Worth Revisiting: Examen-ing Obedience

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o·be·di·ence noun

compliance with an order, request, or law or submission to another’s authority compliance, acquiescence, tractability, amenability; 

Truthfully when we hear the word obedience it is not well received. In part because it requires another less desired virtue, that of humility. And yet when we take time to reflect on advent the models of obedience witnessed in Joseph and Mary cannot be overlooked.
Joseph concerned as to the potential disgrace that not only he faced but that Mary would have endured, had decided to quietly divorce. Still, before the will and persuasion of God  Joseph faithfully obeyed. For as Matthew accounts, “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.”(Matthew 1:24) Through Matthew’s gospel account we feel for Joseph in the circumstance and in the implications of the decision he would choose to make. Again in Matthew 2:13-15, an angel comes to Joseph in a dream saying,
 “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him…So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.”
In both of these momentous occasions , we notice that God did not leave this steadfast man of God unguided. And neither does God ever leave us alone, whether in the midst of difficult or everyday decisions.

Discovering  God’s presence

Father in heaven, I know that you are here with me. Not because of who I am, but because of who you are. You desire to walk with us, to lovingly guide and instruct us in your will. You ask only that we listen and follow. So it is with this I ask you to help my stubborn prideful nature to accept what it is you would want for me.

Scripture tells us that Joseph didn’t simply marry Mary and take in God’s only son, but resolutely took on the loving role as Mary’s husband and Jesus’ earthly father. Carrying out not only what had been prophesied for the world but assuming God’s vocation for his own life.

Looking back with gratitude become aware of the God moments in your day.

Oh what gladness and purpose that awaits with our obedient response to your will for our lives! While I had my own well intentioned way to spend my time, you asked and I followed, however begrudgingly.  Meeting me also with caring family and friends to support and encourage my steps forward. Thank you for always providing exactly what I need, when it is needed. 

God directed Joseph through both his obedience in prayer as well as in angelic proclamations. While not knowing fully what was to come, Joseph would humbly serve his family in he day to day ordinary events. Through Jesus, God drew intimately near to all mankind encountering each of us in our  own journey of faith.

Was there an specific instance today that you felt God draw near, or that your words or actions pulled you away?

Today, in my frustration you heard my complaints. You met my feeble excuses with better reasons for being obedient. You strengthened and helped me overcome my overwhelming desire for down time in order to accept your grace that awaited. All so that I could see that the way is made perfect through your love and my willingness to humbly follow.

Tomorrow awaits- How will we meet God?

Jesus’ birth promises a greater tomorrow with him one day, but also a hope that whatever may come he is there too.

Father, for all the ways that I have been less than loving, faithful or obedient today, I offer you my tomorrow. From the moment my eyes open to when my head rests on my pillow, I humbly ask you to speak to my heart. I so want to be obedient to your will, for you alone know the plans for my life. Please, take all of me.

Peace,

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This Advent: Be a Witness

Those close to me know the great joy I receive from helping others. And yet time and time again, God has repeatedly shown immense blessings that could only be found through humility and from the depths of my own need. The following modern story is one such instance, that came to mind in reflecting on Mary’s witness in her own advent journey with the birth of Jesus.

In 1999, in expectation of my second child, both loyalty and confidence in our physician required traveling the distance to our family OBGYN even after we had moved away. Normally, I would have taken the highway back, which made for a much shorter trip. Yet, that day, I felt I was being led to take the longer way which could be upwards of an hour’s drive. God alone knew what was to occur and why it would be so imperative that we be on that road that day.

With a healthy third trimester visit “under my belt”, I headed home exhausted but joyful of what was to come. That is until the sudden jolt and drop of my SUV and the petrifying sound of a complete tire blowout.  Riding it forward to stabilize, then finding the shoulder I had avoided a almost certain collision had I been on the highway. Having witnessed the incident, two other drivers would offer assistance. One of which, seeing my condition walked with us to a nearby home set back a ways from the main road. If she had been in a hurry that day, her calm, kind disposition did not indicate.

