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PostPosted: Tue Nov 01, 2011 2:55 pm 
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Lali Beag Bídeach
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Here's the rough draft of my thoughts on the quote below:


Where a people prays, there is the church, and where the church is, there is never loneliness! ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I read that quote the other night, and it's been rattling around in my brain ever since--to the point that I dreamt about it last night and it woke me up early this morning (no small feat, by the way).

Why is the quote bothering me so much? It's because I'm not sure I think it's true, and that is a depressing thought. So let me attempt to analyze this.

If the qualifying factor is prayer, then that may change my initial reaction to the quote, which was instant disbelief. I do think that when people are participating in prayer there is a unity and a communion that precludes loneliness for all of those genuinely engaged in that prayer time. And, personally, that authentic connection to others can sustain me through lonely times and keep me involved in a local church when I would otherwise feel little other reason to do so.

I mean, to be honest here, some of my loneliest moments happen at church and with my church family. (And I'm not just talking about my current church; I'm really talking about every church I've belonged to.) I'm also not just talking about those times when you get excluded from activities that others have been invited to. Or the really infuriating times when your children get excluded from activities. To give the benefit of the doubt, I try to assume that those exclusions were done thoughtlessly and not purposely. (Besides, maybe there were times that I unintentionally left people out of things.) In any case, being left out can absolutely add to the sense of loneliness you may already feel from time to time in your congregation.

But I'm also talking about the general sense of isolation. Maybe you feel that everyone else in the church is on board with something--a particular worldview, a theological belief, or a political ideology--yet, you just don't agree with it. Perhaps you speak up, and perhaps you feel the backlash from that. (On the flip side, you may also get a few people who come to you quietly to say that they agree with you, but they just don't want to rock the boat.)

Maybe you see people who seem to have very close friendships, and that stings because you don't. (In my case, I chose that sting purposefully. A slight ache is infinitely better than a gaping wound caused by a broken or failed friendship. Five times in a row. It was more than enough.)

On a side note, perhaps it's a matter of God calling you to find your deepest friendship in Him, and that loneliness is intended to point you in His direction. (I say "you," but I really mean "me." Well, I mean you, too, obviously.)

But back to Bonhoeffer's quote. "Where a people prays, there is the church..." I think that part of the quote is true but not all-encompassing. Church also means the community of believers that you worship with and are connected with on a regular basis. It also means the larger community of believers around the globe.

So I reiterate: Genuine participation in prayer precludes loneliness. There is something about participation in prayer that does bind us together. It does not, however, mean that loneliness cannot or will not happen within a church, mostly because of the larger definition of church.

I guess it's fitting that I'm grappling with this idea on All Saints' Day and on the eve of All Souls' Day. We shouldn't feel lonely, but we do. Or I do, at least, from time to time. We are surrounded by "so great a cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1) that we shouldn't feel alone.

And I suppose at the end of it the key is prayer. If I keep myself focused on God through prayer then maybe I won't be bothered by the times of loneliness and exclusion I experience in church. Also, as always, an attitude of gratitude is my safeguard from sliding into self-pity. I do have close friendships. I do have a wonderful family. We are healthy, we are safe, and we are extremely wealthy by the world's standards. I have every reason to be content.

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 01, 2011 3:37 pm 
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 01, 2011 6:15 pm 
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Awwwww! :( This is depressing! I've always attributed my minor "loneliness" to .... you know.... being a hermit. ;) And therefore my choice. But I always thought, there, in the back of my mind... I *could* join a church for the company. If I was really desperate for more human contact than I get.

That's what I thought church was for. A meeting place and time for people to get together and make a community.

And if you, a serious churchgoer, aren't getting what you want out of the experience..... well, there's almost no chance I would like it.

So, there's my back-up plan all shot to pieces. No easy fix later on if I start needing more interaction than I get. If attending a church doesn't automatically make one feel included and like they belong- I'll just have to join some other organization that actually interests me.

*sigh*

For now, though, work, online communities and family connections are enough for me. But one of these days, I'm going to have to grit my teeth and go to a meeting of the Weavers and Spinners Guild of Columbia, MO. Or perhaps the women's veterans organization my co-worker told me about this week.

