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Being Benedictine

Living the Rule of St. Benedict in Daily Life

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Our Coral Anniversary: 35 Years of Marriage

Jodi Blazek ❤️ Joseph Gehr, August 17, 1985

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A marriage is made of moments. When you string them all together, you get a picture of a life built together. A marriage isn’t made, once and for all, when the I-dos are exchanged. A marriage is constantly being recreated; it is always in the process of becoming.

A marriage goes through seasons: the spring of new life and hope, the summer of comfort and security, the autumn of changes and letting go, the winter of sadness and despair. A marriage will not survive without adapting to, enduring and celebrating the change of seasons. A marriage embraces all seasons.

A marriage provides a safe place to fall, a form of protection from the stresses of everyday life and also from more extreme challenges, like the pandemic we now face.  The traditional symbol for a 35th anniversary is coral, an organic material found in warm seas. Coral takes many years to form—much like the strength of a marriage made of moments. Coral is a symbol of protection—providing essential habitat structure and energy for 25% of the world’s ocean life, including young fish. How fitting that coral is the symbol of our 35th year of marriage, a year where we have found much safety in each other’s company.

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Visiting Jessica in Madison during the summer, 2020.

Marriage includes the necessary and mundane—doing laundry, taking out the trash, paying bills, fixing, washing, mowing, checking things off the list of things to do, arguing about checking things off, thanking each other for checking things off.

After 35 years of marriage, Joe and I have so many “remember when” moments, the makings of great storytelling or one-liners that no one else understands but us. Funny, sad, silly, stupid, poignant, heartwarming, memorable moments. Moments we’d like to forget and moments we have to forgive. But, mostly, moments that have helped us become who we are.

A marriage is made of moments. Some of our earlier moments:

  • Joe sending little gifts to me for several days before our wedding that said: “7 days til a lifetime” (6, 5, 4 and so on). Each day a new gift arrived.
  • Working four jobs between us so I could finish college, sometimes with only enough time to exchange notes or take a break together at one of our shared part-time jobs at Montgomery Ward.
  • Buying our first home and meeting our neighbors, Cece and Bob. Cece, who became a widow just six months later, became part of our family and a grandma to our daughter.
  • Having our first baby and Joe announcing “You got your girl!”, when she was born…my secret hope.
  • Experiencing the loss of two babies and the grief of infertility while creating a family of three with more love than we could imagine.
  • Welcoming dogs (Ralph, Rosie, and Bailey) and cats (Peaches and Boots) into our little family…and missing their love and companionship when they passed on.
  • Being parents to Jessica, from diapers and bottles, soccer games, and DECA competitions to college internships and sorority activities.
  • Spending time with our parents as Jessica’s grandparents.

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Jessica’s friend, Abby, was married on August 17, 2019, to Tony. It was a great way to celebrate our 34th anniversary. Jessica and her boyfriend, John, made the trip to Lincoln so Jessica could by Abby’s maid of honor. Blog post–The Vow of Stability: A Marriage Made of Moments. 

A marriage is made of moments. Our life now:

  • Living through the stress of a pandemic and all that entails—staying at home much of the time, but enjoying cooking, taking outdoor excursions nearby, and enjoying the extra time together while I taught remotely during the fourth quarter and Joe had off some extra time from work.
  • Becoming more adventurous with outdoor activities—biking, enjoying hikes in nature, and visiting local parks, flower gardens, and arboretums.

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  • Being parents to our adult daughter Jessica—staying in touch with our daily Fam-bam texts, taking long weekends to visit Jessica in Madison, Wisconsin, and welcoming her back home for holidays and birthday celebrations. Despite the hardship of the pandemic and the uncertainties it has brought to our lives, we have gotten to see Jessica, and her boyfriend John,  more than usual this year.

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A trip to Madison to visit Jessica and John.
  • Celebrating Jessica’s graduation from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with her Masters in Public Affairs (sans ceremony, a trip that did not happen because of rising COVID-19 infections) and getting a job as a Policy Analyst with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
  • Enjoying what still feels like our new home (although it’s been five years) and sitting outside on our deck—our favorite pastime—with a glass of wine or snifter of whiskey in hand, even social distancing with close friends and neighbors occasionally.
  • Still yelling at the news (rather than at each other) and thanking God that we have grown together, sharing the same world view in very troubled times.

