Tag Archives: trust

Leaning into Lent and Dancing All the Way

Photo by Sheila Creighton Imagery of Lighthttp://imageryoflight.wordpress.com/

Photo by Sheila Creighton
Imagery of Light

Epiphany has drawn to a close and now we are leaning into lent, a word, which originally meant spring and referred to lengthening days. Most of us are weary of this harsh winter. Before we turn to lent, here is a final word from Epiphany, not unlike the long goodbye we are getting from winter this year.

One of the reasons I love Epiphany is because the word, epiphany, is euphonious, which means pleasant to the ear and fun to say aloud. Epiphany sounds like a soft whisper or a rabbit sneezing. There are qualities of this waning liturgical season, which offer good preparation for Ash Wednesday and the journey to the cross.

Blessed Are the Pure in Heart for They Shall See God

Epiphany
generous span in midwinter,
the season of showings,
promises to the swift and clear-eyed
no less than a glimpse of Divinity
high tailing round the corners of our lives.

Now that the trees and earth are bare,
the God we hunger for will dance naked
for those bold enough to believe
in incarnation.

God will dance wild
and free over the frozen land,
while we shiver in our veils
longing to see with faces
bare of illusion
bare of pretense
bare of guile
aching to see
with hearts stripped and clean,
as the maple whose slim limbs slice space
in great chaste swaths,
ordering emptiness,
chalking off a place on the floor of heaven
for God to trip the light fantastic
and leave us all blinded
by a graceful shimmy
rubbing our eyes, amazed.

Oh dancing God
create in us clean hearts
pure hearts
hearts scoured
slick and smooth
as a copper pot
that we may not miss one grande jeté
that we may see
Thee.

Twenty five ago I published the first issue of Holy Ground – A Quarterly Reflection on the Contemplative Life. Back then we called it Making Haqqodesh (Hebrew for the holy ground), I had just established The Sanctuary and thought a newsletter would be helpful as a way to stay in touch with the group of people supporting this new venture in ministry. I wrote the poem above for the front page of that issue. During this year, as we celebrate our 25th Anniversary, I will post excerpts from some of those early issues of Holy Ground from time to time

Here is a bit more from the first issue:

Our deep hunger for God calls out, hollows out, spaces in our hearts, in our lives, and in creation for a sacred meeting with the One who made us and is making us. Our willingness to go down into the emptiness and the out of the way places on the far side of the wilderness thrusts us and our need before burning bushes, where we behold our God and receive our mission.

One of our board members, Catherine Jantsch Butel offered this definition of holy ground:

Holy ground is that burning reality which can only be apprehended – which breaks into really – the present moment (mine or another’s) and which, surprisingly, disorders, reorders, rearranges, resynthesizes all my previous arrangement of Reality.

In twenty five years I have never come across a better definition.

In those early years before the resurgence of interest in spirituality, before the establishment of hundreds of training programs and curriculum in spiritual formation and spiritual guidance, and before the internet I had few models for the kind of ministry I wanted to do and faced many doubts. Yet I always found encouragement and support. Here are a few memories:

Riding across the Kansas prairie with a friend who was also a minister, who after listening to me hem and haw for sixty miles, blurted out, “Loretta, what is it going to take for you to decide that God is calling you to do this?”
Then she handed me a check for fifty dollars.

Preparing for the first gathering of Evening Prayers held in our dining room in my home, I nervously asked my friend, Cathy, “Do you think I am just being crazy?” Cathy looked me in the eyes and said, “No. Loretta, you are not being crazy. You are just being obedient.”

I also encountered warning. A priest asked, “How do you handle failure? These places always fail you know.” I was reminded that to be faithful to the gospel, the Sanctuary must stand in opposition to the world and that holy ground is conceived through the cross of suffering and surrendered love.

Murray Rogers, Episcopal priest and founder of contemplative communities in India and Hong Kong told me, “I am very suspicious of spiritual manipulation. These things take time, you know. You can’t hurry holiness.” He counseled trusting the Spirit, simplicity, and waiting for doors to open.

As you prepare your hearts for lent, what do you need for the journey ahead? The words of counsel I was given twenty five years ago offer me a useful guide for what to carry with me this lent. These are my prayer for your journey:

• An honest friend who will help you discern God’s will for you and offer tangible support.

