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Love your enemies, or go to hell

Russophobia Gets Christians In Hot Water

 

Believe it or not, there are hundreds of millions of self-identified “Christians” in America today, who fear their enemies.

Many would even like to do grievous bodily harm to their enemies. Or rather, they would like to see others (say, their government) do harm to their enemies — preemptively — on their behalf.

But in matter of fact, it is much worse than that.

Today, hundreds of millions of “Christians” fear and would do harm to those who they are only led to believe are their enemies, but who are not their enemies at all.

If Jesus were still in his grave, I imagine he would feel like rolling over about now.

Remember, this is the same Jesus who expressly commanded his followers not to fear death, or hate their enemies, but on the contrary, to love, bless, pray for, and do good to their enemies.

According to the 2014 Religious Landscape Study by Pew Research Center, a clear majority (70.6%) of Americans still self-identify as “Christian”.

And yet, you could be forgiven for thinking that a majority of those (roughly extrapolated) 225 million self-identifying “Christian” citizens of the U.S.A. either have not heard, or, have not taken into their hearts, the clear commandment of Jesus most famously taught in his magisterial Sermon on the Mount.

Because according to a 2014 Global Attitudes Survey*, also by Pew Research Center, some 72% of Americans have an “Unfavorable View” of Russia. Indeed, according to a recent Gallup poll, Americans now consider Russia to be their “greatest enemy”, with 49% of survey respondents considering its military power to be a “critical threat”.

Incongruently for a purportedly “Christian” nation, some 54% of Americans believe that the U.S. is not being “tough enough” with Russia, according to another Pew Research Center study whose findings were published last month.

Apparently, having their government exercise their nation’s power to force other nations to support the imposition of economic sanctions on Russia — with a deliberate intent to cause suffering for her people, in hope of prompting them to rise up and overthrow their government — is not “tough enough” for America’s “Christian” believers.

In Europe, this incongruity between proclaimed “Christian” beliefs and manifested un-Christ-like behaviour is even more marked.

According to a 2011 National Survey, some 87.5% of people in Poland claim to be Christian; in Pew Research Center’s 2014 Global Attitudes Survey, 81% of Poles held an unfavorable view of Russia. So much so, that the Polish government has “embarked on a lavish defence spending spree to buy new heavy arms and equipment”, and passed legislation with a view to compulsory military training for all able-bodied men.

Other “Christian”-majority nations of the European Union such as the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, and Germany display similar trends; indeed, three out of four of these majority “Christian” Western European nations exhibit a stronger “unfavorable view” of Russia than does France, arguably the most secular nation in Europe.

So what terrible thing, exactly, has Russia done to the people of the U.S.A., U.K., Poland, Italy, Spain, and Germany, that might justify their many hundreds of millions of “Christians” holding such an overwhelmingly “unfavorable view” of her, much less labelling her their “greatest enemy”?

Let us imagine for a moment, that all of the things the “Christians” of the West have been told about Russia are in fact true. Let us imagine that Russia did annex the Crimean Peninsula. Invaded Eastern Ukraine. Provided East Ukrainians with a missile launcher, that was used to shoot down an airliner. Let us imagine too, that Russia’s overwhelmingly popular leader does aspire to recreate the Soviet Union.

Even if all of this were true — a gentle hint, none of it is — would it relieve a true Christian of their divine duty to “fear not them which kill the body…”? Would it relieve them of their divine imperative to “love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you”?

The next time a “Christian” in the Western world experiences a feeling of fear while watching a “world leader”, government official, “expert” “analyst”, or TV news anchor “reporting” on Russia, Iran, Syria, North Korea, or any other supposed boogeyman in a far-away land, they might do well for the future of their immortal soul to consider something else that Jesus Christ had to say:

He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

 

 

* Pew Research Center is “a nonpartisan American think tank based in Washington, D.C., that provides information on social issues, public opinion, and demographic trends shaping the United States and the world”.

