Michael Gilmour: Companion Animals and Spirituality

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself;
myself it speaks and spells,
What I do is me: for that I came.
–Gerard Manley Hopkins, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” (1877)

Though writing a generation later, the Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins invokes a Romantic enthusiasm for the natural world, finding there not only artistic and intellectual stimulation but also a resource informing theological contemplation. Hopkins’ art stands out in this respect, for though there are remarkable exceptions, it is generally the case that Christian thinking is anthropocentric in orientation. Perhaps fascination with post-mortem destinations (heaven, hell, purgatory) in much Christian discourse minimizes perceived value in the material world. Alternatively, maybe it is the tendency to stress the unique status of humans as made in the image of God (see Genesis 1:26), and the fallen state of the post-Edenic universe that is to blame. Whatever the reason, many Christian thinkers seem reluctant to recognize anything of spiritual import in the ecological wonders that surround us. To my mind, this is a missed theological opportunity. Hopkins’ willingness to see the divine purpose in each thing — What I do is me: for that I came — and his awareness that all creation is “charged with the grandeur of God,” as he says elsewhere, inspires a worldview that refuses to put self, and humanity as a whole, at the center of all things.

Hopkins’ complex poetry gestures toward a spirituality, a communion of individuals with the world around, including animals. And I suspect I am not alone in saying experience resonates with this insight. Such was the case for me a few years back when we lost our spirited greyhound named Tiger after a short illness. It was a heartbreaking diagnosis. Osteosarcoma is a bone cancer that leaves few viable treatment options, apart from pain management. The brief time between diagnosis and our final goodbyes was not easy. There were frequent trips to the animal hospital, and the financial costs of palliative care, including an expensive routine of medications. Far worse was the emotional toll as we waited the inevitable but gradual progress of the disease. We wondered constantly when the quality of life ends for an animal, and whether the decision to delay euthanizing was for our own benefit or hers.

Companion animals inspire much behavior well described as spiritual in the broadest sense of the word. These creatures have a remarkable capacity to disrupt self-centeredness and inspire affection and appreciation for something completely “other.” Though with Hopkins I contemplate and define spirituality in light of both Christian theology and the wonders and mysteries of the natural world, there is inevitable dissonance that results from each attempt to link the two, particularly when animals are involved.

The church’s history boasts many teachers finding religious meaning in encounters with other sentient beings, and yet many more reflect the deeply entrenched view that the natural world does not matter. As early as the writings of St. Paul in the mid-first century, we find language appearing to minimize the significance of animals: “it is written in the law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.’ Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Or does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was indeed written for our sake” (1 Corinthians 9:9-10). At least on the surface, Paul appears to undermine the force of a Torah regulation clearly intended to protect laboring animals in favour of an anthropocentric remark. No doubt influenced by Paul’s thinking, the church has a sorry history of neglecting the importance of animals in the religious life, not to mention its tendency to overlook moral responsibilities toward them. Despite Paul’s interpretation of Deuteronomy 25:4, biblical literature provides plenty of evidence to suggest that animals are more than ornaments in the world God made. This is not the context to develop a biblical theology of nonhuman creation but suffice it to say that just as the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1), so too animals reveal something of their maker. This God declares them “very good” along with everything else he made (Genesis 1:31). One striking account of the religious consequence of animals in the context of biblical literature is a scene in the Book of Job.

“Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars, and spreads its wings toward the south?” (Job 39:26). This is but one of a litany of questions God puts to Job once he responds to this man’s complaints from the whirlwind. Job lost everything and, understandably, he voices despair, sorrow and anger over his sorry plight. Yet God does not explain the man’s losses and torments but instead directs Job to observe the world around him, including a wide array of nonhuman species (Job 38-41). Lions, mountain goats, wild asses, eagles, deer, oxen, ostriches, horses and the mysterious but mighty Behemoth and Leviathan appear among the wonders of the natural world God describes, and the effect on Job is striking and perhaps predictable: “I am of small account,” he says to God, “what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but will proceed no further” (40:4-5). The experience transforms Job. His worldview no longer centers on his own predicament. He gains perspective, acknowledging his minuteness (which is not to say insignificance) in relation to God and the world around him. This ancient Jewish text offers another obvious yet profound lesson. Our interactions with the divine occur within a richly diverse and majestic world populated with seemingly endless species, and these nonhuman animals are every bit as dependent on God for life and wellbeing as human beings (see e.g., Psalms 78:23-25; 145:15; 104:21; 147:9).

