Sermon: Easter 7A

So I’ve been a little slack in keeping up here.  My hope is to change that, and to start writing more here than just sermons.  In the meantime, I’m playing catch up.  Below is a sermon preached at my sponsoring parish, The Church of the Redeemer, on Easter 7 (28 May 2017).  The readings can be found here, and you can listen to it below or over on the parish website.

About a year ago, I heard a story about the Ascension that captured my imagination.

Legend has it, that this was a story told by one of the desert fathers. No one really knows where the story comes from, but some say that St. Anthony told it to St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Gregory of Nyssa told it to Sts. Basil and Gregory Nazianzus as they sat around the campfire. I do not know the facts behind this story, but I know it to be true. Following in their footsteps, I want to tell you an Ascension campfire story:

As Jesus began to rise, John just could not bear it. He reached up into the cloud and grabbed a hold of Jesus’ right leg, refusing to let go! To make matters worse, when Mary saw John’s plan, she too, jumped up, and grabbed hold of Jesus’ other leg. His glorious exit ruined, Jesus looked up into heaven and called out, “Okay, Father . . . now what?”

A voice came out of the clouds, deep and loud like the rumbling of thunder in the distance. “Ascend!” the voice said.

So Jesus continued to rise through the air, dangling John and Mary behind him. Of course, the other disciples could not bear to be left behind either, so they too jumped on board, and within moments there was this pyramid of people hanging in mid-air. Then, before anyone really knew what to do next, all kinds of people were appearing out of nowhere – friends and neighbors from around Galilee, people who had heard Jesus’ stories, people whom he had healed, people whom he had fed. They, too, refused to be left behind, so they made a grab for the last pair of ankles they could see and hung on for dear life. Above all of this scuffling and scrambling the voice of God kept calling out, “Ascend!”

But then suddenly, from the bottom of the pyramid, there came the piping voice of a small child.

“Wait!” he shrilled, “I’ve lost my dog! Wait for me.” But Jesus couldn’t wait. The little boy wasn’t going to be left behind, and he was determined that his dog was coming with him. So, still holding on with one hand, he grabbed hold of a tree with the other, and held on with all his might. For a moment, the whole pyramid stopped dead in the air, but Jesus could not stop. The ascension had begun, and God was pulling Jesus back up to heaven.

It looked as if the tree would uproot itself, but then the tree held on, and it started to pull the ground up with it. The soil itself started moving up into the sky. And hundreds of miles away, where the soil met the oceans, the oceans held on. And where the oceans met the shores, the shores held on. All of it held on. As Jesus ascended into heaven, he pulled all of creation – everything that ever was, everything that is, everything that will ever be – Jesus pulled it into heaven with him.

This story, at least for me, expresses a deep and profound truth of Christian theology in a rather playful way. The vivid imagery of this campfire tale allows the fullness of our incarnational theology to come to life and be accessible in new ways.

In the Ascension, that miraculous event we hear about in today’s lesson from Acts, the incarnation cycle is complete.

The Word we heard proclaimed in the Prologue to John’s Gospel on Christmas Day;
the Word that was made flesh;
the Word that came into the world so that all who received him, who believed in his name, could become children of God;
the Word that God gave to humanity, out of love that is so profound it is indescribable, so that we might inherit eternal life;
has in fact redeemed us.

The ascension is so important to our salvation history because that “which is not assumed is not redeemed” to quote St. Gregory of Nazianzus.

Jesus takes the fullness of our humanity and ascends into heaven, thus elevating our sinful nature to the place it was intended to be from the beginning of creation. For when Jesus ascended into heaven, humanity became divine.

This is one of, if not the, most important tenants of our Christian theology and identity. St. Athanasius, whom many of you have heard me talk about before, is the Early Church theologian who first articulated this understanding of incarnation theology. Here is what Blessed Athanasius wrote:

He, indeed, assumed humanity that we might become God. He manifested Himself by means of a body in order that we might perceive the Mind of the unseen Father. He endured shame from men that we might inherit immortality. He Himself was unhurt by this, for He is impassable and incorruptible; but by His own impassability He kept and healed the suffering men on whose account He thus endured.