• Obedience to God regardless of what others might think of you.

• Acceptance of failure and suffering as part of the journey of transformation.

• Simplicity and patient trust in God.

• And a pure heart, a heart scoured slick and smooth as a copper pot, that you may follow your dancing Lord all the way to Easter morning!

May this season offer you richness, astonishment, and a few graceful shimmies, as Christ transforms you from one degree of glory to another.

 

ballet slippers2

Help us celebrate Twenty Five years! Check out our new website, The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer Let us know what you think. What would help you in deepening your faith and peace? How we can improve and best serve you for the next twenty five years?

Well,  maybe not twenty five, but so far I have had no signs from God to stop this foolishness.

Lullaby for the Little Ones

marymotherofgod

My heart is not proud nor my eyes haughty. I do not busy myself with great matters or things too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul. As a weaned child clinging to its mother – like a child that is weaned is my soul. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 131)

The little one stood waiting. Its whole life had led up to this moment. While the One Who Is Greater than All, most gracious, almighty, mother and father, reached down and down and through and through, lifted and kissed the little one and held it tight. The little one nestled into the arms of the One Who Is Greater Than All and lay back, gazing into the dark face with starry eyes. And the two began to rock.

_____________

Like babes, we cling to the earth’s smooth furrows with tiny fingers, as it makes its daily rounds. We feel the beat of creation’s pulse against our cheeks.

What child is this? Whose lullabies are these? Whose nursery is this – this universe of spattered fire and splashing water? These souls, spilt across the Milky Way, find their way in a manger, and sway swaddled in the earth’s sweet clothes of winter snows and summer hay.

Who rocks us here, while our eyes, transfixed by Love’s pure light, discover our image reflected in the holy face? The little one stood waiting while the One Who Is Greater Than All spoke:

Come sit with me and rock a while and I will sing you lullabies that Sarah sang to Isaac. I will tell you stories, wondrous tales of adventure, danger, miracles and love. For these songs must be sung, these stories told. Not kept on shelves like jars of pickles in a darkened cellar. No spice can preserve us, but these stories can save. In the telling is new life. In the singing is good news.

How did we come to this place, this rocking on God’s lap and listening to these stories? Go back to the beginning of the beginning, before we were intricately wrought in the depths, before the forming of our inmost parts, before we were knitted together in our mothers’ wombs to when our unformed substance was first beheld. For we were held before we were even something to behold.

We began babes in Christ, smacking, sucking infants grasping and gasping at the source of life, gulping in the Spirit’s breath like ones nearly drowning in the rushing waters of the world:

O Lord, get me through this, help me, heal me, save me, free me, show me what to do! We lift to you our many hungers and concerns – our budget, our new addition, the middle East, global warming, the economy, the droughts, the poor,  those in prison, those who mourn, the sick and lonely, the persecuted and enslaved – Lord, hear our prayer – and don’t forget the little children!

And God continued to hold us, while Mary held God’s squirming son. The nursing infant is too weak to hold onto its mother. She must lift the child and support its back. She must turn its head and draw its fingers from its mouth and place it on her breast. It knows not how to feed itself.

So we rocked with God under a cloud of violence, whose mists seeped into our lives as ghostly fears. Life, never a certain thing, seemed like a runaway kite in a storm, while we grasped frantically to its frayed and thinning string. We denied and argued and pleaded and bargained with the menacing cloud, until spent and weary with making peace with death, we learned there is no peace with death and we did not go gentle, but wore out our rage in colic screams. All this while our patient God walked us in our dark nights and bore against our stiff legged kicking.

Then came the weaning.

The Hebrew word for wean means also to ripen and repay. Wean is not a sudden loss of sustenance, but a ripening toward greater fulfillment and profound nourishment.

O Lord my heart is not haughty, my eyes are not raised too high. I do not occupy myself with ambitious desire or things which are too marvelous for me.

Done with getting and spending and proving and earning.
Done with seeking and striving and the thin piercing whine of urgent need.
Done with bawling hungers and waking in the night with stomach cramping and the terror screams that know no hope nor appetite appeased.

