Beloved

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You are beloved.
Beloved
Do you know that?
Truly know it, deep down in the core of you?
Before you were born,
before your parents were born,
before any of your ancestors were born,
before the creation of the world,
you were beloved.
Before you were loved by your parents,
before any of your achievements were praised by teachers,
bosses,
family,
before your friends knew you and loved you,
you were beloved.
You were carefully crafted.
Your physical body,
your personality,
your talents and passions,
all were formed with the greatest and tenderest of care.
The world will try to tell you otherwise.
The world will lie and manipulate you, trying to make you believe that you are
how you look,
what you do,
the way you behave.
Don’t believe it.
You are beloved.
Before you did or were or acted,
you were beloved.
Find and remain with those who tell you the truth.
Hold on to those who remind you that
you are beloved.
And be grateful.
Thank God for choosing you.
Thank God for loving you.
Thank Him by believing that,
by trusting that,
by holding tightly with white knuckles to the idea that
you are beloved.

Art credit: Fairy Tales by Jessie Willcox Smith

Your Kingdom Come

I’ve been working my way through a new book by N. T. Wright called The Day the Revolution Began, and I have a lot to tell you. This is the final post containing some of what I have learned. You can read the first post here, the second post here, and the third post here. I hope you gain as much as I have.

 

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

If what we need is a new Exodus, as I wrote last week, if we need a forgiveness of Sin (the worship of anything other than the Creator God) to return us from exile, to return us to our true purpose of being a royal priesthood, and if God accomplished this through the cross, how did He do this?
What happened on that Friday afternoon?
The Cross
The power of Sin was centered within the person of Jesus.
Throughout history, God had been focusing the powers of Sin and darkness, drawing all of Sin’s power towards one place, one person.
He did this in Israel through the law. This is partly what Paul means when he writes to the Galatians of the law being added because of transgressions, of the law bringing the curse to the people.
Then Jesus came. Israel’s Messiah. The true Adam. The true Israel.
God in the person of Israel’s Messiah came at a specific moment to a specific place, drawing all the powers of Sin and darkness to Himself.
drawing the power of Sin
The power of the political authorities, the power of the religious authorities, all power was focused on one man on a cross. The King of the Jews.
And all earthly powers were killed.
But the man? The King?
For Him, Sunday was a new day.
Sunday is a new day
Yet when we look at what Jesus Himself said about His purpose, we see a lot of talk about the coming of the Kingdom of God.
The coming of the Kingdom of God. What would that have meant to first century Israel?
According to N.T. Wright, it would have meant three main things:
~ The restoration of true worship, God’s Presence coming to dwell with His people, enabling them to worship Him fully.
~ The worldwide rule of Israel’s God (perhaps, from Old Testament prophecies, through the agency of the Messiah), bringing a new reign of justice and peace.
~ The hope of Israel to be rescued from pagan rule, set free from the dominion of pagan overlords.
restoration of worship
The Kingdom of God, the place where God rules, coming to earth. God’s space coming into our space.
This is, after all, what Jesus taught us to pray: Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
God's kingdom come
What happens after the crucifixion, after the resurrection? We see the coming together of heaven and earth in the person of Jesus.
Jesus, the risen man, is taken up into heaven, “thereby joining together in his own person the two spheres of God’s good creation.” Earth in the human body of Jesus is now fully and completely at home in heaven.
We also see the coming together of heaven and earth in the opposite direction within every follower of Jesus in Acts 2 when the Spirit comes upon the disciples.
“This is one of the New Testament equivalents of the filling of the tabernacle with the cloud and fire or of Solomon’s Temple with the glorious divine Presence…Jesus himself and his Spirit-filled people constitute the new Temple, the start of the new world.”
This is exactly what we see in the book of Acts, the story of the beginning of the new creation, the coming of God’s kingdom fulfilling just what Israel could have expected:
new creation
~ We see a new people living in a new pattern of life and worship, the restoration of true worship in the presence of God.
~ We see the forgiveness of sins as a real event and the whole world being called to order in the name of Jesus, the worldwide rule of God. For example, in Acts 12, Herod attacks the church and arrests Peter, but Peter is miraculously released by angels, At the end of the chapter, Herod dies “but God’s word grew and multiplied”.
~ We see Israel and, through Israel-in-person, the nations set free from death and therefore set free from the ultimate weapon of every tyrant, the hope of Israel to be rescued from pagan rule. When Christ was raised from the dead, all of His people were “set free from the ultimate exile imposed by every Babylon.”
We see the Kingdom of God beginning a kingdom rule here on earth, just as it is in heaven.
This is what happened on the cross.
killing off death
Heaven and earth becoming one. God’s people reclaiming their vocation as a royal priesthood, reflecting the worship of creation to the Creator and reflecting the wise rule of the Creator into the world. God’s creation being restored through the work of His redeemed people.
God’s covenant faithfulness is proved true.
God's rescue
He has returned and has rescued His people.
The new Exodus is here.
All glory and honor and power and praise be to our God who did not give up or prove unfaithful even when we did.