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  • Heading back to school for both of us, with many special precautions to be as safe as possible while COVID-19 cases are still much higher than is comfortable.
  • Being more content with the simple things in life. Despite the political and pandemic turmoil in this country, we enjoy each other’s company more than ever.
  • Still missing Joe’s parents, Marv and Mary Gehr, who passed away in 2012 and 2015; and visiting my parents a little less than normal until Covid-19 numbers go down.

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Thirty-five years of marriage is a threading of memories, a string of moments that hold the seasons of life.  After 35 years, marriage is about acceptance. We rest into acceptance of who the other is, rather than attempting to create the other into who we would like them to be. We enjoy each other with a lightheartedness that wasn’t possible in the newlywed years. Time is funny: it goes too fast, but it also unfolds so slowly that we don’t always see the transformation of the innocent into the mature, the immature into the confident. 

Happy Coral Anniversary to us!

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A card I made for Joe on Valentine’s Day! 

A Marriage Made of Moments is a blog post I wrote for our 30th anniversary in 2015. For our 31-derful anniversary, I shared a revised post with updated photos, new “moments” and fresh reflections. Check them out too.

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A Valentine’s card made for Joe several years ago. 

Praying with Collage: Seek Peace and Pursue It

School starts this week. It has been five months since I have been in a real-life classroom with my students. After spring break, we immediately went to online learning for the remainder of the school year.

What it means to be a teacher, captured in a SoulCollage® card. More blogs about teaching HERE

I have been so encouraged by those who have asked me how things are going, promising their prayers. I was encouraged by my friend, Sara, to create a SoulCollage® card that I could keep at school as a reminder to pray when I am feeling overwhelmed or anxious. My prayer is that I can find some peace despite the fear of the unknown. My prayer is to remember to seek peace and pursue it, as St. Benedict instructs (RB Prologue 17), and to include time in my day for silence and meditation. Continue reading “Praying with Collage: Seek Peace and Pursue It”

A Divine Encounter: Trusting the Journey

My cup was running empty. Six surreal months of the pandemic, political turmoil, and feelings of anxiety facing an uncertain and challenging school year has taken its toll on my mind, body, and spirit. Finally, the timing was right this weekend, and it felt safe to return to my spiritual home, St. Benedict Center. It takes just moments for a deep peace to settle in as I take my overnight bag to my room and head outside to enjoy a beautiful afternoon.

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Wandering the path around the lake, I see Ellen, a fellow pilgrim from last summer—which feels like a warm bath of blessings. I had been looking forward all week to reconnecting, knowing she would be there.

Suddenly I hear a shout, “Surprise!”  Sara, a special friend, Oblate and SoulCollage® companion, is running towards me with open arms despite all COVID caution.  I exclaim, “I didn’t know you were going to be here!” Sara repeats “I didn’t know you were going to be here!” There may have been more exclamations of “I can’t believe this!”, “Oh, my God!” and finally, “Did you bring some of your SoulCollage® cards?” We decide to meet later to share some of our cards and seek them for guidance—what we call “a reading.” Continue reading “A Divine Encounter: Trusting the Journey”

The Prodigal Son: Where Art and Beauty Run Rampant

“The artist Rembrandt was born on this day in 1606. When the soul is heavy and the work seems futile, a visit to an art museum––where art and beauty run rampant and meetings, proposals, finances, and debates have no place––revives the heart and makes it soft. Then going on seems possible; then life has vision again; then going on seems necessary.” ––from A Monastery Almanac, by Joan Chittister

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Lectio Divina:

Insights one can gain by practicing Lectio Divina with Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32—The Parable of the Lost Son or Visio Divina by spending time with Rembrandt’s famous painting are manifold. Continue reading “The Prodigal Son: Where Art and Beauty Run Rampant”

What a Wonderful World!

Taking stock of our blessings is a gratitude practice that can sustain us through many challenges. This morning I met with a group of ambassadors who help promote the good work of St. Benedict Center. Each of us shared a blessing and challenge from this time of pandemic.

