She Rides Horses…

Self-compassion groups

as her newest form of meditation. She told me the story just last week. She was realizing that nothing gives her more of a sense of mindful awareness and oneness than being on the back of her favorite horse and running free. She spoke of how she centered herself emotionally and aligned herself physically with the movements of her horse. She said a ride is always very uncomfortable when you are resisting the horses’ stride, or tightening your own muscles. So the intention is about getting into a “flow.”

Sounds like meditation to me: centering, surrendering, aligning, getting into the flow.

She was delighted to realize this active form of mindfulness is her way, and that it is okay to meditate in a form different than sitting still. Sure she might learn a hundred different ways. But for now it is important that she is finding her own best way.

He described fishing as an excellent form of meditation for him. Whereas the usual mind loves to jump around in a million directions, he is noticing that his mind can learn to focus attention into one place through fishing. He watches the bobber for the slightest movements at the water’s surface, as a sign that a fish is nibbling on his worm. Or he uses an acute sense of feel with a rod in his hands, as he trolls the lure through the invisible dimension below the river’s surface. The sensitivity of his hands in feeling that fishing line running through his fingers is a very specific form of mindfulness. His senses are alive, his attention is focused, and his awareness is trained on the one thing.

Fishing is a long way from horse-riding, but both are excellent ways of being mindful.

That’s the thing about learning mindfulness. Everyone has to find their own best ways to practice. And no one’s way is wrong if it works for them. So when you see the photo above of some of our contemplatives sitting in silence, do not presume everyone has to become comfortable with that way. Silent sitting is a good way, and it is only a way. Fishing and riding are great ways too.

The challenge is setting our intention and actually experimenting with many ways to find our own ways. I happen to be lucky in that I experience both mindfulness and heartfulness in a wide variety of ways. And it isn’t wrong if horseback riding is not one of them, (I never learned to relax with the horse enough to keep from busting myself in the saddle over and over).

Mindfulness is present moment awareness. And we can use most anything to cultivate that awareness. Heartfulness is what I am also seeking in all of these practices. Heartfulness to me means experiencing a full heart, a leb shalem or whole heart, a heart where love can dwell, which means where G-d can dwell. These are my intentions for the day: to be mindful and heartful. In that Sourcing I have a chance of radiating compassion as the highest ideal of my life.

So this morning I needed an hour of practicing visio divina (sacred seeing) and audio divina (sacred listening). I was seeking to be mindful and heartful in the cypress swamp that is our backyard. I was seeing this.

Ecoutez! photo

I was surrounded by nothing but the sounds of the yellow warbler, the crickets and locusts, the bull frog, the green heron’s call as he flew through the trees, the blue heron’s flapping wings as she took off when I got too close, and the high-pitched whistles as the brown whistling ducks came in for a landing. All of their sounds helped me focus my attention on the present moment, and open my heart to experience the oneness of all sentient beings. That was my form of audio divina this morning.

The thin green fronds of the cypress trees, the deep blue sky, the rugged texture of the cypress bark, the myriad plants and flowers growing on the water’s surface, and the image of the various birds sweeping through the trees were all part of my visio divina.

Listening and seeing, such simple ways to practice mindfulness and heartfulness. Both have sourced my intention to radiate lovingkindness as I head out into the world today. What will be your ways today? How will you focus your awareness and open your heart? Take the challenge, accept the adventure, and find your path today. It is not too late!

Next week I will launch a Men’s Meditation Challenge with 8 practices in 8 weeks. Each week we will commit to the daily practice of one way. If you are in the New Orleans area, contact me and let’s take the challenge together.


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We fell into stillness…

Lara leading self-compassion meditation

as Lara Naughton led us through self-compassion meditations last Saturday at our cypress swamp property I refer to as Ecoutez! (meaning Listen! in French). Lara drew us into silence for guided meditations, then had us write our responses to a series of questions to lead us into the place of self-compassion. Then she invited us to pair up or have small group sharing if we wanted to reveal what we were discovering. Finally, we engaged in walking in silence across our beautiful property, to let the natural world wash over us, and to feel the Spring breeze, as a practice of self-compassion.

