Present through a Different Lens

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM September 23, 2018

How encouraging that our prayer can transcend the boundaries of space and time and offer us new ways to be in communion with the Holy.

For me, one of these ways is what I call photopraying. I have a box of loosely organized prints that I occasionally rummage through, then select one as the focus of a day’s intention. This practice lends itself just as easily to photos stored on one’s phone or on social media, photos in a frame in one’s living room, or photos on memorial cards. Simply gaze at the chosen photo for several moments, take in all the details of face and scenery, and return in memory to when and where the scene occurred. Breathe compassion for the people and places in the photo and place all in the heart of the Holy One. Sometimes a song or poem or a phrase from Scripture may be stirred up by the image before you. Pay attention to all that fills your consciousness.

Today the photo I randomly selected brought me back to the year 2000 and my third trip to Haiti. That year on the feast of Corpus Christi I was awakened at sunrise by laughter, clapping, and joyous harmonies. Hurriedly dressing, I followed the sound of excited voices outside, gasping aloud as I took in the scene unfolding before me. There the Little Sisters of St. Therese and children from the village had decorated the road with the outline of a heart, a ciborium, and a host formed by the lush, colorful petals of  hibiscus, orchid, and other tropical blossoms. I was truly fed by what was at hand, by the creativity and resources that could be summoned to the moment.

EPSON MFP image

I was struck by the gospel (Luke 9:11-17) for that feast, one of many occasions when Jesus fed a crowd. When the disciples called his attention to the reality that there were no supermarkets, no 7-11 or McDonald’s in that desolate, lonely place, Jesus told his followers, “Give them some food yourselves.” Picture the puzzled disciples hanging their heads, averting their gaze, and wondering if anyone had snacks to pool or coins to dig out of their pouches.

How different the moment captured in my photo from Haiti. In that place, on that day, the disciples–those creative neighbors who had scarcely enough food to sustain their own bodies–were undaunted by this command of Jesus, “Give them some food yourselves.” In their desire to celebrate and honor the Body of Christ, they tapped into their own creativity and imagination, offered their time and their labor, and fed me with exquisite natural beauty that both nourished and inspired my soul. All this was stored in a single photo.

EPSON MFP image

Perhaps today might offer us a call as well, an invitation to look within at what we have to offer that might feed a hungry crowd of another sort: feed with hospitality, with a spacious and generous heart, with a deepening sense of belonging and community, with the gift of our time and presence.

“Give them some food yourselves,” the Holy One invites. Can we picture it now?

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Place before yourself a print or image.
Notice what moves within you as you gaze at it with an open heart.
Hold in your prayer today whoever and whatever this image awakens in you.
Give thanks to the Holy One who is present in your remembering.

Images:
Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, in Riviere Froide, Haiti

NOTE:
Please hold in your prayer all who will be part of these coming days: 

October 3:  Mining God’s Dream for Us: Autumn Day of Prayer, Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, Wernersville, PA  http://www.jesuitcenter.org/2018_Calendar  

October 5-7:  Directed Prayer Weekend, Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, Wernersville, PA. I will be one of the directors for the weekend.

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Leaning into Resilience

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM  September 9, 2018

During these last lingering days of summer, a seasonal image that keeps returning to me is resilience. A dictionary might describe that quality as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; the ability of a substance or object to spring back and return to its original shape after it has been pulled, stretched, pressed, or bent.spider.animals.sandiegozoo.org

Summer has been rather generous in providing a daily visual aid to demonstrate resilience for me. Each time I left my apartment this summer, I had to open an iron gate outside, a favorite home for spiders weaving their webs. My passing through pretty much obliterated those works of labor and artistry, undoing in seconds what had taken hours or days to build. Amazingly, by the next morning those exquisite creations already showed signs of beginning again.

But what about when life can’t be returned to its original shape, when the web simply can’t be rebuilt in its original location? When we find ourselves in the role of a modern-day Job, one daunting loss or challenge heaped on top of another? When the slip or fall shatters beyond repair? When the fire leaves nothing but ashes or the flood carries away every familiar, cherished memory? When the world of our daily lives has been pulled, stretched, pressed or bent to the point that elasticity is impossible?