Not only does the divine become human so that the human can become divine, but Jesus takes on our humanity that we might be able to see and know God. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Through the Word becoming flesh, we can see the unseeable, we can touch the untouchable, we can know the unknowable. As we hear Jesus say in today’s Gospel lesson: “and this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

To know God,

to be in relationship with God,

to see, and hear, and touch God in the person of Jesus,

is to have eternal life.

Throughout the entirety of John’s Gospel, eternal life is not just something acquired in the end of days – it is not simply an eschatological reality.

For John, eternal life is available in the here and now.

Right here, on Hope Street, in this very place, we have within our grasp eternal life. In this place we come to encounter God.

We come to learn and know God through the person of Jesus.

As we grow together as a community, as people of faith, we come to know God, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom God has sent.

In those moments,

in that intimate relationship with God

we experience eternal life.

All of that is made possible, because God sent his Son into the world.

Because divinity took on humanity.

Because Jesus made God known to us in word, deed, and Sacrament.

Because Jesus died on the Cross, rose on the third day, appeared to his disciples for 40 days, and then ascended into heaven.

Because that which is assumed is in fact redeemed.

No wonder the disciples gazed with awe into heaven as they watched Jesus ascend.

As the disciples were gazing toward heaven, watching Jesus ascend, “suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?’”

Take a moment and imagine what it must have been like to be one of the disciples on that day.

You’ve just watched your teacher, your friend, your God rise into the clouds.

I do not know about you, but if I were there on that day and two random people asked me, “why do you stand looking up towards heaven?” I might have a rather sarcastic response.

While this dramatic encounter has inspired artists through the centuries, I find the end of the passage far more interesting and important:

When they entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers (Acts 1:13-14).

After witnessing the ascension the disciples, and the other followers of Jesus, went off and prayed together. This is the life of the disciples during this in-between period – during this time between the Ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. This is the formation of the first congregation in Jerusalem.

This group gathered in the room upstairs is our role model for what it means to be Church. Gathered in that room were real human beings, with names, identities, histories, and hopes – with fears, anxieties, and uncertainties.   They followed Jesus as far as they could; then they waited for the coming of the Spirit as Jesus promised.

We too are a community of real human beings, with names, identities, histories and hopes. We come with fears, anxieties, and uncertainties. We strive every day to follow Jesus as far as we can, and when we can go no further we wait for the Holy Spirit to inspire and strengthen us that we might continue to fulfill our call as followers of Jesus. As we wait for the Spirit to descend into our lives we gather and we pray.

That is the gift of this in-between time. We are given the space to pause.

To gather as a community, to pray together, that we might listen for the Spirit of God in our lives and in this community. Through this prayer and discernment we prepare to act when the time comes.

There will be time for us to act – to go out and turn the known world upside down. But, we do not need to rush to get there – the time is coming – Pentecost will be here before we know it. We can stop, and sometimes we should stop, to gather together and pray.

What we learn from the disciples, what we can trust from the promises of Jesus, is that waiting in anticipation is not a bad thing. We can trust that God will do something in our midst. God will work in and through us to achieve God’s purposes on earth. We can trust that the Church – that all of us who make up the hands and feet of Christ in the world – will be empowered by the spirit to work and witness for the kingdom of God.

But for now, in this in-between time, we gather as a community to devote ourselves to prayer and contemplation.

We come in this posture of anticipatory prayer that we might know God more fully.

We gather together so that we might experience eternal life now.



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Sermon: Maundy Thursday

Below is my sermon from Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday), preached at my sponsoring parish, The Church of the Redeemer.  The lessons can be found here.  The recording can be listened to below.  As always, comments and feedback welcome. 



Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.   

(Collect for Maundy Thursday, BCP 221)

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Sermon: Spy Wednesday

Below is my sermon from Spy Wednesday (Wednesday in Holy Week), preached at my sponsoring parish, The Church of the Redeemer.  The lessons can be found here.  The recording can be listed to below.  For this sermon, unlike most of the sermons I’ve preached lately, I went back to my practice of no manuscript and no notes.  As always, comments and feedback welcome. 