I looked around the room as the group of twenty-six of us kept falling back into the stillness, and felt immense pleasure in gathering a community in our home who are seeking to practice the presence of loving-kindness, (which many of us call God), for our own transformation into beings who radiate loving-kindness. This gathering, for this purpose, is what I am here for.

Self-compassion meditation

I read a summation of “the highest spiritual ideal” in Tibetan Buddhism from the Dalai Lama’s English translator, Thupten Jinpa, in his book, A Fearless Heart. He says it is compassion. And I immediately recalled how Jesus said the highest spiritual ideal is loving God with all our heart and soul and strength and mind, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. So let’s see, is there a better way we could be spending our time than cultivating compassion for ourselves and others?

For several years we have voiced the mission of our School for Contemplative Living as creating contemplative communities who practice the presence of God, [who is Love], for personal transformation and radical engagement with the world. This is all true. But perhaps when we said “radical engagement with the world” we were not completely clear.

By “radical” we meant “rooted,” as in grounded in the Source of compassion and loving-kindness, who we call God. But maybe “radical” sounds like trying to be dramatic, unusual, spectacular. And maybe it is time for us to become even more clear in voicing what we actually practice. For we are practicing the presence to source our compassionate engagement with the world. We are seeking to radiate loving-kindness wherever we go, (and of course we always do that perfectly!). And as best we can we seek to love God/neighbor/self. Compassion really is our highest spiritual ideal. And our contemplative practices are how we source the expression of that ideal.

When we do this…

Self-compassion group

we are sourcing ourselves for compassionate service with the world. As we fall into the stillness, in community, we are practicing the divine calling which the Jewish psalmist expressed a few thousand years ago in Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.” Since “God is love,” the psalmist could literally mean, “Be still and know Love.” That is what our experience of cultivating compassion was all about.

I do not believe for a minute what I have heard church people say for many years, that we “should love God first, others second, and ourselves last.” To that I say, “Bull!” That is just a twisted version of the crazy belief that we do not matter, our needs do not matter, and that we are being selfish to even think of ourselves. I cannot recall a single time Jesus said, “Your needs do not matter.” His quote of the highest commands from Jewish scripture were quiet simple and clear: “Love your neighbor AS yourself.” Doesn’t this raise the cultivating of compassion for God/self/neighbor to our highest priority?

I know there are millions of people across the globe who believe that practicing inner stillness is a selfish waste of time, a radical failure of our highest human priority – to be productive at all times. Most of those people seem to live in America. But my experience is exactly the opposite. When I enter the inner sanctuary each day, by myself or with one of our contemplative communities, I find that loving-kindness rises from within. I do not always feel it at that moment, because I am often noticing the thousand thoughts. But the practice of sourcing in the divine Source of compassion still fills my reservoir. And the fruits of that practice tend to come out in feeling compassion with those I see during the day.

We radiate what is inside us. That is a given. If I get caught in the polarization happening across the world, the crazy belief that my side is right and everyone else is wrong, then I will radiate that. I will speak of that. I will act like that. But what if I take time to cultivate compassion in the inner sanctuary every single day? What if I keep doing this…

Self-compassion groups

and move from that inner place of compassion out into the world? No doubt, I at least stand a better chance of radiating compassion instead of polarization.

Our friend Lara spent Monday offering an introduction to compassion cultivation with residents at Louisiana’s Angola prison. This summer she will offer the full 8-week course in Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) for residents and staff at the prison. Lara is living her mission, practicing the highest spiritual ideal in a most challenging place. I hope to join her for one of those sessions on discovering our common humanity. And there is a way you can help. See if this speaks to you:

We are seeking to raise $4000 for her cause. You can support her mission financially by sending a tax-deductible donation to our School for Contemplative Living. You can make out a check to Rayne United Methodist Church, adding SCL-CCT, (an abbreviation for the School for Contemplative Living-Compassion Cultivation Training), on the memo line at the bottom of your check. Then mail the check to Rayne UMC at 3900 St. Charles Ave. New Orleans, LA 70115.

And if this story is calling your name, is it time for you to practice compassion cultivation with a group of contemplatives each week? If you do not know of a group in your area, contact us and we will be glad to help you find, or even create, a contemplative community. It’s what we do.

Blessings on your own unique journey into the heart of compassion.