Blossoms on Branch

Then came the weaning, the ripening.

An early evening rain splashed gently on the apple blossoms, sending white petals sifting to the glistening grass. We heard the wet whistle of the cardinal and watched a robin listen, head tilted, for the rumble of earth worms. We saw the drops slide down the glass. “The window crying,” you said. It was dusk, the color of plums. Teddy slipped from your lap. You gazed into my eyes and smiled. And before I offered you to suck, you fell asleep. And thus you ripened. And so we rocked all night, past striving,  past needing to achieve, past demon whispers of ambition. And in the morning you bit into the Spirit’s fruit.

The weaned child has attained strength and muscular control. It climbs onto its mother’s lap without help. It pats her face and nuzzles its head against her shoulder. It delights simply in the mother’s presence.

Like a weaned child on its mother’s breast is my soul.

No longer consumed with consuming,
no longer gulping and choking on life,
but content
content to rest in God.

An awareness - childlike, simple, accepting -
came to the psalmist who sings to us today,
an awareness that came to Job,
when God spoke to him out of the whirlwind:
there are some things too wonderful, too marvelous for us

that mere knowing will not save us, that understanding will not end suffering, that strategies and master plans and mission statements cannot ease our pain, that psychological acumen, administrative expertise, and a panorama of pretty programs with flashy learning centers and lesson books printed in three colors will not root out the evil in our hearts

that dedicated scholarship, facile exegesis, brilliant preaching, flashing memes, a new economy, and all that we may do and strive to produce will not ease our pain.

The way is in the manger.
Come, lift the child and hold it close to your heart as Mary did.
Hush. Speak softly. Walk on tiptoe.

Tree in the Winter Mist

What is needed is persons with quiet souls who cling to Holiness as the trees cling to the earth.

What is needed is persons with humble hearts who will mother the Christ within them, who will speak gently to all they meet for they know that each of us carries Mary’s sleeping boy.

Our work is of such utter simplicity and ordinariness that we shrink from it. Surely there must be more – than to be a friend, to share another’s burden, and to be in love with Grace.

We rush about anxious, agitated, and oh so busy. Our plans and prayers are ill-conceived and sloppy. Our eyes are raised too high. We are occupied with ambitious desires. We presume to be absorbed in things too marvelous for us.

Climb on God’s lap and rest. And a multitude of persons will find God’s rest near you.

Fall deeply in love with the Christ child, care for it ever so tenderly, and your simple presence will nurture the Christ child in others.

At that time they came to him and said: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus took up a little child and placed it on his lap and said: “Unless you  turn and become like this little child, you shall never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The little ones snuggle closer:
the humble singer of the psalm, you and I, and Eve and Moses and Sarah and Peter and Martha and that littlest one of all with the holes in his hands and feet.

The curve of time turns in on itself, bends back and threatens to disintegrate. Apocalyptic whispers and end time sonnets play in bars and senate chambers. Death watches on the TV news announce more violence, more battles, more destruction.

“We like the old songs best,” the people tell the pastor. “I sang ‘Whispering Hope’ at my mother’s funeral,” the gentle man tells her on his way out. “Thank you for letting us sing it again.”

Hope
a whisper so soft,  we must be stilled and quieted to hear it

Hope
a whisper so soft, we must be clinging close to hear it

Hope
soft as the voice of an angel breathing a lesson unheard.

Like a child that is weaned is my soul. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.

marymotherofgod

Dear ones,
I find I love you so, even though I do not know many of you.  May your year ahead be blessed with holy rest and whispers of hope, gentle delights and profound joy. How deeply good it is be alive together in these days.
                                                                                                    Loretta F. Ross

Whispering Hope, hymn by Alice Hawthorne, copyright 1924 by the Standard Publishing Company

Still Not Enough? ~ Redux

Not enough time, not enough energy, not enough hope, not enough money, not enough jobs, not enough room, not enough love, not enough peace …

not enuf nuthin !

So goes the lie.

As the holiday season of plenty, hope, and generosity opens its arms to us, some of us brace ourselves, suspicious of the season’s glittering wares. The family, who lost their home to foreclosure, the unemployed factory worker, and other despairing and heartsick souls may feel plenty is beyond their reach and scarcity their new normal.