Art credits: The Three Crosses by Rembrandt; Jesus Scourged by Marillier; The Pillar of Fire by Paul Hardy; all other photographs copyright 2018 by Made Sacred

All quotes are from The Day the Revolution Began by N. T. Wright

Links are Amazon affiliate links which allows purchases made by you to help support this blog at no extra cost to you.

A New Exodus

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I’ve been working my way through a new book by N. T. Wright called The Day the Revolution Began, and I have a lot to tell you. This is the third post containing some of what I have learned. You can read the first post here and the second post here. I hope you gain as much as I have.
I wrote last week about exile being the natural consequence of Sin (which is the worship of idols rather than of the true God).
Sacrifice
According to the Old Testament, Israel had been in a continual exile ever since the Babylonian destruction.
Even when the remnant returned from Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem, they remained in exile from the presence of God.
The prophets all said the exile was because of the sins of Israel. The prophets all longed for Israel to receive forgiveness of sins so that  Israel could receive a new Exodus.
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There was a reason Jesus chose Passover out of all the Jewish holidays during which He would enact His final drama.
Nothing He did was by accident.
One of the main ideas in Paul’s Letter to the Romans is that God remained faithful to His covenant with Abraham, even when Israel did not hold up their end of things.
God had promised Abraham a worldwide family, a family that would be cleansed and pure.
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God meant for Israel to be the light of the world, the way in which God dealt with idolatry, yet faced with Israel’s own idolatry, God’s covenantal faithfulness required Him to allow Israel to face her consequences, yet that same faithfulness meant a restoration, a new Exodus, a liberation from oppressive powers.
This Exodus required a forgiveness of sins in order to restore not only Israel, not only all the nations, but all of creation as well.
There must be a return to the worship of the true God in order for us humans to return to our vocation of being a royal priesthood, reflecting the worship of creation to the Creator and reflecting the wise rule of the Creator into the world.
Yet how could this new Exodus happen?
Through the cross.
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The overwhelming historical impression from the gospels as a whole is of a human being doing what Israel’s God had said he would do…The new Passover happened because the pillar of cloud and fire – though now in a strange and haunting form, the likeness of a battered and crushed human being – had come back to deliver the people.

Art credits: Bible primer by Adolf Hult; The Last Supper from So-called Hours of Philip the Fair; candle photo copyright 2018 by Made Sacred; The Pillar of Fire by Paul Hardy

All quotes are from The Day the Revolution Began by N. T. Wright

Links are Amazon affiliate links which allows purchases made by you to help support this blog at no extra cost to you.

Our Rescue is from Sin not from an Angry God

I’ve been working my way through a new book by N. T. Wright called The Day the Revolution Began, and I have a lot to tell you. This is the second post containing some of what I have learned. You can read the first post here. I hope you gain as much as I have.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

Sin is, as I asserted last week, not simply the breaking of God’s laws, but it is the worship of created things rather than the Creator. Sin is the turning over of our God-given power to those created things.
The cross is the rescue of God’s people, but not from His own wrath. Jesus’s death is not a man throwing Himself between an angry, righteous God and His people.
There is no wrathful God demanding blood.
angry God
Looking back at the Old Testament sacrificial system, the death of the animal was not the point. The actual killing of the animal was not even done on the altar as it was in most pagan religions in that day. The cutting of the animal’s throat was only the way to release the life of the animal, its blood, which was then used to cleanse the worshipers and the sacred place in which God was to meet them.
The coming together of heaven and earth is a dangerous occurrence. This cleansing by blood enabled “the all-holy God to meet with his people without disastrous results.”
Sacrifice is about blood
This meeting happened on the mercy seat.
The same word used to describe Jesus in Romans 3.
The place where God meets with His people who are covered by blood.
Back to the idea of death being a punishment dealt by a just and angry God, the only time a ceremony under the Old Testament system involves an animal having sins confessed over its head, the “scapegoat” is explicitly not killed, but is driven out into the wilderness.
It is exiled.
Which is precisely the result of Sin.
Sin brings exile
From Adam and Eve being exiled from the garden to Israel being exiled to Babylon to the ultimate exile of death, exile from the presence of God is the natural consequence of worshiping the created thing rather than the Creator.
The natural consequence, not the angry punishment.
We need a rescue, yes, but not from the wrath of God. We need a rescue from our own exile.
We need, in short, an Exodus.
In Jesus, on the cross, we find not a wrathful God demanding blood, but a covenantal God taking the force of sin on Himself.

