Listen!

Deborah Beach Giordano
© July 17, 2017

Matthew 13:2-9

The crowds that had gathered were so vast that Jesus got into a boat and addressed the people as they stood on the beach.

He told them many parables, such as: “A farmer went out to sow, and as he went along, some seeds fell on the path, and birds came and ate them.

“Other seeds fell on rocky ground without much soil; these sprang up right away but, when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.

“Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 

“Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

“Let those who can hear, listen!”

A Lost Art

Jesus said,Let those who can hear, listen!”

Well, there’s a unique concept: actually listening to what someone is saying. 

It’s rather a lost art in contemporary society. Oh, plenty of words are spoken and lots of ears hear — but listening is rare. We live in a world of presumptions and prejudices, certain that we are … well, that we’re right. We’ve made our decisions and, by gosh, we’re going to stand by them!

So, what we do, generally, is talk at one another. When someone else is speaking, we’re waiting to state our opinion — vigilant for any hint that their views may diverge with our own and, if they do, mentally compiling that person’s sins and shortcomings, and closing our ears to what is being said.

“Well!” we think to ourselves, “He belongs to that group — I know what those people think. And that is just plain wrong. I won’t listen to rubbish like that.” And so we don’t.

Mistaking Echoes for Answers

On the other hand, if someone’s viewpoint aligns with our own, well, it’s like Old Home Week: we nod and smile and make encouraging noises. But we don’t really pay attention to what that person says, either. If it is what we think, then it must be right, through and through: no flawed reasoning or mistaken information or falsehoods, no room for improvement, no other reasonable possibilities. Why bother to listen?

And so we dwell in our isolated pods: left, right, conservative, liberal, coastal, heartland, Democrat, Republican, Apple, HP, Firefox, Safari… confining ourselves within continually shrinking communities, with narrower and narrower parameters. Like the speakeasies during Prohibition: you have to know the right word in order to gain entrance into our cozy private lairs.

And like the patrons of those old time “gin joints” we can end up in a confused stupor — or poisoned — by a substance that is very different from what we thought it was. Assumptions are dangerous, and may be deadly. Thinking, asking questions, listening — to what is said and to what is unsaid — are essential.

To what — and to whom — are we pledging our (unthinking) loyalty?

Hardness of Heart

Isolated from those “others,” we pay no attention to their concerns nor do we trouble ourselves with their problems; we become deaf to their cries. Comfortably ensconced within our own warm circles, we can become rigid, unyielding, smug, self-satisfied, hard-hearted. Vicious. 

Theologian Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg interprets Pharaoh’s “hardness of heart” toward the Israelites as a failure to listen; he hears what Moses says, but refuses to pay attention. Convinced that he already knows what’s right, Pharaoh remains unmoved and unyielding. He’s made his mind up, and by gosh, nothing will change his thinking..… until his world crumbles — yet even then Pharaoh does not admit to his mistakes, but rigidly (and disastrously) tries to prove that he is “in the right.” 

How much damage do we inflict by an insistence on being “right,” — when we close our ears to alternate viewpoints, to different concerns, to troubles and challenges and experiences of people and communities unlike “our own”? What messages may we be ignoring? 

Worthless Seeds

Jesus said, “Let those who can hear, listen!”

In many churches the reading of the Gospel is preceded by the statement: “Hear the word of the Lord.” How often do we truly hear it? How often do we consider what the words mean, and especially what they mean to us — personally and particularly: right now, where we are and who we are? 

If we do not listen to God speaking to us — through the Scriptures, in prayer and meditation, and in the voices of the souls that fill our world — we are like the seeds in the parable that fall on thin, rocky soil; having no depth, no connection to the living water. We will not learn and change and grow; stiffly self-satisfied, dry and rigid, we will wither and waste away. 

When we listen and understand, we will take the Word into our hearts, and allow it to infuse us with compassion and concern for “our neighbors” — all of our neighbors, not just the ones who think like we do. And we, in turn, will thrive and blossom in the Light and bring forth blessings, perhaps a hundredfold.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Listen!

