Worlds Falling Apart

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent

April 4, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, worlds are splitting apart, but the Word of God comes to heal them.

In our first reading, we share in the experience of the prophet Ezekiel.

Ezekiel and his wife lived during the Babylonian Captivity on banks of the Chenab River which is in modern day Iraq. He lived during the siege of Jerusalem in 589 BC. In Ezekiel’s day the northern kingdom had been conquered and destroyed 150 years earlier.

In other words, Ezekiel, like his contemporary Jeremiah, had his heart torn apart along with the homeland they cherished as God’s promise to them. 

dry bones
The Valley of the Dry Bones – artist unknown

In today’s reading, which comes immediately after his vision of the Dry Bones, Ezekiel prophesies a message of hope and restoration to a fragmented and devastated nation.


In our Gospel, Jesus is the new Ezekiel. He stands in the midst of the bigger “nation” of all God’s Creation which has been fragmented by the failure to love. Like Ezekiel, Jesus offers a message of hope and restoration to sinners.

In this Gospel, Jesus himself is the “Temple” about to destroyed. The prophecy of its destruction is unwittingly delivered by the high priest Caiaphas:

Caiaphas,
who was high priest that year,
said to the Pharisees and Sanhedrin,
“You know nothing,
nor do you consider that it is better for you
that one man should die instead of the people,
so that the whole nation may not perish.”
He did not say this on his own,
but since he was high priest for that year,
he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation,
and not only for the nation,
but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.

Within Christ’s new law of love, these “children of God” go far beyond the Jewish nation. They are you and me, and every other creature with whom we share this time and universe. The fragmentations which separate and alienate us are dissolved in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.


holy week

Holy Week will begin tomorrow when all believers will intensify their desire to join Christ in his final journey to Resurrection, to understand our own lives anew in the power of Paschal Grace.

This is a somber and surreal time for all of us, and we will miss our ability to join one another in our beloved Holy Week Services. But there are some helpful alternatives. I’ve listed some of my favorites below. Click on any of these three links below to explore.

Resources for observing Holy Week at home from Liturgical Press

The Holy Week services at the Vatican will also be available on line. This link explains how to join them in prayer.

EWTN television station also has a full schedule of Holy Week prayer opportunities.

Music:  Make Us One – featuring James Lorne’s. Written by Sally DeFord
(Lyrics below)

Lyrics

How shall we stand amid uncertainty?
Where is our comfort in travail?
How shall we walk amid infirmity,
When feeble limbs are worn and frail?
And as we pass through mortal sorrow,
How shall our hearts abide the day?
Where is the strength the soul may borrow?
Teach us thy way.

Chorus:
Make us one, that our burdens may be light
Make us one as we seek eternal life
Unite our hands to serve thy children well
Unite us in obedience to thy will.
Make us one! teach us, Lord, to be
Of one faith, of one heart
One in thee.
Then shall our souls be filled with charity,
Then shall all hate and anger cease
And though we strive amid adversity,
Yet shall we find thy perfect peace
So shall we stand despite our weakness,
So shall our strength be strength enough
We bring our hearts to thee in meekness;
Lord, wilt thou bind them in thy love?

(Repeat chorus)

Take from me this heart of stone,
And make it flesh even as thine own
Take from me unfeeling pride;
Teach me compassion; cast my fear aside.
Give us one heart, give us one mind
Lord, make us thine
Oh, make us thine!
(Repeat chorus)

Our Golden Calf

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent

March 26, 2020

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calf

Today, in Mercy, God sends Moses down to straighten out his “depraved people” because, despite all God’s  goodness to them, they have preferred “the golden calf”.

In the deprivations of this pandemic time, when all of us are doing a lot of soul-searching, we are discovering quite a few golden calves still running around in our times.


One of them jumped out at me last night when I read this headline:

Texas’ lieutenant governor suggests grandparents
are willing to die for US economy


I woke up this morning still appalled by the statement.  But upon reflection, I realized that Mr. Patrick may have unwittingly done us a great service if we ruthlessly unpack his cavalier remarks.

How have we gotten to a world where such a statement can be uttered and even approved by some? How can we so blatantly ignore basic moral principles such as the sanctity of every life, and that the ends never justify the means? Well, let’s take a look at Moses’ “depraved” community. They seem to have reached a similar moral deprivation.

I think the key lies with the golden calf.  The idol is a symbol of the Israelite community’s economy, what they really deem most important, what they really worship when they think God isn’t looking. When they look upon its golden reflection, they see themselves mirrored back the way they want to be – rich, powerful, and dominant. Lt. Governor Patrick’s statement should make us consider how we have become hypnotized by the same idolatries.