Art credits: Creation of the Sun and Moon by Michelangelo; Bible primer by Adolf Hult; Adam and Eve by Charles Foster

All quotes are from The Day the Revolution Began by N. T. Wright

Links are Amazon affiliate links which allows purchases made by you to help support this blog at no extra cost to you.

What if Sin is Not the Problem?

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

 

I’ve been working my way through a new book by N. T. Wright called The Day the Revolution Began, and I have a lot to tell you. This is just the first post containing some of what I have learned. I hope you gain as much as I have.

 

The word sin gets tossed around a lot these days.

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Yelled at by Mommy

Either we don’t put enough emphasis on sin and everyone is heading straight to hell, or we put too much emphasis on sin and everyone needs to offer a lot more grace to everyone else.
What if sin is not really the problem?
Of course there is plenty of moral misconduct happening all around us, ample wrongdoing both surrounding and within us, but what if that is just a symptom rather than the disease itself?

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We were created to be a royal priesthood, to reflect the worship of creation to the Creator and to reflect the wise rule of the Creator into the world.
We were, in short, created to worship God.
“Human beings, worshiping their Creator, were thus the intended key to the proper flourishing of the world.”
Yet we have all failed in this mission, this vocation.
When we worship anything other than the one true God, the trouble is not simply that we do bad things, although this certainly is what also happens, but that we hand over to whatever created thing we are worshiping the power that was given to us.

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We have turned over our ruling power to the very things we were meant to rule. This is the underlying disobedience we have committed: a failure to worship the Creator.
When we worship God, when we gaze “with delight, gratitude, and love at the creator God”, we are formed by our worship into wise stewards through whom God’s beautiful love is sent into the world.
This is how it was meant to be.
The cross, rather than only dealing with our individual sin symptoms (which it certainly also does), deals with the prior disease of our failure to worship.
If we reduce the cross to the divine answer to our problem with doing wrong things, we will miss the deep heart of it all.
If sin is only the breaking of God’s rules and death is only the severe penalty dealt out by a just God, it appears that the cross is Jesus inserting Himself in between God’s wrath and us.

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If sin is, however, the turning away from God’s intended role for the human race, then it is a choice to worship creation rather than the Creator. And death, then, is the natural consequence of that choice.
“Choosing to worship the creature rather than the Creator is the choice of death over life…deep down there is nothing arbitrary about sin or death. Choose the one and you choose the other…Obey the serpent’s voice, and you will forfeit the right to the Tree of life. You can’t have it both ways.”
Death is not the punishment of an angry God, it is the natural consequence of turning over our God-given power to the created things. It is the natural consequence of Sin.
For mankind to flourish, for creation itself to be as it was created to be, sin (as the choice to worship creation) must be dealt with.
“The purpose of the cross is to take us back, from where we presently are, to that intended goal” of being a royal priesthood.
The redemption and the restoration of the world comes back to a restoration of man’s vocation of being a royal priesthood.
To the restoration of man’s vocation of worship.
It all comes back to worship.

All quotes are from The Day the Revolution Began by N. T. Wright

Links are Amazon affiliate links which allows purchases made by you to help support this blog at no extra cost to you.

The Role of the Spirit Within the Trinity

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I have always been a little hazy about the Holy Spirit, a little unclear about His role in the Trinity.
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Don’t misunderstand; I’m certainly not claiming to have obtained clear and certain understanding of the role of the Father or the Son. I simply am more unsure about the Spirit.
I grew up in a faith tradition in which the Holy Spirit was only mentioned in soft tones while the Father and the Son were proclaimed from the pulpit. Literally.
Yet I hunger for more. If the Spirit is the One who changes me to look like Jesus, I want to know Him more.
I recently read a book for a class that imparted more illumination of the Spirit than I had received during most of my growing up years put together.
Horton Holy Spirit
The book is Rediscovering the Holy Spirit by Michael Horton. I highly recommend it to anyone who desires to know the Spirit more.
This particular post will not be very long; I only wanted to share with you one piece of the knowledge I have gained.
The Trinity works as a whole in every act throughout history (and outside of history), yet each has a different role.
We encounter the Father as the origin of creation, redemption, and consummation, the Son as the mediator, and the Spirit as the one who brings every work to completion. ~ Horton
Take creation, for example. The Father spoke and creation began. All things were created through the Son. The Father breathed His Spirit into creation to complete it.
Or take redemption. The Father sent His Son. We are redeemed through the blood of the Son on the cross. God’s redemptive work is made complete when His Spirit comes to dwell in us.
The oneness and the individuality of the Trinity are beautiful.
Ponder the mystery of it all
and worship our God in awe and wonder.