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I love teaching meditation…


because of the joy I find in gathering friends and strangers to experience oneness with God, ourselves, each other, and all created things. That sense of interconnectedness, of being part of the whole, as direct experience and not just not theory, is amazing to me. But there’s more.

Saturday I was blessed to lead an adventure in mindfulness meditation with a woman from India who was trying out meditation for the first time, a man from Venezuela who has begun teaching fourth graders to meditate in his classroom, a musician from the Episcopal cathedral who just completed mindfulness training, and a friend who trained in mindfulness with me last year. In other words, most everyone was in the beginning of a practice that can be life changing.

I loved sharing principles of the practice and guiding the group through the experience of entering a place of self-compassion, where we hold whatever arises within us in loving awareness. That can be very challenging of course, considering the stream of thoughts and emotions which can arise in a short period of practice. But the challenge is worth it, as we learn that even the most troubling thoughts and emotions can be soothed by a persistent attitude of loving awareness. In effect, we are holding ourselves with compassion, treating ourselves with lovingkindness.

Here is an example of how that can work. In completing our family taxes the program revealed a doubling of the rate we owed for our share of the Affordable Healthcare insurance. That discovery threw me. I wanted to cry or choke or curse. Feelings of being a failure in providing for my family arose. Unworthiness was the main emotion that was drowning me. I needed help. I needed a practice of holding the emotions in loving awareness.

I spent the week working with those emotions as best I could. The feelings returned each day and I kept trying to hold them in loving awareness.. There was no magical solution, and no pill to make them go away, just a daily practice.

However, out of the holding came a realization that I needed to share my feelings with a wise guide. So I set up an appointment with my spiritual director. That too was a form of self-compassion, a decision not to isolate myself with feelings of unworthiness. And sharing those feelings proved very valuable. I came away from seeing my spiritual director with a sense of being valued and loved, just as I am. In effect, she helped me deepen my practice of holding the feelings in loving awareness, (as well as helping me to form an action plan to address our financial situation).

Because I had spent the week holding my own emotions in loving awareness, I could share that teaching and practice with the class from direct experience. In meditation practice, experience is everything. Without that, our words fall on deaf ears because people intuit when we are only speaking of information we have acquired.

There was more in the Saturday group experience. There was a feeling of timelessness which came for several moments along the way. There was the joy of simple being, with no need to be accomplishing anything. The Venezuelan man described feeling what Thich Nhat Hanh calls “coming home,” a way of being at home in our own skin.

As we shared our experiences, the Indian woman said she struggled with how her attention kept being pulled off into various thoughts. We all agreed that we got that, and normalized her experience of the wandering mind. I pointed out that hundreds of people through the years had told me that was the thing that made them believe they couldn’t meditate. And I related how one meditation teacher had said the only way to not have thoughts was to be dead. We all laughed.

Next I described how the extended practice of noticing thoughts and letting them go, while returning to a simple focus of attention like the breath, had been like filling my inner reservoir with a sense of healing, wholeness, and completeness. It sounds easy, which it is not, but the tool of “release and return” with persistent thoughts has been a help to me for decades now.

I also shared how the critical voice that arises from our thoughts can make sitting in stillness downright painful. We briefly explored how normal it seems to be for all humans to have times when that negative voice in our heads persistently tells us the ways we are failures. The solution? Keep releasing such judgments, return the attention to the breath, and sustain an attitude of loving awareness. The critical voice is another aspect of our common humanity. So sharing about that in a meditation group can actually draw us together and help us feel connected, even if we walked in as strangers.

Finally, a career aspiration of mine has always been to relieve suffering. That mission gives me a sense of purpose, and the meditation teaching offers a sense of competency in sharing tools which can help build people’s resilience. I feel so blessed every time I get to accompany others in their journey through suffering into the place of innate healing. That work seems like a good way to spend the rest of my life.

I love meditation teaching for many reasons, and I look forward to many more years of sharing my calling with individuals and groups as we create contemplative communities who practice the presence of God for personal transformation and radical engagement with the world. If you are in the neighborhood, come join us for one of our gatherings, like the workshop on “Cultivating Self-Compassion” this weekend, (details at Or if you want some individual guidance, contact me and let’s take a journey together.

May we all be blessed to find our own best way of “coming home.”

