About Spirituality

Melissa Ashley  ‘The Birdman’s Wife’

Hundreds of native swallows skimmed the surface of Port Davey Harbour. The coats on their backs sapphire, their beaks the shape of hairpin tips. The red smear on their breasts, some said, was caused by their attempts to remove the nails on Christ’s cross. Their forked tails were once whole, singed from carrying tiny buckets to douse a temple fire in Jerusalem.

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Fredrik Backman ‘A Man Called Ove’

She believed in destiny. That all the roads you walk in life, in one way or another ‘lead to what has been predetermined for you.’ Ove, of course, just started muttering under his breath…But he never disagreed with her. Maybe to her destiny was ‘something’, that was none of his business. But to him, destiny was ‘someone’.

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Ove wasn’t hopeless, in his own view. He just had a sense of there needing to be a bit of order in the greater scheme of things. He felt one should not go through life as if everything was exchangeable. As if loyalty was worthless. Nowadays people changed their stuff so often that any expertise in how to make things last was becoming superfluous. Quality: no one cared about that any more…

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‘You only need one ray of light to chase all the shadows away,’ she said to him once, when he asked her why she had to be so upbeat the whole time.

Apparently some monk called Francis had written as much in one of her books.

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He believed so strongly in things: justice and fair play and hard work and a world where right just had to be right. Not so one could get a medal or a diploma or a slap on the back for it, but just because that was how it was supposed to be. Not many men of his kind were made any more, Sonja had understood. So she was holding on to this one.

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People need a function, he believes. And he has always been functional, no one can take that away from him.

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‘But there was a time for everything,’ she also said. Often. For example when the doctors gave her the diagnosis four years ago. She found it easier to forgive than Ove did. Forgive God and the universe and everything. Ove got angry instead. Maybe because he felt someone had to be angry on her behalf, when everything that was evil seemed to assail the only person he’d ever met who didn’t deserve it.

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It is difficult to admit that one is wrong. Particularly when one has been wrong for a very long time.

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For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone.

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John Bloom

We live in an age of paralysing complexity.

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Encouragement is not just tender consolation for the suffering, it is strong exhortation to the fainthearted.

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War is not a metaphor for the spiritual reality we experience; it’s what it is.

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This present darkness is out to destroy us, those we love, and as many people around the world as possible, body and soul.

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Allan Boesak

We will go before God to be judged and God will ask, “Where are your wounds?” And we will say, “We have no wounds.” And God will ask, “Was nothing worth fighting for?”

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Behrouz Boochani  ‘No Friend But The Mountain’

The sovereignty of the waves has collapsed the moral framework.

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In striving to escape death, a belief in miracles arises. Faith intervenes. It would be a miracle to hear the roar of that water pump.

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A common will takes form in solidarity and struggle.

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Mortality is our fate and I have no choice but to accept and embrace it.

The path of death and the flow of life are both made manifest in our bodies; the empty vessel is subject to destruction.

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This is the nature of death; even a brush with mortality gives life a marvellous sense of meaning.

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Sometimes ignorance of the truth brings tranquility.

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I realise later that the stormy night when the angel of death perched on my shoulders was the night of my nativity; both my birthday and the moment of my rebirth.

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Depending on a group or a collective identity masks loneliness.

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I have reached a good understanding of this situation: the only people who can overcome and survive all the suffering inflicted by the prison are those who exercise creativity. That is, those who can trace the outlines of hope using the melodic humming and visions beyond the prison fences and the beehives we live in.

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Fear persuades people to hide beneath commotion and noise. They themselves know how fake it really is. It is prison and coming to terms with its paradoxes requires solitude. There is no solace in yelling, screaming or distraction. What we yearn for are the joys of childhood, for mystical movement, for freestyle rhythms, for liberation through dance.

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Life always means much more than war, much more than destitution, much more than deprivation.

Life for me always emerges from within desolation.

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Jeanne Veillette Bowerman

Life is short, and it’s full of disappointment, challenges, fear, anxiety, and possibilities, as well as hope and faith. We can’t control everything that happens, but we can keep our faith strong.

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William Brodrick ‘The Sixth Lamentation’

Larkwood’s life became Anselm’s. The Priory supported itself through bookbinding, ceramics and the production of apple juice – along with a now legendary cider of a particularly vigorous character. Anselm learned the balanced crafts of labour, rest and prayer. After twelve years of monastic life the elements of living a fulfilled life were broadly in position. A planetary motion of doubt, certainty, joy, anguish, loneliness and boredom, each on their own trajectory, encircled an evolving contentment. And very, very occasionally, when he wasn’t looking, the Lord of the Dance brushed past.

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Hitler, she liked to say, had been responsible for her conversion. Confronted with such evil, she said, there had to be a God. She crossed the border a believing Jew. There were many like her…alone, cut off, yet free.

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Salomon Lachaise (later revealed as the son of Schwermann) said:

‘I found my home in the art of the Middle Ages. It has brought me great joy…and pain…always the bitter and sweet.’

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I think it is the frailty of time that brings people together. When you don’t know if you will even see the year out, and you’ve lost a great deal, you seize what happiness comes by.

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The Prior’s voice changed tone. ‘Anselm, I want you to be careful. Remember, first and last you’re a monk. Protect what you’ve become because it can easily fall apart if you’re careless. In one sense you’ve left the world behind, so in all you have to do you should sense you don’t quite belong. If you begin to feel you do belong, you’re at risk. Remember what one of the desert fathers said. The house caved in not because it was struck by rain but because it was built on sand.

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The incredible has a habit of disrupting the parts of our lives to which we’re most attached…All I’m saying is this: you have to be very careful before you dismiss the unbelievable, if it taps you on the shoulder or kicks you in the face.

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Because sometimes we cannot make a synthesis of the past, and there comes a time when we have to forgive what we can, when it is better to forget what cannot be forgiven.

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Miriam (college counsellor) had said: ‘It’s tempting to separate life’s problems into miniatures – that’s when the trouble starts. Your greatest asset is that you see the single canvas.’ Miriam watched Lucy closely before saying, ‘Don’t rule out another death.’

‘Sorry?’

‘Another death – an outcome to this trial that defeats your hope.’

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Cautiously, reflectively, Victor said, ‘It’s all been an inexplicable mix of misfortune and luck. But since I’m a religious man, I look to Providence. Only that rather complicates things, don’t you think? Because there’s no accounting for the graces received, set against what went wrong, without hindrance, for so long.’

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‘There is a kind of silence that always prevails, but we have to wait.’

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The Prior’s gaze grew penetrating. Anselmo said, ‘Millions died from hatred, beneath a blue sky like the one over Larkwood this afternoon…almost by chance, someone like Pascal is trodden underfoot like an ant, along with countless others. And yet, against that, the life of Agnes Embleton is resolved, as if there is a healing hand at work that cannot be deflected from its purpose. I just can’t make sense if it, other than to cry.’…

‘Those tears are part of what it is to be a monk. Out there, in the world, it can be very cold. It seems to be about luck, good and bad, and the distribution is absurd. We have to be candles, burning between hope and despair, faith and doubt, life and death, all the opposites. That is the disquieting place where people must always find us. And if our life means anything, if what we are goes beyond the monastery walls and does some good, it is that somehow, by being here, at peace, we help the world cope with what it cannot understand.’

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Brene Brown  ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’

Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction and life paralysis.

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Brene Brown

Vulnerability isn’t good or bad. Vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings. Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage and creativity.

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I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.

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Walter J. Burghardt

Concerning the elderly – There they sit in the nursing home, watching and waiting, waiting for someone they carried in their womb to visit and ‘watch one hour’ with them.

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Robyn Cadwallader  ‘Book of Colours’

Nothing fine is made without it be broken down first.

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Nothing is heavy if you have wings.

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Don’t doubt what’s given.

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Seems we always look for what we don’t have.

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It is God himself, and not the status of your patron, who demands that your work be the very finest you can manage.

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Christine Caine

Comparison is an extremely destructive thing. It leads to self-depreciation, self-rejection and depression.

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Julia Cameron  ‘The Right To Write’

We should write because humans are spiritual beings and writing is a powerful form of prayer and meditation, connecting us both to our own insights and to a higher and deeper level of inner guidance as well.

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Terry Chadsey

Encouragement sends a message that we see the other person and recognise their humanity. It is not judgmental nor shallow nor manipulative but connecting and open. It opens a door to relationship founded in dignity and respect.

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Winston Churchill

All the great things are simple, and may be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope.

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Tim Costello  ‘Hope’

My faith is still constantly stretched. I don’t have the answers to the death of children, or the onset of cruel mental illness. There are times when all I can do is to sit in silence before the face of suffering and hope that with time and kindness the worst of the grief will pass.

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My faith is now less replete with answers that seem conceptually watertight and more about living in relationship with God.

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If there is no hope, we as humans can become fatalistic with despair or cynicism.

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The symphony of anyone’s life can have some loud and calamitous parts. It takes discernment, patience and deep listening to hear the soothing refrain of hope return.

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Tim Costello  ‘Faith’

To approach life with the question ‘What can I get?’ Rather than ‘What can I give?’ is to mistake happiness for purpose. This is a chronic mistake that results in many unhappy individuals. Happiness is not the goal, but rather a by-product of a deeper sense of purpose.

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Spirituality is about a relationship and connection to something bigger – something transcendent. It inevitably involves faith. For me, without a spiritual connection to God I struggle to find a deeper connection to who I am, to my neighbour, to the stranger, and to the world around me.

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Motto for church life: ‘committed at the core and open at the edges.’

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The phrase I heard from so many survivors (Rwanda) whose loved ones had died in shocking circumstances was ‘I had to forgive first’ so the offender could know they could confess and have a chance to be reintegrated.

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Repentance is a call for transparency.

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The beauty I see in a finite object of art is not wholly contained in the object itself but exists because I have an intuition of a transcendent sense of beauty.