Just imagine, if you can, the sight of a very expectant mother knocking on your door with a toddler in hand. Would you welcome their unplanned visit? To my surprise not only did this family offer the use of their phone, but opened their home and hearts as well. With hot cocoa and cookies in hand, we took a seat at the family table and conversed at length while awaiting my husband’s hurried arrival.  We spoke, however, not as strangers but as if we were family and had known each other our whole lives.

Some years ago, my dear friend Barbara who had answered my need that day with a warm smile went home to Jesus. In offering a generous heart to all, she lived her life as a witness to the self-sacrificing love and joy of Christ. Because of her, our families have together celebrated numerous weddings, births and deaths. Through it all, we always loved a tremendous sharing of life and the delight in conversation.

As an interesting footnote, Barbara’s daughter Jeannine was to be the maternity nurse on duty for both of the birth of my younger sons. God knew the blessing that we would each receive, and it was certainly not by chance that we met. As I grow older I realize that sometimes it is in our greatest weakness and need that God is able to bless us the most. This Christmas, may you all truly be a witness, as Barbara was, and welcome in the passerby.

“Witness” by  (my grandpa) Carl Ferrell

He placed his hand upon the head
of a heartbroken child;
The hungry they shared part of his bread-
He cheered them with a smile.

Those who were caught in Satan’s snare,
This man did not disdain,
But lifted them from their despair,
And set them right again.

We serve our God by things we do,
Not by things we say,
His was a life of service , true-
He witnessed every day.

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Sing With Me

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I have always loved to sing. Whether acapella or accompanied , in the shower, car or kitchen..music carries me through even the smallest of duties. Though my voice is nothing extraordinary, it has purpose and passion in every note and tune carried. It takes heart that when it is lifted in praise to its Creator that truly our prayerful petitions are amply doubled. In fact, it was in children’s choir at my church that I first discovered the diversity of gifts and the power of song to stir the soul and strengthen a community. Through tornado ravaged springs, to drought impacted fields, layoffs and closings, my small church community came together praying and singing of the hope in what was to come.

Yet, so often it seems to me that this sentiment is not shared universally by the average parishioner in the pew. For a variety of reasons given, we come to Mass but hold back in singing.

“No one wants to hear me sing” “I am here to pray, not sing”  “Too modern..too traditional” “There are others who can sing!”

Oh, how we miss the meaning when we do this! It isn’t about the quality or ability of the singer, nor is it about our personal preference of song. Rather, it is our participation and desire to pray, albeit in a different way, to our heavenly Father. It is adding our voice to the community in thanks, and petition for all that we have been given and are in need of. And in Advent, it is honoring the sacredness of God’s very gift of himself to enter into mankind out of his ultimate love for each one of us.

As a child I loved these weeks leading up to Christmas especially. My mom would pull out the Christmas songbook and together we would sing after school or church just the two of us. A few songs I steadily practiced and even clumsily learned to play on the piano, excited to offer some accompaniment. Were we looking for perfection in singing? No, but what we offered was always perfected in Him. We found community in one another, in waiting for what was to come. And to this day, it  remains one of my most cherished memories of Christmas and of her. Eleven years have passed since her death and I now sing with my own family, as well as with those in my new parish home. I can almost hear her ask me again, “Elizabeth Ann, it’s almost Christmas..would you sing with me?”

This Advent, when you gather with your own family, whether in your home parish or another, please take a moment to consider this prayerful invitation of song.

Peace,

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This Advent: Clean House!

You may have heard the expression that “cleanliness is next to Godliness” and without a doubt this would not be a beloved mantra by most. Yesterday just so happened to be my opportunity to catch up on all the neglected household chores of the week. From the kitchen to the bathrooms, floors and counter tops, laundry and mealtime preparation it all lay before me demanding my diligent attention. Were there other things that I would have preferred to be doing on my day off? Most certainly, and make no mistake many of these diversions occupied space in my thoughts as I moved from room to room.