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Slowly surrendering to heartbreak


Our beautiful Buddhist friend and teacher, Marilyn, developed a cancer, which quickly spread after surgery, and took her life way too soon. And I hate that! And I do not want to accept it. Can’t she come lead us in centering meditation again like she did in the photo above? We just had coffee, and then agreed to do that more often. How can she be suddenly gone?

I can still see her face, her radiant smile, her perpetual shining forth of lovingkindness. She must be still here…somewhere!

I know if I go to the urban garden by the Ruby Slipper Café she will have her arms elbow-deep in the dirt, breaking up the soil. And when we see each other she will radiate her smile again, and give me a sideways hug to keep the dirt off my work clothes. Won’t she? She must be still here…somewhere?

If we need her to join Anna Maria in leading another retreat in “Three-Centered Awareness,” she will surely come remind us to quit acting like giant heads flopping around the earth with our multitudes of thoughts, will call us back to full embodiment, will guide us into the Heart Center. I know she would say, “yes.” Maybe I can just call her now. Maybe she will still answer.

Giant tears take over, finally, until I can’t see the words I am writing. And now my nose runs freely.

My body is speaking to tell me something terrible has really happened. And this breaks my freakin’ heart all over again. And I curse with my modest cursing vocabulary. It doesn’t help.

How could the woman who sat with her arm around me as we waited to hear the results of my wife’s own cancer surgery not be around if I should need her again? How can a living being just dissolve away like that? It’s just too much.

Now I can’t breathe.

Who will I turn to when the next street friend needs Marilyn’s Tai Chi classes for free, so she can find her way back towards embodied serenity, having nothing but her being to offer as payment? Could I still call out to Marilyn? Maybe she could return for that?

Or maybe I could just tell her I need that coffee with her at Manhattan Jack’s one more time, and need that parting hug just one more time. Maybe then…

My head hurts. My heart hurts. My body hurts all over. My energy just disappeared after Marilyn’s memorial service last Monday. I’ve been sick all week. I think the disease is called: “I hate this and can’t accept it!”

My breathing slowly returns. My nose begins to open. The ache across my whole chest eases up a bit. Something is trying to let go.

Let Marilyn go? Really? Is there some other way? (I feel like one of the disbelieving disciples when Jesus has announced, “I am going away to prepare a place for you. But I will come again and receive you unto myself.”)

Aren’t you still closer than breath Marilyn? Are you all spirit now, so you can dart about wherever you want? Can’t you show up when you want to, even for a little tender moment, like this bright yellow prothonotary warbler appearing in the tree just now?

Could you come by when I am meditating, chanting to music, being one with me as I am being one with The All?

Yes, I am resisting surrender again. Who wouldn’t? Isn’t this part of being human, in our very nature?

I wish a contemplative life of practicing the presence protected us from heartache. But it seems to be the opposite. Being fully present means present to everything. Even this.

My body eases up. I settle back into my chair.

A red cardinal arrives on the deck just outside our windows. Is that you? Can I let this be you showing up? He sees his own reflection in the glass. He hops so close that I think he is looking at me. Then he darts away.

I look up into the azure blue sky, just beyond the dappled light on the bright green white oak leaves which have just budded out.

I make a decision: I am going to let you be in the appearances of The-One-who-is-in-all-that-is.

I would rather have hugs, coffees with you, that smile…but what if you want to come to me in all these other ways? What if you are like Spirit now? Should I say “no” to that?

I think my body/mind/heart is drawing near to the moment of releasing you. Maybe I can’t hold you here. Maybe I must release, accept, surrender.

I send my heart full of love to you, wherever you are.

I say I will be watching for your appearances.

And I promise I will hold your beloved Anna Maria in my heart still, as she wanders through this long dark wood. We already miss you terribly.

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Ephrem meeting

Seven of us were blessed to visit with Father Ephrem Arcement after the mass at St. Joseph Abbey near Covington, Louisiana, yesterday. He has been a friend of our School for Contemplative Living for years and has presented from books he has written several times. Ephrem shared his new article on the importance of contemplatives practicing and sharing presence in a culture that has preferenced human contact through devices.

He explained that presence includes our attentive awareness of the presence of God in our daily lives and our need to stay present to each other in community. He spoke of the challenges of current American politics in which listening to each other and empathy are becoming rare, and of the freedom some are feeling to use hate speech openly for anyone with whom they disagree. But Ephrem never stays focused on the negative side of current events.