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‘Survivor guilt’ – When I come back from disasters or witnessing people in dire poverty, I feel guilty that I can board a plane and leave while they are trapped.

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Whether we believe in God or something else, we need transcendence beyond ourselves. Expecting and attempting great things only for ourselves is a recipe for despair and soul sickness.

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But wisdom teaches us that we learn much more in the process than in even well-graded outcomes. We learn much more from our failures (if we respond to the lesson) than we do from our successes.

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There is no doubt that new communities and friendships are being formed online; it is not all downside. But how are our brains retiring? Does a life increasingly lived online increase soul sickness and threaten the pursuit of deeper meaning? Does it neutralise emotional solidarity and our capacity to read the emotional nuances of others?

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Spirituality has a profound impact upon mental and physical health.

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Spiritual or religious views affect ethical issues such as euthanasia, suicide, abortion, contraception and blood transfusion.

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Religious commitment is protective for both depression and suicide, and also for physical illness. Belief improves longevity and mortality rates.

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Spiritual meaning is how people find solace in times of tragedy.

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Charles Cummings (monk)

A life of prayer is a life of beginning all over again.

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Patty Dann  ‘The Butterfly Hours’

Each day I try to write five pages and swim sixty laps.

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First it’s vision, and then it’s endless revision.

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Look forward to each day with curiosity.

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Robyn Davidson  ‘Tracks’

There are some moments in life that are like pivots around which your existence turns – small intuitive flashes, when you know you have done something correct for a change, when you think you are on the right track. I watched a pale dawn stream the cliffs with Day-glo and realised this was one of them. It was a moment of pure, uncomplicated confidence – and lasted about ten seconds.

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I had always supposed that loneliness was my enemy. I had seemed not to exist without people around me. But now I understood that I had always been a loner, and that this condition was a gift rather than something to be feared.

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The self in a desert becomes more and more like the desert. It has to, to survive. It becomes limitless, with its roots more in the subconscious than the conscious – it gets stripped of non-meaningful habits and becomes more concerned with realities related to survival. But as is its nature, it desperately wants to assimilate and make sense of the information it receives, which in a desert is almost always going to be translated into the language of mysticism.

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Simone De Beauvoir  ‘A Very Easy Death’

She believed in heaven, but in spite of her age, her feebleness, and her poor half, she clung ferociously to this world, and she had an animal dread of death.

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Her illness had quite broken the shell of her prejudices and her pretensions: perhaps because she no longer needed these defences. No question of renunciation or sacrifice any more: her first duty was to get better and so to look after herself.

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Every day had an irreplaceable value for her. And she was going to die. She did not know it, but I did.

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Whether you think of it as heavenly or as earthly, if you love life immortality is no consolation for death.

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We were taking part in the dress rehearsal for our own burial. The misfortune is that although everyone must come to this, each experiences the adventure in solitude.

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Joan Didion  ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’

Life changes in an instant.

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The way I write is who I am.

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There are some events in life that are beyond our ability to manage or control.

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It was only by dreaming or writing that I could find out what I thought.

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Later, after I married and had a child, I learned to find equal meaning in the repeated rituals of domestic life. Setting the table. Lighting the candles. Building the fire. Cooking. …These fragments mattered to me. I believed in them. That I could find meaning in the intensely personal nature of my life as a wife and mother did not seem inconsistent with finding meaning in the vast indifference of geology. The two systems existed for me on parallel tracks that occasionally converged, notably during earthquakes. In my unexamined mind there was always a point, John’s and my death, at which the tracks would converge for a final time.

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Annie Dillard  ‘Pilgrim at Tinker Creek’

We wake, if we ever wake at all, to mystery, rumours of death, beauty, violence… I wake expectant, hoping to see a new thing.

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Mountains are giant, restful, absorbent. You can heave your spirit into a mountain and the mountain will keep it, folded, and not throw it back.

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It could be that God has not absconded but spread, to a fabric of spirit and a sense so grand and subtle, so powerful in a new way, that we can only feel blindly of it’s hem.

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Experiencing the present purely is being emptied and hollow; you catch grace as a man fills his cup under a waterfall.

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The present is a freely given canvas.

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The texture of the world, its filigree and scrollwork, means that there is the possibility for beauty here, a beauty inexhaustible in its complexity, which opens to my knock, which answers in me a call I do not remember calling, and which trains me to the wild and extravagant nature of the spirit I seek.

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Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery.

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But knowledge does not vanquish mystery, or obscure its distant lights.

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The new is always present simultaneously with the old, however hidden.

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The dark night into which the year was plunging was not a sleep but an awakening, a new and necessary austerity, the sparer climate for which I longed. The shed trees were brittle and still, the creek light and cold, and my spirit holding its breath.

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Divinity is not playful. The universe was not made in jest but in solemn incomprehensible earnest. By a power that is unfathomably secret, and holy, and fleet. There is nothing to be done about it, but ignore it, or see.

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Annie Dillard  ‘The Abundance’

The thing is to stalk your calling in a certain skilled and supple way, to locate the most tender and live spot and plug into that pulse. This is yielding, not fighting.

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A nun lives in the fires of the spirit, a thinker lives in the bright wick of the mind, an artist lives jammed in the pool of materials.

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Beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.

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For nature does reveal as well as conceal.

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I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam.

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I think that the dying pray at the last not “please,” but ”thank you,” as a guest thanks his host at the door.

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Annie Dillard  ‘The Writing Life’

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.

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Anthony Doerr  ‘About Grace’

This, perhaps, is how lives are measured, a series of abandonments that we hope beyond reason will eventually be reconciled.

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Hope was a sunrise, a friend in an alley, a whisper in an empty corridor.

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Hope is something that can be very dangerous but without it life would be horribly dry. Impossible even.

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Anthony Doerr ‘All The Light We Cannot See’

To really touch something, she is learning – the bark of a sycamore tree in the gardens; a pinned stag beetle in the Department of Etymology; the exquisitely polished interior of a scallop shell in Dr Geffard’s workshop – is to love it.

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Every outcome has its cause, and every predicament has its solution.

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A thrill enter Werner’s chest. Fire lit rooms lined with books – these are the places in which important things happen.

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Werner Pfennig describing the sea: It is my favourite thing, I think, that I have ever seen. Sometimes I catch myself staring at it and forget my duties. It seems big enough to contain everything anyone could ever feel.

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Rod Dreher ‘The Benedict Option’

For the early monastics, a “rule” was simply a guide to living in Christian community.

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If we are going to be for the world as Christ meant for us to be, we are going to have to spend more time away from the world, in deep prayer and substantial spiritual training – just as Jesus retreated to the desert to pray before ministering to people. We cannot give the world what we do not have.

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The word religion comes from the Latin word relegate, meaning “to bind.” From a sociological point of view, religion is a coherent system of beliefs and practices through which the community of believers know who they are and what they are to do. These beliefs and practices are held to be rooted in and expressive of the sacred order both grounding and transcending existence. They tell and enact the story that holds the community together.

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Far from being a way of life for the strong and disciplined, Benedict’s Rule was for the ordinary and weak, to help them grow stronger in faith.

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You can achieve the peace and order you seek only by making a place within your heart and within your daily life for the grace of God to take root.

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The Benedict Option – Trying to build a Christian way of life that stands as an island of sanctity and stability amid the high tide of ‘liquid modernity’ – the idea that today, change happens so quickly that nothing has time to solidify.

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To pray is to engage in contemplation – to free oneself from the cares of the flesh to adore and praise God and to reflect on His truth.

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Liturgy is primarily, though not exclusively, about what God has to say to us. Liturgy reveals something of the divine, transcendent order, and when we submit to it, it draws us into closer harmony with that order.

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Unbelievers today who cannot make sense of the Gospel’s propositions may yet have a life-changing wordless encounter with the Gospel through Christian art or works of Christian love that pull them outside themselves and confront them with the reality of Christ.

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Christians have to be a sign of contradiction to the surrounding society, but at the same time we have to be engaged with that society.

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Many Christians will be compelled to make their living in ways that do not compromise their religious consciences. This calls for prudence, boldness, vocational creativity, and social solidarity among believers.

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Both contemplation and action are necessary to human flourishing. Contemplation is alien to the modern mode of life.

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Marcia Eames-Sheauly

We are not entitled to a particular outcome and sometimes things are hard.

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Ali Edwards  ‘One Little Word Project’

A single word can be a powerful thing. It can be the ripple in the pond that changes everything.

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Nancy Eisland (sociologist & theologian)

It is theologically and ethically appropriate to see God as having a preferential option for the disabled and ill, and thus for the church integrally to mirror this preference and work for justice concerning their well-being.

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Dr Kelly Flanagan

Ordinary time is also sacred time.

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The burden of love is also the blessing of love.

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Jackie French  ‘Goodbye, Mr Hitler’

I have learned this in the years since I was ten years old: when you see injustice, stand beside each other and seize your spears. My spears are made of words. Yours may be different.

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To be mostly deeply human we must risk our lives for others. Only when we stand together can we be truly free.

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A book has power for both good and evil, and that power lasts long after those who wrote it have gone.

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Forgiveness can be the hardest thing in the world. But it must be done, for your own sake, as well as for your family, and the world, even if it must be done again every day. You must forgive.

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Frederic Gros  ‘A Philosophy of Walking’

Only walking manages to free us from our illusions about the essential.

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When we respond to the Call of the Wild we discover the immense vigorous of starry night skies, elemental energies, and our appetites follow: they are enormous, and our bodies are satisfied.

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By walking, you escape from the very idea of identity, the temptation to be someone, to have a name and a history. The freedom in walking lies in not being anyone; for the walking body has no history, it is just an eddy in the stream of immemorial life.

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Frederick Nietzsche’s life was made up of these detachments, these breaks, these isolations: from the world, society, travelling companions… These ruptures inflicted their own suffering. But every deepening of his solitude signified a further extension of his freedom: no explanations to give, no compromises to stand in his way, his vision clear and detached.