In light of this, thinking readers will find it noteworthy that “(N)early all interviews were conducted after Putin’s statement on March 18th that Russia would annex Crimea. A majority of interviews in France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom were completed within a week of the announcement”. How convenient.

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Uncategorized

Guilty of nothing

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The Human Race.

It is my sense that there is right now, at this very moment, more than ever before in history, a greater percentage of the individuals comprising that group whom we have grown accustomed to referring to collectively as The Human Race, who, whenever they may happen to have some “free Time”, or, when they may take an hour, or a day, to simply relax, and be Present, find themselves quickly assaulted with feelings of guilt. Temptations. Nagging doubts. That somehow, by “doing nothing”, they are failing. That there remain many goals to be achieved. Tasks to be performed. Responsibilities to be met. That there is not enough Time. And so it is, that they are assailed both with thoughts and with feelings, that “doing nothing” is a “waste of Time”.

It is not so.

If you suffer from such feelings of guilt, such doubts, such vexing temptations, whenever you pause to rest, to love, to Be, to be still, to meditate, or to quietly contemplate, then the following passage from the 14th century mystical classic ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’ may help you — as it helped me — to see the truth about “doing nothing” with new eyes.

All bold emphasis is mine.

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary;  Johannes Vermeer (1655)

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary; Johannes Vermeer (1655), National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

In the gospel of Saint Luke it is written, that when our Lord was in the house of Martha her sister, all the time that Martha made her busy about the dighting of His meat, Mary her sister sat at His feet. And in hearing of His word she beheld not to the business of her sister, although her business was full good and full holy, for truly it is the first part of active life; nor yet to the preciousness of His blessed body, nor to the sweet voice and the words of His manhood, although it is better and holier, for it is the second part of active life and the first of contemplative life.

But to the sovereignest wisdom of His Godhead lapped in the dark words of His manhood, thither beheld she with all the love of her heart. For from thence she would not remove, for nothing that she saw nor heard spoken nor done about her; but sat full still in her body, with many a sweet privy and listy* love pressed upon that high cloud of unknowing betwixt her and her God. For one thing I tell thee, that there was never yet pure creature in this life, nor never yet shall be, so high ravished in contemplation and love of the Godhead, that there is not evermore a high and wonderful cloud of unknowing betwixt him and his God. In this cloud it was that Mary was occupied with many a privy love pressed. And why? Because it was the best and the holiest part of contemplation that may be in this life, and from this part her list* not remove for nothing. Insomuch, that when her sister Martha complained to our Lord of her, and bade Him bid her sister rise and help her and let her not so work and travail by herself, she sat full still and answered not with one word, nor shewed not as much as a grumbling gesture against her sister for any plaint that she could make. And no wonder: for why, she had another work to do that Martha wist not of. And therefore she had no leisure to listen to her, nor to answer her at her plaint.

Lo! friend, all these works, these words, and these gestures, that were shewed betwixt our Lord and these two sisters, be set in ensample of all actives and all contemplatives that have been since in Holy Church , and shall be to the day of doom. For by Mary is understood all contemplatives; for they should conform their living after hers. And by Martha, actives on the same manner; and for the same reason in likeness.

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And right as Martha complained then on Mary her sister, right so yet unto this day all actives complain of contemplatives. For an there be a man or a woman in any company of this world, what company soever it be, religious or seculars — I out-take none — the which man or woman, whichever that it be, feeleth him stirred through grace and by counsel to forsake all outward business, and for to set him fully for to live contemplative life after their cunning and their conscience, their counsel according; as fast, their own brethren and their sisters, and all their next friends, with many other that know not their stirrings nor that manner of living that they set them to, with a great complaining spirit shall rise upon them, and say sharply unto them that it is nought that they do. And as fast they will reckon up many false tales, and many true also, of falling of men and women that have given them to such life before: and never a good tale of them that stood.