Let’s face it.  We live in a culture that has normalized war, capital punishment, abortion, illegal detention, corporate hijacking of natural resources, unchecked pollution, and commercialization of deadly substances like tobacco. Why are we surprised that we’re ready to sacrifice the elderly to preserve the sheen on our “golden calf”?

We have created a world where we welcome information sources that tell us lies just so we can be falsely convinced and dangerously indifferent. It’s really hard to discern a moral path amidst today’s political complexities. So let’s just build that golden calf whose mesmerizing patina permits us to remain morally comatose!


I hope we allow this man’s callous commentary to continue to stab our consciences:

Somebody’s beloved can die
not only so that my beloved can live,
but can also have an undamaged economy.


What “economy”, for God’s sake? Does he mean the one where over 40 million Americans and nearly 800 million worldwide face daily hunger? Or where 80 million Americans have inadequate or no health insurance? Or does he mean the extractive economy which causes two-thirds of the world population to live on less than $10 per day?

I’m pretty sure he means instead the economy of the “ golden calf” where 

  • half of the world’s net wealth belongs to the top 1%
  • top 10% of adults hold 85%
  • while the bottom 90% eke out existence on  the remaining 15% of the world’s total wealth

I’m not willing to die to shore up that economy, are you? But I’m sure willing to fight to change it.

So, at least, thanks for inspiring me, Lt. Governor Patrick and God help you!

Music: If There’s a God in Heaven – Elton John – (a song that could reflect how the ancient Israelites struggled with their tortuous journey. (Lyrics below)

Torn from their families
Mothers go hungry
To feed their children
But children go hungry
There’s so many big men
They’re out making millions
When poverty’s profits
Just blame the children
If there’s a God in heaven
What’s he waiting for
If He can’t hear the children
Then he must see the war
But it seems to me
That he leads his lambs
To the slaughter house
And not the promised land
Dying for causes
They don’t understand
We’ve been taking their futures
Right out of their handsThey need the handouts
To hold back the tears
There’s so many crying
But so few that hear

If there’s a God in heaven

Well, what’s he waiting for

If there’s a God in heaven
What’s he waiting for

 

A New Heaven and Earth

Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent

March 23, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, all I can think is, “This passage from Isaiah could not have come at a more perfect time!”

Is65_new heavens

Walter Brueggemann calls Isaiah 65 “a glorious artistic achievement”. Indeed, these images confirm his statement:

  • a new heavens and a new earth;
  • constant rejoicing and happiness
  • people will be a delight
  • no weeping or crying;
  • long life for all
  • everyone with a home
  • enough for all to eat

As we pray with this passage today, we may experience a longing for a return to our beautiful, safe world. During this pandemic, we all pray from a place of anxiety, loss, constrainment, or some degree of suffering. 

Isaiah’s community prayed from the same place. All the beautiful images were a promise not yet realized. The prophetic poetry of Isaiah is a call to courageous hope, not a description of current circumstances.

upside

Faith invites us, even as we experience a bittersweet longing, to trust that God is with us, teaching us and leading us deeper into the Divine Understanding. Even as circumstances turn our world upside down, God will guide the falling pieces to a blessed place if we commit to find God in the tumbling.

I don’t think many of us would deny that the world before Corona needed fixing. The systems we have built have left many in deficit long before 2020, and we have failed to address the wound.

Corona has laid that failure bare.

Now that some of that deficit is universally shared, may we be opened to an irrevocable awareness of our common humanity and responsibility for one another.

Only by such an outcome will we move closer to Isaiah’s peaceful Kingdom. Only by our courage to embrace it, can God fulfill the Promise in us.

Music:  O Day of Peace – Carl P. Daw

Be “Laetare!” for Someone

Fourth Sunday of Lent

 

March 22, 2020
Laetare Sunday

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Light

Laetare! Rejoice! Lent has run half its distance to Easter.

I know it may be a bit difficult to rejoice in this Corona time, but think of this.

Spring has stepped over the horizon!  The long winter watch is over. But before we shake off its black velvet wraps for good, it might be well to think about what winter has taught us. It may strengthen us for this unusually challenging spring!

The stretch of time between November and April is all about waiting. Bulbs wait under the frozen earth.  Bears hibernate in the cold mountains.  Birds migrate, their old nests empty until the spring. All creation seems to enter a time of patience and unrealized expectation.  But it is not a time of desolation.  It is a time of hope for things yet unseen. Perhaps we can make our Corona time that kind of hopeful time.