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Think while walking, walk while thinking, and let writing be but the light pause, as the body on a walk rests in contemplation of wide open spaces.

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So it’s best to walk alone, except that one is never entirely alone. As Henry David Thoreau wrote: ‘l have a great deal of company in the house, especially in the morning when nobody calls.’ To be buried in Nature is perpetually distracting. Everything talks to you, greets you, demands your attention: trees, flowers, the colour of the roads. The sigh of the wind, the buzzing of insects, the babble of streams, the impact of your feet on the ground: a whole rustling murmur that responds to your presence. Rain, too. A light and gentle rain is a steady accompaniment, a murmur you listen to, with its intonations, outbursts, pauses: the distinct plopping of drops splashing on stone, the long melodious weave of sheets of rain falling steadily.

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It’s impossible to be alone when walking, with so many things under our gaze which are given to us through the inalienable grasp of contemplation.

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When you walk you are not alone as there is always this dialogue between the body and the soul.

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In the silence of a walk, when you end up losing the use of words because by then you are doing nothing but walk, in that silence you hear better, because you are finally hearing what has no vocation to be translated, recoded, reformatted.

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“In the midst of so much philosophy, humanity, and politeness, and so many sublime maxims, we have nothing to show for ourselves, but a deceitful and frivolous exterior, honour without virtue, reason without wisdom, and pleasure without happiness.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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Walking is to experience these quietly and humbly insistent realities – the tree growing between rocks, the watchful bird, the streamlet finding its course – without expecting anything. Walking makes the rumours and complaints fall suddenly silent, stops the ceaseless interior chatter through which we comment on others, evaluate ourselves, recompose, interpret.

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When you walk, the world has neither present nor future, nothing but the cycles of morning and evening. Always the same thing to do all day: walk. But the walker who marvels while walking has no past, no plans, no experience. He has within him the eternal child.

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Living is something no one else can do for us. You can be replaced at work, but not for walking.

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Frugality is the discovery that simplicity is fulfilling, the discovery of perfect enjoyment with little or nothing.

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A true life is always another life, a different life. Truth we must find within us.

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The pilgrim is never at home where he walks. He’s a stranger, a foreigner. Every man is a pilgrim, the church father’s say: his whole life is an exile, for his true dwelling-place can never be reached here below.

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The Christian passes through this life like a walker in any country: without lingering, without stopping.

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Internal transformation remains the pilgrim’s mystical ideal: he hopes to be absolutely altered on his return.

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Even apart from the action of walking, but compatible with it, there is also joy experienced as fullness, the joy of living. After a whole day’s walking, the simple relaxation of taking the weight off your legs, satisfying your hunger simply, having a quiet drink and contemplating the declining daylight, the gentle fall of night.

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Happiness involves finding oneself the recipient of a spectacle, a moment, an atmosphere, and taking, accepting and grasping the blessing of the moment. For that there can be no recipe, no preparation; one has to be there when the moment comes.

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Serenity comes from simply following the path. And then, while walking, serenity comes because all the hassles and dramas, all the things that gorge empty furrows in our lives and our bodies, becomes as if absolutely suspended, because out of range too remote and incalculable.

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Gandhi valued the spiritual and political benefits of walking.

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While walking, you hold yourself to account: you correct yourself, challenge yourself, assess yourself.

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Walking with Gandhi nurtured the slow energies of endurance. Gandhi loved the constant reminder of our gravity, our weakness. Walking is the condition of the poor.

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Humility is not humiliating: it just makes vain pretensions fall away, and thus nudges us towards authenticity.

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Walking may be monotonous but never boring. There is far too much regularity and rhythmic movement in walking to cause boredom. That is what led monks to suggest walking as a remedy for acedia, that insidious illness that gnaws at the soul.

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Walking contains the power of repetition. That power of repetition can be found elsewhere, in a certain form of prayer, the ‘prayer of the heart’.

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Matt Haig  ‘Reasons To Stay Alive’

There was a lizard near my feet. A real lizard. I felt a kind of judgement. The thing with lizards is that they don’t kill themselves. Lizards are survivors. You take off their tail and another grows back. They aren’t movers. They don’t get depressed. They just get on with it, however harsh and inhospitable the landscape. I wanted, more than anything, to be that lizard.

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Life is hard. It may be beautiful and wonderful but it is also hard. The way people seem to cope is by not thinking about it too much. But some people are not going to be able to do that.

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To put myself in situations I wouldn’t have put myself in. You need to be uncomfortable. You need to hurt. As the Persian poet Rumi wrote in the twelfth century, ‘The wound is the place where the light enters you.’

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‘And thus the heart will break, yet brokenly live on’ – Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

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Life is beautiful in its ambiguity. But I like the idea of being alert to ourselves, of connecting to the universal rather than living life on a see-saw of hope and fear.

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By feeling part of humanity, rather than an isolated unit, we feel better. Life is a shared experience.

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Nothing makes you feel smaller, more trivial, than such a vast transformation inside your own mind while the world carries on, oblivious. Yet nothing is more freeing. To accept your smallness in the world.

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Matt Haig  ‘Notes On A Nervous Planet’

We need to edit the choice in front of us… Everything we need is here, if we give up thinking we need everything.

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To see the act of learning as something not for its own sake but because of what it will get you reduces the wonder of humanity.

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Maybe the point of life is to give up certainty and to embrace life’s beautiful uncertainty.

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To enjoy life, we might have to focus on the few things we can do, rather than the millions of things we can’t.

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The biggest paradox about the modern world: We are all connected to each other but we often feel shut out. The increasing overload and complexity of modern life can be isolating.

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Reading is the most profound kind of socialising there is. A deep connection to the imagination of another human being.

Reading is important because it gives you room to exist beyond the reality you’re given. It is how humans merge. How minds connect.

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To be comfortable with yourself, to know yourself, requires creating some inner space where you can find yourself, away from a world that often encourages you to lose yourself.

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Charles Handy  ‘The Empty Raincoat’

God’s great gift to mankind – choice – is itself a paradox, because the freedom to choose implies the freedom to choose wrongly, to sin. Original sin is the price we pay for our humanity.

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Life will never be easy, nor perfectible, nor completely predictable. It will be best understood backwards, but we have to live it forwards. To make it liveable, at all levels, we have to learn to use the paradoxes to balance the contradictions and the inconsistencies and to use them as an invitation to find a better way.

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Sally Z. Hare

Thin places are places of mystery, holy places that allow humans to connect more easily to their spiritual selves.

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Kent Haruf

My desire is to be anonymous, isolated, quiet, peaceful, concentrated.

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Kent Haruf  ‘Benediction’

People in their houses at night. These ordinary lives. Passing without their knowing it. I’d hoped to recapture something. The precious ordinary.

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Peter Heller  ‘The Painter’

After a while I relaxed a little and just fished, fishing has a way of taking care of things.

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I felt the terrible vulnerability of everything and the depthless peace of the evening, and I wondered that God could have made such a doubleness, allowed it all to exist together so that we might feel so helpless.

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Every painting is a prayer.

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Gordon Hempton (acoustic ecologist)

Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything.

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Anthony & Ben Holden (editors)  ‘Poems That Make Grown Men Cry’

Ken Loach ‘I Am’ – John Clare

John Clare wrote of the countryside with great affection but spent his last years in an asylum. This poem tells of a man reduced to nothingness – bereft, abandoned, beyond tears.

I Am
I am – yet what I am, none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost:
I am a self-consumer of my woes; –
They rise and vanish in oblivion’s host,
Like shades in love and death’s oblivion lost;
And yet I am! and live with shadows tost

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise, –
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
And e’en the dearest – that I loved the best –
Are strange – nay, rather stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man hath never trod;
A place where woman never smiled or wept;
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie;
The grass below – above the vaulted sky.

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Chris Cooper ‘Those Who Are Near Me Do Not Know’ – Rabindranath Tagore

The line ‘my heart is full of your unspoken words’, resonates in a particular way: my son, Jesse, who died on 3 January 2005, was nonverbal, but always able to speak to my hearts core. The poem ends with a line that is grounded in truth; the love of family and friends is a conduit to the boundless love I knew when my son was alive.

Those Who Are Near Me Do Not Know
Those who are near me do not know that you are nearer to me than they are
Those who speak to me do not know that my heart is full with your unspoken words
Those who crowd in my path do not know that I am walking alone with you
They who love me do not know that their love brings you to my heart.

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Tom Hiddleston ‘Love After Love’ – Derek Walcott

In the madness and mayhem of modern life, where every man seems committed to an endless search for the approval and esteem of his fellows and peers, no matter what the cost, this poem reminds me of a basic truth: that we are, as we are, ‘enough’. Most of us are motivated deep down by a sense of insufficiency, a need to be better, stronger, faster; to work harder; to be more committed, more kind, more self-sufficient, more successful. We are driven by a sense that we are not, as we are, ‘enough’.

But this short poem by Derek Walcott is like a declaration of unconditional love. It’s like the embrace of an old friend. We are each of us whole, perfectly imperfect, enough. ‘Feast on your life’ feels like permission, as though Walcott is calling time on all the madness, the mayhem, the insecurity, the neuroses, the drama, and with a big, broad, kind smile, he brings us to the awareness of the present moment, calm and peaceful, and to a feeling of gratitude for everything that we have.

Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome.

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

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Ryan Holiday

Courage is what you do when you’re afraid.

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Humility is an awareness of one’s own weakness.

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We need to be wary of ego because it makes us vulnerable and self-destructive.

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There is a clarity in seeing what others can’t see, in finding grace and harmony in places others overlook.

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Nick Hornby ‘A Long Way Down’

Sometimes it’s moments like that, real complicated moments, absorbing moments, that make you realise that even bad times have good things in them to make you feel alive.

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Human beings are millions of things in one day.