Caring for and grieving the loss of my dog turned my thoughts away from myself and toward God, the ultimate “Other.” My relatively short time with Tiger in life awakened compassion and celebration of God’s good world, and my journey with her through the valley of the shadow of death evoked a longing to find meaning and solace in loss. Much to my surprise, this animal-human relationship reminded me I am not at the center of a God-ordered universe. For the 19th-century poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, all living things reveal the creator God, with each kingfisher and dragonfly — and let us add each companion animal — offering a glimpse of the divine.

This short essay also appears at Frequencies: A Collaborative Genealogy of Spirituality.




Read more http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-gilmour/companion-animals_b_1083096.html

Loyola University Maryland to host 10th annual Mid-Year Conference on Religion and Spirituality

Professional social science conference has a major focus on promoting research in religion and spirituality and creating a supportive academic forum where professionals can discuss the latest research findings and scientific advances in the field.

(PRWEB) November 15, 2011

Loyola University Maryland’s department of pastoral counseling and spiritual care joins the American Psychological Association’s Division 36: Society for the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality to host the 10th annual Mid-Year Conference on Religion and Spirituality on March 30-31, 2012 at the University’s Columbia Graduate Campus located at 8890 McGaw Road, Columbia, Md. 20145.

This conference is the only professional social science conference with a major focus on promoting research in religion and spirituality and creating a supportive academic forum where professionals can discuss the latest research findings and scientific advances in the field. The event attracts more than 200 attendees with diverse backgrounds from across the United States.

“We’re honored to gather a talented group of national and international scholars and researchers with truly interdisciplinary backgrounds to discuss how we can bring about a durable sense of positive change in people’s lives,” said Ralph L. Piedmont, Ph.D., professor of pastoral counseling at Loyola and founding editor of the APA journal Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. “Looking back on a decade of progress, I’m confident that the robust collaboration at this year’s conference will help dictate the future direction of innovation in our field.”

This year’s keynote speaker will be David G. Myers, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Hope College in Holland, Mich. Myers is the author or editor of 17 books on a wide variety of topics bridging psychology and faith. His latest book, A Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists: Musings on Why God is Good and Faith Isn’t Evil, was published in 2008. He has been published in more than three dozen academic journals and more than four dozen popular magazines, and his research and writing have earned him numerous awards and three honorary doctorates. He recently received the 2011 American Academy of Audiology Presidential Award in recognition of his efforts to transform the way America provides assistive listening for people with hearing loss. Myers earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Iowa.

For more information about the conference including how to register, visit http://www.loyola.edu/pastoralcounseling/myc.

About Division 36:

The American Psychological Association’s Division 36: Society for the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality promotes the application of psychological research methods and interpretive frameworks to diverse forms of religion and spirituality; encourages the incorporation of the results of such work into clinical and other applied settings; and fosters constructive dialogue and interchange between psychological study and practice on the one hand and between religious perspectives and institutions on the other.

About Loyola University Maryland:

Established in 1852, Loyola University Maryland is a Jesuit comprehensive university comprising Loyola College, its school of arts and sciences; the Sellinger School of Business and Management; and the School of Education. Loyola enrolls 3,800 undergraduate and 2,300 graduate students from across the country and around the world.


Nick Alexopulos
Loyola University Maryland
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Springville Museum hosts annual spiritual and religious art exhibit

Christ on the cross, a woman reading a magazine and an aerial view of Old Nauvoo, as expressions of religion and spirituality, have been brought together in Springville to celebrate the holiday season.

Springville Museum of Art is hosting its 26th annual Spiritual and Religious Art of Utah exhibit, open now through Dec. 27. The exhibit was open to any artist who wanted to submit their work. There were no guidelines for the medium of the art, nor the religious aspect, as long as it was spiritual.

