Devotional Thoughts

Ordination is Cool, But Not The Point

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Ordination of Deacons and Priests

Let’s get a little geeky on ecclesiology for a minute, hmmmm? I was recently ordained as a Transitional Deacon the Episcopal Church. Huh? By our Cannon Law (rules of the church) one must be a Deacon for six months before being ordained a Priest. Not all Deacons are on the way to be Priests, many are answering the call to serve the church in that unique and valuable vocation. God willing, I will move on with priestly vows in December of this year.

My ordination as a Deacon was pretty cool. It was at the Washington National Cathedral and several other amazing individuals were ordained Priests and one other as a Deacon at the same time. So, fresh from my vows as a Deacon and this past Sunday preaching in a shiny white collar and stole, I was intrigued by an article about some Capuchin monks electing a leader from among themselves who is not ordained. Their new leader is a lay brother, someone who has not taken Holy Orders, as it were.

The article linked above makes a great point that although this election breaks with their Canon Law, it is right in line with the spirit and founding of the Capuchin Order and it’s Franciscan roots, especially in St. Francis who was not a Priest and possibly not even a Deacon himself.

Does all this matter? Well, by Canon Law it does. And I would not like to be heard saying that Holy Orders and the vows we make at our ordination are without meaning or significance. Being ordained a Deacon enables me to do certain things in Episcopal worship in service to the Priest and the whole congregation. God willing, should I be ordained a Priest in December as planned, then I’ll have more responsibilities in worship and the daily life of the church. Our Capuchin brothers have given a perfect reminder though that the whole church is a priestly nation (1 Peter 2:1-10), a gathered holy people, all in and all called to the work of Christ and the Gospel in the world. In our own tradition we affirm this in our Baptismal Covenant to continue in the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, prayers, repentance, proclaiming the gospel by word and deed, and seeking and serving Christ in all our neighbors by striving for their justice, peace and dignity. (Book of Common Prayer, pg. 417)

When I say that ordination is cool, but not the point, I mean exactly that… ordination is important, necessary in some respects and amazing to experience, but the church does not exist to ordain. The whole church exists to serve the world and to create a community of mutuality in care and concern for one another under God’s immense divine rush of love.

I’m grateful today for some courageous monks who have got me all reflective and thoughtful about our shared ministry across the whole church. Let us go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit! Thanks be to God!

AMDG, Todd

Juneteenth 2019

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C6E077A0-7C27-4CE1-B09E-0BC972192E37Today is Juneteenth, and I urge you to stop for a moment and celebrate the end of legal slavery in the United States, the emancipation of our neighbors, and the victory of our country over the rebellious forces which threatened to tear it apart. Through great leadership, at great price and with tenacious hearts we kept our nation together and began the end of a terrible historical atrocity.

This is also a chance to recognize and repent that we so often move too slowly, resist the changes we need to make as a people and a society, and that we still have so far to go in realizing the full humanity and dignity of all people. If Juneteenth is new to you, it’s a celebration of the emancipation of the slaves, and a remembrance that freedom was ignored and resisted for years by some civil and State authorities after the Emancipation Proclamation. More can be found here Juneteenth.com, and across the internet with a simple search.

This year’s marking of Juneteenth is more meaningful for me as I was able on Monday to attend a screening of Emmanuel, a documentary movie about the nine lives ended in the hateful and racially motivated shooting at the Emmanuel AME Church four years ago to the day, in Charleston, SC. That was a difficult movie to watch, as the legacy of white supremacy and racial hatred was so clearly illustrated in the senseless murders and the face of a young man of our time, not any ancient past or even recent history. Our time.

The hatred, ignorance and racism which fueled the Emmanuel shootings should be a reminder to us that all too often words become wounds. The racism and white supremacist rhetoric we hear today across our country, online and sometimes from the highest levels of government must be unequivocally, vehemently and with all our strength rejected and repudiated. Until our courts are equitable in applying the law to all people, policing is no longer far more lethal and brutal towards our brown and black neighbors, and all people of our nation are free to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, let Juneteenth be a reminder that our work is not done.

1058FF77-4FB2-4AED-A9C2-044667A1BEA7And we can vote. The image to the right is of a button I made earlier this year as an exercise of empathy and reflection on privilege. It’s time to vote with our neighbor’s best interest in mind. We need to vote with empathy and a realization that political wins achieved at the expense of another’s civil liberties or freedoms is no win at all, but a loss for all. Let Juneteenth become part of your annual remembrance that we have begun the difficult work of equality, but still have so far to go. We can do this. We’ve shown what we are capable of, both good and evil. May we forge a future of greater hope and liberty for all.