 

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Abraham’s Sacrifices

Deborah Beach Giordano
© July 3, 2017

Genesis 22:1-14 ~ as told by Deborah

Then God tested Abraham. He called, “Abraham!” And he replied, “Here I am.”

He said, “Take your son, the only son whom you love, Isaac, and go away to Moriah, and offer him there as a sacrifice on one of the mountains — I’ll show you where once you get there.”

So Abraham got up early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young servants with him, along with his son Isaac.

He cut the wood to use to immolate the offering, and set out for the place that God had shown him. It was three days later when Abraham got there, and saw a mountaintop some distance away.

He told the servants, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back.”

Abraham made Isaac carry the wood for the sacrifice, while he carried the fire and the knife.

So the two of them walked on together.

Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!”

And he said, “Here I am, my son.”

He said, “We’ve got the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a the sacrifice?”

Abraham said, “God will provide the lamb to be offered, my son.”

So the two of them walked on together.

When they got to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar and stacked the wood for the fire. Then he tied up his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.

Then Abraham raised the knife to kill his son.

But the angel of the Lord called out from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

And he said, “Here I am.”

“Don’t touch that child or do anything to hurt him; because now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”

Then Abraham’s eyes were opened and he saw a ram, snared in some briars. Abraham went over and took the animal and offered it as a sacrifice in place of his son.

So Abraham called that place “God will provide”; as the saying goes: “On God’s mountain it will be provided.”

Inexplicable and Wrong

As the saying goes: “On God’s mountain it will be provided.”

It would be great if we would be provided with an explanation for what happened on that mountaintop. But I don’t think anyone is ever going to be able to adequately explain it. What follows is my interpretation — and inquiry. 

There is no nice way to say it: Abraham’s intention to murder his child — “in the name of God” — is inexcusable, irrational, outrageous, wrong. Wicked.

And he nearly succeeds: Abraham has bound Isaac with rope and thrown him onto the pyre-to-be. Grasping the child’s hair he pulls Isaac’s head back, exposing his throat… the knife glints in the sunlight, poised to slash and destroy, to pour innocent blood upon the earth. 

Then came the divine intervention. And we all breathe a sigh of relief.

Angelic Inspiration

After the whirlwind of violence and the icy, calculating madness of the attack… is it a sudden awakening? Does Abraham pause, blinking, and come to his senses, do his “better angels” call him back from the siren song of death?

Is it an experience akin to Isaiah’s mountaintop realization? Does Abraham discover that God is not to be found in terror or destruction, but in peace and gentleness?

There is so much that we do not know, so much that remains unheard, untold, throughout.

Did Isaac scream? Did he plead for his life? Did he beg his father — or God — for release? Or was he too frightened to speak, shocked and stunned into silence?

A short while earlier a holy angel told Hagar that God “heard the cries of the boy” Ishmael as he was perishing from thirst in the desert (Gen 21:17). Perhaps the angel said those same words to Abraham — in response to Isaac’s tearful (perhaps silent) pleas as he faced death on that barren mountaintop. 

Whatever the reason, however it happened, one thing we know: each time Abraham sought to destroy his children God intervened; giving water and strength to Hagar and Ishmael in the desert, and holding back the hand that held the knife to Isaac’s throat.

God is God of the living, not of the dead.

“Choose life!” Moses later counsels the Israelites; do what is right and good (Deut 30:15). “You shall not murder” (Ex 20:13).

Suspicious Circumstances

There is something suspect about Abraham’s intended sacrifice of his son from its very beginning. The whole event is shrouded in secrecy: he tells no one where he is going or what he plans to do; he gets up early in the morning while the rest of the household is sleeping, and before Sarah can stop him, then travels such a long distance — with several hours’ head start — that no one could rescue the child. Finally, Abraham contrives to avoid the watchful eyes of the accompanying servants, saying it is an act of private worship, and taking Isaac away, far up on the top of a mountain.