Museum curator Ashlee Whitaker said although many of the 341 submissions were aesthetically compelling, the committee chose 179 which had the greatest representation of spirituality.

The Springville Museum of Art opens a new exhibit of unique, spiritually inspired artwork.

“We want to make sure that we have a good array of different types of ideas, different ways of seeing religion or spirituality, different styles, different media,” Whitaker said. “We took all those into consideration to make it a show that guarantees that there will be something that resonates with everyone.”

Because of its location in Utah County, a predominately Christian area, the majority of the submissions are Christian-based. However, with the Hare Krishna temple so close, Whitaker said they also receive Hindu, Buddhist and other non-Christian art every year.

“This year, we have a really wide spectrum, and I like that,” Whitaker said. “Even among the LDS subjects that we might be more familiar with because of the culture and community we live in, a lot of interpretations of those subjects are fresh.”

The works in the exhibit span many mediums, from dioramas to oil on canvas. Artist Trevin Prince used his own blood and resin on plexiglass to create his piece, “Serrano de Christo.” Joe Norman created Ammo Table, a table filled with ammunition, with Christ’s image in the ammunition.

This was Mark Stahmann’s first time submitting a painting for this specific exhibit, but has worked with the museum for other special exhibits. He submitted “The Worth of a Soul,” a piece depicting Christ on the cross. Stahmann cited the painters Nicolas Moreau and Diego Velazquez as inspiration, as well as “Wings,” a well-known photo of Michael Jordan, as the picture that made him think about turning a painting of Christ to be more of a portrait.

Although the painting has been well-received, Stahmann did not paint it with the intention of turning it into the museum.

“I painted it more for myself, I just really wanted to portray the reality of the Atonement,” Stahmann said. “Basically I was bearing my testimony visually.”

Read more http://universe.byu.edu/index.php/2011/11/14/springville-museum-hosts-annual-spiritual-and-religious-art-exhibit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=springville-museum-hosts-annual-spiritual-and-religious-art-exhibit

Research shows spirituality important in healthcare

University of Otago research shows spirituality important in healthcare

A University of Otago study has offered a working definition of spirituality to help healthcare professionals better understand its importance for those faced with illness and death in an age when fatal illnesses are often prolonged.

“What is spirituality? Evidence from a New Zealand hospice study” by Richard Egan, Rod MacLeod, Chrystal Jaye, Rob McGee, Joanne Baxter and Peter Herbison has just been published in the journal Mortality.

Spirituality is increasingly understood to be important in the provision of healthcare policy, guidelines and practice. The study sought a definition of what a broad range of New Zealanders understood spirituality to be in order to provide a baseline for further study of spirituality in the health care setting.

Preventive and Social Medicine Department Research Fellow Dr Richard Egan says that the area of spirituality and well-being has largely been an ignored dimension within medicine and health care.

“The study showed spirituality is considered to be important to a vast majority of people. People clearly knew spirituality includes more than religion. They talked about essence, about the meaning and purpose of life, values and beliefs,” he says.

The study is based on 52 interviews, and a survey of 642 patients, most near the end of their lives. Researchers also spoke to family members and staff from 25 out of New Zealand’s 32 hospices.

“Everyone does have their own definition of what spirituality is, but there are some commonalities. Some named spirituality in a religious way, but they were a minority, which isn’t surprising given only 8 to12% of New Zealanders go to church,” he says.

“We found that spirituality is mostly about meaning, purpose and connection.” Dr Egan says that one man he spoke to had lost all sense of who he was.

“He went into this dark hole of cancer and had to rediscover who he was, asking how to make sense of it. These are spiritual questions.” Dr Egan says the paper offers a working, summative definition of spirituality or “a map of the terrain.”

“Spirituality means different things to different people. It may include (a search for) one’s ultimate beliefs and values; a sense of meaning and a purpose in life; a sense of connectedness; identity and awareness; and for some people, religion. It may be understood at an individual or population level.”

Dr Egan emphasises that this was a base-line study providing a platform from which more research will be done.