Yet, despite these thoughts, God was also calling me to see his presence both in the work at hand and introspectively in making ready for the season. Thus, advent, it seems to me, is a time of preparation of heart and home for the celebration that is to come. For, in a mere matter of weeks we are to rejoice in the birth of our savior and more than an calendar observation it requires our active participation.

If we are to make a home, a resting place for the Christ child, and a welcome for the visitors who come to see Christ within us what do we need to do this advent?

First, we need to prioritize. Recognizing, that as conflicts arise that we need to put God first. While Christmas shopping, parties, concerts and plays are all enjoyable albeit unavoidable excursions, we cannot forget to make time and space in our days for God. If necessary, put this appointment with God on your calendar. For many, if it is on the calendar it is more likely to be a reality. Then research the availability of local churches for adoration time, healing Masses, and reconciliation that will work the best.

  • “Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house.” Prov 24:27
  • Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, “Sacrifice and offering you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me” Heb 10:5

Consider the interior work that needs to be done this Advent season:

  • “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” Luke 14:28
  • “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” 2 Tim 2:15

Create an Advent action plan:

  • Be determined and serious: “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:13
  • Spend time with scripture: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Ps 119:105
  • Examine the idols, or misplaced priorities in your life:

“In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.” Prov 3:6

“If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and… direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only.” 1 Sam 7:3-4

  • Seek to be Sanctified and Holy: Are there sins in my life that need to be removed in order for my heart to be a home?  Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.” 2 Tim 2:20-21
  • Bring others with you on the journey: so that when the Christ child comes we will be a people ready for celebration and joy!  “And he will go before him in the spirit…to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” Luke 1:17

Reflect:

What spiritual housekeeping have I been neglecting lately? Have I made time to clean the corners of my heart and prepare a place for Christ this Advent?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: A Seamless Garment

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As a child, I can’t remember my mom ever specifically relegating  any amount of time to just for herself.Up at the crack of dawn, she hit the ground running accomplishing more before sunrise than I would venture a good majority of us can claim given a regular work day. This she did this day after day and rather than storing credits for compensation later was satisfied to see the fruits of her efforts in her children, students and community.

With such an incredible witness of a life steeped in virtue, you might think that it would have been a simple hat trick to imitate. Yet, just because we may have been given a front row seat to another’s journey does not indicate a readiness to steer a virtuous life ourselves, nor does it convey the full story. In truth, a life for others  does not mean there isn’t a real daily struggle for balance in our lives. Competing needs and demanding timelines as well as a healthy measure of self care tug and wrestle at us constantly. In order to walk in virtue each one must be practiced. For, a fullness of faith, hope, charity, fortitude (courage), justice, prudence (wisdom/discernment), and temperance (moderation) are not gifts merely bestowed but a collection of daily hard won battles fought. Sound contradictory?

St. Teresa of Calcutta once remarked that “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”

So it is with the practice and living out of virtue. Thus, what appears to the naked eye as a seamless garment of love, is actually a pieced together working out of our journey with God and those we encounter. For this reason, we can never assume that any garment is perfect, or ever finished in this life. Though for a brief time, we might just glimpse the glimmer and handiwork of God working in our life or in the lives of others along the way.

Reflect:

Have I felt the virtues are too challenging to even attempt? If so, why? What is needed to redirect the course I follow when needs compete?

Peace,

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My Delight

“The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.” Zeph.  3:17

Have you ever experienced a time of holy delight with God? Lately, I have noticed something quite exquisite happening in my daily walk with the Lord.  Though it is not unusual for me to notice God’s presence in my day, my amazement in discovering him has now turned to sheer delight. And the more my delight rests in finding joy in him, the more he responds lovingly in return.

Much like courting, there is a growing desire to be near one another and to make the other’s happiness your own. This is what it is to be in love and to desire to show that love constantly. Then, even the tiniest of favors does not go unnoticed, but is rejoiced with gladness. From an answer in the depths of my heart, to a song played just because he knew I longed to hear it, to a person placed in my path intentionally who needed to see Christ..this has now become my heart’s delight.