Was it madness, or vengeance, or torment, or testing? Was Abraham punishing Sarah for forcing him to sacrifice his eldest son, Ishmael, on the altar of her selfishness? Did he want her to suffer the same sorrow and despair that Hagar had endured? Had he himself gone mad: was the trauma of sending his eldest child off to die in the wilderness too much for him to bear? Was it a type of self-punishment: destroying his own future, preventing his name from being carried forth into the next generation?

Or was Abraham testing God?

If God was really who God claimed — able to save, restore, redeem, and create — then the time to prove it was now. Here, up on this mountain, as close to heaven as it was possible to get, God would have to show God’s stuff.

If Isaac was truly God’s chosen child, if God was capable of making his descendants a vast multitude, it was up to God to act. 

Or else.

And so Abraham stands on the mountaintop, issuing his deadly challenge to God.

Don’t Do It

Moses warned the newborn Hebrew people, “Don’t test the Lord your God” (Deut 6:16). It isn’t that God will avenge Godself against you; it is simply good advice. If you do otherwise, things just won’t turn out well.

In the case of Abraham (and Isaac), the Divine voice intercedes; a substitute sacrifice is provided, Isaac’s life is redeemed, and Abraham is saved from committing a most heinous crime. But they do not “live happily ever after.”

Every action has a consequence.

It is impossible to know what happened in the days and years that ensued; there is, as has been said, so much of the story that remains unheard, untold, unsaid. 

Sarah never speaks again. Perhaps her pain, her confusion, her anger are too great. Perhaps the stress was beyond enduring. The next time we hear her name is at the announcement of her death — and of Abraham’s extravagant efforts to arrange for a burial site. 

Isaac, too, is silent throughout much of what follows. Like a PTSD sufferer, he apparently spends his days sheltering in his mother’s tent and wandering through the desert where his brother was sent to die (Gen 24:62).

He never again speaks to his father.

Hope, Despite it All

For the rest of his life Abraham remains estranged from both of the children he chose to sacrifice, and apart from the women who gave them life. But he does, in time, gain another wife and father other children. In time, just as God had promised, Abraham’s descendants become as numerous as the stars in the sky (Gen 15:5). 

Yet it is worth remembering that it is through the two survivors, through Ishmael and Isaac, that the family tree grows great and strong. Perhaps it is God’s compassion and healing grace upon them rather than upon their poor disordered father that brings about this glorious multitude. 

And perhaps, in the years that followed, they made peace with one another, perhaps they renewed the friendship they had enjoyed as children. We do not know for certain, but we can hope. We do know that these two sons of Abraham came together to bury their father when his earthly life was ended (Gen 25:9). Perhaps it was then that both saw the light; realizing, in their shared sorrow, their common humanity. 

We do not know for certain, but we can hope.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise:  Choose life!

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A Burning Desire

Deborah Beach Giordano
© June 26, 2017

Jeremiah 20:7-13 ~ as interpreted by Deborah

O Lord, you enticed me, and I was seduced; you ravished me, and I succumbed.

And now I am a scandal, a source of mockery — for the moment I open my mouth, I cry out. Your words shoot forth in a violent stream, like lava from an erupting volcano; I cannot keep quiet. All I can talk about is You.

If I tell myself, “I won’t say anything about Him, I won’t even mention His name,” it is as if an inferno rages within me; my throat is in flames… It is impossible to contain.

God’s word reproaches me and mocks my silence day and night; a thousand whispers breathing fire, violence, and destruction.

Terrible danger lurks all around me! Even my close friends are waiting for me to stumble: “Perhaps he can be lured away, and we can convince him, and restore him to what he was.”

But God is with me like a dreadful warrior.

My persecutors will trip up and fail, and end in disgrace, ashamed of what they’ve done.

Almighty God, You challenge the righteous to live accordingly, You know the content and quality of every heart and mind. Please let me see You punish my enemies.

Praise God, the Holy, the Everlasting, who saves those in need from the power of evildoers.