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Sermon: The Fifth Sunday in Lent

Below is my sermon from the First Sunday in Lent, preached at my sponsoring parish, The Church of the Redeemer.  The lessons can be found here.  The recording can be listed to below, or over on the parish website.  For this sermon, unlike most of the sermons I’ve preached lately, I went back to my practice of no manuscript and no notes.  As always, comments and feedback welcome. 


“Father Forgive”                                                                                                                                          Photo taken on 13 March 2017




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BDS Canterbury Tales: The Gift of Books

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love books. So today’s tour of the Canterbury Cathedral Library and Archives was right young alley. 

Today, among other things, we saw an original edition of Richard Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity; an original 1552 Book of Common Prayer; a slew of absolutely beautiful Bibles; and so much more. It was amazing to dye back in time to a period where books were beloved and treasured items. Not to mention the number of people involved in crafting these works of art. As we looked at a Book of Hours the librarian rattled off about a dozen people who were involved in the creating of an illuminated book, and that did not include people making the paper or binding the book.

This week I have been struck by the variety of stories books tell in a way I have not been before. It was as if this experience dug into my soul a bit deeper. Not only are there the stories of the text of a book, but there is also the stories the books tell over time. 

Take for example the book I have been reading this week. This week I set out to reread Thomas Merton’s Thoughts in Solitude. First, there is the beautiful theological and spiritual discourse Merton writes. Second, there is my story of the book itself. Whenever I bring a book somewhere to start reading, I pick up a bookmark from wherever I am. (I have a lot of Seven Stars book marks). More often than not, I leave that bookmark tucked in the book once I’ve finished reading. As I opened my copy of Thoughts in Solitude on Saturday (11 March 2017) a book mark fell out. It was a prayer card from Canterbury Cathedral from the last time I was here nearly six years ago. I haven’t thought about this book much over these last few years, and yet there is something about my story that connects this book with this place. I wonder if I’ll remember that the next time I travel to Canterbury? Finally, there is the story of the book before it got to me. I was given this book in June 2007 as a high school graduation gift. It was given to me by a priest in my diocese, who bought it when they were in seminary. All this tradition – all of these stories – in a single, falling apart, paperback. 

Today we saw the stories of history being told by the books on display. One of the books has a calendar of saints. Someone had very carefully taken a knife and slashed through the saint’s names. It was done so carefully that no other pages were damaged and the names were still legible. The librarian wondered with us about the story of this book. Maybe it was done during a more Protestant era, and the owner wanted to make a “good effort” to make the book less “Papist” while still being able to use it for worship. Maybe they were just hedging their bets knowing that the Protestant-Catholic pendulum would eventually swing the other way. It is a sorry that reveals something to us about religious life in England during the 16th century. 

These pages also tell another story. One name was cut out of the book, a simple slash would not do, the person had to be removed completely. It was the name for December 29 – Thomas Becket. Somewhere in this book’s history the decree of Henry VIII was carried out and thus the attempt to erase Becket from the history of this book. 

I find these stories fascinating. They are a window into the lives of the faithful throughout generations. While I knew all of these histories, today I really saw these histories. 

Tonight I give thanks for tradition, for stories, for books that invite us to step back in time and encounter the holy in New and unexpected ways. I wonder what stories you books will tell to a future generation?  


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BDS Canterbury Tales: The Gift of Adventure

Today was our free day – really free afternoon – of the pilgrimage. After morning prayer, Eucharist, breakfast, and a visit with the Canterbury Cathedral stone masons, several of us set off for adventures in London. 

When we arrive at the St. Pancras station, some headed off to museums, others to visit friends, some went off to the theatre, and I – along with one of my dearest friends – set off on a different adventure. We went on a journey of vestments and books. (Really are you surprised?) 