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Donald Horne & Myfanwy Horne  ‘Dying: A Memoir’

Here we are with our unique human blessings of imagination, wonder, and curiosity and with resources to feed them going far beyond anything that could have been imagined in past generations, and yet for how many people might these resources just as well not be there?

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It is cooperation, not competition, that can better the human condition.

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Brian Houston  ‘Live, Love, Lead’

It is my belief that most of the evidence of what God is doing goes largely unnoticed and unrecorded.

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Life is a journey, a winding path with many unknowns.

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Who does God say you are, and what has he called you to do? The key to living a life of purpose is being able to answer these questions.

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The truth is, the plans God has for you are always bigger than you are, and they are never going to be something you can pull off easily and in your own strength.

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A vision for the church – youthful in spirit, generous at heart, faith filled in confession, loving in nature, and inclusive in expression.

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Choose calling over comfort.

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I believe it is through the power of community, the intimacy of relationship, and the vehicle of the church that God is continuing to reveal who he is to the world.

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Some people lose their way in life’s dark seasons and lose sight of their God-ordained future.

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Gerard Hughes  ‘God, Where Are You?’

Faith is entrusting ourselves to this mystery in which we are living, trusting that love is at the heart of it, so that it is safe to explore, unsafe to rest in what we consider our present certainties…. Nothing so masks the face of God as our security in our own certainties. With faith in God, we see everything as provisional, and we are always open to new possibilities.

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Michael Hyatt

Courage is the willingness to act in spite of fear.

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Kim Jaggers

When we hold on to the God of hope we have an ally for every doubt and danger.

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Denis Johnson

This life is but the childhood of our immortality.

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Mary Lynn Johnson

Mistakes may leave their mark, but they will never define who you are.

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Rachel Joyce  ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’

He understood that in walking to atone for the mistakes he had made, it was also his journey to accept the strangeness of others. As a passer-by, he was in a place where everything, not only the land, was open. People would feel free to talk, and he was free to listen. To carry a little of them as he went.

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He knew too that his faith, such as it was, was a fragile thing.

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He felt in a profound way that he was both inside and outside what he saw; that he was both connected, and passing through.

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He felt nothing but anguish for the things that couldn’t be undone.

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Rachel Joyce  ‘The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey’

I am starting again, I thought. Because that is what you do when you reach the last stop. You make a new beginning.

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Sometimes we reject the people who tell the truth and it is not because they are wrong. It is because we cannot bear to hear.

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Rachel Joyce ‘Perfect’

You have to think bigger than what you know.

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When he is planting there is nothing but himself and the earth.

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Sometimes caring for something already growing is more perilous than planting something new.

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‘Do you think a person could be guilty if they didn’t know they had made a mistake?’

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The big things in life come in the quiet, ordinary moments – a phone call, a letter – they come when we are not looking, without clues, without warning, and that is why they floor us. And it can take a lifetime, a life of many years, to accept the incongruity of things; that a small moment can sit side by side with a big one, and become part of the same.

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If there was anything Byron had learned that summer, it was that a thing was capable of being not one but many different things, and some of them contradictory. Not everything has a label.

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Dr Sheri Keffer

When we share our stories and invite others into these layers of rich imperfection, we can find comfort and acceptance there.

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Tim Keller  ‘Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering’

Christianity teaches that contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful. There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.

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While Christianity was able to agree with pagan writers that inordinate attachment to earthly goods can lead to unnecessary pain and grief, it also taught that the answer to this was not to love things less but to love God more than anything else. Only when our greatest love is God, a love that we cannot lose even in death, can we face all things with peace. Grief was not to be eliminated but seasoned and buoyed up with love and hope.

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The only love that won’t disappoint you is one that can’t change, that can’t be lost, that is not based on the ups and downs of life or of how well you live. It is something that not even death can take away from you. God’s love is the only thing like that.

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Sue Monk Kidd  ‘The Secret Life of Bees’

I realised it for the first time in my life there is nothing but mystery in the world, how it hides behind the fabric of our poor, browbeat days, shining brightly and we don’t even know it.

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Stories have to be told or they die and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.

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The music she played was the kind that sawed through you, cutting into the secret chambers of your heart and setting the sadness free.

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If God said in plain language, “I’m giving you a choice, forgive or die”, a lot of people would go ahead and order their coffin.

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Austin Kleon  ‘Steal Like An Artist’

Embrace your limitations and keep moving.

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Elizabeth Kostova  ‘The Historian’

Human history is full of evil deeds, and maybe we ought to think of them with tears, not fascination.

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When you handle books all day long, every new one is a friend and a temptation.

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As a historian, I have learned that, in fact, not everyone who reaches back into history can survive it. And it is not only reaching back that endangers us; sometimes history itself reaches inexorably forward for us with its shadowy claws.

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The very worst impulses of humankind can survive generations, centuries, even millennia. And the best of our individual efforts can die with us at the end of a single lifetime.

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Kosuke Koyama  ‘Three Mile An Hour God’

Love has its speed. It is a spiritual speed. It is a different kind of speed from the technological speed to which we are accustomed. It goes on in the depth of our life, whether we notice or not, at three miles an hour. It is the speed we walk and therefore the speed the love of God walks.

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Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

The most beautiful people… are those who have known defeat, known suffering, struggle and loss, and have found their way out of those depths.

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Olivia Laing  ‘Crudo’

Maybe her edges were melting, maybe she was being subsumed, maybe she should grow up, maybe this is what adulthood supposed to be like, a glacier toppling into a bath.

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Kathy had removed all the things she actually liked and was surprised at how little attachment she now felt to what had been her cherished and longish-term home.

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Stories of injustice displaced her, they displaced everything, how could you be happy when you knew the tendencies humans had, their aptitude for cruelty.

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You think you know yourself inside out when you live alone, but you don’t, you believe you are a calm untroubled or at worst melancholic person, you do not realise how irritable you are, how any little thing, the wrong kind of touch or tone, a lack of speed in answering questions, a particular cast of expression will send you into apoplexy because you are unchill, because you have not learnt how to soften your borders, how to make room. You’re selfish and rigid and absorbed, you’re like an infant.

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She was going to love and honour, everywhere, indiscriminately, those would be her watchwords from now on.

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This was the problem with history, it was too easy to provide the furnishings but forget the attitudes, the way you became a different person according to what knowledge was available, what experiences were fresh and what had not yet arisen in a personal or global frame.

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Historic rainfall in Houston… The man who owned the mega church, the pastor, Kathy supposed, was getting a lot of flak for keeping his church closed. He was praying, but since people were pitching tents on roofs they felt understandably annoyed at the doors being locked on a potentially vast public sleeping place.

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What was good was the hills, the deep, densely wooded valleys, with flat shallow streams and grazing assorted cows and sheep. What was good was the clear air, brushed now and then with rain, the fast-moving green. They kept stopping at churches, they pulled in when they saw antique shops and sifted through boxes of grimy Spode and foxed hardbacks from the century before last. The past hung heavy, they breathed it in; it was good to experience the density of time.

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You make divisions between people, countries, races, and out of the gaps the warheads emerge. It was that simple, she was watching it happen with her own eyes.

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Anne Lamott  ‘Bird By Bird’

There is ecstasy in paying attention. You can get into a kind of Wordsworthian openness to the world, where you see in everything the essence of holiness, a sign that God is implicit in all of creation.

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Susie Larson

Is shame just a negative emotion and a skewed mind-set, or an actual parasitic force that drains life, takes life, and keeps us from the life God has always intended for us?

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C. S. Lewis

Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.

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Gordon Livingston  ‘Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart’

We demonstrate courage in the numberless small ways in which we meet our obligations or reach out to try the new things that might improve our lives. Many of us are afraid of risk and prefer the bland, the predictable, and the repetitive. This explains the overwhelming sense of boredom that is a defining characteristic of our age.

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The three components of happiness are something to do, something to love, and something to look forward to.

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We define who we are and who and what we care about, not by what we promise, but by what we do.

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If we wish to be treated with kindness and forbearance, we need to cultivate those qualities in ourselves.

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Change is the essence of life.

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One of the things that make us human is the ability to contemplate the future.

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If we believe it is better to build than destroy, better to live and let live, better to be than to be seen, then we might have a chance slowly, to find a satisfying way through life, this flicker of consciousness between two great silences.

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I have forsaken any belief in an orderly universe and a just God. But I have not relinquished my love for my sons nor my longing that, against all reason, I will see them again.

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“The love between parents and children depends heavily on forgiveness. It is our imperfections that mark us as human and our willingness to tolerate them in our families and ourselves redeems the suffering to which all love makes us vulnerable.” Mark Helprin

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Our primary task as parents beyond attending to the day-to-day physical and emotional welfare of our children, is to convey to them a sense of the world as an imperfect place in which it is possible, nevertheless, to be happy.

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It is our fallibility and uncertainty that make us human.

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Life can be seen as a series of relinquishment.

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Anthony McCarten  ‘Darkest Hour’

Both politicians and the public were baying, not just for a leader, but a great leader – one capable of delivering what only great leaders can: words that can move and sway and convince and galvanise and inspire and even forge in the hearts of the public levels of feeling they do not know they have.

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In order to be influential one must be willing to be influenced.

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Andy McNab  ‘For Valour’

We should never underestimate the importance of a friendly voice and a single beam of light in a world of darkness.

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Lucy Mangan  ‘Bookworm’

And for a child there is so much information in a book, so much work to be done within and without… You are learning about people, about relationships, about the variety of responses available to them and in many more situations and circumstances than one single real life permits. Each book is a world entire. You’re going to have to take more than one pass at it.

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White’s story, Charlotte’s Web, is agnostic but it makes plain that in the midst of life we are in death. But it also makes clear that life goes on. Charlotte’s hundreds of children scrambling round the barn tell us so, I have gradually come to find comfort in its simple acceptance of the world the way it is and the lack of striving for an answer that would explain it all. It is what it is. We are born, we die and if we’re lucky we make some good friends along the way who will remember us when we’re gone. It’s enough. Not least because it has to be.