When we can’t return to the same shape or space that we were in before illness or loss or circumstances changed the direction of our path, what allows us to be resilient in a new normal, a reality that calls on all our reserves of patience and tenacity and fierce determination to hold onto hope?

It may be that those are the times for leaning in.

Lean into prayer.
Cry, and wail, and shout your pain to a loving God who does not break the tender reed nor extinguish a flickering flame. Lean into prayer when the well is dry and your voice is barely a whisper. Lean into prayer when you have no words but to ask the  Holy One, “What do you want to pray in me?”  Irene Nowell’s Pleading, Cursing, Praising: Conversing with God through the Psalms, offers some of the ways you might pray when an unwelcome, unexpected new normal manifests itself in your life.letting go stars

Lean into the tribe who love and support you.
Lean into the support of friends or family, those companions who enter your life owning their inability to save or fix or rescue you. Lean into the ones practiced in deep listening and faithful companioning, the ones who know it’s beyond their power to change your circumstances or take away your painful realities, the ones who remain present, who stay with, who accompany, no matter what.

Lean into compassion both for yourself and others.
Reflect on what Teilhard de Chardin calls “the slow work of God,” an acceptance and understanding that the Holy One’s sense of time is very often different from your way of measuring or counting. Be patient with the detours you may need to take. Bring fresh thinking and imagination to making a way forward through unfamiliar terrain where the old road maps may no longer work. Use your own suffering to bless someone else whose wounds are fresher than yours.

Lean and lean and lean into the grace of God. And in that graced place, in your new normal, may you not only survive. May you thrive. 

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Call to mind a challenging experience of your life, present or past.
What did/does that look like? feel like?
Who or what helped or is helping you to hold onto hope?
Spend time in quiet gratitude for the faithful companioning of the Holy One in your life.

NOTE:
Thank you for returning to Mining the Now after my hiatus for my own retreat and renewal in August. I’ve missed you and am delighted to be back. 

May I ask you to hold in prayer all who will be part of this upcoming retreat: 

September 10-17:  Directed retreat at St. Mary by-the-Sea, Cape May Point, NJ. I’ll be one of the spiritual guides during these days. Thank you.

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Staying a Little Empty

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM,  July 22, 2018

Hopefully, we’re all blessed with the pause that renews. The dictionary describes vacation as “an extended period of leisure and recreation, especially one spent away from home or in traveling.” Personally, I gravitate more towards the Latin root, “vacare,” to be free and empty, to take rest and freedom from any activity. In that understanding, perhaps the British term, “holiday,” is closer to the original Latin root of what it means to take a vacation.dawn copy

To be on vacation is to vacate in some way: to leave a place that we’ve previously occupied; to give up possession or occupancy of something; to release ourselves, even briefly, from an activity or occupation. At the heart of vacation is a sense of emptying out. Making space for what restores and refreshes. Adding to our diet a daily dose of peace or solitude or whatever feeds our well-being.

Whether our vacation is a week in some exotic setting, time spent experiencing fresh adventures, a few days at home replenishing our energy, or an afternoon sitting on a deck or strolling through a park, we are called to let go in some way. Even if we haven’t physically moved or relocated to a new place, vacation urges us to mentally, attitudinally, and spiritually move. To let go of some everyday routine or habits. To listen and tend to the rhythms of our body and spirit. To enter into a space where we can be refreshed, restored, and renewed. To pause and reflect, as the Creator did, on the work of one’s hands and heart, and to find signs of both goodness and blessing in that holy work.

The reality is that we all need some ceasing, some halting, some pausing, and certainly some emptying out for the deeper meaning of vacation to take hold in our hearts. May we find time and space in the days ahead for a deepening spirit of wholeness and well-being, and when we find that place, may we remain there in some way even as we return to our everyday living.