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Art credits: Dove of the Holy Spirit by Bernini; Pentecost by Fidelis Schabet

The Givenness of Creation

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Creation is given.Planet Earth
It is made, created ex nihilo (out of nothing), yes, but it is also given.
In all of its beauty, in all of its glory, in all of its uncertainty, in all of its pain,
it is given.
beauty
The givenness of this creation is important.
The air we breathe, the spaces through which we move, the thoughts and emotions in which we dwell,
all of it is a gift.
Even our bodies.
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Many of us are adept at seeing the gift of a sunset or a mountain range.
We are not so accomplished at acknowledging the givenness of our bodies.
Our world tells us that if we are not strong enough, thin enough, white enough, then we are not  enough.
And we believe it.
loveliness
We throw this gift of God back into His lap and tell Him that it is not enough.
We take the variety, creativity, artistry of God and diminish it by believing that it is not enough.
creativity
You who were always told that you were too weak
You who were always told that you were too fat
You who were always told that you were too dark, too other
God created you with the same brilliance as He did the stars.
created
He longs for you to love and care for this body He gave you as much as He longs for you to love and care for the piece of earth on which He placed you.
He desires for you to appreciate the beauty of it as much as you appreciate the beauty of a forest.
gift
Your body is just as given.
More so, perhaps, because no one else was given your exceptional body.
Only you.
It is a gift from the same Artist who crafted the rivers.
given
When you find yourself listening to the world and feeling that you are not enough,
ask God to remind you of the givenness of your body.
It is a gift.

Art credits: Earth and super nova photographs from NASA; mountain and river photographs from Kirk Sewell; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2018

God’s Answer to Our Why

I lost my Gram this week unexpectedly. In the wake of her death and in the middle of so much suffering around the world, I offer this post from the archives. May it breathe a little hope and peace into your heart today.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

Why?
It is a cry that explodes from a pain-filled heart. It is a cry that whimpers from a lonely soul.
It is a cry that propels its way out of all who hurt in one way or another.
Why did my twenty-six year old sister-in-law have to die in such a horrible way?
Kristina
Why did my Papa labor in pain to leave this earth on the very same day that I labored in pain to bear my daughter into it?
Papa
Why do my friends suffer illness and miscarriage and even death while we still are young?
Stephanie
Why?
And yet I have to wonder: what would we get if we got an answer to our questions of why?
Would we gain satisfaction? Would it really change anything if God sat down in front of us and explained everything to our face?
We would still have to face the empty chairs. We would still be faced with the memories of pain.
Job asked why. He didn’t just ask, he demanded the chance to ask God why. He shouted for the opportunity to plead his case before God.
And God came.
He came not with reasons but with glory.
God didn’t reveal His ultimate plan, He revealed Himself.
God didn’t show the reasons for what happened, He showed His face.
And Job?
Even covered with sores and ashes, he looks oddly like a man who has asked for a crust and been given the whole loaf. ~ Frederick Buechner
In answer to all of our questions, may God be gracious enough to give us Himself.