I grant that many fall and have fallen of them that have in likeness forsaken the world. And where they should have become God’s servants and His contemplatives, because that they would not rule them by true ghostly counsel they have become the devil’s servants and his contemplatives; and turned either to hypocrites or to heretics, or fallen into frenzies and many other mischiefs, in slander of Holy Church. Of the which I leave to speak at this time, for troubling of our matter. But nevertheless here after when God vouchsafeth and if need be, men may see some of the conditions and the cause of their failings. And therefore no more of them at this time; but forth of our matter.

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Some might think that I do little worship to Martha, that special saint, for I liken her words of complaining of her sister unto these worldly men’s words, or theirs unto hers: and truly I mean no unworship to her nor to them. And God forbid that I should in this work say anything that might be taken in condemnation of any of the servants of God in any degree, and namely of His special saint. For me thinketh that she should be full well had excused of her plaint, taking regard to the time and the manner that she said it in. For that that she said her unknowing was the cause. And no wonder though she knew not at that time how Mary was occupied; for I trow that before she had little heard of such perfection. And also that she said, it was but courteously and in few words: and therefore she should always be had excused.

And so me thinketh that these worldly living men and women of active life should also full well be excused of their complaining words touched before, although they say rudely that they say; having beholding to their ignorance. For why? Right as Martha wist full well little what Mary her sister did when she complained of her to our Lord; right so on the same manner these folk nowadays wot full little, or else nought, what these young disciples of God mean, when they set them from the business of this world, and draw them to be God’s special servants in holiness and rightfulness of spirit. And if they wist truly, I daresay that would neither do nor say as they say. And therefore me thinketh always that they should be had excused: for why, they know no better living than is that they live in themselves. And also when I think on mine innumerable defaults, the which I have made myself before this time in words and deeds for default of knowing, me thinketh then if I would be excused of God for mine ignorant defaults, that I should charitably and piteously have other men’s ignorant words and deeds always excused. And surely else, do I not to others as I would they did to me.

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And therefore me thinketh, that they that set them to be contemplatives should not only have active men excused of their complaining words, but also me thinketh that they should be so occupied in spirit that they should take little heed or none what men did or said about them. Thus did Mary, our example of all, when Martha her sister complained to our Lord: and if we will truly do thus our Lord will do now for us as He did then for Mary.

And how was that? Surely thus. Our lovely Lord Jesus Christ, unto whom no privy thing is hid, although He was required of Martha as doomsman for to bid Mary rise and help her to serve Him; nevertheless yet, for He perceived that Mary was fervently occupied in spirit about the love of His Godhead, therefore courteously and as it was seemly for Him to do by the way of reason, He answered for her, that for the excusing of herself list* not leave the love of Him. And how answered He? Surely not only as doomsman, as He was of Martha appealed: but as an advocate lawfully defended her that Him loved, and said, “Martha, Martha!” Twice for speed He named her name; for He would that she heard Him and took heed to His words. “Thou art full busy,” He said, “and troubled about many things”. For they that be actives behove always to be busied and travailed about many diverse things, the which them falleth, first for to have to their own use, and sithen in deeds of mercy to their even-christian, as charity asketh. And this He said unto Martha, for he would let her wit that her business was good and profitable to the health of her soul. But for this, that she should not think that it were the best work of all that man might do, therefore He added and said: “But one thing is necessary”.

And what is that one thing? Surely that God be loved and praised by Himself, above all other business bodily or ghostly that man may do. And for this, that Martha should not think that she might both love God and praise Him above all other business bodily or ghostly, and also thereto to be busy about the necessaries of this life: therefore to deliver her of doubt that she might not both serve God in bodily business and ghostly together perfectly — imperfectly she may, but not perfectly — He added and said, that Mary has chosen the best part; the which should never be taken from her. For why, that perfect stirring of love that beginneth here is even in number with that that shall last without end in the bliss of heaven, for all it is but one.