I’ve often, at the end of a retreat, introduced Steve Garnaas-Holmes’ blog post, “Don’t Come Back Soon,” as a reminder of our call to enter wholeheartedly into whatever renews our spirit—vacation, Sabbath, retreat—and to come out of such experiences moving a little more slowly, pausing a little more regularly, and holding a space of peace as we return to the dailiness of life. Garnaas-Holmes writes:

“Back from a week in cabin on the coast of Maine. I’m all slowed down. The thing now is not to jump back up into fifth gear and start hurrying and fretting and multitasking and plowing all night long. Don’t come back from vacation and fill up with stuff. Stay a little vacant. Keep the empty place. Stay slow. Keep paying attention, keep being deeply present.

The thing as I rise from prayer is to stay in prayer. The purpose of prayer, or vacation, or Sabbath, or sleep is not just to come up for air so you can go back into the fray but also to slow down so that what you go back into isn’t a fray.

Even when things around you are chaotic, you can be at peace. Even when others are panicking and hurrying and demanding or when they aren’t doing anything at all and it’s all falling to you, even when the house is afire and you have to move quickly, you can stay rooted. You can do one thing at a time. Even when you’re not at your prayers, you can still be in prayer.

Go on vacation, or into prayer, or on Sabbath, early and often. Go there now. And don’t come back soon.”armsopenwide

With thanks to Pastor Steve, I’m about to take a summer break myself and follow this wisdom. I hope to hold the empty space and live with renewed intention. Know that I wish that same blessing for each one of you in abundance.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on an experience or practice that restores your soul.
Give thanks for this blessing.
How might you incorporate it more deeply into your everyday living?
Express your desire for the renewal of all creation.

NOTE:
As is my custom, I’ll be taking a break from blogging during the month of August to allow time for my own retreat and self-care. There will be no new blog posts in August, but I’ll look forward to being back with you again in September. 

My deep thanks to the wonderful Sisters of Mercy and Associates of the New England area, with whom I was privileged to spend this past week of retreat at Marie Joseph Spirituality Center in Biddeford, Maine. Thank you to all who held us in your prayer during that time.

May I ask you to also prayerfully remember these days in August: 

August 18-24:             Guided retreat for the Sisters of St. Joseph,  Hampton Bays, NY
August 25:                  Installation of new IHM Leadership Team, Scranton, PA
August 27:                  Retreat for faculty and staff of Waldron Mercy Academy, Merion Station, PA

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Of Bliss and Basking

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM July 8, 2018

What ushers you into a state of bliss and where do you go from there?

This is the question I was holding after observing a bee who visited my tiny garden, now a riot of vibrant pink, deep purple, golden yellow. A bumblebee—you know, the delightfully fat, furry, and friendly species—had hovered over and inspected my entire lavender patch before selecting just the right landing space.bumblebee in lavender copy

In writing for Living Faith recently (June 27, 2018), I described this visit as a bee Examen of sorts, where the bee hovered as if discerning where to pause, where to pay attention, what to give time and energy to, and whether a stop at a particular flower would fulfill its needs for a flourishing life. Bumblebees, unlike honeybees, make only small amounts of honey for their own food. There’s no carrying it off to the hive to produce mass quantities for the colony. So am I too far off base in wondering if, in the case of this particular bumblebee, this visit was not only a practical one to replenish food and take a bit of rest, but also a blissful one? The bumblebee remained unmoving for hours, submerged in what I would have to name as purple ecstasy.

In the butterfly world, there’s a parallel practice to this nurturing pause, but with a different purpose. Butterflies don’t generate enough heat themselves to provide the energy needed to fly, so they engage in what’s called reflectance basking. They use their wings like solar panels, capturing the energy of the sun by exposing the surface area of their wings directly to the sun’s rays. After landing on a leaf or a flower, they often engage in opening their wings fully to achieve maximum exposure to the warm rays of the sun. This enables them to warm themselves, gain energy, and fly. Practical, yes, but if you’ve ever seen a butterfly basking, you may agree with me that there seems to be an element of bliss involved in that stillness.