AMDG, Todd

Good Friday Gratefulness

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biblical way fo the cross

It’s Holy Saturday and I’m supposed to be quietly waiting for Easter, focused specifically on the darkness of the tomb and the cost off the cross. Instead, I’m thinking about how grateful I am for the services yesterday, especially the long vigil we held from noon to 3pm.

The clergy and good folks at St James Episcopal Church in Potomac opened their hearts and minds to a new vigil exercise, different from previous years. Together as a community we followed the readings of the fourteen stations of the Biblical Way of the Cross as designed by the late Pope John Paul II. These fourteen stations are all built upon scripture instead of upon a mix of scripture and tradition. They are also accompanied by some amazing prayers!

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Carrying Christ’s heavy cross to the altar.

As we read, prayed and sang through the stations many volunteers placed pieces of a tableau at the altar for each one. At the end we had an installation of greenery, signs and elements of the crucifixion, each related to the passages we read. In the final station we placed a corpus upon the altar, a representation of the wrapped and buried body of Christ. 

Let me say honestly, a three hour vigil is a long time, wearying and taxing. I have such respect for my clergy colleagues (Meredith and Mary Margaret) who stood, vested and focused, for the lion’s share of three hours of liturgy and stations, just to uncomfortably kneel the rest of the time. I was on my feet as well, but I was at the back of the sanctuary directing the placement of the tableau pieces. I had a chair handy, but stood in solidarity with those on stage. 

I have heard good things from some who haven’t worked together to make such a tableau before, and I’m so happy that the images and art spoke to them. I am most moved by what we did for the stations in which Peter betrays Jesus and then later when Jesus forgives the criminal on the cross… we had a familiar image, a Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was made to be broken in two at Peter’s denial and then put back together at the moment Jesus forgives the dying criminal: a broken heart, and a healthy active heart.

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What a blessing. I am so grateful to have shared the time with the amazing souls at St James, grateful for the legacy of selfless love and devotion we find in Christ.  I am so blessed by God’s church. Easter will be that much sweeter in joy and celebration after such a rich Good Friday.

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Have a great Easter Sunday, beloved! 

AMDG, Todd

Beginning Lent 2019

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Sitting behind the altar yesterday, having received the ashes and having imposed the ashes for others, I found a quiet moment to flip over to a prayer in our Book of Common Prayer…

Prayers for the Church
7. For the Church

Gracious Father, we pray for thy holy Catholic Church. Fill it
with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt,
purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is
amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in
want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake
of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer pg. 816

This prayer touched me, on the first day of Lent, in the wake of the recent divisive decisions and news from the United Methodist Church, in the context of the Church of Rome and many others finally facing up to sexual sins they have worked so hard to hide for so long… and I prayed it sincerely.

In case you don’t know, when Episcopalians pray or speak of the Catholic Church we mean the whole of the Church in all places and times, not just the Church of Rome. The word Catholic comes to us from the Greek katholikos which is a combination of kath and holo, throughout and whole.

The prayer resonated with me as a needed reminder that we must resist the mistake of equating the church with God, just as we must always remember that our beloved scriptures are not God. When the church fails, God has not. When scriptures fail, God has not. But it still hurts. In daily life it’s too easy to look to what can be seen or touched for our compass and foundation. And when those foundations shake, we fall apart. When our compass fails to point a way from pain to healing, we despair.

As I begin this year’s Lenten journey I’m feeling called to pray for more than my own transformation, but also for a transforming of the church, all of us, throughout the whole. We have fumbled with truths that should have been held tightly. We’ve too often  exchanged peace for power. We’ve ignored our neighborly responsibility to this world and its people. Reform us, God! Please, heal the hurting!

Version 2This morning I pray that our Mothering God would teach us to have broken and pliable hearts. I pray that the Holy Spirit, the spiritual presence of God living within each of us, would give us her wisdom and a deeper joy. I pray that Christ would truly be our spiritual food and daily sustenance, the One who animates us as we speak and act. I pray that the whole church throughout all of humanity will be courageous in its love and humble its following of the God who breaks down the barriers between us and frees us to love and serve one another. This is my Lenten prayer.

AMDG, Todd

 

Beginning With Gratitude

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prayer candlesA week ago I was blessed to preach again at St John’s Norwood Episcopal Church and I invited everyone to join me on an exercise, to begin each day with gratitude praying with the Book of Common Prayer on pg. 836… A General Thanksgiving. In case you don’t have a BCP, I’ll include the prayer here, and I invite you to read it aloud. It’s also available in the online version of the BCP…

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have
done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole
creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life,
and for the mystery of love.

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for
the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best
efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy
and delight us.