Most of us have not struggled with sheltering in place and could easily identify many blessings, but of course, there are challenges—missing the physical presence of friends and family, not hugging, having fear and anxiety about the re-entry to a world with Covid-19 especially with health concerns, wanting to DO but needing to do in different ways, not being able to visit the elderly, delaying bereavement, uncertainty about the future, and letting go of plans.

Our blessings are many—more thoughtfulness for ordinary activities, a reordering of life, a heightened awareness of the sacred in the ordinary, mindfulness in our day, being more conscientious about reaching out to others in varied forms of communication, being more thoughtful, helping others, enjoyment of nature, live-streaming of daily Masses and prayers, the (online) ringing of the bells calling the monks to pray at Christ the King Priory, family Zoom get-togethers (and connecting more often than usual), enjoying our neighborhoods, and the creativity coming from churches and other organizations.

Many shared there is already much fruit from this time, and there will be much more to come.

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. -Soren Kierkegaard

There is a greater opportunity for reflection, to ask—who is God calling me to be? There is more time for the discernment of non-essential things, a review of the responsibilities we put upon ourselves, and considering our life’s mission is.  Many have enjoyed a more contemplative pace and never want to go back to the old (busy) way. There is also a greater sense of connectedness with others.

A blessing is our faith—understanding that in time, we will be able to reflect on this time and appreciate more fully what we have experienced and learned. Even though many are missing a church community and the Eucharist, it is meaningful to have the spiritual communion reflection and to contemplate the incarnate within us and in all.

My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.

Despite the challenges, there are so many blessings. It is a wonderful world! Enjoy photos and lyrics to the song, What a Wonderful World!

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I see trees of green
Red roses too
I see them bloom
For me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

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DSC_0026aI see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed days, the dark sacred nights
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

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Lunar Eclipse

The colors of the rainbow
So pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces
Of people going by
I see friends shaking hands
Saying, “How do you do?”
They’re really saying
“I love you”

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I hear babies cry
I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more
Than I’ll never know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

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Yes, I think to myself
What a wonderful world

© Jodi Blazek Gehr

Earth Day: Many Ways to Pray for Creation

Seeing the beauty in nature is the first step in taking action to protect it. Our planet needs all the love, prayer, and protection it can get. Celebrate creation this 50th Earth Day by sending positive energy and intention into the universe through some creative and prayerful practices including contemplative photography, nature meditation, Visio Divina, Soul Collage® and Lectio Divina. There are many ways to pray!

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Let me seek, then, the gift of silence, and poverty, and solitude, where everything I touch is turned into prayer: where the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is in all. — Thomas Merton, Thoughts In Solitude

Practice contemplative photography

Contemplative photography is a prayerful practice of seeing with new eyes. With camera in hand, I have learned to slow down, be more aware of details, be less goal-oriented and more process-oriented, to enjoy the beauty of simple things, and take more time to appreciate the surprises of a new country road or the change of seasons. This sense of adventure brings a deep joy in capturing a scene that will never quite be that same way again. It is when silence, solitude, creativity, and nature collide into an oneness that can only be received, not pursued.

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The great Catholic writer Ernesto Cardenal in Abide in Love observes: “Everything in nature has a trademark, God’s trademark: the stripes on a shell and the stripes on a zebra; the grain of the wood and the veins of the dry leaf; the markings on the dragonfly’s wings and the pattern of stars on a photographic plate; the panther’s coat and the epidermal cells of the lily petal; the structure of atoms and galaxies. All bear God’s fingerprints.”

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Go for a walk and look for God’s trademarks. Better still, use a camera to document evidence of God’s fingerprints in nature. Source: Earth Day: 12 Spiritual Practices to Honor the Earth

Praying with Art—Visio Divina

Visio Divina is like Lectio Divina, but instead of using the words from a page of Scripture to pray with, you use an icon, a sacred image, a work of art, or even a sunrise or sunset.The Flowers Are Burning… Oceans A Rising: An Art and Climate Justice Exhibition” was to have taken place at Holy Wisdom Monastery, a Benedictine monastery in Madison, Wisconsin, to celebrate the 50th Earth Day. Due to the global pandemic of COVID-19, the poignant collection of eco-inspired watercolors painted collaboratively by artists, Helen Klebesadel and Mary Kay Neumann, will instead be offered digitally.

