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Posts Tagged ‘Unitarian Universalist Church’

I am reposting this talk that I gave last year to mark the occasion of Hanukkah which comes early this year and starts on Sunday, December 2 and ends Monday, December 10. The talk was a Unitarian Universalist (UU) service that was called “Ringing in the Light.”

I talked about my childhood memories of being touched by Hanukkah and my experiences in celebrating the Winter Solstice and with the Gnostic Gospels. You can see my words below on the YouTube video or read the reflection below that.

As far back as I can remember, the light beckoned.

The sun was a ball of fire in the sky.  The light changed into vibrant colors in the morning and the evening.  It filtered through the branches of trees.  The sunlight had, in fact, shined down and helped to form the trees.  So the light was in the trees (along with the rain and the earth).

Even when it was cloudy, I knew the sun was there. Sometimes I could see the ball of sun outlined behind the gray clouds.

light-tree

The first time I remember being drawn to the light in a religious context was when I was in elementary school watching a play about Hanukkah.

Despite its nearness to Christmas on the calendar, Hanukkah is one of the lesser holidays in Judaism. Hanukkah, also called The Festival of Lights, began last Tuesday at sunset and ends this Wednesday, December, 20th, at nightfall.

When I asked my partner what Hanukkah meant to her, she responded that it is a celebration of survival, hope and faith.

The holiday celebrates the victory of the Maccabees, detailed in the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud.

This victory of the Maccabees, in approximately 160 BCE –  BCE standing for Before The Common Era — resulted in the rededication of the Second Temple.  The Maccabees were a group of Jewish rebel warriors who took control of Judea.

According to the Talmud, the Temple was purified and the wicks of the menorah burned for eight days.

But there was only enough sacred oil for one day’s lighting. It was a miracle.

Hanukkah is observed by lighting the eight candles of the menorah at varying times and various ways.  This is done along with the recitation of prayers.  In addition to the eight candles in the menorah, there is a ninth called a shamash (a Hebrew word that means attendant). This ninth candle, the shamash, is in the center of the menorah.

It is all very complicated of course – the history and the ritual – but what I remember most is sitting in that darkened auditorium and being drawn to the pool of light around the candles on my elementary school stage.

I am not Jewish.  I say that I was raised secular – but that is putting it mildly.  My mother was, in fact, a bible-burning atheist.  Added to that, I was always cast as one of the shepherds in the school’s Christmas pageant since I was the tallest child in elementary school.

Also, I had Jewish neighbors – and as a future lesbian and book worm growing up in the sameness of a working class neighborhood — I may have responded to difference and had a realization that I was part of it.

Then I grew up, came out, thanked the Goddess for my secular upbringing, and celebrated the Winter Solstice with candles and music. This year, the Solstice falls on December 21st. The Winter Solstice (traditionally the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year)  is this coming Thursday in the Northern Hemisphere of planet Earth – which is where we are.

One of our friends who we celebrated the Solstice with is Julia Haines. Julia is a musician who has performed at Restoration.  She has a wonderful composition of Thunder Perfect Mind which she accompanies with her harp playing. You can find her on YouTube. Thunder Perfect Mind, of which I just read an excerpt, is one of the ancient texts of the Gnostic Gospels.

The Gnostic Gospels were discovered in the Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi in 1945.  Originally written in Coptic, these texts date back to ancient times and give us an alternative glimpse into the Gospels that are written in the New Testament. They are so important that they are banned in some conventional religions.  And in my book, that’s a good reason to read them.

Reading them led me to think of myself as a Gnostic – meaning one who has knowledge and who pursues knowledge – including mystical knowledge.  The Gnostic Gospels have provided me with inspiration for my writing, particularly in my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders, soon to be published by Adelaide Books. And they also inspire me in the novel I am currently writing — titled The Unicorn, The Mystery.

I am inspired by the Gnostic Gospels in part because they let in the light.  In particular, they let in the light of the feminine.

As Julia says in her rendition of Thunder:

I am godless

I am Goddess

So how does finding the light factor into my experience of Unitarian Universalism? Later in life, after fifty, I found a religion that fit my values.  I found a religion wide enough – and I might add, secure enough – to embrace nonconformity.

In finding a congregation that is diverse in many ways – including religious diversity – I have found a deeper sense of myself.

And in that self, I recognize that the darkness is as least as necessary and as important as the light.

As a creative writer, I spend much of my time in the gray-matter of imagination.

It is in that darkness where I find the light.

 

Namaste

THEY a biblical tale of secret genders

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders ( published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

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I was delighted to read this review which I excerpted below:

“What I liked most about the book was that I was a part of the discovery.  I would be reading about Tamar and her family and friends and then suddenly one of them would mention a relative or acquaintance who lived in another land; gradually I would come to realize this person was a famous Biblical character, for instance Naomi and Ruth from “I go whither you goest,” fame.

As a young teenager I was in search of answers, so I read the Bible from cover to cover twice. l   don’t know that I found any answers, but I enjoyed the stories. I was able to connect to those ancient people. The stories in They are told in simple, everyday language; they do not sound Biblical. They sound human.”

–reviewed by Vanda, author of The Juliana Series

To read the entire review, click here

 

THEY a biblical tale of secret genders Janet Mason New W

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I was delighted to find that my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books; 2018) is being featured on the Adelaide Books and Adelaide Literary Magazine website.

Adelaide Books has also been tweeting this new photo of THEY.