Fully Involved

The prophet Jeremiah, never one to mince words, describes his experience of God as a seduction: a passionate, visceral, intimate encounter. It was overwhelming, all-encompassing, transforming. It touched the very core of his being, setting his soul on fire.

As firefighters say about a conflagration so intense that they have to stand back, he’s “fully involved.” Jeremiah can never return to what he was before; he is inflamed with the sense of God: it’s all he can talk about, all he can think about. And he wants — no, he needs — to tell everybody he meets.

It is a compulsion. To remain silent would cause a meltdown; the power of the Divine word burns within him: as he describes it, “it is impossible to contain.”

In a word: he’s become a darned nuisance. A religious fanatic who insists on bringing God into every conversation.

Be Reasonable

Jeremiah’s buddies try to reason with him and bring him to his senses. They want their old friend back again; this obsession with the Divine has made him nearly unrecognizable, and not much fun to be with. “Come on now, Jerry, dial it back a bit. There are other things in life besides God.”

You can guess how well that went over.

The prophet erupts in blazing anger. God is All in All, the Author of Creation, the Beginning, the End, the Eternal, the Source, the Power, the Glory!!!! These people are not friends but persecutors, demanding that he cut himself off from the Beloved, that he sever his Life line. He would not — and could not — do so: the power of the Divine boils up inside him, relentlessly. For Jeremiah to keep silent was as impossible as holding back the flow of a volcano.

Yet it was tempting.

The lure of simpler times, when his soul and spirit were placid and peaceful, when he wasn’t compelled to constantly think about God and talk about God and yearn for God must have been great. So great, in fact, that Jeremiah prayed for relief, casting those who tried to restore him to his former condition as evildoers, and denouncing them in the most emphatic (fiery, of course) terms.

Just Chill!

Is it any wonder that people avoided Jeremiah? Would you want to spend your time with some guy who talked about God incessantly — and never, ever anything else? After a while that gets pretty old.

Besides, there’s so much else to talk about! Politics, health care, housing prices, food, fashion, films and television… you know: interesting stuff.

But no, there’s old Jeremiah the wet blanket (well, maybe an electric blanket) with his constant harping on “God’s will”; calling for peace and justice, mercy and compassion, concern for those in need, love for our neighbors, blah, blah, blah. Endlessly. Ceaselessly. That’s all he thinks about.

And anything will set him off. He brings God into every discussion, makes God the centerpiece of all that we say and do and hope for and believe. Everything. For Jeremiah, God’s will must be our Ultimate Concern, and all else pales into insignificance.

What kind of life is that?

Yikes

Well….

As a matter of fact, it’s the kind of life we’re supposed to be leading: one that makes God’s will our first priority. We’re supposed to be “a holy people”; mindful of the grace-infused nature of all creation, honoring the sacrament of our lives and the lives of others. We are to work for justice, love kindness, and remember that we aren’t God (c.f., Micah 6:8).

As a faithful people, we are to behave as if what God wants matters. Seriously. All of the time. Not just on Sundays or when we’re saying our prayers. In all we say and do and hope for and dream of.

It turns out that it is Jeremiah who is the infinitely practical one, not those “reasonable” friends who want him to quiet down and conform. They are the voices of temptation, enticing us to go along to get along, and put all of that God business on the back burner.

But we are called to follow the Way of the Lord all of the time. Even when it isn’t convenient. To do less is to allow hatred and injustice to flourish; to surrender our vocation, to sever our Life line.

Who is Speaking?

The voices of temptation (which are often inside our own heads) want us to relax and not worry about what is “right” for a while. After all, it can be downright exhausting to be mindful all of the time. It is easier, you know, to just chill.

But the word of God is to be proclaimed at all times and in all places: in face-to-face meetings and text messages, in check-out lines and waiting rooms, in bike lanes and bars and coffee shops, on city sidewalks and in parking lots, in classroom discussions, phone conversations, government legislation, and Facebook postings, and even while driving in traffic. Everywhere. To everyone. Always.