But how do we come to this place of delight with the Lord?

  1. First, we are to to delight solely in his will in our everyday and to keep his law always within our hearts. (Ps. 40:8)
    So much so, that it penetrates our inmost being. (Rom. 7:22)
  2. We are to seek truth and be trustworthy with God and others. Prov. 12:22
  3. And we are to honor and find delight in the Sabbath “not (by) going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words” Is. 58:13-14

What does God promise in return?

  1. Rescue: “He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.” Ps 18:19
  2. Vindication: “But let the one who boasts boast about this:that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,  justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord” Jer 9:24
  3. Direction: The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him. Ps. 37:23
  4. Desires of our Hearts: Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Ps. 37:4

Reflect:

Do I take delight in God’s will for my life? Am I ready for God’s promises in his delight of me?

May those who delight in my vindication shout for joy and gladness; may they always say, “The Lord be exalted, who delights in the well-being of his servant.” Ps 35:27

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Around the Table

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With the approach of Thanksgiving, my thoughts return to the table which I so customarily gathered around in my childhood. There in the small kitchen of my grandmother’s home was a simple maple table with 6 chairs around. To the eye there was nothing unusual about it, but the love and memories that always surrounded it fill me with warmth to this very day. Endless games of dominoes played, many great discussions weighed, numerous pies and casseroles made- family life had encircled its relatively small frame.

On most occasions there was plenty of room, as family would come and go at various times. Sundays after church no one dared miss her homemade fried chicken and mashed potatoes or the dessert cooling on the back porch. And though it was a small home, surprisingly it rarely felt small. Yet for Thanksgiving and Christmas every square inch of space in my Grandmother’s home seemed in use, especially her table.

As one of the youngest generation, I was always at the kid’s table. A fact that for many years I optimistically looked to change. Why you may ask? First of all, we were the last to be seated and fed. More than that, however, was that all of the interesting conversations seemed to happen at the adult table. Here, they shared their joys, sorrows, while supporting and challenging one another to stay the course. They told stories, jokes, laughed and cried.Through it all love, faith and hope remained.

Before you knew it, all my wishing to be included at the adult table became a reality. My cousins and I were home from college and were even entreated to sit for a spell. This was it, I thought, now I am finally regarded as a grown up. What I did not pause to consider, though, was the graced responsibility that being present in these conversations entailed. These were not easy problems with a ready answer, but quite often required more listening than speaking and a great deal of prayer.

Over the years, I have become a solid member at the adult table, now in the upper tier of my family. Looking back, I finally realize what all those years around the kid’s table had been for. Preparation. It was in that time spent with my cousins where we too had laughed, shared, and formed community that we would return to when we would later need to rely on one another.Thus thankfulness is for me found around the table. For more than the delicious food consumed there is the presence and gift of fellowship.

Please take time this season to offer up praise for your place around the table, whether it be at your home or at another’s. Be willing to be vulnerable in your sharing , be generous in your listening, and merciful in your response. And always let prayer and love be your guide.

In Thanksgiving for each of you,

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Good and Faithful Servant

“A man going on a journey
called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them.
To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one–
to each according to his ability…” Mt 25: 14-30

 Today’s Gospel reading, if only taken on its surface, can leave us with a challenging understanding of God and his expectations of us. After all, didn’t the servant with one talent return his loan in full? And why were some given more to start with? Perhaps the servant with one talent might have invested some if had the security of a reserve. Yet, as per usual, Jesus is revealing more about what is possible with God than what we could ever do on our own.

First, we see that each servant was given talents “according to his ability”. Our Father who knows both our strengths and limitations isn’t going to give us more than we can handle. Rather, he recognizes where each of us are in our journey and gives us the tools and support to do the work ahead. So, the servant with one talent did have the ability, but lacked the trust in God to go any further. Not only could he not advance the kingdom, but he was unable to grow in relationship with his master.