He shifted the discussion to the importance of how we personally choose to behave. He caused me to wonder if I am actively living out my own calling as a contemplative who emphasizes Presence daily. Am I speaking more about Presence or about the wrong behaviors I judge in others? And what if I increased my daily time of practicing the presence of God to at least match the time I spend listening to the news on NPR as I drive to and from work? That would mean I commit to an hour a day as a minimum.

I had a taste of that hour of presence today when I walked to the end of our pier, around the screened gazebo, and stretched out across the wood planks at the far end. I stared straight up into the sky, and really noticed the brilliant blue hues and the brightness of the spring green cypress leaves. I closed my eyes and listened to the tree frogs, bull frogs, woodpeckers, Carolina Chickadees calling, and whistling ducks flapping their wings as they bathed at the edge of our swamp.

I slowly let go of all doing and practiced simple being. It was delicious. It helped soothe my soul that is troubled by seeing the many ways our country is on fire and disintegrating. I think I will decide right now to practice better self-care by dedicating more time each day to practicing presence, alone and with friends.

Thanks be to God our School is blessed with superb presenters at our monthly workshops or retreats who help us find our way into presence. Rodger Kamenetz and Marian Gay will lead a workshop on “Dreams and the Sacred Encounter” this Friday evening. (You can still pre-register on our website at Then Lara Naughton will lead a workshop/retreat on “Cultivating Self-Compassion” on April 22.

Ephrem will lead a May 20 workshop/retreat on “Four Trajectories for Contemplatives in the 21st Century.” There he will surely share more about practicing presence. Jenny Heil will lead a June 24 workshop/retreat on lectio divina called “Reading is Believing.” And Susan Rush will lead the annual centering prayer retreat August 4-9 to help us immerse ourselves in contemplative presence.

We have some exciting news for December 1-2. Father Richard Rohr will return to New Orleans to share his views on how the Trinity wants to flow through us from his book: The Divine Dance! We are so grateful that despite rarely traveling away from his Center for Action and Contemplation these days, Father Richard has agreed to return and guide us once again in the art of uniting contemplation and action.

If you are also drawn to a life of practicing presence, come join us for our weekly groups and monthly workshop/retreats. We need each other’s presence and this world surely needs us to practice Presence as a community. Let’s begin now!

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Your New Consciousness


The early morning clouds spread a dull gray hue

across the scene outside our picture windows.

There was a chill in the air as I completed outdoor chores.

I felt that old nagging boredom,

and wondered what I should do with my morning.


Then came the moment

when the full, bright sun emerged from behind the dreary clouds,

and vibrant spring colors came to life across our cypress swamp,

like the bright green leaves of the willow, maple, and cypress,

and the darker, rich greens of the magnolias,

and the small red fronds of the white oak.

The adobe stone path leading to our pier was illuminated by speckled sunlight,

and the deep blue sky was reflected in the water,

as surface ripples revealed the movements of fish.

A pair of brown whistling ducks called out with their orange beaks.

My consciousness shifted from a vague state of relative unawareness

to what the Buddhists call a “blue-sky mind,”

and Richard Rohr calls the “contemplative mind,”

in which the apparent lifelessness around us can dissolve

into a reanimated, re-enchanted landscape:

the vibrant kingdom of God’s natural world.


A woman felt trapped in a deadening marriage,

pummeled by wars of shaming accusations, belittling words,

and the perpetual need for defensive armor.

She was locked into a self-image of being small, unworthy, and powerless,

which brought out behaviors that appeared controlling, angry, and combative.

After too many years—long, painful years—

she came to the end,

and announced her plan to leave,

despite the increase of shaming and blaming by her husband.

A light slowly arose within her,

fragile as a flickering candle,

a felt sense that her wishes, needs, dreams, and life itself might still matter.

A tiny voice within coaxed her forward, out of her dark dungeon

and into the light of knowing–perhaps for the first time in her life–

that she is God’s beloved.


A clergyman and counselor worked for a private hospital for ten years,

even though one of the hospital’s owners spent the decade

trying to save money by closing his spirituality department.

“It’s not personal,” the owner would say. “We just need to cut expenses.”