This doesn’t require any overt proselytizing: we needn’t go tagging our emails with bible verses, erecting billboards, or inviting people to church. If our lives are fueled by God’s gracious compassion, if our hearts are on fire with holy love, if we act kindness, seek justice, and embody mercy, we won’t have to do any preaching; the Divine Word will say all that needs to be said.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

If your heart is aflame with God’s love, people will be drawn to the warmth.

“Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”
~ St. Francis of Assisi

 

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The Threshold

a poem in honor of those escaping abusive relationships

     A doorway
that wasn’t there
yesterday
or the day before
or the day before
or the day before

an opening
in a wall
impenetrable
impervious
unyielding
yesterday
and the day before
and the day before
and the day before

an escape
possible
freedom
an option
perhaps

only an illusion:
a prison without bars
built on lies
lies
lies
lies

oblique mirrors
reflecting
a single image
over
and over
and over

through the countless years.

a threshold
a boundary
an opening
into
the strange
the unknown
the frightening

a step
shock
surprise
alarm
fear
confusion
sorrow and tears

a departure
an ending
grieving
yearning
yearning
yearning

for the familiar
the comfortable
the known.

a decision
made
again
and again
and again
and again
and again.

Deborah Beach Giordano
June 23, 2017

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When Violence Arises

Deborah Beach Giordano
© June 3, 2017

I wrote this prayer/cry to God in response to the attacks in London today, and reflecting on those in Alexandria, Tanta, Al-Fu’ah, Kafraya, Rashidin, and other places too:

Holy One, I just want to hide;
to take refuge
in a high and lonely place
where none can find me:

unpopulated,
insulated,
inaccessible,
protected,

safe
from hatred,
and horror,
and violence.

Like a nestling, resting
in a feathered loft
far above the noise,
and claws and teeth,

peace-filled
and untroubled,
unaware and unafraid
of what lies beneath.

If only I could fly
on the wings of a dove
to a tall mountaintop,
or shelter in a forest glen!

Yet even there
troubles will find me,
blood-stained hands
will touch me.

The vicious multiply
our sorrows,
worshiping their gods
of death and pain and fame,

lining our streets
with human sacrifice —
their names
will never pass my lips.

There is no good, God,
apart from You,
keep me secure, right here,
within Your heart;

I shall not flee,
I will not run away,
I will not succumb
to fear or hate or vengeance;

I shall not be moved,
my soul will not be twisted,
I will not turn from the Path
of love and life and light.

Therefore my heart is glad,
and my spirit rejoices,
for I will not fall into the Pit
I will not contribute to Evil.

You, O Beloved,
guide us in the Way of life
that leads to the fullness of joy
forevermore.

Amen.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercises

Be gentle with yourself in these violent times.

The most powerful answer to evil is to do good.

“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

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Memorial Day Psalm

On Memorial Day

The earth sings to the Beloved:
a mournful hymn
for those who have died
on its countless battlefields:

“Too soon, too many,
our children sleep
within my breast;
their bodies still,
their voices silenced,
their families bereft;
their blood cries out
within me.
Give them Your peace.”

The nation sings to the Beloved:
a mournful hymn
for those who have died
on its countless battlefields:

“Bless, O God, bless
those who went forth
not in love of violence,
but in pursuit of peace,
to protect, to serve,
to defend,
and ultimately,
to give their lives.

“Bless, O God, bless
those who carried the burden
of our country’s commitments
to the last measure;
who offered themselves
in our stead,
who bled
and suffered
and died.
Give them Your peace.”

The dead sing to the Beloved:
the mournful hymn
of those who have died
on the countless battlefields:

“Bless, O God, bless
our families and friends,
comfort their hearts,
strengthen their resolve,
for they, too,
have made their sacrifice.
Give them Your peace.

“Bless, O God, bless
our brothers
and sisters
who lingered for months
and years,
under siege
from an implacable enemy
within;
slowly dying
from invisible wounds.
Give them Your peace.”