Since, you see, religious organizations are no better than the rest of humanity....


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 01, 2011 6:41 pm 
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Of course they aren't; we're all human.

Not all churches are happy communities full of happy members 100% of the time. Neither are families, workplaces, clubs, schools, any human group.

(The following is written from my perspective as a Christian and is based my experience in Christian churches, so I'm not dismissing people of other beliefs and backgrounds; I'm just talking about a specific group of people with a particular belief system. Everyone's mileage, even within Christianity, may vary a lot.)

To the extent a church works, it's because it's a community of believers who have decided their common belief is more important than any differences between them. To me that's a richness churches can offer that a lot of other groups can't. I can work with and get to know people who have no other commonality with me—in age, occupation, political philosophy, cultural background, income level, education. . . .

But this is also a potential weakness of a church. As a place to go hang with like-minded friends, it's going to be weaker than a group that formed because like-minded people who liked each other decided to spend time together. The social aspects are not the point. They can be wonderful, but they're side effects.

Maybe that's what Bonhoeffer was getting at—the church as a community beyond human community, which always has weaknesses and always sooner or later disappoints. But God doesn't disappoint; God is always there loving us. We may not always feel that, but it's always true. Prayer is as close as we can come to focusing directly on God, directly on that fact. When we're successful (and in community is when we're most likely to be successful), other things fall away. Ideally. :P

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― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 01, 2011 7:01 pm 
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Perhaps the key here is "When A PEOPLE pray...". Sadly, most churches are not filled with one people, but many separate groups of people. I used to be part of a church, then fell away. Then each time I tried to come back, I was a people of one. I would sit in the back and cry silently through the whole mass, knowing I was no longer a true believer, and therefore was not, and could never again be, part of the people in front of me. I've gotten over that, and can go into a church dry-eyed now, but it is no longer a refuge for me.

:hug:

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 01, 2011 9:27 pm 
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:hug:

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“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 01, 2011 9:58 pm 
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Having never belonged to a church, and only been dragged to 3 or 4 services in my life, I had this strange idea that everyone there was really trying hard to be *good*. That was the impression that always stuck with child-me. I've always had that sort of idealized impression in my mind- that churches were filled with people being nice to each other.

And so, even though I could never *believe* (I think you have to have a god belief instilled as a child for it to work) I had it in the back of my mind that nice people went to churches and were nice to each other there. And welcomed newcomers and were *nice* to them, too.

Hearing Lali talk about her church woes should have broken this image, but it took hearing about her being lonely in a crowd for it to really sink in:

Church-goers are people too. With all the flaws that all the rest of us have. In fact, it's starting to sound like high school. *shudder*

One of the illusions of my childhood is shattered. My grandma wasn't probably the calm, dignified, beloved church member she appeared to be. She probably had people in her church she loathed and others who couldn't stand her. They probably had genteel quarrels and cliques and ... and...

:shock:
My grandma was human! :shock:
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 01, 2011 10:39 pm 
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Maria wrote:
My grandma was human! :shock:



I'd be more worried if she wasn't. :D

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 02, 2011 2:26 am 
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Lali Beag Bídeach
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Well, I feel terrible that I've shattered your image of church. And I feel terrible for whining and complaining as much as I do. Church has just been hard for me over the past few years. You really shouldn't judge it as a whole by me. For that matter, you shouldn't judge it as a whole by any one person. Since we are all human, with our quirks, sins, emotions, fears, and insecurities, we are a often a poor image of what the church should be.

We actually do try to be good and kind. You would be welcomed if you came to our church. You'd find an overall warm, welcoming place with people genuinely desiring for you to "fit in" and find peace, joy, God, etc.

But--and I may be wrong in this belief--I think everyone battles loneliness from time to time. And people really do "live lives of quiet desperation," to quote Thoreau. Finding out the source of that desperation and working to overcome it is part of life.

And church does form a community. In fact, it really forms a family, and, like any family, there are issues. <shrug>

narya, :hug:

Prim, thank you for weighing in with your wise words. It helps.