“For example, we don’t know much about the spiritual care of the tens of thousands of people in aged care. What is their existential sense of meaning and purpose when they are not at home, not at work, not with family?

“Modern medicine creates a situation where most of us die over a longer time period, not like in the old days when it was usually fairly quick. Sixty percent of us die of cancer or heart disease over 12 months or more. You get more opportunities to sit down and talk to your family and friends about life, its purpose and other spiritual issues.

“Hospitals often don’t have enough time or money to worry about spirituality and most of us die in hospital or aged care. I think that by ignoring the spiritual dimension there are whole aspects of person-centred care that are missed; needs can be missed.”

Dr Egan says there are points of entry for spirituality in the health system.

“The hospice approach is the gold standard in terms of spirituality in health. They specifically name spirituality in their list of care priorities along with physical, social and mental well-being. Māori models of healthcare also incorporate spiritual well-being in person-centred care.

“We want to have a good death for ourselves and our relations. To have a ‘good enough’ death we need to have our physical pain dealt with, but often of equal or more importance are our spiritual affairs.”

Read more http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/ED1111/S00092/research-shows-spirituality-important-in-healthcare.htm

Keys to Spirituality While Serving in Primary

Many people feel that serving in the Primary will mean that they will no longer get any spiritual feeding or development. After all, the Primary is the only organization where you miss two hours of classroom instruction in order to teach the children. However, your time serving in the Primary can end up being some of the most spiritual rewarding of your life if you make the effort to grow and learn.

To many people, it seems easier to grow spiritually when they aren’t serving in the Primary. They don’t need to make as big of an effort because it is just provided for them at the designated times. But when you have to work for something, it seems to mean more. Here are some key ways to develop yourself spiritually at home:

–Read the auxiliary lessons and study them. Pray about them. Use those topics for Family Home Evening lessons.

–Plan your course of study around your Primary lessons. Learn the stories from the scriptures in your lessons well. Study everything you can about the topic you will be covering. This will not only prepare you for your lesson, but you will be able to confidently answer any questions the children in your class may have about the topic. You will find that even a topic that seems super simple can become complex when you study everything there is to learn about it. Be sure to record your thoughts and feelings about the topic in your journal.

–Dive into the church magazines. Be sure to study the messages from the First Presidency each month. Research their topics and learn everything that the prophets have said about it. Pay special attention to the issues that cover General Conference. Prayerfully study them and listen to the spirit for the answers the Lord is trying to share with you.

–Obtain an Institute of Religion study manual. This can help you to increase your gospel knowledge. You will find this to be an invaluable resource in your personal studies.

–Set a goal to live the gospel principle you are studying all week. This will help you to become closer to your Heavenly Father and help to grow your personal testimony of the principle.

Remember that while it will be challenging to work in a personal course of gospel study into a busy schedule, it will be worth it. The rewards you will reap are eternal, and those are the best rewards of all.

Read more http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art7516.asp

SPIRITUALITY: Loaded questions, lopsided faith

Norris Burkes
Norris Burkes

SPIRITUALITY: Loaded questions, lopsided faith

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Chaplain touts spirituality

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Published: 11/12/2011


Chaplain touts spirituality The Rev. Hiltrude Nusser-Telfer, a native of Belgium, has been hospital chaplain at Flower Hospital in Sylvania. THE BLADE/SEAN WORK Enlarge | Photo Reprints

In 15 years as a hospital chaplain, the Rev. Hiltrude Nusser-Telfer has learned that patients have many things to worry about besides health.

“Patients who come in here are generally distraught, feeling bad, unhappy. They don’t know what to expect next. They have no idea how they are going to get healed,” Reverend Nusser-Telfer said. “In the meantime, the family may be at home facing acute shortages in food, money. There may be all kinds of emergencies that are weighing on this patient’s mind. …”

That’s where chaplains can play an integral role in helping patients cope with their concerns.

A trained chaplain can conduct a “spiritual assessment” of patients that looks at their medical condition, social support system, and religious affiliation, then use the findings to develop ways to keep them focused on getting better, she said.