So the clergyman went about his work,

keeping his head down, feeling insignificant,

and fearing he would lose his job someday,

leaving no way to provide for his family.

He couldn’t imagine being anything but an employee.

Self-employment was clearly for brave “business-types,”

and not even an option for him.

The day came when the hospital administrator announced

he could either resign or be terminated, “to cut expenses.”

To save face, he resigned and launched out into private practice,

fully expecting to fail, but not knowing what else to do.

A year later, a psychologist peer stopped by to ask,

“How’s it going?”

The man answered from an inner place he had never known before:

“I am poor, but free!”

For the first time in his life he had experienced the freedom of independence.


Your new consciousness will also come in a moment of surprise,

as old ways of seeing the world, and yourself, fall away.

Then, by the transformative work of the divine inside you,

new vistas will open,

opportunities never imagined will appear before you, and

unexpected paths will lead you through terrible, exciting adventures.

“I call you by name, for you are mine,” says the LORD.

“I guide you to horizons you never knew,

and help you drink in the Enough you need,

which is waiting inside you, even now.

Rivers of alive water

will source your new creativity

and bring you to your True Home,

an inner dwelling

where you will know me as a Friend,

and we will do amazing things together.

Let’s begin now.”



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Your new life on the horizon

Physicists tell us the divine is at work

right now.

The Creator is birthing new stars and galaxies

somewhere out there.

But look into the heart of God and you will know

Creator wants to birth Herself or Himself

somewhere inside of you.


This is the Call,

the immensely personal question:

When you are finally ready,

will you say, “Yes, God

be born anew in me”?


The story of your next new birth will be like this:

You will step into the Cave of Unknowing

and be guided to sit in the darkness

and wait much too long,

(this part seems like forever),

until finally you vaguely make out a figure

sitting beside you

who might be the Christ,

and may be the next new you

forming in the silent darkness.

In that quiet place

you will come to know, beyond belief,

that you and Christ are one.


Then, from somewhere in the deep of you,

a fearful and courageous voice will arise

and you will speak your consent,

“Yes, be born anew in me.”


In that very moment

your transformation speeds up.

Sparks fly off you

as Spirit chips off the rough and rocky edges—

the old patterns you are now ready to release.


As a divine sculptor at work

Spirit is making something beautiful:

something very human and very divine,

a brand-new incarnation,

the next new you.


You stand up

and walk to the Cave’s entrance

and look out into unbearable light.

Throngs of radiant beings are coming over the hills

toward you.

Celebration is in the air,

and celestial sounds you have never heard

fill your ears.

The scented freshness of spring fills your nostrils.

Your own body feels ecstatic, alive, and new.

Energy is pulsing through you.

By intuition

you know the same energy

is pulsing in all the throng.


You step forward

as All Beings form a giant circle around a Center.

God, Jesus, and Spirit are in the Center

dancing with delight and inviting everyone to join in.

A symphony of song begins

and you begin to weep

as all your old sorrows fall away;

and you begin to laugh

as all your fondest joys return;

and you suddenly join in the chorus

of all languages at once

singing, “Alleluia” over and over!


Now you know

everything else is temporary.

This oneness of All Beings singing

is your everlasting Home.

You have entered the kingdom of heaven.


Here is the part

where I offer you some warnings:

in your next, new incarnation

things will not be the same.

And you might not recognize yourself

at first.


If you are female

you might now look like the new statue

of a girl standing unafraid

with her hands on her hips

before the giant bronze bull on Wall Street.


If you are male

you could now resemble a humble Buddha

sitting in serene contentment

no longer seeking to win,

and surprisingly disinterested in acquiring power or status.


For all of you,

the dream for your life—

which you have always suppressed

and hid away in secret—

will now become your actual life.

New ways of being in the world

will become your ways.


The voiceless will find your voice.

Talkers will finally learn to listen,

to really listen.

All kinds of artists

will be popping up everywhere

as Creator Spirit dances freely!


Your eyes will be transformed

and you will welcome the one you see in the mirror,

and quietly cherish you in your heart.

You will also discover each person you meet

as a long-lost sister or brother.


This is how your story unfolds:

When you are born anew,

which is to say,

when you tell God, “Yes,

be born anew in me,”

you will see and enter the kingdom of God.

Your new life on the horizon

begins now.


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