But what about the other two servants, what can be learned from them? Each had been given a portion to use, and both in trusting in God’s provision had doubled the gift. I am reminded here of 2 Kings, in Elijah’s utmost desire to inherit a double portion of the gift of the Holy Spirit which Elisha had. Elijah wasn’t seeking a talent for his own purpose, nor was he asking for simply a change in leadership responsibility. In asking for a double portion, he was asking to be given more responsibility and expressing his conviction in God and dedication to the task. This is what the other servants did and their reward was God’s recognition of their faithfulness and confidence that they were now ready to accept more.

‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.
Since you were faithful in small matters,
I will give you great responsibilities.
Come, share your master’s joy.’

Do we yearn to hear these words in our journey as disciples? Or are we content to simply return the gift unopened for fear of failure in the tasks ahead? Much of my work as director of ministries, is to help those I encounter to discover just how their gifts can be used in the work of the kingdom. And to date, I have yet to find anyone who is without a talent.. though perhaps a bit unused.

Reflection:

Are there unused talents that I am failing to recognize or use today? How might I better trust in God that he will use my gifts to build his church in the world around me?

Peace,

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Worth Revisting: A Parish on the Move

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As far as parish life goes, it has been a very busy weekend for my parish collaborative family. Yet, when I think of it this is not that unusual for these two parishes as there always seems to be something going on. Whether it be school events, bible study, bereavement groups, healing Masses, Adoration, speakers, musical artists, youth events (you get the image) our parishes are always hopping with energy and abounding in community. So, for those weeks where I long for more energy and wish I had the saint’s gift of bi-location..it is only so that I could be present at everything!

 : Friday night, we had a youth fundraiser featuring the musical stylings of our parochial vicar and his former fellow seminarians (The Celtic Clerics) who donated their talents for the evening. With dinner, live auction, and dancing- a fun time at Resurrection Pariah was had by all! The Life Teen youth now have a needed boost to fund their upcoming mission trip to Haiti.  :

 : Saturday and Sunday began the kickoff for our annual community food pantry drive. Paper bags were personally handed out with a list of essential items attached.Next week all items donated will be collected and loaded onto a delivery truck to the waiting arms of more volunteers who will unload and stock the shelves. It is an amazing undertaking and the work done in these 2 weeks helps feed so many who otherwise might be unable to adequately provide food for themselves or their family.

Also this Sunday, we held a Remembrance Mass and reception for all of our parish families who have lost a loved one this past year. From the music and roll call of names, to the roses given out then arranged by the families gathering in fellowship, it was truly a coming together of our faith community.

Finally, my pastor and I sat down for the second meeting of  : Eucharistic minister training for those who have said yes to the invitation to bring Christ to others. The following week they will join the larger community of Eucharistic ministers as part of a spiritual retreat. Always growing,and always deepening our faith lives.

Every parish is different and each has it’s strengths. Yet, if your believe your parish is stagnant..

Odds are others feel the same way. Yet, what can you do? You are just a parishioner sitting in the pew. Or maybe you have mentioned your concern and things have yet to change.

1. First let me say that our parish priests are overworked, often understaffed, and are lucky to sit down and enjoy 15 minutes to eat in peace. They need not only helpful ideas but people willing to implement those ideas and motivate others to volunteer their time as well. If your pastor has given an event the go-ahead, and you are such a motivator take time to make a plan and consider parishioners that might be interested in being a part of it.

2. Invite: So, if there are others like you sitting in the pew or just a few people doing everything in the parish, maybe then the problem is a lack of invitation. Many people assume, albeit incorrectly, that they are not needed. Time and talents is a REAL thing folks. God has given each of us many ways to serve and at different times calls forth each of those gifts.

3. Do not underestimate the personal invitation. If you have invited and still there is a lack luster response..reconsider how you are inviting. Group emails via your parish’s  Constant Contact work for some, but nothing beats a well timed conversation. Even if you receive a no this time, thank them for their consideration. People want to know that you value their commitments too. Not to mention, next time it will be even easier to ask.