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures
that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the
truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast
obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying,
through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life
again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and
make him known; and through him, at all times and in all
places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

My hope was that intentionally beginning each day with gratitude would help orient me toward seeing things each day in which I could give more thanks, and I would be better able to fend off the things which would move me toward ingratitude, spite or anger.

My reflections on the week include my joy and deep gratitude for my wife, with whom I often shared this prayer in the morning. I also reflected how she is in a season of accomplishment at her work, and we are constantly delighted by her reaching new goals and heights in her efforts at work and school. And I think I felt a deep connection to the community of Christ, not only in the Episcopal tradition, but in a broader sense, to the community of souls who see God’s love and touch in both the ups and downs of daily life.

I’ve decided to keep this up for another week. Want to go along? I lack the discipline to be doing this at the same time each morning, but at some point in each morning I make time to read and center myself in all of God’s goodness in my life. I’d love to hear of your practice and any reflections after the week!

AMDG, Todd

 

Holy Spirit Novena in 2019

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To start off the new year of 2019, and in recognition that I need this so badly right now, I’ve worked on a simple novena with the Holy Spirit. I welcome anyone who would like to join me for the next nine days and I’d love to hear about your experience!

IMG_2692What is a Novena? The short answer is that a novena is a nine day stretch of special prayer emphasis. This is an ancient Christian practice which is connected to many things including a traditional count of nine days between Christ’s Ascension and the day of Pentecost in the lives of the Apostles, and even a pre-Christian period of mourning and prayer in Roman culture. There’s nothing magical about a novena, or the number nine, and it surely cannot put any obligation on God. It is prayer, and as such God hears us and loves us. Prayer changes us by helping us stay focused and in tune with God, and this novena practice is simply a method of prayer.

With this novena we’ll look into some scriptures, a new passage each day, but we aren’t doing scholarly theological work. We’ll look into these holy words for inspiration and encouragement. We’ll see how these scriptures illuminate the work of God’s Spirit to bind us together into a whole, with one another and with the Divine. 

Here’s the plan, in two easy pieces, 1) Morning & 2) The Rest of the Day:

MORNING: (or morning’ish if you get busy) Begin each day by reading its passage and the very short reflection, and then use the following prayer, changing it to reflect your own faith and experiences if you’d like, to begin a time of prayer. The whole morning exercise might be ten minutes long.

Morning Prayer:
“Holy Spirit, here I am. I would draw nearer to you,
nearer to my God and nearer to my Savior Christ.
I would be more fully present with my family, friends and neighbors.
Help me be the person you would make of me.
Through Christ. Amen.” 

DAY-NIGHT: Throughout the rest of the day, let the passage and your prayers go with you. Reflect on them when you can. If anything comes to your mind or heart, you can journal those notes to keep them. If you’d like, feel free to read the passage again and pray as often as you like. As you go to bed, give a few minutes of prayer to reconnect with God in gratitude for the day and hope for tomorrow.

Easy peazy, right? I’ll be doing this for the next nine days, January 1-9, and I invite you along for the ride. Again, I’d love to hear about your experience with this novena practice. Be well, beloved, and Happy New Year!

January One
Spirit of Life – Galatians 5:22-26 “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.”

We begin with this beautiful metaphor of the way that opening ourselves up to the Spirit of God can change us. The best things are grown from our hearts and minds when we allow the Spirit to change our hearts and minds. Can I imagine God transforming me to show and to share more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in an often hurting world?

January Two
Spirit of Community – Ephesians 2:13-22
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”

In Christ our racial and national divisions are made inconsequential. God’s Spirit would grow us together, removing barriers and binding us to one another. Am I open to less hostility in my life, open to more peace between myself and all my neighbors, and open to being together with people not like me?

January Three
Spirit of Service – Romans 12:1-8 “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.”

Has the Spirit called me to ministry? To service? Have I felt at times that I have a gift? This is all for the building up of our community of faith. Have I worked to move my ego aside and desired to be put to service for others around me?

January Four
Spirit of Diversity & Unity – 1 Corinthians 12:4-12
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”

The Spirit seems to be a powerful player among us, enabling us for ministry and communal service. We aren’t all made to be alike, but in diversity we are made to be one whole. Have I appreciated all the people around me who are not gifted as I am or talented in the things I enjoy and have pursued? Have I told them?

January Five
Spirit of Hope – John 14:25-27
 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

Jesus spoke these words to the apostles about the coming of The Spirit. Have I sought The Spirit’s presence for wisdom, truth and peace? Am I more focused these days on things which blind my wisdom, hide the truth and steal my peace?

January Six
Spirit of Strength – Romans 8:24-27
“For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

Does it help to know that The Spirit is praying with us, even when we can’t hear those prayers? Does it help to know that our weakness is not a sign of or cause of God’s absence, but our weakness is actually an open door for God’s Spirit and presence in our lives and struggles?