What I Know

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This week I’m dusting off an old essay I wrote after my brother’s wife, Kristina, died of breast cancer just after watching her firstborn celebrate his first birthday. I’ve been thinking a lot about her lately, probably because a woman with whom I used to sing is fighting the same thing. She is a mother of several young children and is watching the cancer spread rapidly all through her body. What do we do with circumstances such as these? Well, I don’t know much, and often there is nothing that we can say, but my thoughts from seven years ago haven’t changed much. I haven’t posted this since 2013, so here you go. Peace.
Through this long struggle, through one piece of bad news after another, through the next days and months and years of memories, where is God?
When all pleas seem to go unanswered, when even let the end be peaceful is ignored, what are we to think?
What do I really believe about God in all of this?
The Word of Life
God’s Words tell us clearly that there is pain, there is heartbreak in this world.  We should not be surprised.
More often than not, God chooses not to save His people, chooses not to spare them sorrow and hardship.  Hebrews 11 gives a long list of those who were killed or lost ones they loved, Jesus’ closest friends died martyr’s deaths, even His earthly father died without His intervention.
I have pondered long and hard this question of what I believe about God in the midst of “it wasn’t supposed to be like this”.  Here is my conclusion.
Ocean Waves
I know my God, His character, well enough to trust Him when I don’t understand, when I cannot see in the darkness.  I know, from what He has said about Himself and from what I have seen, that He is always good and always love.  I know that, if we only knew the reasons, we would adore Him for what He does.
God promises that we will have trouble in this world.  He also promises that if we are grateful to Him He will give us peace.  He doesn’t promise that He will take the pain away but that we will be at peace, that we will have joy.
Isn’t that a much bigger promise?
No matter what, God is still God.
Will I only praise and thank Him when He does what I like?  Will I only accept from Him what I deem to be good?
When I deeply think through the idea of declaring my circumstance to be bad, it seems incredibly arrogant.
How can I think that I know better than God what is good?  How am I more capable of naming something to be good than the One who is good?
Will I trust that God has a beautiful, amazing plan only when I can see the beauty of it?  Either God is God, and capable of having plans and reasons that I cannot comprehend, or He isn’t God, and I am silly for blaming a myth. There is not really any in-between place for the things with which I do not agree.
…if I go to Jesus, he’s not under my control either.  He lets things happen that I don’t understand. He doesn’t do things according to my plan, or in a way that makes sense to me.  But if Jesus is God, then he’s got to be great enough to have some reasons to let you go through things you can’t understand.  His power is unbounded, but so are his wisdom and love…He can love somebody and still let bad things happen to them, because he is God–because he knows better than they do.  If you have a God great enough and powerful enough to be mad at because he doesn’t stop your suffering, you also have a God who’s great enough and powerful enough to have reasons that you can’t understand.
King’s Cross by Timothy Keller
God is God, and since he is God, he is worthy of my worship and my service.  I will find rest nowhere else but in his will, and that will is necessarily infinitely, immeasurable, unspeakable beyond my largest notions of what he is up to. ~ Elisabeth Elliot
Aslan
can trust God, trust in His nature.
Of course he’s not safe.  Who said anything about being safe?  But he’s good.  He’s the king. ~ Mr. Beaver as told to C.S. Lewis in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
 Fiery Furnace
When faced with the fiery furnace, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego told King Nebuchadnezzar that
If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. ~ Daniel 3
When Job lost all of his children and all that he owned and was himself in great physical pain, he declared
Though he slay me, yet will I hope in Him. ~ Job 13.15
No matter what, I will praise God and offer Him my gratitude, my sacrifice of praise.
God tells us over and over in His word that He has a beautiful plan for humanity and creation as a whole.
And that he has a beautiful plan for each of our lives.
Sometimes I doubt this promise, this truth.
And then I look at Jesus, at His cross.
Bearing the Cross
I’ve been clinging to Romans 8.32 through all of this:
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
If God ever had to prove Himself, prove His love for us, prove that He is taking care of us, He has more than proved it all through the cross.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about Hezekiah.  In II Kings 20, he pleaded with God to “change his story”, to give him more life when God had told him (through Isaiah) that he was going to die.  God did change His mind that time, gave him fifteen more years of life.  And in that fifteen extra years, Hezekiah’s son Manasseh was born.  This son that wouldn’t have been born if Hezekiah hadn’t asked God to change the ending of his story ended up as king and “lead (Israel) astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites”. ~ II Kings 21.9
Our desired story ending versus God’s desired story ending.
Perhaps, just perhaps, God really does know best.  Perhaps He does know which story will bring about a beautiful, redeemed, transfigured people.
Light Shines Through
When through the deep waters I call you to go,
The rivers of woe shall not overflow;
For I will be with you, your troubles to bless,
And sanctify to you your deepest distress.
The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.
~ How Firm a Foundation, att. John Keith, 1787 (modernized)

credit for images: Lion photo, painting by Simeon SolomonCross photo

Momentary Peace

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I have recently been made aware of profound hurt in several people I know.
Current friends and old friends; my heart is aching deep.
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It’s a rough and troubled world we have, and at times the fight for peace and joy seems far out of reach.
The reconciliation between the love of the God Who came down and the hurt of the people for whom He died appears more like an intellectual exercise than a truth that sinks into the heart.
Then, if you keep your eyes open, something happens.
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Often it is a small something.
A ray of sunshine across the floor, making the wood glow with an inner light.
A robin comes close and looks you straight in the eye.
A neighbor brings over a plate of cookies, straight from the oven.
This God of ours is certainly capable of the big, the powerful, the miraculous.
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Yet often He shows up in the small, the ordinary, the whisper.
You can explain it away if you wish.
Or you can let it settle into your depths.
When you keep your eyes open, when you watch for the now rather than looking to the future or the past, God’s promised joy can slip in quietly,
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His assured peace can sustain moment by moment.
And perhaps that’s all we really need.
Peace and joy for this moment.

Art credit: all photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2018