“Something has to contribute to their physical condition because we are people of body, mind, and spirit. It all works together,” said Reverend Nusser-Telfer, a board-certified chaplain and ordained Episcopal priest.

She has written a book, Outcomes of Faith During Hospitalization: A Case Study Method (AuthorHouse) that presents examples of eight patients whom she counseled as a hospital chaplain, citing relevant scholarly research on palliative care.

In one case, Reverend Nusser-Telfer raced to the hospital and donned scrubs to help a woman whose scheduled surgery was being delayed. The patient was having anxiety attacks, preventing the doctors from administering anesthesia.

The woman told the chaplain she was afraid.

“I asked, ‘What is the worst thing that could happen to you?’ ” Reverend Nusser-Telfer said.

She replied that she was afraid she might die. And if she died, the patient added, she would have “nothing to wear to her funeral.”

Reverend Nusser-Telfer comforted the patient with words and prayer, and afterward decided to find an “underlying reason” for her fears. It turned out that the woman was afraid that her husband was going to kill her.

The chaplain alerted the nurse, called for security to bar the spouse from visits, and ultimately helped the woman get a restraining order and a divorce.

Problems such as the ones this woman faced, or the more common and less serious types of problems, are not always evident to medical personnel who treat physical needs, Reverend Nusser-Telfer said.

“Medical doctors are usually only in the room for a certain amount of time. When the doctor comes in, most patients will say, ‘Oh, I’m fine, doctor, but I hurt here, here, and there.’ But the spiritual component is not being addressed,” she said.

Reverend Nusser-Telfer, who works at Flower Hospital in Sylvania, said more hospitals are recognizing the value of palliative care provided by chaplains and clergy, but the financial pressures of the medical business too often push spiritual care to the back of the line.

“Pastoral care is still the last component that is being added to this system because it is not a revenue-producing entity,” she said. “It is also the first one that is being cut when there are shortages.”

Reverend Nusser-Telfer, a native of Belgium, graduated from Katholieke Universiteit (Catholic University) in TeLeuven, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in religious studies. She moved to the United States in 1994, where she continued her education, receiving a doctor of ministry in pastoral care from Graduate Theological Foundation in South Bend, Ind., in 2010.

The role of spirituality in healing is being studied by researchers worldwide. A new report by the University of Missouri, for example, concluded that spiritual support improves health outcomes for both men and women facing chronic health conditions.

Religious and spiritual support includes care from congregations, spiritual interventions such as religious counseling and forgiveness practices, and help from pastors and hospital chaplains, the Missouri study said.

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Watch: Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez Show Us ‘The Way’

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Watch: Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez Show Us 'The Way'

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Mixing a little spirituality in your business

Bob Reck sees the Occupy Wall Street movement as “a wake-up call on business ethics.”

A little spirituality mixed into the business world would do wonders in correcting the greed and unethical behavior being protested, the Sarasota business consultant said.

He’s spreading the word through an upcoming presentation to the Greater Sarasota Coaches Alliance on Nov. 21 called, “A New Mix: Business and Spirituality.”

Reck, who has been a management consultant for 40 years and worked with businesses all over the world, began exploring his own spirituality about seven years ago.

“I knew there was a part of my life that I had been ignoring,” the 70-year-old said. “Then I looked at it from a business perspective. In the context of coaching, what are the tools and techniques to use.”

Spirituality for Reck means accepting there is a power greater than yourself and that you are connected to a larger reality.

In the workplace, spirituality is displayed in businesses that are more employee focused, realize and accept that their employees struggle with finding a balance in their lives.

“These businesses make sure that their employees’ work has meaning, that it is connected to the world, people feel they are a fit in the organization and have a positive work experience,” he said.

Two examples Reck uses in his talks to illustrate right and wrong corporate ethics are Nike and Johnson and Johnson. Nike suffered a severe drop in its earnings when it was revealed that company’s products were produced in overseas sweatshops. “The company is still tainted by that, it never has completely recovered.”

In contrast is Johnson and Johnson’s response in the early 1980s to cyanide-laced capsules found in Tylenol bottles.