And we, who remember,
sing to the Beloved:
a mournful hymn:

“Bless, O God, bless
those who have lost their lives
on the earth’s countless battlefields;
and bless us, Beloved,
with clear understanding
of what we all have lost
and who bears the cost
when our nation goes to war.
Help us to earn Your peace.”

Amen.

Deborah Beach Giordano
Memorial Day 2017

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The Truth

 

Deborah Beach Giordano
© May 23, 2017

John 14:15-21 ~ as told by Deborah

“Jesus said, “If you love me, you will hold my teachings in your hearts. And I will ask the Father, who will give you another Advocate to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of Truth, invisible and inaccessible to the world, but which you will see and know, for it lives within you.

“I won’t leave you orphaned; I’ll be right back. In a little while the world won’t see me — but you will. Because I live, you also will live.

“That’s when you’ll realize that I am within my Father, and you are within me, and I am within you.

“Those who cherish my instructions love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

A Remarkable Guide

Jesus says that his followers are given “the Spirit of Truth” to guide us.

That’s pretty cool. Truth is the last word: the truth. The end-all, be all: what really is; the opposite of false.

And so, in the spirit of truthfulness, we can go forth, convinced that we are right. And of course, when you are right — you cannot possibly be wrong. Right?

Unless, of course, you are mistaken, confused, misinformed, or misled.

That can happen, as all of us are well aware. Human beings are not perfect. We make mistakes and can get excited and emotional and angry and fearful and generally foul up. We can be wrong.

We can be not-right.

That can happen when we mistake the “Spirit of truth” for a guarantee of accuracy; when we become convinced that our faith and belief assures us of a lack of mistakenness. We can believe the Gospel and still be wrong about some things.

There’s a difference between truth and being right.

There’s even a difference between truth and righteousness. The Truth — Christ’s truth — can lead us to righteousness; it can guide us toward compassion, to a striving-after kindness, to acts of generosity and gentleness. But being “right” is a whole different kettle of fish.

Perceiving ourselves as right inspires hubris: an inflated sense of authority and command — and conceit. If I know what is “right” then there is no room for discussion or argument; my word is the last word. If I’m “right” then those who disagree …. are wrong.

And anyone who is wrong (that is, holding an opposing view) is either stupid, stubborn, dangerous, or evil. They need to be convinced or controlled — or eliminated.

Being convinced that you are “right” can lead to attacks against others of the sort tragically enacted in Manchester, England last night. Innocent people, many of them children, died because, in the mind of one man, he was right — and they (their government, their religion?) were wrong.

Being convinced of one’s “righteousness” can lead to horrible, unconscionable acts. It can be used as a license to judge, condemn — and even to destroy.

The Truth that Christ spoke of is very different. Remember that what He sent wasn’t a concrete object, it wasn’t a concept written in parchment or carved in stone — the Truth was a spirit; the Holy Spirit.

Christ’s Truth is a living thing; it lives and breathes in us. It is Christ’s teachings incarnated in our lives: it is us living as our Lord lived. It is the Spirit of Holiness embodied in our world — in our bodies. It is love at work.

That is Christ’s truth — that living, breathing, inspiring Spirit: embodied love at work in our world.

This love isn’t soppy romantic twaddle; it is fiercely compassionate, determinedly kind, deeply committed to Wisdom — an intelligence that goes beyond “school smarts” and instead looks to understand: to learn with our hearts as much as with our heads.

That Spirit of Truth is needed in our world more than ever. We need to look to it, to listen to it, and to let it guide us in the Way we should go.

These are difficult times. It is not easy to follow the Lord when all around us voices are being raised, inciting us to react: to pursue “vengeance,” to prove our “right” with might, to condemn, control, and to destroy.

Our hearts are filled with sorrow, our minds overcome by the magnitude of hurt and destructive violence, and we grieve. We grieve for the injured, for those who mourn, and for all those whose passion to be right blinds them to the Truth.

Gracious, eternal God, fill our hearts with that Spirit that will guide us to holy living and lead our world to peace. Amen.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise:

Pray to receive the Spirit of Truth. And to live accordingly.

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