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“Using their artworks as a source of strength in the face of adversity, they call upon the power of beauty and love to guide us towards taking action to protect what we love and care deeply about…The artists believe deeply that humans must embrace the reality that we are all connected to nature…that what happens in the Ocean, on Earth or to any life forms above and below the water, is happening to us as well. Everything is related and we can no longer go forward believing in the superiority of human life over all other life, if we are to survive. The artists sense of urgency is born out of their love of the natural world and the desire to protect and preserve what is left before it is too late.” Source: Warning Signs—A Powerful Earth Day Exhibit Goes Digital. Continue reading “Earth Day: Many Ways to Pray for Creation”

Praying with the Stations of the Cross

Amidst 160 acres of farmland in Nebraska at St. Benedict Center, there is a contemplative prayer journey that focuses on the events of Jesus’ last day. The Stations of the Cross is a mini-pilgrimage to contemplate the Passion of Christ. At each pause or station on the journey, a prayer is offered to remember the sufferings and struggles of all.

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Traditionally there are 14 images and events that are commemorated, but at St. Benedict Center there is one additional station. Ascending a small hill, a fifteenth station appears marking the resurrection of Christ and the joy of Easter. The artist of each of the station markers is Lore Friedrich of Münsterschwarzach, Germany.

May you be blessed by praying with the arts and taking the Way of the Cross.

“The Stations of the Cross are not given to us only to remind us of the historical Passion of Christ, but to show us what is happening now, and happening to each one of us.  Christ did not become man only to lead his own short life on Earth – unimaginable mercy though that would have been – but to live each of our lives.  He did not choose his Passion only to suffer it in his own human nature – tremendous though that would have been – but in order to suffer it in the suffering of each one of his members through all ages, until the end of time.” –Caryll Houselander

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Station 1: Jesus is Condemned to Death
Pilate: “I am innocent of this man’s blood. It is your concern.” -Mt 27:24
Remember
…those condemned unjustly
…those sentenced by members of governments and society because of their faith.

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Station 2: Jesus Bears His Cross
Jesus: “Shoulder my yoke and learn from me…and you will find rest for your souls.” Mt 11:28
Remember those carrying a heavy cross in life without murmuring, inspired by Christ.

Station 3: Jesus Falls the First Time
Psalmist: “I was pressed, pressed, about to fall, but Yahweh came to my help.” -Ps 118:13
Remember those breaking down under the weight of their failures, and fall.

4 EasterStation 4: Jesus Meets His Mother
Jesus: “Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, is my brother and sister and mother.” -Mt 12:50
Remember
…your own mother
…all called to be mother to others
…all expectant mothers

“One of the oldest devotions in Christianity, the Stations of the Cross, attests to the ongoing human effort to understand the place of suffering in the human’s search for resurrection from death to life that is part and parcel of what it means to be alive and grow and become our best selves as we go.”—The Way of the Cross, Joan Chittister

Station 5: Jesus Is Helped by Simon
Matthew: “A man from Cyrene, Simon by name, was forced to carry his cross.” -Mt 27:32
Remember
…those who assist others in life without being recognized
…those who give of themselves that other’s burdens are lightened.

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Station 6: Jesus and Veronica
Jesus: “What you did for the least of my brothers, you did it for me.” -Mt 25:40
Remember
…those reaching out to the marginalized of society.
…those helping AIDS victims, prisoners, minorities.

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Station 7: Jesus Falls a Second Time
Jesus: “If anyone wants to be my follower…let him take up his cross and follow me.” -Mt 16:24
Remember those who lack the courage and strength to overcome addictions, personal shortcomings, sinfulness, and find themselves back in their old habits and behavior.

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Station 8: Jesus Speaks to the Women
Jesus: “Daughter of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.” -Lk 23:28
Remember
…families who are struggling with any kind of difficulties and problems
…women oppressed by society, Church, work force, spouses…

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Station 9: Jesus Falls the Third Time
Paul: “The Lord says: My grace is enough for you; my power is at its best in weakness.” -2 Cor 12:9
Remember those who have given up and see no purpose and meaning in life.

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Station 10: He is Stripped of His Garments
Psalmist: “They shared out my clothing among them, they cast lots for my clothes.” -Ps 22: 18
Remember those sisters and brothers stripped of their dignity.