“They responded fast and pulled all the Tylenol off the shelves. That created such good will that the company regained all its momentum.”

Reck’s presentation is part of a series of talks sponsored by the Greater Sarasota Coaches Alliance, said Jane Barr, who is on the group’s board of directors. The goal of the alliance “is to support each other as coaches and introduce coaching to the broader community,” she said.

Speakers have talked on everything from improving your golf game to giving public presentations, she said.

Reck, who founded Kendall Consulting Group in 1992 and moved from the Boston area to Sarasota in 2000, believes there are a variety of methods people can use to explore their own spirituality, from practicing yoga, to attending lectures, reading uplifting books and meditating.

“You start to focus on your inner life, you think what does it take to become alive in my life, turbocharged,” he said.

“It can help you achieve potential you didn’t know you had.”

Read more http://www.bradenton.com/2011/11/10/3640431/mixing-a-little-spirituality-in.html

A day of rest is an important part of our lives and spirituality

Hebron, Conn. —

Sen. Joseph Lieberman has published a new book titled, “The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath.” His words allowed me to pause and think of the need for myself and community members to have rest in our lives.

“What the Sabbath is about is honoring life and improving the life of those around you,” he said. “I think it’s even more necessary and important now because what technology does is enable us to never stop working.”

I often hear the refrain, “I am just so busy; I have no time,” and “Isn’t time just flying by?” We live in a hyperactive and harried world. We try to cram in as much as possible, and I believe we often miss the opportunity to be still and to appreciate the present. I know I am guilty of filling every moment with activity, and at times, I can be overwhelmed.

Nearly every religion has some focus on making room for rest in our lives. The most practiced world religions recognize a day of rest, and many rituals and celebrations are built around that. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2184 tells us, “Just as God rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done, human life has a rhythm of work and rest. The institution of the Sabbath helps everyone enjoy adequate rest and leisure to cultivate their familiar, cultural, social and religious lives.”

Family demands

As pastor of the Church of the Holy Family, I encourage our families to rest on Sundays and take the time to honor God with their presence and prayers at our worshipping celebrations. At the same time, I know of the demands placed on families with so many activities and gatherings — the burden of feeling pressured to be in so many places with such little time. Every weekend, I talk to parishioners who struggle to fit in all the activities they want to while still making the commitment to come to church. I feel their tension. I often say, “Professional athletes get a day off, don’t our children deserve a day off?”

I recall the Blue Sundays when it was forbidden to work and/or hold practices or games in sports, and I wonder if there may have been some wisdom in that old law that we should draw from today. While it is important to come to church, I also think it is incredibly important to have rest and refreshment. More and more studies show the link of stress and illness. Without the opportunity to experience guilt-free rest, the danger of stress-related illnesses only increases.

What can we do? I don’t have all the answers, and being single, I sometimes hear people ask, “What do you know?” But I do see the frenzied pace of life and everyone talking about it but not doing much to change it. I also know that if I am not mindful, I, too, can get caught up in doing too much, filling my time instead of taking time to reflect. The cult of busy-ness is an ever-present element in our lives.

God’s wisdom

Perhaps we can ask our public leaders to set Sundays as a day of rest — a Sabbath, so we might have at least one day per week in which activities would not be obligatory. But perhaps it is more important that we trust in God’s wisdom of setting a Sabbath, and claim our need for rest, putting the decision to break from the harried pace in our lives into our own hands. Perhaps we may need to stand up to secular demands and designate time with no commitments except to relax with family and friends, to reinstate the Sunday dinner that has been a sacred part of families in previous generations.

My prayer is that all of us in this beautiful community will do ourselves some favors: Get some rest; stop and see the colors of the leaves change while the sun is setting and the moon is rising; sit and talk with your spouse and children about everything and about nothing at all; and take a walk and tell those closest to you that you love them. Let us enjoy the incredible gift we have in each other and in the nature around us. Let us give ourselves the gift of our presence to each other by finding time to be present fully in new ways.

On the seventh day, God rested. Shouldn’t we?

The Rev. Michael Smith is pastor of the Church of the Holy Family in Hebron.

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