Bumblebees, butterflies, and us. Perhaps what propels us into bliss is as individual and unique as we are. I have a long list of what takes me out of myself and leaves me wordless and overcome by awe and wonder. My bliss might be a quiet look of love, the hand of a friend in mine, surprising acts of tenderness and peacemaking, the subtle beauty that grabs my soul and saves the world, the unexpected graces that make me sit up and gratefully take notice. When experiencing bliss, I desire to linger and to bask in those transformative moments. And then to return, as I surely must, to the seemingly ordinary and everyday, the routine that Jack Kornfeld and Corita Kent both describe as “After the ecstasy, the laundry.” And oh, what glorious laundry it is!

Like the bumblebee fed by its lingering in lavender, like the butterfly fluttering to new heights after its momentary pause, aren’t you, as James Houghton notes, “closer to glory leaping an abyss than upholstering a rut?” Once you’ve experienced joy and rapture of any kind, how do you remain with that? How do you mine it and let it feed you for the lean times which will certainly enter your life at some future point? Where do you store bliss so that it continues to bless not only you but all who will come into your field of energy and consciousness?
moth3-e1530965580753.jpg

So, tell me: What ushers you into a state of bliss? Where do you linger and bask? How do you return to the dailiness of life in some way transformed, and then how are you called to share that blessing with the world both near and far?

Takeaway

Bask in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on an experience of beauty, of bliss, that still resonates with you.
What might that experience have offered you of fresh ways to engage in your daily life?
Give thanks to the Holy One for this graced experience.

Images
beautifulflowerspict.blogspot.com
Chris Koellhoffer
Chris Koellhoffer

NOTE:
Please continue to hold in your prayer my IHM community as we enter into our Chapter (governing body of the Congregation) and elections of new leadership this week. 

Please also remember in your prayer writing projects and a retreat I’m leading for the Sisters of Mercy in Biddeford, Maine. Thank you.

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A Fragrance That Remains

 

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, June 24, 2018

Have you ever remembered, seemingly from out of nowhere, a person or place of significance in your life that you might not have thought of in years? Sometimes scent can be the trigger for such dormant remembrances coming to consciousness.

Scent is evocative. What we inhale through our olfactory system has the power to bring strong images or unexpected feelings into our awareness, transporting us to another time, place, or memory. For me, talcum powder, Coty L’Aimant, and Old Spice are emotional triggers. I get a whiff of any of those and suddenly my grandmother, my mother, my father will appear before me.
honeysuckle

Last week I was thinking of all that scent evokes as I strolled the Promenade in Sea Isle City, NJ during a retreat for a group of women religious. Within seconds of stepping onto the walkway on a June morning, I was enveloped by the scent of honeysuckle hanging heavily in the air.

It wasn’t much of a leap to make the connection between that delicate, pervasive scent and the witness of the women praying and reflecting during the retreat. Like the fragrance of honeysuckle, their lives given over in love and service lingered and filled our meeting space. I imagined the prayers of blessing sent out into the universe by all the holy ones. I imagined every life ever given over in love and compassion as a gracious anointing that carried healing and affirmation and tenderness, blessing people on the other side of the globe. That image lingers with me still and invites a deeper mining.

I wonder, what is the fragrance, the holy perfume, for which our beautiful yet wounded world longs? How might the fragrant witness of our lives fill not only this present moment but also envelop and bless an uncertain future? How might our very presence leave behind a familiar and comforting scent? How might we embody the meaning of the words,

“You are here.
That is good.
You are not here.
The fragrance remains.”

The fragrance that remains most certainly could describe the woman who anointed Jesus on the edge of his suffering and death. She is the one remembered not only in the pages of the Gospels but in the memorable scent left behind by her extravagant act. To two of the Gospel writers (Mark 14:3-9; Matthew 26:6-13), she is nameless. Only John names her as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (John 12:1-8). In telling her story, only John adds the phrase, “The house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.” Another translation describes the aftermath of her act by noting, “The sweet smell of the perfume filled the whole house.” Clearly, her act of anointing was not only fragrant but extravagant, generous, enduring, memorable.