Love you, yovi! :love:

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 02, 2011 5:35 am 
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Lali, I found this to be a very powerful and interesting read. I'm not sure I can add very many relevant thoughts, though. I will say that I have found religious gatherings to be most meaningful when I really feel included in a "we" that believes that things are to be done a particular way - e.g., when I first embraced Judaism and its many prescriptive dictates and felt most powerfully caught up in the ritual surrounding the holidays, or when I felt part of a Catholic "we" welcoming our new converts after their baptism at Easter Vigil. Now, I feel that sense of religious belonging most when I am in a gathering of progressive Jews who connect their sense of social justice to their religion, and I realize that I see things as they do. And it's still an imperfect sense of belonging because I am not one of them by birth or conversion.

I have not gone to synagogue as much lately because, as I accept my agnostic views are seemingly not changing or lessening, there is a profound sense of loneliness at being within a religious community and feeling unmoved by belief in the central things that move them.

Ki anu amecha, v'atah malkeinu - "For we are your people, and you are our God" - said on the High Holy Days. I remember when those words filled me with such a powerful sense of belonging and pride and membership and togetherness - to feel part of a people who, often in the middle of a workday as the world spun on around them, gathered to affirm their relationship with their divinity. To be within the group davening those lines, and yet not to feel that thrill of belief and belonging anymore, leads to a profound sense of nostalgia and ... if not aloneness, "apartness."

But these thoughts are not really on all fours with your post, which I think is more of an exploration of how churches and places of worship can feel lonely even for believers who share most of their tenets of faith with their congregations.

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When, when the fire's at my feet again
And the vultures all start circling
They're whispering, "You're out of time,"
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 02, 2011 5:45 am 
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I think there can be an expectation gap with churches . . . we are all of the same faith, we should be close in other ways too. When it just doesn't (necessarily) follow. And when human failings and sorrows and loneliness can't be excluded by being within a particular group, or a particular building.

I don't know. I think we all do the best we can. I don't think a church is a bad place to be, even if it's not the perfect place to be. (Not addressing this to you, Lali—you know this!) But there's something . . . valuable about a place where people are supposed to accept and love each other while acknowledging their own imperfections and forgiving those of others. Whether or not this expectation is met, it's there, and there are very few other places in life where it is.

In good, loving families. But those aren't a given anywhere.

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“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 02, 2011 5:47 am 
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I agree fully, Prim - and that's something I've noticed in terms of improvement in my own behavior and others', whenever I've been at religious services (or going to and from them).

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I won't just survive
Oh, you will see me thrive
Can't write my story
I'm beyond the archetype
I won't just conform
No matter how you shake my core
'Cause my roots, they run deep, oh

When, when the fire's at my feet again
And the vultures all start circling
They're whispering, "You're out of time,"
But still I rise
This is no mistake, no accident
When you think the final nail is in, think again
Don't be surprised, I will still rise


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 02, 2011 6:31 am 
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I think there is a loneliness that is part of being human, that springs from our separation from one another and from God. Some part of ourselves can't stop longing for this perfect communion that simply isn't possible when you're dealing with annoying, flawed human beings who actually think THEY are right. :rage:

We can taste it in close friendships, in a good marriage, in groups that pull together toward a common goal, and yes, in prayer with other believers (or struggling-to-believe-ers). But we never experience it fully, so we're left with an emptiness, a loneliness that pushes its way into our awareness. No person or group can reflect back at us who we truly and fully are, so we are always to some extent separate, individual, alone.

Praying together, especially prayer that is rooted in silence, is powerful because we are not looking to one another to fill our emptiness. Instead we accept our own emptiness and look outward, to God. Painful loneliness is transformed into a sacred and healing solitude that leaves space for true communion with one another as well as the divine. As Henri Nouwen wrote, "In solitude we realize that nothing human is alien to us.”

Churches can be life-giving places of welcome where lonely people find purpose and joy in their discovery that nothing human is alien and no stranger is an outcast. This discovery can propel them into the world with a passion to make life better for society's rejects. Churches can also be places where bitter people play power games, build walls and shatter souls. If you go to a church, you'll soon know which sort it is.