We effectively did a 10.5 miles loop around the city of London. We walked from the station to Wippells and Watts. We went to the Church House Book Stire. We treated ourselves to a gorgeous lunch at the Goose & Pig across from the Royal Courts of Justice; just a few blocks from where Kaytee got her masters. We rested in the steps of Trafalgar Square gazing out of the city bathed in the emerging light of the sunset. We visited a handful of second hand bookstore and poured over theological and liturgical treasures, poetry, rare first editions, and whatever other oddities we stumbled upon. We wandered the streets of Soho and settled in for a pint whilst discussing Triduum liturgies and ordination. 

The city was amazing as always. The conversation was rich, and the company was beautiful. Today I am thankful for the gift of adventures with a sweet and gentle soul. I am thankful for the gift of wandering and seeking out the delights of our peculiar world. 

One of the treasures I picked up today was a late 19th century (1897) book titled Lays of Iona and other poems by S. J. Stone. While flipping through the pages in the stone I was in the fence about getting it until I saw a poem titled, “A Hymn Candidates for Ordination.” This peom is a beautiful expression of what has been one of my biggest struggles through the ordination process. (The whole of the poem can be read in the pictures below or on page 262 of this website). 

O my LORD, most Holy, / Summonest Thou me, / Lowliest ‘mid the lowly, / As Thyself to be? / ‘Yea, because I call thee, / Take thy priestly place, / Front what may befall thee – / Hast thou not My grace? 

. . . 

FATHER, SON, and SPIRIT, / ‘Tis Thy call of grace, / Thine election’s merit / Seals to me my place: / Lowest ‘mid the lowly, / Yet I call Thee mine: / HOLY, HOLY, HOLY / Thine, and sent to Thine. Amen. 

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BDS Canterbury Tales: The Gift of Place 

. . . The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne / Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne . . . (Canterbury Tales, Lines 7-8) 

This place is breathtakingly beautiful.  Every time I walk out of the courtyard of the Lodge I am struck by the ever present beauty of the Cathedral. Today gave us the opportunity to learn a it more about this amazing site. 

Most of today’s program was filled with two tours: a stained glass tour and a general tour which leaned into the theological roots and dynamics of this place. I was struck in both of these tours of the deep history of this place. I was struck by the way history had contributed to the preservation and the distraction of this place. The architectural and artistic inspiration this plac has had in the world is inspiring. 

Today it was easy to imagine pilgrims through the generations coming and gazing upon this sacred space. I wondered how many pilgrims tried to pray with the same hammering house I heard throughout the cathedral today. I wondered how many people were moved to tears as they knelt before altars and shrines. I wondered how many people, like one of my tour guides, still hold anger and resentment towards “the Puritans” for destroying so much of the artistic beauty of this place.

Stepping into the Cathedral is at the same time stepping into the past and looking into the futur. This place, with all its history, is a real gift. Today I realized, in a deeper way, how important this place is to the heart of my own faith and Anglican tradition. It was a powerful and humbling experience. 

While on pilgrimage, I’ve been rereading Thomas Merton’s Thoughts in Solitude. As I sat in the Quire reading and praying before Evensong I came across these words: 

The bells say: we have spoken for centuries from the tower of great Churches. We have spoken to the saints your fathers, in their land. We called them, as we call you, to sanctity (68).  

This place has called unknown numbers if people to enter into a closet and more intimate relationship with God. This place has called me into a closet and more intimate relationship with God. Today I give thanks for the gift of this place, and the important reminder of caring for our heritage and tradition: that which has been I trusted to us so that we might pass it along to future generations. 

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BDS Canterbury Tales: The Gift of Friendship

. . . Whan Zephirus eek with his seewte breath / Inspired hath in every holt and heeth . . . (Canterbury Tales, Lines 5-6)

As I sit here at the end of another long and fabulous day, there is one primary thought on my mind: The Church is so lucky that the Berkeley Seniors are about to be unleashed on it. 

Today we took an excursion out of Canterbury to Coventry: particularly we went to Coventry Cathedral, the home of the Community of the Cross of Nails (CCN). This visit is an important part of the senior pilgrimage as Berkeley is a partner site of the CCN. Each and every Friday we pray the Litany of Reconciliation from this community as a sign of this relationship and partnership. 