The media depictions of holiday cheer play on our insecurity and sense of lack. They insinuate that no matter how much we have, we do not have the latest and greatest. Advertisers lure us with promises of more. We may find ourselves stumbling after ghostly phantoms in the desperate hope that this year we might find that illusive wholeness we are seeking.

How does one feel whole and fulfilled, when one is more aware of scarcity in one’s life? Perhaps abundance in the midst of scarcity occurs for us as it did for Jesus, when he fed five thousand people with five barley loaves and two small fish.

We welcome what we have,
however meager.
We give thanks,
and watch it multiply.

Practice a Miracle: The Welcoming Prayer

Here is a simple, yet demanding, exercise to practice such a miracle in your own life. It is called The Welcoming Prayer. It was developed by Mary Mrozowski, one of Thomas Keating‘s closest associates and a prime mover in the development of centering prayer. She based the Welcoming Prayer on the 17th-century French spiritual classic Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean-Pierre de Caussade as well as Fr. Keating’s teachings and her own lived experience of transformation with its underlying attitude of surrender. There are a number of variations on this prayer. Here is one.

FOCUS AND SINK IN:

  • Become aware of what is troubling you or occupying your mind. For example, your sadness, anger, or fear regarding scarcity of some kind in your life. Focus on your feelings, both cognitively and physically, noting how and where the feeling affects your body.

  • Instead of resisting, or feeling ashamed or denying, welcome the truth of what is troubling you. Welcome the feelings with curiosity and compassion.

LET GO: (Here is the hard part)

  • Let go of your desire for power and control over the situation. Release your desire to be “right.”
  • Let go of your desire for affection and esteem from others.
  • Let go of your desire for survival and security.
  • Let go of your desire to change the way things are.

REST :

  • Allow yourself to sink into the abundant flowing love of this moment.

The present is ever filled with infinite treasure; it contains more than you have capacity to hold. … The will of God is at each moment before us like an immense, inexhaustible ocean that no human heart can fathom; but none can receive from it more than he has capacity to contain, it is necessary to enlarge this capacity by faith, confidence, and love…French priest, Jeanne Pierre de Caussade

You may find the letting go section of the prayer difficult to do. One or two of the desires may be harder to release than others. Think of this as useful information about what things, other than God, are of primary importance in your life. Notice which desires might be getting in the way of your freedom in Christ. If you find you cannot release one of these, you might simply pray that God give you the desire to desire to let go.

The Welcoming Prayer invites us to trust in God’s presence and providence and to discover the infinite wealth of God available to us in each moment. “The divine will is a deep abyss of which the present moment is the entrance. If you plunge into this abyss you will find it infinitely more vast than your desires,” writes de Caussade.

I believe this is absolutely true. Over and over in the midst of distress, I have wrung my hands about there not being enough of one thing or another in my life. Yet as I have focused and welcomed the feelings and my present reality, let go of my ego’s desires, and rested in God, my need has been supplied with an abundant depth and power that swept away all my grasping and anxiety.

I heard the geese honking at dawn last week. My dog halted at the door and cocked his head and we listened together in wonder. I love the sound of them moving over head, giving themselves to the skies. Trusting in their ancient faith they make their way.

In spite of all appearances to the contrary, I believe there is enough.

The Wild Geese

Abandon, as in love or sleep,
Holds them to their way
clear in the ancient faith:
what we need is here.
And we pray not for new earth or heaven,
but to be quiet in heart
and in eye clear.
What we need is here.       Wendell Berry

I trust in you, O Lord. You are my God.
My times are in your hands. Psalm 30:1

 

This post is a lightly edited version of a previous post. May this season fill your cup with overflowing goodness and a steady supply of all that you need!

Empty Pockets and Trust in God

The way I see it, a mystic takes a peek at God and then does her best to show the rest of us what she saw.  She’ll use image-language, not discourse. Giving an image is the giving of gold, the biggest thing she’s got… Hurling and wielding the best stuff she can imagine, insisting on an unmediated Way of Wakefulness,…she agrees to the quiet morning hour in front of God in exchange for a bit of revelation.  She doesn’t ditch tradition as much as take it for its word and peer inside its cavernous shell.  There must still be something worth saying. There must still be something worth pointing to.
 -Jessie Harriman in God Laughs and Plays by David James Duncan

 I greet you with my pockets turned inside out, holding out a few crumbs I picked from the seam.