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What meaneth this; Mary hath chosen the best? Wheresoever the best is set or named, it asketh before it these two things — a good, and a better; so that it be the best, and the third in number. But which be these three good things, of the which Mary chose the best? Three lives be they not, for Holy Church maketh remembrance but of two, active life and contemplative life; the which two lives be privily understood in the story of this gospel by these two sisters Martha and Mary — by Martha active, by Mary contemplative. Without one of these two lives may no man be safe, and where no more be but two, may no man choose the best.

But although there be but two lives, nevertheless yet in these two lives be three parts, each one better than other. The which three, each one by itself, be specially set in their places before in this writing. For as it is said before, the first part standeth in good and honest bodily works of mercy and charity; and this is the first degree of active life, as it is said before. The second part of these two lives lieth in good ghostly meditations of a man’s own wretchedness, the Passion of Christ, and of the joys of heaven. The first part is good, and this part is the better; for this is the second degree of active life and the first of contemplative life. In this part is contemplative life and active life coupled together in ghostly kinship, and made sisters at the ensample of Martha and Mary. Thus high may an active come to contemplation; and no higher, but if it be full seldom and by special grace. Thus low may a contemplative come towards active life; and no lower, but if it be full seldom and in great need.

The third part of these two lives hangeth in this dark cloud of unknowing, with many a privy love pressed to God by Himself. The first part is good, the second is better, but the third is best of all. This is the “best part” of Mary. And therefore it is plainly to wit, that our Lord said not, Mary hath chosen the best life,  for there be no more lives but two, and of two may no man choose the best. But of these two lives Mary hath chosen, He said, the best part; the which shall never be taken from her. The first and the second, although they be both good and holy, yet they end with this life. For in the tother life shall be no need as now to use the works of mercy, nor to weep for our wretchedness, nor for the Passion of Christ. For then shall none be able to hunger nor thirst as now, nor die for cold, nor be sick, nor houseless, nor in prison; nor yet need burial, for then shall none be able to die. But the third part that Mary chose, choose who by grace is called to choose: or, if I soothlier shall say, whoso is chosen thereto of God. Let him lustily incline thereto, for that shall never be taken away: for if it begin here, it shall last without end.

And therefore let the voice of our Lord cry on these actives, as if He said thus now for us unto them, as he did then for Mary to Martha, “Martha, Martha!” — “Actives, actives! make you busy as ye can in the first part and in the second, now in the one and now in the tother: and, if you list right well and feel you disposed, in both two bodily. And meddle you not of contemplatives. Ye wot not what them aileth: let them sit in their rest and in their play, with the third and the best part of Mary”.

~ Anonymous, The Cloud of Unknowing, (chapters 17-21)

 

*list, listy, listily – “‘List’ is best understood by comparison with its opposite, ‘listless’.  It implies a glad and eager activity, or sometimes an energetic desire or craving: the wish and the will to do something. The noun often stands for pleasure or delight, the adverb for the willing and joyous performance of an action: the ‘putting of one’s heart into one’s work’. The modern ‘lust’, from the same root, suggests a violence which was expressly excluded from the Middle English meaning of ‘list’.”

[From the Introduction to the 1922 edition by Evelyn Underhill]

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Embryo

O Lord, you have searched me thoroughly and have known me.

You know my downsitting and my uprising; You understand my thought afar off.

You sift and search out my path and my lying down, and You are acquainted with all my ways.

For there is not a word in my tongue still unuttered, but, behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.

You have beset me and shut me in—behind and before, and You have laid Your hand upon me.

Your infinite knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high above me, I cannot reach it.

Where could I go from Your Spirit? Or where could I flee from Your presence?

If I ascend up into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol (the place of the dead), behold, You are there.

If I take the wings of the morning or dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

Even there shall Your hand lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.

If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me and the night shall be the only light about me,

Even the darkness hides nothing from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You.