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You simply never know what a child is going to find in a book (or a graphic novel, or a comic, or whatever) – what tiny, throwaway line might be the spark that lights the fuse that sets off an explosion in understanding whose force echoes down the years. And it enables me to keep, at bottom, the faith that children should be allowed to read anything at any time. They will take out of it whatever they are ready for. And just occasionally, it will ready them for something else.

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As I have got older, I have occasionally questioned whether it is possible to take the bookworm thing too far. ‘People say that life’s the thing but I prefer reading.’ I have lived so many lives through books, gone to so many places, so many eras, looked through so many different eyes, considered so many different points of view. The fact that I haven’t had time to do much myself seems but a small price to pay. I live my life quite as fully as I want, thank you. Books have not isolated me – they have connected me. What non-bookworms get by meeting actual people, we get from reading.

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“I still have all my childhood books. In fact, I have spent some of my happiest hours in recent months arranging them on the bespoke bookcases…
They made me who I am.”

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David Mathis

Retention is one thing; transformation is another. I don’t read simply to retain; I read to be changed for the better.

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Benjamin E. Mays (educator)

It is not a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream.

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Eric Metaxas  ‘Martin Luther’

The word ‘Anfechtung’ really has no English equivalent. It has as its root the verb ‘fechten’, which means “to fence with” or “to duel with.” So Luther’s ‘Anfechtung’ meant to do battle with one’s own thoughts and with the devil. It was a vivid picture of the nightmare of hell itself, a place in which one had indeed been utterly forsaken by God, with no end to the hopelessness. It was not something Luther could easily ignore.

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Here was the central difficulty of late medieval Catholic theology: that one was brought to the place of understanding one’s sinfulness and one’s unworthiness before God but was not told what to do at that moment of understanding except to lie paralysed with hopelessness, to confess and try harder. At some point, the sinner – and Luther chief among them – came to feel that he wholly deserved God’s fierce anger.

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We could stretch and strain all we liked, but we would never touch the blueness of the sky itself. God must bring the sky to us, and therefore it must be divine revelation initiated by God to bridge this most unbridgeable of all gulfs.

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Staupitz saw that for Luther the Bible was not a book like Aristotle’s ‘Ethics’ or like a volume of Livy or Cicero. It was something entirely apart from every book in the world. It was the living Word of God and therefore could not be read like any other book. It was inspired by God, and when one read it, one must do so in such a way – with such closeness and intimacy – that one fully intended to feel and smell the breezes of heaven. If one missed this aspect, one missed the whole point.

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Music was not to be banished from our lives… nor was it to be separated into “church music” that could only be sung by priests and monks and “secular music” that was sung by people outside the churches. All that was good was of God, and to create walls where God has built none was far worse than a mere tragic mistake. So Luther, in creating the worship services for the new Reformation church, sought to bring every kind of good music into God’s service and sought to bring the “priesthood of all believers” into God’s choir in church.

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Luther was himself convinced that his physical problems were spiritual warfare, that the enemy of our souls was attacking him.

Luther suggests that without the prayers of his friends he might have lost faith and slipped into perdition. Luther’s point is that even when we don’t have faith, the faith of our friends and family can be enough. He is saying that his friends’ prayers sustained him when he could not sustain himself.

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Amy Meyerson ‘The Bookshop of Yesterdays’

We can’t stop earthquakes from happening, but you don’t have to be afraid. After every earthquake, scientists like me review the damage and we use that to make our buildings and bridges stronger, so there’s less damage in the future.

‘So we need earthquakes?’ I asked.

‘You could think of it that way. We need earthquakes to learn. Understanding prepares us for the future. Remember that. It’s the only way to make us safer.’

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‘It’s inexcusable,” Mum said as she pulled onto the ramp for the Bundy Drive exit. “Putting that kind of burden on you.’

‘It’s not a burden. I loved Prospero Books.’

‘Loving something and being responsible for it are two very different things.‘ She gripped the wheel so forcefully her knuckles turned white.

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‘Whatever happened, I knew I would survive it. I knew, above all, that I’d go on working. Surviving meant being born over and over. It wasn’t easy, and it was always painful. But there wasn’t any other choice but death.’ Fear of Flying Erica Jong

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Famous literary quotes:
‘To learn to read is to light a fire.’ Victor Hugo
‘Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience, this is the ideal life.’ Mark Twain
‘We read to know that we are not alone.’ C.S.Lewis
‘I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.’ Jorge Luis Borges
‘Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.’ Frederick Douglass
‘I cannot live without books.’ Thomas Jefferson

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Maybe for Billy it was the greatest adventure of all, staying still, confronting his past, finally learning how to live without Evelyn.

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Rubin Naiman  (psychologist)

“Hyperarousal” is a state of excessive awake-ness. And it plagues almost every human living in the industrialised world today.

The antidote to hyperarousal is humility. The word humility is derived from the term ‘humus,’ which of course is earth, so there’s something about coming down. The body submits, if you will, to gravity.

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Kathleen Norris  ‘The Cloister Walk’

The Benedictines insist that there is a time in each day for prayer, for work, for study and for play.

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Liturgical time is essentially poetic time orientated towards process rather than productivity, willing to wait attentively in stillness rather than always pushing to ‘get the job done’.

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A prophet’s task is to reveal the fault lines hidden beneath the comfortable surface of the worlds we invent for ourselves, the national myths as well as the little lies and delusions of control and security that get us through the day.

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Henri J. M. Nouwen  ‘Bread for the Journey’

It is this creative power of the word we need to reclaim.

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But anyone trying to live a spiritual life will soon discover that the most personal is the most universal, the most hidden is the most public, and the most solitary is the most communal. What we live in the most intimate places of our beings is not just for us but for all people.

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The autumn of life has the potential to be very colourful: wisdom, humour, care, patience, and joy may bloom splendidly just before we die.

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Oliver O’Donovan (ethicist)

If we knew the story of the future hidden in God’s foreknowledge, we should be beyond deliberation, beyond action, even beyond caring.

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Maggie O’Farrell  ‘I Am, I Am, I Am – A Memoir’

You need to expect the unexpected, to embrace it. The best way, I am about to discover, is not always the easy way.

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The people who teach us something retain a particularly vivid place in our memories.

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Jan Ortland

The remedy for fear is not withdrawal, or more self-control, or even drumming up more courage. The remedy for our fears is hope – hope in a God who promises his very presence to be near and real.

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John Piper

Much Christian obedience consists in waiting for God to do what we need him to do when the timing seems very slow to us.

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Francine Prose ‘What to Read and Why’

The reasons why we read great literature: for aesthetic pleasure and enjoyment, beauty and truth, for the opportunity to enter the mind of another, for information about the temporal and the eternal. And for the opportunity to read about things that we maybe reluctant to acknowledge but that we recognise, despite that reluctance, as true.

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Clarity is not only a literary quality but a spiritual one, involving, as it does, compassion for the reader.

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The Quakers

Do not speak unless you can improve upon the silence.

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James Rhodes

‘Music’ – something universal, something exciting, something intangible and immortal. You and I are instantly connected through music. Music provides solace, wisdom, hope and warmth. It is medicine for the soul.

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Music has quite literally, saved my life. It provides company when there none, understanding where there is confusion, comfort where there is distress, and sheer, unpolluted energy where there is a hollow shell of brokenness and fatigue.

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Everyone’s damaged, we are a world of wounded people, trying the best we can.

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Marilynne Robinson  ‘Gilead’

It has been my experience that guilt can burst through the smallest breach and cover the landscape, and abide in it in pools and danknesses, just as native as water.

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When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you. So you must think, What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation?

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There are certain attributes our faith assigns to God: omniscience, justice, and grace. We human beings have such a slight acquaintance with power and knowledge, so little conception of justice, and so slight a capacity for grace, that the workings of these great attributes together is a mystery we cannot hope to penetrate.

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I think the attempt to defend belief can unsettle it, in fact, because there is an inadequacy in argument about ultimate things.

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It was Coleridge who said Christianity is a life, not a doctrine, words to that effect. The Lord gave you a mind so that you would make honest use of it. I’m saying you must be sure that the doubts and questions are your own and not just the fashion of any particular moment.

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Marilynne Robinson  ‘Home’

There is a saying that to understand is to forgive, but that is an error, so Papa used to say. You must forgive in order to understand….If you forgive, he would say, you may indeed still not understand, but you will be ready to understand, and that is the posture of grace.

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Weary or bitter of bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.

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Prayer is a discipline in truthfulness, in honesty.

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Faith for her was habit and family loyalty, a reverence for the Bible which was also literary, admiration for her mother and father. And then that thrilling quiet of which she had never felt any need to speak.

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Marilynne Robinson  ‘When I Was a Child I Read Books’

But almost everyone, for generations now, has insisted on a sharp distinction between the physical and the spiritual. So we have had theologies that really proposed a ‘God of the gaps,’ as if God were not manifest in the creation, as the Bible is so inclined to insist, but instead survives in those dark places, those black boxes, where the light of science has not yet shone. And we have atheisms and agnosticisms that make precisely the same argument, only assuming that at some time the light of science will indeed dispel the last shadow in which the holy might have been thought to linger. Religious experience is said to be associated with activity in a particular part of the brain. For some reason, this is supposed to imply that it is delusional. But all thought and experience can be located in some part of the brain, that brain more replete than the starry heaven God showed to Abraham, and we are not in the habit of assuming that it is all delusional on these grounds.

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Science can give us knowledge, but it cannot give us wisdom.

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I remember when I was a child at Coolin or Sagle or Talache, walking into the woods by myself and feeling the solitude around me build like electricity and pass through my body with a jolt that made my hair prickle. I remember kneeling by a creek that spilled and pooled among rocks and fallen trees with the unspeakably tender growth of small trees already sprouting from their backs, and thinking, there is only one thing wrong here, which is my own presence, and that is the slightest imaginable intrusion – feeling that my solitude, my loneliness, made me almost acceptable in so sacred a place.