Most every time I write this blog, I write from such a place of intellectual and spiritual poverty, that I feel like I am scraping gum off the sidewalk to offer you.

Oh, I have plenty of previously written material. Some of it you might like or find useful. I also seem to have an endless supply of ideas, opinions, and questions we could take up together here. However the longer I sit in that quiet morning hour waiting for a bit of revelation, the more stale and the less true all my previous thinking and posturing appear to be.

Something in me insists on peering into the Mystery anew each time I write. This is both an irresistible delight and a harrowing encounter with my own empty pockets.

I haul myself and the collected wear and tear of personal and world events before the throne of Great Stillness. There I reach out beyond my limits and press my palm in the face of Mystery and say, “Here. Here. Put it here.”

Then I wait.

In that waiting there is only the ache of love – nameless, infinite, ever beyond my control.

“Trust” was the word I found in my palm this week. Trust? That old thing? How many times does this word turn up in scripture and in the words we say to each other? How about something new, fresh, maybe a little edgier? 

Thousands of children with stick legs and arms are dying in the horn of Africa. A young man just nineteen years old came home to the little town up the road, where he was buried with military honors. Global markets, drunk on anxiety, dip and sway, fall and crawl up again. Politicians argue. A self-styled prophet of God goes to prison for doing unspeakable things to little girls.

Holy One, the world is going to hell in a hand basket and all you can offer is trust?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, 
And lean not on your own understanding; 
In all your ways acknowledge Him, 
And He shall direct   your paths.
Do not be wise in your own eyes; 
Fear the Lord and depart from evil.
It will be health to your flesh,
And strength to your bones.
         Proverbs 3:5-8, New King James Version

So – help yourself these crumbs:

 

Trust in what you cannot fully know or name or understand, or write about.

Trust in the enduring love in your heart that weeps with compassion and yearns for justice and struggles
to know what to do in these challenging times. 

Trust in your conviction that God will not be defeated by the evil and sin of humans.

Trust that Someone is afoot, knitting together the broken bones of Christ’s body.

And most amazing of all:

Trust that our trust and faith are the salve,

which heals all wounds.


And he could do no miracle there except he laid hands
on a few sick people and healed them.
And he wondered at their unbelief. Mark 6:5-6

Being Trued

The dog is gnawing his bone, snorting and snuffling. I am curled on the couch at the end of a long day. The furnace fan shuts off. The house is quiet. I am tired. My throat is scratchy. I feel like I am coming down with a cold.

I think of you – your life, your sorrows and burdens. I wonder what you had to deal with today, and if you are at peace. When I write, I want more than anything that what I say is  true, is real. This means that I want to be trued, made straight, conformed to Truth. I don’t mean that what I write has to be perfect or factually correct (though I want to do my best on that score). I just want it to be aligned with a larger true Reality I know as God. I want what I write to have integrity in that sense.

Do I have a Word for you? Is there a Word from on high for us this evening?

The dog rests his muzzle against my foot, then plops down beside me. He sighs. Then we grow silent and still. I stop grasping for words and thoughts. I wait.

“Tell them that I love them.”

Oh rats. This fills me with a kind of frustration and sadness. The phrase God loves you has become so clichéd. I could just as well write, You are in good hands with Allstate. Ok I will try anyway. Do you get that, really know, that the Creator and Sustainer of the deepest Truth and Reality loves and cares about you? Do I?

Then: “Stop living your life as though I did not exist. Stop behaving as if I am not real.”

Ah, here is the being true part. Does your life, as you live it, reflect your prayer, as you pray it? How about today, Loretta, and this weary stressed out self you are bringing to God? How much of what you did and said and thought and felt denied the reality of Christ and cut you off from the source of life and strength?