January Seven
Spirit of Renewal – Titus 3:3-5
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another.  But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”

I have to admit that I often feel like I am still quite stuck in life dominated by thoughts and habits very foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating… So, can I pray with an extra depth, “O Spirit of God, renew me!”

January Eight
Spirit of Freedom – 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”

In a time when organized religion is not always associated with freedom, but sometimes with oppression and captivity, can I revel in the freedom of the Spirit? Can I gift that freedom to others around me, loving them and serving them with a whole heart?

January Nine
Spirit of Presence – Acts 2:1-4 & 14-18
  When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability… But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”

Have I had any dreams or visions in this novena time? Have I heard God? Have I felt the Spirit? Have I grown in my desire to know God’s Spirit? It’s not always like we think it should be, and the apostles were even considered drunk when the Spirit was poured out on the world and they spoke in all those languages. Maybe I’m expecting one thing and God is doing something else?

After the Novena:

Is there an insight you want to carry forward? Write it down, pray over it and share it with others in your faith community. And I’d love to hear about your experience! All to God’s glory and the benefit of the earth. Amen.

AMDG, Todd

Pilgrimage and Stones

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The darker stones are the foundation of the synagogue from the time of Christ.

Faith and our journeys of faith are interesting pursuits. As I begin to process my recent pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine I find myself exploring the ways that we often deal with faith and fact, certainty and hope. It seems to me that many folks spend a lot of time seeking fact, support for our faith ideas, certainty of what we have hoped. On the other hand some of us seem averse to fact, almost afraid of certainty, as though proof or even just pieces of proof might undermine faith itself. One thing the pilgrimage has taught me is a deeper understanding that faith and certainty are not opposed, forcing a choice of one or the other, but exist in balance, complimenting one another as we seek a nearer walk with God.

 

I was excited to visit some of the first locations of our pilgrimage, scattered along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, which factored in the public ministry of Jesus. We stood on the Mount of Beatitudes where tradition has Jesus preaching the Sermon on the Mount. We celebrated the Eucharist at Tabgah, the location where tradition says that Jesus broke the bread and shared the fish to feed more than 5,000 people in the crowds who followed him.

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These are streets and homes in Capernaum from the time of Christ.

Then we came to the first of the stones on our pilgrimage, these black basalt stones which formed the base of the Jewish Synagogue in the ruins of Capernaum, a small city from the time of Christ. But this was not just any small city! Jesus based some of his public ministry from this city, and it was the hometown of one of his closest followers, Simon Peter. Here we pilgrims can touch the foundation stones of that synagogue where Jesus attended, see the streets and building foundations where he walked and shared life with friends. None of this proves that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, the resurrected incarnate God, or any of the things in which I place my faith, but we were in the geography of the man! We came as close as possible to sharing space with Jesus, sharing those stones and touching a tangible moment with him.

It’s affecting to come from a completely spiritual experience of Christ and to move into a geographical awareness of him. The abstract becomes more concrete. Faith has a rootedness and an anchor in a place and time in a very new way for a pilgrim. Nothing proven, but certainly something gained.

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These are the stairs that Jesus himself would have walked upon!

Toward the end of our pilgrimage we again encountered some stones, the stairs leading to and from the home of the High Priest and the location of one of the trials to which Jesus submitted himself. We stood upon the stairs which Jesus would have walked. Yes, we walked the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem’s Old City, and I’ll write about that later, but these stairs, these stones! Instead of tracing a path, some meters above the stones on which Jesus walked, here we shared the very stones! Did Jesus walk these stairs? There’s no real certainty he did, but these are stones of his day, the very stones on which he would have walked to go and to and from the house of the High Priest. This is a tangible connection to Jesus the likes of which I have never before known, and it affected me more than I would have expected. A passage came to mind as I sat with these stones along the stairs… Luke 19:37-40 (CEV), “When Jesus started down the Mount of Olives, his large crowd of disciples were happy and praised God because of all the miracles they had seen. They shouted, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory to God.” Some Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, make your disciples stop shouting!” But Jesus answered, “If they keep quiet, these stones will start shouting.”

To be a pilgrim is to become one of those followers along the roads of Jerusalem, even to be one of the stones waiting to cry out if needed. We now share the witness, the song, the joy. Our faith picks up some concrete reality along these dusty hot paths. Nothing is proven, but there is a new kind of sharing with Christ. And with sharing comes gratefulness. I am so grateful to everyone who made this trip possible and the 42 pilgrims who journeyed alongside me. I thank Christ for walking our paths and sharing such beauty with us.

AMDG, Todd