Lali, I understand your loneliness at church. I've felt that way lately, too, not because I have any quarrel with my church or anybody there but simply because my weird work hours mean I can't be as involved as I once was. And it's hard because that is where I expect to feel at home -- connected, not cut off. But when I pray, even in solitude in my room, I feel those frayed, torn lifelines between us reweave into something strong. I feel the ties that lead to friends and family, to co-workers and church members, to those I love who are no longer here and to people who seem impossible to love. Prayer pulls the scattered threads together into a whole.

I hope this almost makes sense. It's hard to describe, and I'm tired.

:hug:

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 02, 2011 1:43 pm 
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Where a people prays, there is the church, and where the church is, there is never loneliness! ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

That quote really sticks in my craw!

After Roger died, my stepsons abandoned me. Several of Roger's best friends, whom I thought I could count on for support abandoned me. My brother had to move 2 1/2 hours away, and several other good friends died, one in a tragic accident, and two others from cancer. I also lost my mother. I had never, ever felt so much alone.

Did the people in the church reach out to me? Most emphatically NO!

What I got shoved down my throat again and again was that Jesus should be all that I need. He should be my comfort, my husband through those long, lonely nights. And the ones who most often gave this advice were the ones that had been happily married for many years, and never experienced this sort of loneliness.

Well, I'm sorry folks, that is NOT the way it works! :x Even Adam complained about being lonely, and God answered his prayer!

None of the churches I've been in have reached out to singles in anything other than a token way. First, as a single, then as a widow I have always felt marginalized. Even when married, I didn't feel much of a sense of belonging, as a short time after we were married, Roger refused to go to church with me any more.

The church is called by scripture to help out the poor, the widow, the fatherless and the orphan. And the vast majority do a piss-poor job of it.

I know I am probably taking this quote out of context. It was likely something Bonhoeffer wrote while in prison, possibly in solitary confinement, and he was using it as his lifeline. But still, I have a hard time accepting it. It makes too good an excuse for ignoring those within the body of Christ that you don't feel comfortable with.

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 02, 2011 2:08 pm 
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Lali Beag Bídeach
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Sunny, :hug: Some churches are better than others (individual churches, not denominations, per se) at doing what they're supposed to do.

Bonhoeffer wrote that, actually, when he was very young, like 21 or 22, and he was working as a minister to the German expats in Spain. He worked with the children, in particular, and this quote arose out of an experience he had with that.

So we can probably give him a pass due to being so young. ;)

I think, as usual, Wampus hit the nail on the head. We all have an innate loneliness that will never be fully filled till heaven. Sometimes we get glimpses of it, as she said, through community or relationships. I think that's why we long for true community; it's why we're social beings, even the most introverted of us.

nel, :hug: your thoughts are always welcome, and I think what you wrote is pertinent to the discussion.

I'll probably have more to say later--when I'm fully caffeinated.

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 02, 2011 2:15 pm 
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Quote:
Churches can be life-giving places of welcome where lonely people find purpose and joy in their discovery that nothing human is alien and no stranger is an outcast....Churches can also be places where bitter people play power games, build walls and shatter souls. If you go to a church, you'll soon know which sort it is.


Quite true. And churches can be in-between places, too. I think the key thing is to find a church that is a supportive and helpful community for YOU. And when you find it, you'll know it.

When I was divorced with three little children, I was a member of a Quaker Meeting that functioned as a true family. And by that, I don't mean that things were perfect - far from it. There were squabbles and disagreements and petty gossip. BUT...BUT...there was, underneath it all, a sense of family. Of commitment to each other. Of the greater Love that surrounds us. When I went through my horrific, gut-wrenching divorce, they were there for me.

Later, when I moved to Boston, I started attending another Quaker Meeting. Everyone was very nice. Very nice. But distant. I never felt the warmth and the belonging in the same way. I was troubled. Meanwhile, my father had moved up to be with us and he was attending a tiny little Presbyterian church...which seemed much more like a community. I felt torn, because by this time, I identified as a Quaker. I broached the subject to a friend of mine and when I had described the two places, he simply said, "You are not being FED at the Quaker Meeting. Go to the place that feeds you."

