience renewal:

For years our land has groaned beneath the grind
Of work, work, work, of pounding feet, of churn;
For years we stopped our ears and would not mind
The gentle voice that urged us all to turn
From endless slog and strain that warps and rends
The sinews of the Spirit, toward rest:
The Sabbath's breathing wisdom God intends
For human flourishing and the land's best.
Now cafes rest, deserted and the shops,
The bank, the bustle, bargain, building, bar,
The tube's hot haggling hustle: it all stops.
Forced into stillness, now we breathe, we are.
Such tragic loss of love, of breath, to prove
How much we need to rest, to breathe, to love.

Our reading today, demonstrates some of the difficulties in regularly finding that time and the attitude Richard Carter described because of the constant demands that ministry makes on us. However, the difficulties involved shouldn’t prevent us from making the attempt to build rest periods and an attitude of slowing down and paying attention into our daily lives. By doing so, we follow in the footsteps of Jesus who specifically carved out times for prayer in the busyness of his ministry years and sought to teach his disciples to do the same. May it be so for each one of us. Amen.

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