We human beings also experience “winter” – not simply the seasonal one – but “winters of the spirit”.  We all go through times when our nests have been emptied; times when all the beautiful flowering aspects of our lives seem dormant; times when our vigor and strength seem to hide in the cave of depression or sadness.  These “winters” take many forms.  We may find ourselves sick of a job we had always loved. We may find a long, committed relationship wavering.  We may find the burdens of age or economics overwhelming us.  We may be the unwilling bearers of responsibilities we had not bargained for.

kite

But if we listen, under the deep silence of waning winter, the wind rustles.  It carries the hint of a new season.  It carries the hope of the renewing cycle of our lives.  In that silence, we may be able to hear our own heartbeat more clearly.  We may come to a clearer understanding of what is most important in our lives.  In the stillness, we may be forced to know and understand ourselves in a deeper way.

In this time of global angst and uncertainty, I think of a powerful image from the works of St. Teresa of Avila.  St. Teresa imagines God as a warm healer leaning over our frozen world, setting free the beauty of our spirits. This is what she says:

And God is always there, if you feel wounded.
He kneels over this earth like a divine medic,
and His love thaws the holy in us.

When we are compassionate and offer one another hope and light, we free what is sacred in us and we do a holy work.  Every time you touch another person’s life,  — in these times, from at least six feet away — you have the chance to change winter into spring.  You have a chance to be like God.

Call someone who may feel very alone.  Be “Laetare” for them! Pray for someone suffering illness or loss. Send healing hopes to those you may not even know in distant places of our shared earth. Light, Easter rising and renewed life will come. Let us trust God and hold one another up as we wait.

 

 

A Prayer of Praise

Saturday of the Third Week of Lent

March 21, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, we are encouraged to pray. Hosea tells us:

“Come, let us return to the LORD,
it is he who has rent, but he will heal us;
… the LORD will come to us like the rain,
like spring rain that waters the earth.”

Let the image of that truth sink into your parched spirit.

rain


Our Gospel leads us to pray humbly:

But the tax collector stood off at a distance
and would not even raise his eyes to heaven
but beat his breast and prayed,
‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’

As we pray humbly today, let us ask for God’s refreshment for all our sisters and brothers across the earth. In good times and in trials, let us always praise God.

I would like to share one of my own poems with you today, as we kneel before God with all struggling Creation begging God for the rain of Mercy.

        All Creation    

 All Creation kneels,
a Single Being,
to praise God.

 From its immense heart,
it sings myriad songs at once,
Morning and Evensong,
Praise and Dirge,
Alas and Alleluia,
intermingled

 It sings even over its own scars,
where the chasms cry out for balm.
It sings both the remembrance
and the hope of blessing.
It sings the endurance of faith
and the confidence of love.

 In roar and silence,
darkness and light,
Creation kneels,
a Single Being,
to praise God.

Music: Total Praise sung by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.  Just watching these faith-filled people lifts my heart and gives me hope.  I trust it will do the same for you, dear friends as we pray for one another. (Lyrics below)

Lord, I will lift mine eyes to the hills
Knowing my health is coming from You
Your peace You give me in times of the storm
You are the source of my strength,
You are the strength of my life,
I lift my hands in total praise to You
Lord, I will lift mine eyes to the hills
Knowing my health is coming from You
Your peace, You give me in times of the storm
You are the source of my strength
You are the strength of my life
I lift my hands in total praise to You
You are the source of my strength
You are the strength of my life
I lift my hands in total praise to
Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen
You are the source of my strength
You are the strength of my life

That Little White Book

Friday of the Third Week of Lent

March 20, 2020

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Wednesday-20-March-1963-tf79df128030699e87a485b4eb093700302fe62c25f3a5cfc651f117a49786663k-lq

Today, in Mercy, I’m going to tell you a story. But first …

In our first reading, the passionate prophet Hosea offers us this quintessential Lenten advice:

Return, O Israel, to the LORD, your God;
you have collapsed through your guilt.
Take with you words,
and return to the LORD

In our Gospel, Jesus is giving advice too. A sincere scribe seeks out Jesus’ wisdom:

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
“Which is the greatest of all the commandments?”

Jesus instructs the scribe:

The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.

Then Jesus goes on to tell him the second greatest commandment:

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Assessing the scribe’s sincerity, Jesus promises him:

“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”


Praying with these passages on this particular date took me back to March 20, 1963, Wednesday of the 3rd week of Lent that year. I was almost 18 years old and, while not wise as a scribe, I too sought answers to guide my faith.