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Station 11: Jesus is Nailed to the Cross
Jesus: “Father, forgive them: they do not know what they are doing.” -Lk 23:34
Remember those who find themselves trapped in difficult situations and see no way out.

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12 easterStation 12: Jesus Dies on the Cross
Jesus: “It is accomplished” and bowing his head he gave up his spirit. -Jn 19:30
Remember
…the lonely
…the dying
…those who have no one to be within their final hours of life’s journey.

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Station 13: Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross
Jesus: “The one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” -Mt 10:22
Remember
…those who mourn the loss of loved ones
…those longing for consolation

 

Station 14: Jesus is Laid in the Tomb
Jesus: “I tell you, most solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.” Jn 12:24
Remember
…those facing death without hope of eternal life
…those who will die unexpectedly

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Station 15: Jesus is Raised from the Dead
Angel: “He is not here: he is risen. Remember what he told you when he was still in Galilee.” Lk 24:6
Remember those who believe in the Resurrection and give witness to it daily.

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Holy Water: Image of Gratitude

Practicing SoulCollage® is part of my spiritual practice that provides “boundaries and direction”, especially in this time of uncertainty.  I share an “I am one who” reflection for a card I created this week.  It came together slowly, over the course of several days, taking up space on my kitchen table until it felt complete.  The card has become a prayer of gratitude and a reminder to keep reaching for life-giving “holy water” in all its forms.

Card Name: “Holy Water”

I am one who stands in a circle of women who hold each other up, who embrace life and each other, who are connected, who grow together. I am one and many.

I am one who recognizes Source in the still, holy water. Stones, upright, are less about unsettling the water, and more about propelling motion, continually adapting, always transforming or conforming to what comes in its way. I can trust the peaceful, holy water.

I am one who stands in the stream of life-giving, purifying water.

I am one who, with open arms, is anointed with holy water. With joy, faith and a sense of solidarity, I am blessed with nourishment in abundance—above, below, around, overflowing.  

I am one who thirsts, not in an aching, despairing, dying, sort of way (at least not in this card, at this moment) but as a reminder that purification happens only when intentionally sought after and accepted. Water is the essential element to growth; I long for this fullness.

I am one who is grateful for thirst, to trust that the thirst will be quenched, and to drink from the chalice of holy water. Continue reading “Holy Water: Image of Gratitude”

No Words: Praying with Art

“There are times when music and other forms of art become vital because words alone won’t suffice. This is one of them.”
–Parker J. Palmer

I love words—to write them and to read them (shared in In Praise of Words and Less Words)—but during the past few weeks, I have found my thoughts turn to words that spiral into feelings of fear, anxiety, and worry. It is one of those times when I need to listen deeply with the “ear of the heart,” according to St. Benedict, for good words, or no words, to replace that which is not edifying.

God is the Great Artist.

Art is incarnational, and the arts have long been celebrated by Christian tradition as a way of encountering Christ. Visio Divina is like Lectio Divina, but instead of using the words from a page of Scripture to pray with, you use an icon, a sacred image, a work of art, or even a sunrise, a sunset, the flash of an oriole, the flight of a red-tailed hawk. (St. Benedict Center, Praying with the Arts)

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I invite you to practice Visio Divina with one of my favorite pieces of art at St. Benedict Center, a wood carving of the Makonde clan of Tanzania, east Africa. I have taken dozens of photos and contemplated its meaning from many angles and directions over the years. Only recently did I ask Fr. Thomas, administrator at the Center, if he knew the story behind it. He shared that it is titled “Democracy.”  He described that in the traditional Makonde clan when something important had to be discussed, the elder calls the extended family together. After the matter is discussed and everyone has had the opportunity to speak, the elder makes known the decision. The artist is saying, somewhat humorously, in a democracy everybody can speak but are those speakers really listening to one another?

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Practice Visio Divina

Relax and come to a quiet before the photos of “Democracy.”

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Read the work of art. Listen with the “ear of your heart.” Explore it. Does it remind you of a passage from Scripture or The Rule of St. Benedict?

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What is the story being told? Notice colors, shapes, textures, shades, symbols, posture, expressions. How do they work together to tell the story?

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Continue reading “No Words: Praying with Art”

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