We arrived in Coventry just in time to pray the Litany of Reconciliation – something they do every weekday at 12noon.  After the Litany it was off to a CCN presentation, which was followed by a tour of the Cathedral ruins and the new Cathedral. It was a powerful experience, particularly to stand in those ruins. It is remarkable to stand in front of the altar, to see the words “Father Forgive” carved into the East wall. It was powerful to recognize what a powerful, countercultural message of faith these words were when they were first written in the midst of war, and how powerful they remain today as our society is increasingly divided and torn by strife.  

After the tour a group of us found our way to a local pub to grab something to eat and, most importantly, to process and debrief what we had just experienced. We spoke passionately about our experiences and understandings of reconciliation. We thought critically and intentionally about the ministry of Coventry Cathedral – honoring its strengths and naming places where we disagreed with its message. The conversation continued on to look at our own Berkeley community – particularly our class with all its strengths and weaknesses. There was truth telling, difficult conversation, hurts were named, and apologies were offered.  From there we had a very spirited conversation about the use of gendered language in worship and the status and role of the US Episcopal Church in the Global Communion. 

The conversation was good, thoughtfully and intense. One classmate remarked how rare these conversations are, and wondered where the Church would be if more conversations like this happened. There are theee guiding principles of CCN: healing the wounds of history; learning to live with difference and celebrate diversity; and, building a culture of peace. In many ways it felt like our time at the pub this afternoon was a small embodiment of this work of reconciliation. 

This conversation gave me hope for the Church. Here was a fairly random cross section of our class – a group that does not normally spend time together – challenging and pushing one another. Speaking with great passion and care for the Church. This is a group that loves the Church, and is passionate, and articulate. Most importantly this groups wants to hold the Church accountable as faithful followers of Jesus. 

We made the lengthy trip back to Canterbury. A trip filled with conversations about alternative gender neutral trinitarian language and some belting out Whitney Houston. Upon arrival back in Canterbury, a group of us – another sort of random group – made our way out in the town. After a few pints at the oldest pub in Canterbury we found ourselves grabbing dinner at a highly recommended (rightly so) Indian restaurant. This dinner was an amazing experience of fellowship. We shared our stories, listening to one another with car and support. Most importantly, we laughed. We laughed a lot. 

This time of fellowship gives me hope for the Church. What an amazing gift to gather with folks I have not spent much time with in these last three years. To share stories and lift one another up. To be colleagues and friends.  The Church needs leaders who take what they do seriously but do not take themselves too seriously. The Church needs leaders who can laugh – and laugh at themselves. Boy did we laugh at ourselves tonight. In that laughter we strengthened relationships that will hopefully be sustaining to us as we transition out of seminary and into ordained life (God willing). 

As we walked the streets of Coventry and Canterbury I found myself filled with great hope and excitement for the Church. I cannot wait to see what amazing ministries my colleagues – my friends – are about to begin. I cannot wait to see how we will change the Church. 

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BDS Canterbury Tales: The Gift of Prayer

. . . and bathed every veyne in swich licour / of which vertu engendred is the four . . . (Canterbury Tales, lines 3-4) 

Today has been a day all about prayer. Now, yes, that is the whole point of a pilgrimage, but today I was in particular awe of the gift of prayer. 

Some of my experience of prayer is identical to that of my reflection on community. This place really is a community of prayer. Today we got to experience: morning prayer, sung Eucharist, evensong, and compline. It is a true gift to join with people from near and far to offer our prayers and praise to God. I have a sense that with each passing day I will experience more of the depth of prayer in this place. Today I was keenly aware of the thickness of prayer each and every time I stepped foot into the Quire. Throughout the day – as a result of this spiritual treasure trove – I became increasingly aware that something in my own spiritual life was being untangled. I was – and am – experiencing the important transformational aspect of Pilgrimage. 

In addition to joining in the corporate prayer life of the Cathedral, we got to experience three other profound moments of prayer. 