One place I found that  wisdom was at the desk of a wonderful Sister of Mercy, Sister Mary Giovanni. Like many high school girls back then, I hung around Sister’s homeroom after school. Her good humor, gentle interest, and kind encouragement nourished all of us still slightly silly but ever-so-earnest young women.

On that particular afternoon, an unusual white book sat on Sister’s desk. Its gold letters attracted me and I asked what it was. Sister said it was her community’s centenary book and that, if I wanted, I could borrow it to read.

That little book changed my life. Well, I guess what it actually did was to capture many loose threads running through my mind and heart, and to tie them into a conviction.

I had been toying with a religious vocation ever since third grade. I did love God with my whole heart, just like the young scribe in today’s Gospel. And I loved the nuns and I always wanted to be like them. But actually becoming like them was another story. 

That little white book gave me the courage and will to make that commitment. Here’s what it said:

The Sisters of Mercy,
in addition to the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience,
take a fourth vow of service of the poor, sick, and ignorant.

That was it! That short sentence opened my understanding to see that loving God had to be demonstrated in love of neighbor. The two great commandments are always interdependent.

So I decided to “take my words”, as Hosea encourages, and to ask God if He would have me as a Sister of Mercy.
follow

Less than a week after reading that book, I signed up to become a Sister of Mercy. And I have continued to become one every day for almost 60 years. Because just as Jesus said to the scribe, I believe I am “not far from the Kingdom of Heaven”. But I’m not there yet. Everyday is a chance to grow deeper into the glorious gift that was opened to me back in March 1963.

novices'_dining_room

As you pray with these passages today, take a long view of God’s continuing call in your life. You may have been called to marriage and parenthood, priesthood, a generous single life, a profession which allowed you to serve others. 

In each individual call, we are invited to love God with all our hearts and to love others as God loves them. Let’s pray for one another’s continuing deepening in our particular call.

Music: The Call – written by Vaughn Williams from the poetry of George Herbert
(Lyrics below)

 

the call

A Legacy of Faith

Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent

March 18, 2020

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faith

Today, in Mercy, on this day between the feasts of St. Patrick and St. Joseph, it seems a very good day to thank God for our heritage of faith. Our readings today remind us how precious that heritage is.

Moses, after reiterating the history of God’s goodness to Israel, enjoins the People:

Take care and be earnestly on your guard
not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen,
nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live,
but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.

Jesus, too, acknowledges the importance of his religious heritage:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law,
until all things have taken place.

This day between St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s always takes me back to my grade school days – a time when my “faith family” gifted me with the seeds that now sustain my life.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH
Beautiful St. Michael’s Church, 2nd and Jefferson, Philadelphia – built in 1846, now much as it look in the mid-1950s

I can still see our straight-from-Ireland pastor, old as the hills, standing in the pulpit to bless us with water from the Shrine at Knock. We school kids had waited all year for a chance to belt out the hymn “Great and Glorious Saint Patrick” to the accompaniment of a thundering organ. We held our breath at the final blessing, anxiously awaiting the word to go home. It was inevitably a school holiday but we were always innocently surprised to receive it!

Organ_and_Choir_Loft
St. Michael’s magnificent organ

Then, we gathered for 8 o’clock Mass again on the 19th to celebrate St. Joseph, patron of our beloved Sisters who taught us. If we had the means to give them feastday gifts, we were asked to give canned goods. That request never struck me as a kid, but as I grew up, I realized how dependent these Sisters were on those donations – how close to poverty they lived for the sake of transmitting the faith to us.

So I count these days of mid-March as Foundation of Faith Days. Perhaps today’s reading might incline you to think about your own faith story and who planted the early seeds in your heart. Let’s give these beloveds our grateful prayers of remembrance.

Music:  Faith of Our Fathers – another oldie that we loved to sing voce piena 

The Luck of the Irish Faith

Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent

March 17, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Azariah of Fiery Furnace fame meets Patrick of Ireland!☘️☘️ 🔥 🔥 – —two great champions of faith ready to bolster ours in these uncertain times.

In today’s reading from the Book of Daniel, Azariah (later Abednego) prays a moving prayer of urgency, repentance, supplication, and trust:

And now we follow you with our whole heart,
we hold you in awe and we pray to you.
Do not let us be put to shame,
but deal with us in your kindness and great mercy.
Deliver us by your wonders,
and bring glory to your name, O Lord.

This prayer rang very true for me today, as I prayed for God’s mercy and miracles all over our suffering earth.

The prayer also brought to mind St. Patrick’s own prayer:

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me;
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s hosts to save me
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a mulitude.