This woman seems to be the only one of Jesus’ followers who truly heard his prediction of his coming death and was moved to comfort him. Like the rest of us, she discerned the place of need and did what she had the power to do. Perhaps she trembled. Perhaps she knew she would be judged and criticized. Perhaps she suspected her anointing  would be misunderstood. But the voices of love and compassion were louder than the voices of her fear. Love emboldened her. Compassion compelled her. And the sweet smell of her perfume filled the whole house, and lingered there.

rosegarden

What about us? What are we leaving behind? What anointings will be told in our memory? For what extravagant, loving acts will we be remembered?

IMAGES:
pastorfest.wordpress.com
floweringinfo.org
pinterest

Takeaway

Spend time in stillness before the Holy One.
Reflect on a person whose presence in your life has blessed you and whose memory lingers with you.
Hold that person in love and gratitude today.

NOTE:
Thank you for continuing to pray for all who will be part of the next summer retreat I’m leading: 

June 25 – July 1:     Directed Retreat at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, Wernersville, PA. I will serve as one of the directors for this retreat. 

Also, I’d be grateful for your prayer as my IHM community enters into our annual Assembly and our Chapter and Elections beginning July 5.

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Practicing the Way Forward

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, June10, 2018

Many of us follow a daily practice of prayer, and there’s a reason we call it a practice. We need to return to it over and over, connecting ever more deeply on a soul level with the Holy One. Whatever the practice, we hope to enter into a contemplative space where we can most clearly notice the Spirit at work in our lives, where we can open ourselves to listen to whatever the day may offer. We may follow a routine including meditation, morning and evening prayer, lectio divina, or pausing during the day to review how the Holy has accompanied us and how we’ve responded to that presence.franklin_trees_01

We may also engage in informal practices that have a contemplative feel to them although we might not name them as contemplative prayer. Does sitting on the beach gazing at the ocean restore your soul and invite you into stillness and wonder? How about breathing in the scent of mock orange, lavender, or freesia? Pulling weeds or broadcasting seeds? Filling the kitchen with the aroma of baking bread? Sitting back and inviting the sounds of a loved piece of music to spill into a room?

One of my favorite spiritual practices is walking, walking any time but especially in the early part of the day. In a rural area, that’s the hour when nervous rabbits nibble and curious fawns move on shaky legs, their mothers standing, statue-like and ears erect, nearby. That’s the hour when honeysuckle and phlox are shaking off the night’s rain, when all of creation seems to wake, to come alive, to wait expectantly for what the unfolding day may bring. In a busy city, that’s the hour when the work of renewing the face of the earth is revealed in trash collectors clearing a path on sidewalks, maintenance workers hosing down pavement, delivery persons dropping off bundles of the morning paper, and grocers arranging symmetrical rows of apples, pears, and other produce. While life is bustling all around, that’s the hour when it still feels as if there’s a hush and the fresh promise of something new.

Whether we stroll or saunter, walking—as any spiritual practice that renews our soul—offers us many gifts. Walking mindfully is sometimes described as massaging the Earth. I’ve come to believe that when the body is in motion, the rhythm of walking liberates the mind and engages the unconscious. The steadiness of the pace, the mindfulness of our steps, can open up creative space and offer a pathway to centeredness and peace.  This spiritual practice can jump start our imagination and deepen our awareness of the world around us and our place in it. Whether we walk alone or in the company of others, whether we are in silence or engaged conversation, walking invites us into a space of listening, noticing, paying attention, all elements of a spiritual practice.

Walking was one of the few methods of transportation available to Jesus. He trekked up mountainsides, strolled the seashore, wandered the desert, and walked through the small towns and villages of his time. Sometimes he walked alone enjoying the stillness; other times he trudged the dusty roads of Nazareth and Nain and Bethany surrounded by his disciples or the crowds that were drawn to him.

After the chaos, confusion, and heartbreak of Jesus’ passion and death, and during that period of intense mourning before his rising became known, what were two of his grieving disciples doing? Walking on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). Luke tells us that while they were conversing and debating about the horrific events they had just witnessed, Jesus himself drew near, and what did he do? He walked with them. And what a conversation came out of that walk!