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I experience religious dread whenever I find myself thinking that I know the limits of God’s grace since I am utterly certain it exceeds any imagination a human being might have of it. God does, after all, so love the world.

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Say that we are a puff of warm breath in a very cold universe. By this kind of reckoning, we are either immeasurably insignificant or we are incalculably precious and interesting.

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Richard Rohr  ‘In The Footsteps of St. Paul’

We are not free until we are free from our own compulsiveness, our own resentments, our own complaining, our own obsessive patterns of thinking.

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Richard Rohr

Surrender is the goal, not personal success. God not only allows us to make mistakes, but even uses our mistakes in our favour!

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We must learn to trust the wounds and the failures of life, which are much better teachers than our supposed successes.

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Judi Rose  ‘Journeys of the Heart’

Through adversity there is a chance for grace to appear.

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Roger Rosenblatt  ‘Unless It Moves the Human Heart’

Life matters. Now make it matter to others.

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For all its frailty and bitterness, the human heart is worthy of your love. Love it. Have faith in it. Both you and the human heart are full of sorrow. But only one of you can speak for that sorrow and ease its burdens and make it sing – word after word after word.

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Oliver Sacks  ‘Gratitude’

At eighty, one is more conscious of transience and, perhaps, of beauty. One can take a long view and have a vivid, lived sense of history not possible at an earlier age.

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Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life. On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.

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A few weeks ago, in the country, far from the lights of the city, I saw the entire sky ‘powdered with stars.’ It was this celestial splendour that suddenly made me realise how little time, how little life, I had left. My sense of the heavens’ beauty, of eternity, was inseparably mixed for me with a sense of transience – and death.

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I have been increasingly conscious, for the last ten years or so, of deaths among my contemporaries. My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself. There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate…of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.

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Oliver Sacks  ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat’

I watched Jimmie in chapel. I was moved, profoundly moved and impressed, because I saw here an intensity and steadiness of attention and concentration that I had never seen before in him or conceived him capable of. I watched him kneel and take the Sacrament on his tongue and could not doubt the fullness and totality of Communion, the perfect alignment of his spirit with the spirit of the Mass. Fully, intensely, quietly, in the quietude of absolute concentration and attention, he entered and partook of the Holy Communion. There was no forgetting, nor did it seem possible or imaginable that there should be; for he was no longer at the mercy of a faulty and fallible mechanism – that of meaningless sequences and memory traces – but was absorbed in an act, an act of his whole being, which carried feeling and meaning in an organic continuity and unity, a continuity and unity so seamless it could not permit any break.

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If we wish to know about a man, we ask, ‘what is his story – his real, inmost story?’ – for each of us is a biography, a story. Each of us is a singular narrative, which is constructed, continually, unconsciously, by, through, and in us – through our perceptions, our feelings, our thoughts, our actions; and, not least, our discourse, our spoken narrations. Biologically, physiologically, we are not so different from each other; historically, as narratives – we are each of us unique.

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The capacity to perform, to play, to be, seems to be a ‘given’ in human life, in a way which has nothing to do with intellectual differences.

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Scott Sauls

The love of God, when taken hold of, frees us from any need to be noticed, to make a name for ourselves, to find significance through achievement and advancement or from having access to fame and fortune.

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We are made for community, not for isolation; for interdependence, not independence; for relational warmth and receptivity, not for relational coldness and distance.

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The work we do in the world, whether creative or restorative or both, represents a significant contribution to the mission of God.

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We live thirsty for benediction – for a good word spoken over us to reverse the negative verdicts from the outside.

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Our souls are not wired for celebrity or for ego-inflating self-advancement. We were not created to stand on top of pedestals.

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Seneca (Stoic philosopher)

We should hunt out the helpful pieces of teaching and the spirited and noble-minded sayings which are capable of immediate practical application – not far far-fetched or archaic expressions or extravagant metaphors and figures of speech – and learn them so well that words become works.

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Norman Shanks  ‘Iona: God’s Energy’

It is only by being truly connected with others in the orientation of our lives that we shall achieve the inner connectedness, the self-fulfilment and along with it the connectedness with God that is our spiritual goal, both our destiny and the deepest desire of our inmost hearts.

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The material world is not an obstacle to spirituality but a gift of God, the area of our obedience.

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Within the tradition of the Church down the centuries, pilgrimage is an outward sign of the inner journey toward God – the search for meaning, inspiration, healing and redirection mirroring the deeply personal desire for forgiveness and renewal.

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Robert Schumann

To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts – such is the duty of the artist.

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Rebecca Solnit ‘Wanderlust: A History of Walking’

Walking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body, and the world are aligned, as though they were three characters finally in conversation together, three notes suddenly making a chord. Walking allows us to be in our bodies and in the world without being made busy by them. It leaves us free to think without being wholly lost in our thoughts.

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It is the unpredictable incidents between official events that add up to a life, the incalculable that gives it value.

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I like walking because it is slow, and I suspect that the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles an hour. If this is so, then modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought, or thoughtfulness.

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Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind, and walking travels both terrains.

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A lone walker is both present and detached from the world around, more than an audience but less than a participant. Walking assuages or legitimises this alienation: one is mildly disconnected because one is walking, not because one is incapable of connecting.

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‘It is the accidental and insignificant things in life which are significant.’ Soren Kierkegaard

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Pilgrimage is one of the fundamental structures a journey can take – the quest in search of something, if only one’s own transformation, the journey toward a goal – and for pilgrims, walking is work. Secular walking is often imagined as play, however competitive and rigorous that play, and uses gear and techniques to make the body more comfortable and more efficient. Pilgrims, on the other hand, often try to make their journey harder, recalling the origin of the word travel in travail, which also means work, suffering, and the pangs of childbirth.

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Pilgrimage unites belief and action, thinking and doing, and it makes sense that this harmony is achieved when the sacred has material presence and location.

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There is a symbiosis between journey and arrival in Christian pilgrimage, as there is in mountaineering. To travel without arriving would be as incomplete as to arrive without having traveled. In pilgrimage, the journey is radiant with hope that arrival at the tangible destination will bring spiritual benefits with it. The pilgrim has achieved a story of his or her own and in this way too becomes part of the religion made up of stories of travel and transformation.

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Walking expresses both the simplicity and the purposefulness of the pilgrim. As Nancy Frey writes of the long-distance pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, “When pilgrims begin to walk several things usually begin to happen to their perceptions of the world which continue over the course of the journey: they develop a changing sense of time, a hightening of the senses, and a new awareness of their bodies and the landscape… A young German expressed it this way: ‘In the experience of walking, each step is a thought. You can’t escape yourself.’

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Jill Stark  ‘Happy Never After’

Solitude – ‘It’s the capacity to confront and accept your own existence without needing others around to entertain or distract you.’ Philosopher Damon …

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How do you stay positive when an insatiable twenty-four-hour news cycle reminds you in graphic detail that we live in a bitterly divided post-truth times defined by global terrorism, catastrophic climate change, and the mass displacement of our planet’s most vulnerable people?

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But if I was broken, the culture that formed a backdrop to my disintegration had surely played a part in that fracturing. It’s a culture that views sadness as abnormal, particularly when you’ve ‘made it’, a culture so afraid of feelings that we think we can spend, drink, or click our way out of the blues. It’s a culture frenzied by the constant need for online connection and external validation with no room for solitude, silence, or switching off; an environment in which millions of us feel like we’re drowning in an ocean of toxic stress but feel shamed for not being as happy as we should be by the forces fuelling the problem. Could it be that the pursuit of happiness is making us miserable?

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‘Countries that place a premium on happiness are experiencing higher rates of depression.’
‘Feeling at times sad, disappointed, envious, lonely – that isn’t maladaptive, it’s human.’
Associate Professor Brock Bastian, University of Melbourne

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For every resurrection, something must die.

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So much of our inner life is a mystery. We react in ways that make no sense, and sometimes in ways that are self-destructive.

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We are hard wired to crave belonging.

Belonging is one of the most significant, primal requirements, for humans to thrive.

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“In the online world, your social media identity is basically an extension of yourself. When we’re consciously curating ourselves it can seem like there’s no excuse when our content isn’t on point, or when we make mistakes. And when we are impulsively hateful to someone else, there’s little room for forgiveness even with the most kind and conscientious teens.”   Lucy Thomas

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The advent of social media has bolstered the notion that happiness is life’s ultimate goal by selling us the myth that everyone else is living their bliss.

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We live in a society in which we are increasingly socially isolated and lonely, destroying one of the key mechanisms available to protect against mental anguish.

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A huge part of building my resistance came from journaling. It allowed me to wade through the murky soup of anxiety and shame that took up so much space in my head. Committing my thoughts to a page was like opening a pressure valve. The journals became a safe space for unadulterated grief and angst. I also keep a gratitude journal as a counterweight.

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Gratitude is about accepting the hard times but realising all is not lost.

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Helplessness was an appealing familiar place that would have allowed me to abdicate all control and give up, railing against the hand I’d been dealt. Handing the reins to despair and anger only entrenches our suffering. Finding hope and gratitude in that dark night of the soul allowed me to tap into a part of myself I didn’t know was there but I now suspect had always existed. I discovered that it is not our greatest joys that have the power to transform but our deepest pain. The things we think will destroy us are so often the pathways to growth and healing.

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No amount of stuff can bring you the contentment you have long craved.

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Consciously practising kindness could actually change the wiring of our brains and make us live longer, happier, and healthier lives. Not only are we preconditioned to be kind, but it’s essential for the survival of our species.

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‘Practising compassion with intention has a positive physiological effect on the body. It can lower blood pressure, boost your immune response, and increase your calmness.’ Dr. James Doty

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The more I’m able to offer kindness to others, the better I have become at forgiving myself.