Christ shield me today
Against wounding
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through the mighty strength
Of the Lord of creation.

Slainte

In solidarity with Irish people everywhere, who today celebrate their amazing faith, let’s pray to our dear Blessed Mother for one another and wish all people good health and joy.

And for St. Patrick’s sake, lift your spirit, lift a glass, lift your hearts for the love of God and one another! PS: Sláinte means “To your health“.

Music: Hymn to Our Lady of Knock – Frank Patterson – Oh, the Voice! (Lyrics below)
(This song always gives me the Irish chills … nothing like it.  A lot of Italian songs do the same thing to me. LOL!)

There were people of all ages
Gathered ’round the gable wall
Poor and humble men and women,
Little children that you called
We are gathered here before you
And our hearts are just the same
Filled with joy at such a vision
As we praise your name

Golden Rose, Queen of Ireland
All my cares and troubles cease
As I kneel with love before you
Lady of Knock, our Queen of Peace

Though your message was unspoken
Still the truth in silence lies
As we gaze upon your vision,
And the truth I try to find
Here I stand with John the teacher,
And with Joseph at your side
And I see the Lamb of God
On the Altar glorified

Golden Rose, Queen of Ireland
All my cares and troubles cease
As we kneel with love before you
Lady of Knock, our Queen of Peace

And the Lamb will conquer
And the woman clothed in the sun
Will shine Her light on everyone
Yes,
The Lamb will conquer
And the woman clothed in the sun
Will shine Her light on everyone

Golden Rose, Queen of Ireland
All my cares and troubles cease
As I kneel with love before you
Lady of Knock, my Queen of Peace
Lady of Knock, my queen of peace

 

Rejected

Friday of the Second Week of Lent

March 13, 2020

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Mt21_42rejected

Today, in Mercy, there is a great sadness in our readings.

The poignant opening line from Genesis immediately strikes us:

Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons,
for he was the child of his old age

Joseph

We picture young Joseph in his beautiful rainbow coat and, under an olive tree’s shade, old Jacob(Israel) proudly, tenderly, watching him play.

As the story ensues to reveal the later betrayal of Joseph’s jealous brothers, we are left astounded. Such treachery, especially among brothers, sickens the heart.


Our Gospel picks up the sad theme because Joseph and his brothers are archetypes of Christ’s story with humankind.

800px-The_Wicked_Husbandman_(The_Parables_of_Our_Lord_and_Saviour_Jesus_Christ)_MET_DP835802
The Wicked Husbandman by John Everett Millais shows the owner’s murdered son

Jesus tells a parable in which he is actually the unnamed main character. He is the Son sent by a loving Father. He is the one rejected, beaten and killed by the treacherous tenants of his Father’s garden.

We know from our familiarity with Scripture that both these stories ultimately come to glorious conclusions. But today’s readings do not take us there. They leave us standing, mouths dropped open, at the dense meanness of the human heart, at the soul’s imperviousness to grace, at the profound sadness Jesus felt at this point in his ministry.

In our prayer today, let’s just be with Jesus, sharing his sadness for the meanness still hardening our world. Let us comfort him with our desire to be open to God’s Grace and Mercy.

Music:  Handel:Messiah – He was despised and rejected – Alfred Deller

Be Impartial, or Not?

Thursday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

February 20, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, two Apostles of Jesus are our teachers. James advises us on what to do. Beloved Peter, as so often is the case, shows us what not to do.

James tells us to show no partiality. He makes clear that he is talking about impartiality toward those who are materially poor. It’s a maxim that Jesus gave us time and again in the Gospel.

James2_1 partiality

James reminds us that Jesus is not just impartial toward the poor, he actually has a preferential love for them. So Jesus was partial to the poor, right? Hmm!

Yes, I think that’s right. In order to balance our human inclination to the richest, best, strongest, etc., Jesus teaches us to go all out in the other direction.

It’s like this great cartoon that’s popped up on Facebook recently:

equity


Our Gospel picks up the theme.

Because of his great love for the poor and his passion for mercy, Jesus tells his followers that suffering is coming. Peter doesn’t like hearing that. Can you see Peter take Jesus aside and say, “Listen, Jesus, negative talk is going to hurt you campaign. You’re God! You can just zap suffering out of your life!


behind me satan

Jesus responds to Peter definitively: “Get thee behind me, Satan!

Wow! That must have stung! But that’s how important it was to Jesus that his followers understood his mission: to preach Mercy to the poor, sick, and broken by sharing and transforming their experience.

Jesus wants us to understand that too.

 


Music: Beauty for Brokenness – Graham Kendrick