For You did form my inward parts; You did knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I will confess and praise You for You are fearful and wonderful and for the awful wonder of my birth! Wonderful are 
Your works, and that my inner self knows right well.

My frame was not hidden from You when I was being formed in secret and intricately and curiously wrought 
[as if embroidered with various colors] in the depths of the earth
[a region of darkness and mystery].

Your eyes saw my unformed substance, and in Your book all the days of my life were written before ever they took shape, when as yet there was none of them.

~ Psalm 139 (v.1-16)

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Oh long-drawn highway, how excellent you are! How often have I in weariness and despondency set forth upon your length, and found in you salvation and rest! How often, as I followed your leading, have I been visited with wonderful thoughts and poetic dreams and curious, wild impressions!

— Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol, ‘Dead Souls’ (1842)

The day after my last long walk (“Do you see what I see?”), I went for another.
A little over 16 kilometres.

This time, unlike the last, my gaze was not downcast. As with my spirit, my head was up.
And here following are some of the things that drew my eye.

(again, apologies for the old, not-“smart” camera phone image quality).

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It was a warm day, and after about 6 kilometres I paused at a public reserve area to refill my water bottle.
There I spotted a cricket ball nestling down in the grass.

I sat down to rest and stretch for a while. As I enjoyed the feeling of old, roughened leather in my hands,
memories of childhood came flooding back.

Like so many Aussie lads, I was addicted to cricket as a youngster. Fast bowling was my specialty.

As I looked out across the reserve, my mind inadvertently recalled the imagery of long forgotten major triumphs
— and sadnesses — of my sporting youth.

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I remembered how, in Year 6, a new and very sports-oriented school principal was appointed to head my primary school.
He promptly raised the emphasis on organised sports activities, including, for the first time in my experience, inter-school competition.

The particular images I recalled as I gazed out over the reserve, were memories of my own participation in two such inter-school competitions. And in so remembering, I was sharply reminded of the perils, and injustices, arising from the notions of popularity, peer pressure, and celebrity. Yes, even at primary school grade.

I recalled how another young lad, along with myself, spearheaded the school cricket team’s fast bowling attack. The other lad, however, was rather more gifted than I; he could bat as well. Unsurprisingly then, he was anointed team captain.
Being more charismatic to boot, he was the school’s unquestioned Mr Popular.

The memory of our first ever inter-school cricket match came painfully to mind. An “away” match. I was reminded how our team bowled first, and I was “on form”, ripping through the top and middle orders, taking figures of something like 6 for 10. The team captain collected 3 wickets, and chasing a tiny total, we won at a gentle canter.

He was voted man of the match.

Then I remembered our first inter-school soccer match. In a somewhat embarrassing 9-0 overall drubbing, I scored the first 5 goals for our team, demoralising the other. The team captain — yes, the same lad who captained the cricket team — then followed up with the final 4 goals.

Those final 4 goals appeared to be all that anyone remembered when the final whistle blew. Because once again, the team captain was popularly voted man of the match. And this time, being a “home” game, he was mobbed by backslapping teammates and enthusiastic home audience. I wandered from the pitch alone, wondering at the injustice of it all.

Then I was blessed to recall something entirely more pleasant, and really, quite beautiful. Indeed, a little tear came to my eye as I remembered it. Seriously.

After the soccer match, at the end of the school day while waiting for the bus, and yes, feeling a little down, one of the girls in my year came to me with a personal gift. She had made, and colourfully decorated, her own Man of the Match award, fashioned from cardboard. Shyly, she handed it to me, along with the declaration that she thought I should have been named man of the match, before scurrying away.

Such a beautiful memory. What a sweet, kind, lovely heart she possessed.

True it is, that “unless you turn around and become as little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven”.

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As I rolled the cricket ball around in my hands, I experimented with what I could remember of the different grip techniques. And I tried to recall what was the special grip I had always used, and practiced countless times, in trying for
my special “unplayable” delivery.