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Retaining an open heart is challenging in the face of hatred. But it can also be healing.

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We have to see the dignity and humanity in all people.

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Just being in nature, away from the stimulation of urban life, has been found to have an automatic calming effect on the brain.

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Every difficult experience, every challenging emotion, is a chance for renewal.

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Life is not a straight road to the fairytale ending. It is a twisting, complicated route populated by speed bumps and land mines, scenic views and beautiful sunrises, and a whole lot of beige, mundane days we will instantly forget.

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Wholeness is an entirely internal affair. If we don’t believe we are worthy it’s like pouring water into a leaky bucket.

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Acceptance is not surrender; it’s empowerment. It’s the act of trusting ourselves but also looking for the shared humanity in the people we meet.

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Cheryl Strayed  ‘Wild: A Journey From Lost To Found’

There was a skylight window in the ceiling that ran the length of the platform bed I shared with Karen, its transparent pane only a few feet from our faces. Each night the black sky and the bright stars were my stunning companions, occasionally I’d see their beauty and solemnity so plainly I’d realise in a piercing way that my mother was right. That someday I would be grateful and that in fact I was grateful now, that I felt something growing in me that was strong and real.

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Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III  ‘Sully’

Correspondence received after the crash of Flight 1549:

As a Holocaust survivor, my father taught me that to save a life is to save the world.

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I hope your story encourages those many others who toil in obscurity to know that their reward is simple – they will be ready if the test comes. I do not mean to diminish your achievement. I just want to point out that when the challenge sounded, you had thoroughly prepared yourself. I hope your story encourages others to imitation.

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Integrity means doing the right thing even when it’s not convenient.

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Donna Tartt ‘The Goldfinch’

How could I have believed myself a better person, a wiser person, a more elevated and valuable and worthy-of-living person on the basis of my secret uptown? Yet I had. The painting had made me feel less mortal, less ordinary. It was support and vindication; it was sustenance and sum. It was the keystone that had held the whole cathedral up. And it was awful to learn, by having it so suddenly vanish from under me, that all my adult life I’d been privately sustained by that great, hidden, savage joy: the conviction that my whole life was balanced atop a secret that might at any moment blow it apart.

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To understand the world at all, sometimes you could only focus on a tiny bit of it, look very hard at what was close to hand and make it stand in for the whole; but ever since the painting had vanished from under me I’d felt drowned and extinguished by vastness – not just the predictable vastness of time, and space, but the impassable distances between people even when they were within arm’s reach of each other, and with a swell of vertigo I thought of all the places I’d been and all the places I hadn’t, a world lost and vast and unknowable, dingy maze of cities and alleyways, far-drifting ash and hostile immensities, connections missed, things lost and never found, and my painting swept away on that powerful current and drifting out there somewhere: a tiny fragment of spirit, faint spark bobbing on a dark sea.

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A really great painting is fluid enough to work its way into the mind and heart through all kinds of different angles, in ways that are unique and very particular.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about what Hobie said: about those images that strike the heart and set it blooming like a flower, images that open up some much, much larger beauty that you can spend your whole life looking for and never find.

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Everything is a signpost pointing to something else.

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It’s not about outward appearances but inward significance. A grandeur in the world, but not of the world, a grandeur that the world doesn’t understand.

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Juergen Tautz & Diedrich Steen  ‘The Honey Factory’

When honey bees are deprived of sleep, their memory, communication and concentration abilities suffer.

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Bees are to be thanked for the special importance candles play in Christian religious services and liturgical feasts, Easter in particular. There, the bee’s efforts are honoured. When blessing the Easter candle, the minister intones that it is ‘prepared from the costly wax of bees’.

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A bee colony is a single, integrated, living organism. It is to be worked with, not against.

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Bees teach us to be amazed by what surrounds us. Bees reveal to us a world that is filled with surprises, secrets and riddles. Bees bring us, in the dull realities of our time, a feeling of the mystery of existence and that everything is somehow bound up with everything else.

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In a bee colony there are no poor or weak who go without when supplies are low, or any strong, rich and without scruple who take what they need from others. Bees do not place their capital in the hands of a few. They share what they have, and when there is no more they all die together.

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The general principle that governs the bee community: an unconditional and mutual sharing. Only while all care for one another in the ‘knowledge’ that they will be cared for themselves, can they be a super-organism.

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Dan Taylor  ‘Tell Me A Story’

Words have an almost unlimited power to destroy and to heal.

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Dan Taylor  ‘Letters To My Children’

We die because we have lived. We live in order to know and love the God who made us. In dying we become more real than we ever can be while part of this sorrowful world

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Mother Teresa (Nobel Lecture 1971)

And so this is very important for us to realise that love, to be true, has to hurt. It hurt Jesus to love us. And to make sure we remember his great love, he made himself the bread of life to satisfy our hunger for his love; our hunger for God, because we have been created in his image. We have been created to love and be loved, and then he has become man to make it possible for us to love as he loved us. He makes himself the hungry one, the naked one, the homeless one, the sick one, the one in prison, the lonely one, the unwanted one, and he says: You did it to me.

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John Tucker  ‘The New Progressive’

Ignorance doesn’t lead to bliss, it leads to bad decision making.

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Tell them the whole truth, no matter how brutal it may be, but do it with kindness and empathy.

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Majok Tulba  ‘When Elephants Fight’

At harvest time, Grandpa and Mama give the first of the produce as an offering to the Lord in church.

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Hope will keep you strong, even when everything else deserts you.

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I remind myself of my promise to Grandpa. I will rest and tomorrow I will keep walking. If I grow too weak to run or walk I will crawl. Even if vultures hover overhead, waiting for me to drop, I will not give up. I will not surrender myself to death. It will take me in time, but I will not give up easily. Death and I are head to head right now. But I cannot let it win. If I do, then Grandpa and Momo and Nathan will have died for nothing.

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You did what you could. You survived. Now what you have to do is keep your hope alive. Because without it, we’re as weak and fragile as grass in a summer fire.

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Is one life worth more than another? You save many lives by saving one.

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A man who neither lies nor boasts has the wisdom to take pride in his achievements without pointing them out to those around him.

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Archbishop Tutu 

Without forgiveness there is no future.

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Ann Voskamp  ‘The Broken Way’

There is the truth: Blessed-lucky-are those who cry. Blessed are those who are sad, who mourn, who feel the loss of what they love – because they will be held by the One who loves them. There is a strange and aching happiness only the hurting know – for they shall be held.

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When the church isn’t for the suffering and broken, then the church isn’t for Christ.

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There’s brokenness that’s not about blame. There’s brokenness that makes a canvas for God’s light. There’s brokenness that makes windows straight into souls. Brokenness happens in a soul so the power of God can happen in a soul.

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Hurt is a contagion. When one person hurts in a family, everyone aches.

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Somehow I wonder if it’s in shattered places, with broken people, we are most near the broken heart of Christ.

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Suffering is where God lives.

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In shattered places, with broken people, we are most near the heart of Christ.

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It takes courage to listen with our whole heart to the tick of God’s timing rather than march to the loud beat of our fears.

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There is no life worth living without generosity because generosity is a function of abundance mentality. And abundance mentality is a function of identity and intimacy.

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Live every day like your terminal. Because you are. Live every day like your soul’s eternal. Because it is.

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It takes great trust to believe in the smallness of beginnings.

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At the core of our being, we need both meaning and belonging to believe we are enough to be part of what deeply matters.

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Letting yourself be loved is an act of terrifying vulnerability and surrender. To let yourself be loved means breaking down your walls of self-sufficiency and letting yourself need and opening your hands to receive.

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Jesus deeply unsettled the comfortable and deeply comforted the unsettled.

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Love is not always agreement with someone, but it is always sacrifice for someone.

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Maybe wholeness is not reaching for perfection in your life; maybe wholeness is embracing brokenness as part of your life.

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The past is a memory sealed right into you, tomorrow is a mystery unknown to you, and today is God’s momentary gift to you – which is why it’s called the present.

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Grace can strike when you are in great pain and light you with the greatest hope.

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Your theology is best expressed in your availability and your interruptability – and ability to be broken into. This is the broken way.

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If your living isn’t about giving, then you’re already dying.

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God takes us into wildernesses not to abandon us – but to be alone with us.

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There’s absolutely no shame in tears that water your praise or prayers.

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Ann Voskamp

Shame poisons hope – poisons hope that things can change. That we can ever be changed, ever be accepted, ever be good enough.

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The habit of hope can resuscitate anything.

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Hope is nothing else but the spine of faith.

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Hope is our bread, hope is the only way we keep living, hope is what we dance to, believing the music will someday soon begin.

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Life is not about growing in status – it’s about growing your soul.

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You have to make time to be still – in order to make a life.

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Nic Vujicic  ‘Unstoppable’

Putting faith in action is about believing and achieving. It’s about having faith in yourself, your talents, your purpose, and, most of all, in God’s love and His divine plan for your life.

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The powerful yearning of the heart is one of the most essential human needs. Yet when we look for love, we open ourselves not only to being loved but also, unfortunately, to being hurt.

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God allows some of us to be afflicted so that we can comfort others just as God has comforted us.

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Jesmyn Ward  ‘Sing, Unburied, Sing’

Growing up out here in the country taught me things. Taught me that after the first fat flush of life, time eats away at things: it rusts machinery, it matures animals to become hairless and featherless, and it withers plants… But since Mama got sick, I learned pain can do that, too. Can eat a person until there’s nothing but bone and skin and a thin layer of blood left. How it can eat your insides and swell you in wrong ways.

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Sometimes the world don’t give you what you need, no matter how hard you look. Sometimes it withholds.

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She thought that if she taught me as much herbal healing as she could, if she gave me a map to the world as she knew it, a world plotted orderly by divine order, spirit in everything, I could navigate it.