4. If the cost of an event is a consideration, perhaps there are those who cannot volunteer time but can volunteer food, expenses or supplies. What would we do without those parishioners that give so generously to sponsor or provide the means for hospitality to occur? It isn’t that there is a shortage of ways to spend money these days, or organizations vying for these funds. What is it that your event, devotion, or activity adds to parish life or community? The answer to this question and an awareness of  the mission of your parish will help guide you to who to ask.

5. Remember, you are offering a gift too. It is not uncommon to feel so grateful for the service that your volunteers would provide to forget that in serving they too are given a gift. As anyone that has served in ministry can attest to- the gift of serving is that God will never be outdone in terms of gift giving. Though not always quantifiable, the grace experienced far outweighs the time and energy spent. It may also leave you with a longing to serve even more!

So don’t be content with the excuse that your parish is dead..but be a catalyst towards a parish community that is on the move and fully alive!

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Doorway Into Our Souls III

Other posts on Teresa of Avila’s, An Interior Castle can be found here: Part 1 and Part 2

Persevering in our journey through the Interior Castle with Teresa of Avila we reflect on the 4th dwelling place..

Finally willing to submit and surrender to God’s working within, we have recognized that the life giving water which suddenly floods our soul is a gratuitous gift. Far greater than we could have imagined, this wellspring of grace inspires, renews and strengthens us to endure with greater patience any trial to come. It is such a gift that we desire to experience this over those things which formerly brought us joy and satisfaction. With the heart we now are drawn toward the shepherd’s voice, a soft gentle whistle that invites us further inward promising peace and love.

The Fifth Dwelling Place

As we progress in our spiritual journey, Teresa observes that we are drawn further inward to a “prayer of union”[1] with God, a ‘cocoon in which we experience a brief dying of self to reemerge reborn in Christ’[2]. In doing so, our transformed soul, like a little butterfly, is “restless” in the things of this world and unable to “recognize itself”. [3] This we see clearly in Teresa’s life experience as she sought to reconcile her contemplative life with the necessary affairs of the world. She describes this experience within the fifth dwelling place as an initial trial or a cross that is carried, when all we desire is to be in union with God again[4] Still, we are humbled when we imagine the smallness of our trials in comparison with the Passion of Christ and His suffering at seeing our offenses. [5] It is here that she also begins to speak of this time in union as courting, or brief glimpses where God grants mercy so that they might get to know the other more, and ultimately desire sole union.[6]

What is it to recognize my soul’s inner transformation in the world? Does my love for God find its intrinsic connection and outer expression with the love of neighbor?

Yet, our desire for union alone is not enough, as we discover a time of still greater trials in preparation for a spiritual engagement in the sixth dwelling place. In this time, Teresa vividly describes pages from her own journey in which she faced disbelief, jealousy, fear, illness, praise and persecution, towards the intimate spiritual favors that she received.  Praise, she notes, is perhaps a greater trial since we know that all good things come from God and our soul, aware of its faults, feels completely undeserving of such favor.[7] Even so, we are given moments of merciful “sunlight” that dispel the trials and awaken us with a resounding “thunderclap” to hear His call again.[8] Thus, when God so desires he pursues further in choosing to silence our outer senses and move our soul into eruptions of ecstasy and intense awakening.[9] Our soul is swept away in the grandeur of God, privy to the mysteries of heaven, and chosen in betrothal as God’s own.[10] This experience is so profound that it leaves a certainty in our soul, deep humility in our hearts, and abundant praise on our lips for the One who has called us into such intimacy.[11] Still, Teresa realized from her own error, that we cannot remain absorbed in anticipation of rapture that we neglect contemplation of Christ and the practice of virtues.[12]

Take a moment: Have there been intense moments of sunlight, rays of mercy in my life when the trials or challenges seemed to be the greatest?   Have I experienced an awakening to God’s intimate presence within- so profoundly that I embrace the encounter, am drawn into wonder and compelled to praise?

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