First, this afternoon we spent time at St. Augustine’s Abbey. A community established by Augustine of Canterbury as a contemporary with the Cathedral. Unlike the Cathedral, the Abbey is in ruins. There was something incredibly poignant about standing in the middle of rubble and looking virtually across to the street to see the Cathedral tower and the Cathedral bells rang through the silence. A remarkable happenstance of history.

The most powerful moment for me was one in which I was confronted by the realities of my vocation. To stand in front of an altar in ruins on the verge of ordination and to reflect on the countless faithful men (prior to women’s ordination) who celebrated the Sacrament at that altar was, and is, humbling and beyond words. It really puts into perspective that profound gift, honor, and privilege it is to be called to the priesthood. 

The second experience of note was our class reflection time. We have been granted permission to use All Saints’ Chapel. This is a beautiful – virtually secret – chapel. Up a narrow staircase, behind a “private” door we gathered to reflect and pray for one another. To be tucked away in an intimate setting was a tangible reminder about how important it is that we pray for each other. 

Finally, tonight after a delicious dinner at   the Deanery, the Dean took us on a candle lit tour of the Cathedral. As we walked the Dean spoke about the ethos of the Cathedral as a place of prayer for all Christians; and that we Anglicans are merely stewards of this great gift. We went from the West doors to the compass rose (currently covered due to renovations); to the Thomas Becket shrine then down to the crypt. We concluded by standing around Augustine’s throne and then moving one last time to circle around the candle which marks the spot of the original Becket shrine before it was destroyed by order of Henry VIII. Like so many things thus far, there are no words to describe what that moment was like – what the whole experience was like. All I can muster to say is, “wow.”

After telling us about the importance of the Cathedral as a space of protection and intimacy, I found the Dean’s closing prayer all the more powerful:

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifukky grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. 

In a day of profound prayer, I could not have thought of a more perfect prayer. May we all find life and leave through the Cross of Christ. 

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BDS Canterbury Tales: The Gift of Community

“Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote / The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote . . .” (Canterbury Tales, Lines 1-2) 

What a day, or should I say days! 

The Quire prior to the evening concert

We left New Haven at 4:30pm on Friday 10 March and arrived at the Canterbury Lodge at 1:15pm on Saturday 11 March. Since arrive on the Close our day has been very full. Lunch, time with the deal, Choral Evensong, dinner, and an evening concert. We certainly are making the most of it time here. 

Thus far, I have really been struck by community. The community here at Canterbury is amazing. There is a real sense that this is not just some ecclesiastical tourism destination – it is, first and foremost, a community of faith and it has been so for nearly 1000 years. It is amazing to listen to the Dean speak of the community here and how the daily schedule of worship is at the heart of everything they do. I find it truly remarkable to have a community so dedicated to maintaining the full and rich daily liturgical pattern of the Church. In some ways, it still feels like a monastic abbey. 

In addition to the present day community, there is also a powerful understanding of the community of all believes – past, present, and yet to come. As I entered the cathedral for evensong and took my place in the quire, I immediately felt the weight of prayer in this place. I was deeply moved by the rich tradition of Canterbury pilgrims that I am now apart of. No wonder I was moved to tears as the choir offer an absolutely beautiful time of prayer. Today was the perfect example of why I love evensong so much – even when it is choral evensong and not congregational evensong. What a gift to add m my own prayers to this well prayers place. 

I cannot write about the profoundness of community in this place without writing about my fellow pilgrims. There are 18 of us on this trip – 18 very different people. It is no secret that our class has not always been the most unified, but I cannot imagine being here without these 17 other people. The conversations and levels of sharing are already so deep – even on this first day. Tonight I learned things about my cohort I never had the opportunity to learn before. As our time together comes to an end, I am particularly thankful to spend this time together with my cohort. What an incredible gift. 

As a group of us walked back to the lodge tonight, we entered the courtyard and turned around to marvel at the beauty of the cathedral lit up in the hazy night sky. What a perfect end to this first day of pilgrimage. 

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