And I did. That tiny Presbyterian church became my refuge and strength and when my father died, every single member of the church came to my house with food and kind words. The minister made a 400 mile trip to be there for the graveside service of my father. I was lifted up by them.

If your church is not feeding you...it may be time to seek another church family. Or to take a break from church until you are ready to seek. For me, nothing is as horrible as sitting in a place week after week where you SHOULD feel like you belong, but don't.

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 02, 2011 2:58 pm 
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I'm not a churchgoer, never have been. But looking in from the outside I think I can see that a church is like any other human social group.

What you get out of it is generally related to what you put into it, isn't it? Leaving aside the worship aspect, I mean.

Lalaith, you have such high expectations of yourself - and I think you may have those same high expectations of others. Few people are as committed and dedicated as you are, and so you are often disappointed.

I hope that doesn't offend anyone. :hug:

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 02, 2011 4:00 pm 
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yovargas wrote:
Maria wrote:
My grandma was human! :shock:



I'd be more worried if she wasn't. :D


Hey, you didn't know her. She was a stern, hard woman. A matriarch with a willl of iron. It took every ounce of courage my mom had marry my father against her wishes. And Grandma was still scary enough that my father would NOT visit when my mother would take my brother and me to visit her a couple of times a year.

The only time her exterior ever cracked was a year before she died when she gave me a pocket watch of my Grandfather's. She said, "He loved you *voice catches* so much!" That one little catch in her voice startled me immensely. I swear, I even saw the shiny edge of a tear in her eye! :shock: Not that she let it fall, of course. She recovered herself instantly, but I remember that moment as possibly the most intimate one she ever shared with me.

I know. That's sad. And I'm probably too much like her. :help: My other grandmother, "Grandma Mac" was very *human*, but it's always been obvious to me that I'm more like my maternal grandmother than even my mother is.

Anyway, she did take me to her church a couple of times when I got left with her a couple of weeks once. I understood later that it was her only social outlet. She was such a no-nonsense woman that I believe it would have been impossible for her to join any other sort of organization. It was right and proper that she attend church, and so she did. No frivolity allowed!

Don't feel bad about changing my childhood impressions, Lali. It would be a terrible mistake for me to join a church just for company when I don't hold with the basic premise. I'd be lying. Now that I can see that Church_As_Social_Organization has just as many flaws as any other sort of human gathering, I won't hold that in the back of my mind as a possible fix for future loneliness.

I don't need it. I'd be better off joining just about any group that I share an interest with.

Here's a thought... any church group is going to have flaws. Perhaps you could figure out some other group that it might be fun to spend time with. Not instead of church, but in addition to. They don't have to be your whole world!


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 Post subject: Sin and Forgiveness
PostPosted: Fri Nov 04, 2011 6:41 pm 
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I realize now that I originally read the Bonhoeffer quote as being: When a PERSON prays, there is the church, rather than "When a people [plural] prays, so please take my reply in that context... :blackeye:

My husband had trouble accepting that the people in a church were just as flawed as people anywhere else. That's why he stopped going. He especially was upset when those in leadership showed their 'feet of clay'.

He had been deeply hurt by the church in the past, and that was at the root of his withdrawal. The pastor of the United church he attended did nothing to stop his own father from having an affair with Roger's (soon-to-be) ex wife.

When the divorce became final, he officiated over her marriage to his father.... :shock:

I't kind of hard to trust those in leadership after something like that! :cry:

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When the night has been too lonely, and the road has been too long,
And you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong,
Just remember in the winter far beneath the bitter snows,
Lies the seed, that with the sun's love, in the spring becomes The Rose.


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 04, 2011 7:15 pm 
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I split off the discussion about Sin and Forgiveness beginning with a duplicate of Sunny's last post above.

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Last edited by Voronwë the Faithful on Fri Nov 04, 2011 7:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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