In How to Walk, Thich Nhat Hanh shares that the Buddha was also a walker. “During his forty-five years of teaching,” writes Hanh, “he visited and taught in perhaps fourteen or fifteen countries of India and Nepal. That was a lot of walking. Many of his teachings, many of his insights, came from his time of walking everywhere.”  IMG_1967 copy

 So what about us? How and when and where do we pray most easily? What helps to create or support a graced space for our own growth and for a deeper understanding of our place in the universe? What slows us down, pushes our “Pause” button, renews and restores our soul?

While you’re mulling that over, please excuse me. I think I have to shut down my laptop, go outside, and practice. It feels about the right time for a good, long walk.

Takeaway

Sit in a relaxed stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on your own spiritual practices.
What do you currently engage in that nourishes and restores you?
Might there be anything new that seems to be inviting you to deepen your way of praying?
Offer thanks for the practices of renewal that are part of your life at this time.
Now, go out and practice!

NOTE:
Please hold in your prayer all who will be part of these events I’ll be leading in the near future: 

June 9 – 16, Guided Retreat, “Bearing Witness to the Holy,” Sisters of Mercy, Sea Isle City, NJ 

June 20, Social Justice Ministry, Christ the King Church, Springfield Gardens, NY

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Showing Up

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, May 27, 2018

Where our feet take us reveals something about us. Where we choose to invest our time and energy underscores both the desires of our heart and the beliefs we cherish. So where have our feet taken us lately?Backpackeronroad

Perhaps to the same place that Rabbi Abraham Heschel’s feet took him in the march in Selma. Remembering that time of joining Martin Luther King as they walked together, he noted, “My feet were praying.” He implied that the act of marching for the sake of a more just, inclusive world was itself a prayer. His feet were showing the world what he valued, how he wanted to invest his time, and where he simply was compelled to be.

Recently, the collective feet of sisters in my IHM community led us to show up in ways far beyond our usual patterns of living. We experienced the death of one of our sisters and a dear friend and co-worker through an act of domestic violence by a relative, who also died. As we prayed for healing from our own raw wounds and the ache of our inability to locate our sister’s remains, there was no question where our feet had to take us. As IHM Sisters we proclaim an unshaken belief in the unconditional love of God, a God who insists we are each better than our own worst act. How could we not be open to praying for both victims and perpetrator? How could we not reverence the remains of all who were part of this tragic story? How could we not witness to the never-ending mercy of the Holy One and follow where our feet led us: offering comfort, receiving condolences, weeping with our neighbors, attending every wake service and funeral, and praying for all that is broken and wounded in ourselves and in our world?

This, for us, was an extraordinary experience of witness and of what it means to show up when it counts most. Yet all around our beautiful yet wounded world, in the seemingly ordinary and everyday, we hear the footsteps of holy feet showing up to advocate, to demonstrate, to pray, to forgive, to empower, to speak truth, to console, to celebrate, to accompany.

Our own feet are leading us in the dailiness of life, leading parents and guardians and teachers and siblings to show up in support, to remain through the ongoing cycles of sports events, recitals, academic programs. All this so that we can be the face of love our children and students will glimpse as they scan the crowd and find, in that sea of faces, one that belongs to them.

Casting a look back at the past week, where else have our feet taken us to tend to the needs of others or to tend to our own self care? Perhaps we’ve been tutoring or helping with homework. Perhaps we’ve written a letter, made a phone call, carried a sign on behalf of an immigrant or a farm worker or a Dreamer. Perhaps we’ve stood at the bedside of a loved one or been the sole visitor for a lonely stranger in a hospital or nursing home.Jesus feet copy

May our feet lead us to navigate this world with care, with attention, with tenderness. May our feet lead us to show up, prayerfully and lovingly. May Isaiah’s words be spoken of us: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring the good news of peace.” (Isaiah 52:7)

Takeaway

Sit in silence with the Holy One.
As you review the past week, reflect on where your feet have led you as you “stood in” as a messenger of peace.
Into what acts of compassion or beauty or accompaniment have your feet taken you?
What did you learn from the places you stood?
Whether you are in good health or have limited mobility, show some extra care for your holy feet in the days ahead.
Bless them and the Holy One who fashioned them with love.

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