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All the birds go bye,” Kayla says, and then she leans forward and rubs my face with both hands, and for a second I think she’s going to tell me something amazing, some secret, something come from God Himself.

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Michael wanted us to put in a garden, wherever we ended up at. Even if it was a cluster of pots on a concrete slab. Can’t nothing bother me when I got my hands in the dirt, he said. Like I’m talking to God with my fingers.

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The ocean changes colours like a little lizard. Sometimes stormy blue. Sometimes cool grey. In the early mornings, silver. You could look at that and know there’s a God.

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Tara Westover  ‘Educated’

We are all of us more complicated than the roles we are assigned in the stories other people tell.

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This is a magical place,” I said. “Everything shines here.” “You must stop yourself from thinking like that,” Dr. Kerry said, his voice raised. “You are not fool’s gold, shining only under a particular light. Whoever you become, whatever you make yourself into, that is who you always were. It was always in you. Not in Cambridge. In you. You are gold. And returning to BYU, or even to that mountain you came from, will not change who you are. It may change how others see you, it may even change how you see yourself—even gold appears dull in some lighting—but that is the illusion. And it always was.

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There was a pause, then more words appeared—words I hadn’t known I needed to hear, but once I saw them, I realized I’d been searching my whole life for them. You were my child. I should have protected you. I lived a lifetime in the moment I read those lines, a life that was not the one I had actually lived. I became a different person, who remembered a different childhood. I didn’t understand the magic of those words then, and I don’t understand it now. I know only this: that when my mother told me she had not been the mother to me that she wished she’d been, she became that mother for the first time.

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To admit uncertainty is to admit to weakness, to powerlessness, and to believe in yourself despite both. It is a frailty, but in this frailty there is a strength: the conviction to live in your own mind, and not in someone else’s.

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Guilt is the fear of one’s own wretchedness. It has nothing to do with other people.

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I had discerned the ways in which we had been sculpted by a tradition given to us by others, a tradition of which we were either wilfully or accidentally ignorant. I had begun to understand that we had lent our voices to a discourse whose sole purpose was to dehumanize and brutalize others—because nurturing that discourse was easier, because retaining power always feels like the way forward.

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He said positive liberty is self-mastery—the rule of the self, by the self. To have positive liberty, he explained, is to take control of one’s own mind; to be liberated from irrational fears and beliefs, from addictions, superstitions and all other forms of self-coercion.

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Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery None but ourselves can free our minds.

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I’d always known that my father believed in a different God. As a child, I’d been aware that although my family attended the same church as everyone in our town, our religion was not the same. They believed in modesty; we practiced it. They believed in God’s power to heal; we left our injuries in God’s hands. They believed in preparing for the Second Coming; we were actually prepared. For as long as I could remember, I’d known that the members of my own family were the only true Mormons I had ever known, and yet for some reason, here at this university, in this chapel, for the first time I felt the immensity of the gap. I understood now: I could stand with my family, or with the gentiles, on the one side or the other, but there was no foothold in between.

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When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies?

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Tricia Lott Williford

Faith is not measured by our ability to manipulate God to get what we want. It is measured by our willingness to submit to what he wants.

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Tim Winton

To look into a rockpool and never pay tribute, to glance and just see objects, is to be spiritually impoverished. Things are not just what they appear to be …

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Everything that exists has a story, has a trajectory… Some people find that belittling to the human experience, and in a sense it is, but we are just cosmic dandruff, really, and to me, it’s a tonic to realise that you are small in the scheme of things.

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What you conceive of as holy and sacred changes as you age but I suspect it about a capacity to still wonder. Do you ever think people are fully explicable? I certainly don’t. We are mysteries to ourselves and mysteries to each other and sometimes I think religious instinct is about tolerance to mystery.

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Tim Winton  ‘The Boy Behind The Curtain’

Just as rain falls on the just and the unjust alike, trouble of some sort visits everyone eventually. But real trouble isn’t about inconvenience – it’s catastrophic.

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Everything you know and see is fragile, temporary, and if there’s any constant in life it’s contingency.

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These days I crave stability. I don’t like surprises… But while I savour routine, I’m conscious that despite its comforts and virtues the regulated life has its own dangers. Just as an eco-system requires cataclysmic disruption now and then, the mind and body need a similar jolt.

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For many, certainty has become the new normal, but it’s an illusion… We’ll forever be vulnerable to havoc.

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To tread here and never pay tribute, to glance and just see objects, is to be spiritually impoverished. Things are not just what they appear to be, not even the people and creatures and forms most familiar to us. They are certainly not knowable by how they first present themselves. Looking deeply, humbly, reverently will sometimes open the viewer to what lingers beneath hue and form and texture – the faint tracks of story that suggest relationships, alliances, consequences, damage.

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It was in church that I learnt how perilously faith depends upon story, for without narrative there is only theological assertion, which is, in effect, inert cargo. Story is the beast of burden, the bearer of imaginative energy.

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Language, I was to discover, is nutrition, manna without which we’re bereft and forsaken, consigned like Moses and his restive entourage to wander in a sterile wilderness.

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To me, surfing has always been a matter of beauty and connectedness. Riding a wave to shore can be a meditative activity; you’re walking on water, tapping the sea’s energy, meeting the ocean, not ripping anything out of it.

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Tim Winton  ‘The Shepherd’s Hut’

You tell yourself you’re not the praying type, not the kind who talks to himself, or cries for his mum or gets himself torn up over some chick… And not even in your weirdest dreams do you think you’re an instrument of God. You dunno what that even means.

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Love isn’t always convenient.

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He thought about it day and night. How to believe, what to believe.

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When you do right, Jaxie, when you make good – we’ll, then you are an instrument of God. Then you are joined to the divine… to life itself.

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Philip Yancey  ‘Prayer’

In all my prayers, whether I get the answers I want or not, I can count on this one fact: God can make use of whatever happens. Nothing is irredeemable.

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Arnold Zable   ‘Cafe Scheherezade’

For the price of a bottle of champagne they could remain in the half-light, in the recesses, or glide to the strains of a violin; to the melodies of those who live on the fringes, who know both brutality and romance, who know that only in love can there be redemption, a permanent home.                                 This is what all my wanderings have taught me: that the moment itself is the haven, the true sanctuary.

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Arnold Zable  ‘The Fig Tree’

Ultimately, we tell stories because we must. Stories are what make us human. Stories can reveal a forgotten past. Stories can uncover hidden injustices and record the contradictory impulses that drive us. And stories link us to the wisdom of our collective pasts.

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Arnold Zable  ‘Violin Lessons’

Hirshke was a shy boy, but when he read his poems he changed. He did not raise his voice but you could feel his passion. When you were with him you could sense an inner life, that he was keeping something back.

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Philip & Carol Zaleski  ‘The Fellowship – (the literary lives of the Inklings)’

Cut off from his friends, from Edith, from England, Tolkien found solace in his faith, that inexhaustible well of hope that lay unperturbed beneath everything that happened, good or bad.

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For Lewis, pleasure took three intense forms. One was solitary walks; he knew all the footpaths in Oxford and tramped them regularly. Another was solitary reading. Like all great readers, he could create for himself a “wall of stillness.” The third recreation, balancing the other two, was hobnobbing.

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“Humanity does not pass through phases as a train passes through stations: being alive, it has the privilege of always moving yet never leaving anything behind. Whatever we have been, in some sort we are still.” C S Lewis

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“To know God is to know that our obedience is due to Him.” C S Lewis

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Tolkien on hope:

Belief in the ultimate triumph of good over evil, light over darkness, logos over chaos, bestowed upon all the oppositions in his life – scholarship and art, male friendship and marriage, high spirits and despair – a final and satisfying unity, a deep and abiding joy.

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Ancrene Wisse – a thirteenth-century rule for anchoresses (female hermits), who typically inhabited cells (anchorholds) attached to churches and devoted their lives to solitary contemplation.

Vilitas et asperitas – abjectness and hardship, these two, shame and suffering, as St. Bernard says, are the two ladder-uprights which are set up to heaven, and between these uprights are the rungs of all virtues fixed, by which one climbs to the joy of heaven…

In these two things, in which is all penance, rejoice and be glad, for, in return for these, twofold blisses are prepared: in return for shame, honour; in return for suffering, delight and rest without end.

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The heart of Tolkien’s religio-aesthetic theory – the artist becomes a sub creator, echoing on a human scale God’s great work of creation.

The power to subcreate lies within our grasp because we are stamped with the image of God: “we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.” We do not make miraculously, ex nihilo, as God does, but we have been given the power to subcreate, to bring into being secondary worlds, by means of the imaginative arts.

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Lewis on the nature of Christian vocation during time of war:

A Christian may be called to heroic exertion and sacrifice or to more humble tasks. The main thing is to stay at one’s post. If the life of a scholar is good in ordinary times, Lewis maintains, it remains good during war; if it is a frivolity during war, it has no place in a world at peace. “If we had foolish un-Christian hopes about human culture, they are now shattered. If we thought we were building up a heaven on earth… we are disillusioned, and not a moment too soon. But if we thought that for some souls, and at some times, the life of learning, humbly offered to God, was, in its own small way, one of the appointed approaches to the Divine reality and the Divine beauty which we hope to enjoy hereafter, we can think so still.”

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“A miracle interrupts or invades the system of nature, without disrupting its fundamental laws.” C. S. Lewis

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The Christian themes of The Lord of the Rings:

Pity and mercy, faith and trust, humility, self-sacrifice, the powers of the weak, providence (disguised as chance), freedom (deformed by sin), and grace when all seems lost.

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We are in a pagan world, consoled by intimations of Gospel hope, rumours of grace. Hence, do not expect God to show his hand; nor, for that matter, does a wise Christian claim knowledge of the exact workings of grace. Help comes “unlooked-for” –

Optimism must die so that hope unlooked-for – or, in Lewis’s words, “good news, news beyond hope” – may live.

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