If you know nothing of cricket, then this will of course mean little to you. Suffice to say, my special delivery was a ball which would — on incredibly rare occasion — swing away from a right-handed batsman, but on striking the pitch would then
seam back in the opposite direction, towards the stumps.

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I remembered fondly a moment of unalloyed sporting triumph, which came on moving to a new school in Year 8. On one of the first occasions of playing sports, two teachers divided the boys into opposing teams, which they would captain for a cricket match.

When the teacher on the opposing team — a very large man — came to the wicket to bat at No. 3, the ball was thrown to me. If I recall correctly, I had perhaps boasted somewhat of being a decent fast bowler. I guess there were those who must have been keen to see what the new boy could do.

Naturally then, when I ran in to bowl to the imposing figure at the other end of the pitch, I was determined to try to get my special “killer” delivery to come off. And remarkably, in that first over, on about the third attempt, it did.

The batsman stepped forward to the pitch of the ball, following the outswing, and played a confident drive to off … only to hear the death rattle of his stumps behind him, as the ball neatly jagged back, through the gap between bat and pad.

Quietly delighted within — not at having dismissed the batsman, but at having actually pulled off that delivery — but not wishing to outwardly display anything but “cool”, I strolled nonchalantly down the wicket, only to rapidly become more than a little startled and bemused as, quite unexpectedly, new school teammates — and even the teacher captaining our side — rushed me with excited vigour and enthusiasm, as though I were some conquering hero.

Perhaps noticing the puzzled expression on my face — like, “What’s the fuss?” — the teacher informed me that the man I had just completely bamboozled was a Grade cricketer, who had never been dismissed in all his years teaching at that school.
I had cleaned him up in my first over.

I never took his wicket again. Ah, bittersweet nostalgia!

Rested and refreshed, I returned to the present as I donned my Frillneck hat and Julbo Sherpa sunnies, before walking on.

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About a kilometre or so further, I came upon some horses grazing in the paddocks adjacent the quiet country road. Noticing me approaching, they came to the fence to greet me, doubtless hoping for a treat. The sight, the smell, the touch of a horse … truly, there is something unquestionable grand, noble, earthy, and magical about it all.

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It was a truly wonderful, glorious day, with hardly a cloud in the sky. A little further along, I snapped these photos with my old phone. Alas, their quality is woefully inadequate to capture the beauty of the vista across the fields and towards the mountains, beneath stunning skies, but perhaps you will gain some small sense of it.

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Barely 500 metres further, however, I was startled to suddenly spot a large red-bellied black snake in the grass no more than 5 metres ahead of me. I moved off the grass verge and onto the road, keeping my distance, and observed it for a short while.

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Sadly, of late I have noticed a number of adult, and baby red-bellies, who have suffered the fate of encountering whizzing motorists; it is springtime here in Australia. Happily, this one decided to abandon any thought of sunning itself on the warming asphalt, and instead slithered off into the surrounding shrubbery.

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Perhaps it was my day to rescue creatures from the perils of careless and inattentive motorists. For no more than 100 metres further along, a long-necked turtle was quietly lumbering up the road, right in the wheel tracks. Indeed, so near was it, that I spotted it while watching the red-bellied black, which prompted my moving on to its rescue, and in so doing, perhaps being the cause of startling the snake into going for cover.

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Naturally, I picked this fellow up and — mindfully holding him at far arms length, to avoid being splashed by the inevitable pungent stream of retaliatory urine — gently placed him well off the road.

It was some kilometres further before anything else caught my eye sufficiently to prompt my pausing to take a photograph. And then, such attractions came rapidly. All within 100 metres, in fact. Perhaps I just suddenly became more acutely observant —

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My final resting place on the day’s journey was the little old local cemetery. I find it is a lovely quiet place to turn in, and take a break from one’s exertions.

I could not help but notice — and ponder — the inscriptions on these two headstones.

Beautiful. Don’t you think?

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Uncategorized

Heads up

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