I grin, recalling something that came to me a few weeks ago while I was praying with John 14: 1-9.  In this passage Jesus tells his disciples not to worry, but to trust in God and in himself. He tells them in his Father’s house there are many rooms, and he wouldn’t be telling them this, if it wasn’t true. He promises that he is going to his Father’s house and will prepare a place for them. And he will come back and take them with him to his Father. Then he says that they know the way to where he is going.

But Thomas responds, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Then Philip pipes up with, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

And Jesus, shaking his head, maybe even rolling his eyes, says, “Philip, have I been with you this long and you still do not understand?”

Good grief – how many miracles, healings, parables, and sermons on the mount is it going to take?

As I pondered this text, what I heard was, “Quit acting like you are confused. You know the Father. You know me.”

I laughed out loud. It was a call to grow up, to maturity. Stop the confusion act, sweetie. Get congruent. Be true. Line up what you believe and know in your heart with how you live your life. Stop fussing around worrying and fretting like you do not know me and do not have a home on high. Have I been with you this long and you still do not get it?

It makes me sad, carrying on like Jesus is not here, like God didn’t love us so much that he died and rose for us. Me – like some self indulgent, disingenuous little twit saying with Philip, “Just show us the Father, then we will all believe. Meanwhile we’ll put our trust in Allstate.”

Oh, long suffering Savior, have mercy on us sinners, one and all.


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lross@fromholyground.org, www.fbook.me/sanctuary

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Letting Go

leavesThe gold canopy outside my window has disappeared. For two weeks light, filtered and gilded by maple leaves, shed luster on the yellow carpet beneath. The luminous scene drew me into in a warm cocoon of whispering leaves. I listened to their stories of summer, their losses and gains, and their sweet good-byes.

Now stark branches make black scribbles on the wan blue sky. The dove perching with her head under her wing seems so exposed. The leaves on the ground curl like an old person’s hand, mottled and transparent. Only a few leaves remain on the branches, twisting in the wind, straining against their stems.

The season of letting go, of loosening one’s fastenings and sailing out into the unknown, comes round again. Too soon. A November nostalgia settles over me, that curious longing for lost opportunities and for what was, which, in retrospect, reveals those things, which were more important than you ever realized at the time. November – a time to disrobe, to remove what is no longer serviceable and send energy into the depths, the root of things.

Someone did something that really hurt my feelings. I have carried the wound for a week or two. It still smarts and brings tears when I take it out and look at it. I believe God is telling me to let it go, to have compassion for this person and her suffering. I don’t want to though. I wonder if there is something I need to listen to and learn from in the intensity of the pain. It is one of those situations where there is really little I can do, but move on with generosity and amnesia, until forgiveness moves in.

So, let’s turn back to the leaves. The word used to describe the process of a tree shedding its foliage is senescence – getting old. The eleventh month impresses upon us the reality of aging, of time running out, as the year winds down. As the days shorten, the green chlorophyll is destroyed and oranges and reds in the leaves are revealed. The tree is preparing for winter dormancy and draws all the nutrients in the leaves through the stems and down into the roots. The sugars and amino acids that are produced, instead of the chlorophyll dependent upon the sunlight, serve as a kind of antifreeze for the tree. leaves sky

At the place where a leaf stem fastens to a branch, there are two kinds of cells. The part of the stem attached to the branch contains waxy impermeable cells. These are called the bundle scar and contain the bud of next year’s leaf. The cells connected to the leaf itself are softer and snap easily in the wind and rain.

I watch a lone leaf near the top of my neighbor’s tree. It flutters, twists, turns in the wind, then releases itself and drops floating down through the huge dark limbs, finally settling lightly on the earth below like a sigh.

Oh to be drawn so gracefully by the tug of gravity into the arms of God’s providence. How glorious to ride the wind, to be tossed and blown. I think I should like to die in autumn or early winter, dropping like a late hanging leaf from a very tall tree. I am grateful to the leaves this year and their lesson to let go, to surrender, to fall, and come to rest at the foot of the tree of life. I am grateful, too, for bundle scars, that place that heals the wound of separation with the promise of new growth.

“Let go,” the leaves say as the wind sends them scuttling up the street under the moon. “Let go.”

Brown leaves

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lross@fromholyground.org, www.fbook.me/sanctuary

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