THEY a biblical tale of secret genders

 

The Picture of the Month on the Adelaide website is from my book launch last July:

 

Janet-Mason-and-Emily-Pena-Murphy

Our authors Janet Mason (right) and Emily Peña Murphy at the Launch of the book THEY:A Biblical Tale of Secret Genders by Janet Mason in the Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Philadelphia on July 26

Adelaide’s website also links to the YouTube videos of my reading. You can learn more about Adelaide Books and Literary Magazine — and their other fabulous authors by clicking here.

You can also learn more about the book launch for THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders by clicking here.

or you can click here to read the interview with me in The Chestnut Hill Local.

To read an excerpt of THEY, published in BlazeVox, click here.

 

Amazon THEY

 

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This morning, I took part in Poetry Sunday, a Unitarian Universalist summer service that is a tradition. In my talk, I reflected on the nature of love and read from my recently completed novel The Unicorn, The Mystery. I also read a poem by Sappho and read my own work that it inspired (“Sapphics for Aphrodite”).

The YouTube video of my talk  is below. The complete text of my talk is below that.  The service took place at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration on Stenton Ave. in Philadelphia.

 

 

There are many types of love. I explore the many types of love in the novel that I just completed The Unicorn, The Mystery which I am going to read from briefly:

 “The point I was going to make is that romantic love is far from the most important type of love,” said the Priest with his usual authority. “Christians believe that pure love—the kind of love that is selfless and creates goodness—is the way that God loves us. This is why the saying, ‘love you neighbor’ is so important. There are numerous references to this in the Bible. But the most important is from the Gospel According to Mark in which he says ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than this.

“This kind of love is called ‘agape,’” continued the priest. “Agape is the highest form of pure, selfless love. It is the kind of love that God has for us—and the kind of love that we strive to have for our fellow man.”

“I recognize the word,” I replied. “It’s Ancient Greek, from the time of Homer.”

The Priest narrowed his eyes.

 Of course, many of the great poets have been inspired by romantic love, especially the Greeks.  But some may argue–and I do–that love (regardless of the kind of love) is the inspiration for all poetry.

Sappho statue

 

 

One of the poets from antiquity who greatly inspired me was Sappho, who lived around 600 B.C.E.  Of course, she lived before labels but many of Sappho’s love poems were written to women.  And she was technically a Lesbian since she lived on the Isle of Lesbos, now called Lesvos.  Most of what is left from Sappho is in fragments. One of the complete poems that survived is her “Hymn to Aphrodite” which I’ll read now: 

 

On your dazzling throne. Aphrodite,
Sly eternal daughter of Zeus,
I beg you: do not crush me
With grief

 But come to me now – as once
You heard my far cry, and yielded,
slipping from your
father’s house 

to yoke the birds to your gold
chariot, and came.  Handsome sparrows
brought you swiftly to
the dark earth, 

their wings whipping the middle sky
Happy, with deathless lips, you smiled:
“What is wrong, Sappho, why have
You called me? 

What does your mad heart desire?
Whom shall I make love you,
Who is turning her back
on you? 

Let her run away, soon she’ll chase you;
Refuse your gifts, soon she’ll give them.
She will love you, though
unwillingly.”

 Then come to me now and free me
From fearful agony.  Labor
for my mad heart, and be
my ally.

 

Almost twenty years ago, when I took a pilgrimage to Greece, including a stay in Sappho’s birthplace of Skala Eressos, a beach town on the Isle of Lesvos, I wrote the following response to Sappho’s hymn to the goddess of love.  The title is “Sapphics for Aphrodite” —

 

Aphrodite, in your blazing chariot,
I do not ask to be loved by anyone
against her will, to be fled from
or to be pursued. 

I do not ask for anything that will
sever my breath with anguish; I do not wish
to destroy or to be destroyed.
I do not wish for 

anything other than for the stars to blaze
in my pulse until breaking, shattered, and
incandescent, I am consumed: the moon’s rays
intent upon me. 

Aphrodite this is all I ask of you,
you who hold the Fates in my hands,
and you, of the golden winged chariot, in
whose temple I burn.

 

The priest in my novel has a point. Romantic love can have its limitations.  But love is love – regardless of what it is called. And love can lead to goodness.

 

Namaste

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This morning, I led a Unitarian Universalist Memorial Day service on the topic of forgiveness.  In my talk about forgiveness, I debuted my latest novel The Unicorn, The Mystery. The YouTube video of part of  is below. The complete text of my talk is below that.  The service took place at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration on Stenton Ave. in Philadelphia.

 

 

For me, forgiveness is a thorny issue.  I suspect I’m not alone.  I may forgive – but I do it on my own terms and this means taking the time that I need to understand the deeper reasons of why I was offended by someone’s actions. So, for me, learning to be more forgiving is wrapped up with protecting myself and having good boundaries.

As a practicing Buddhist, I understand that forgiving others is a way of forgiving yourself.  But as I did research on forgiveness, there were so many conflicting theories, that really the only thing that ultimately made coherent sense to me was this quote from Oscar Wilde:

“Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.”

A few years ago, I was leafing through a slim book on Christianity and was surprised to read that forgiveness is expected in the Christian tradition.  As a tenet, this one is not so bad. But it did occur to me that a reason why traditional religion has never appealed to me is that, on principal, I would never believe what someone tells me I should believe.

So when it comes to forgiveness, I process things the way that I usually do – in my writing. The novel I am currently writing The Unicorn, The Mystery, is set in the late Middle Ages and addresses some religious themes.  I am going to read you a short excerpt of a monk talking with his Latin teacher, also a Priest:

purification

 

“One of the things that Augustine is known for is his ‘doctrine of love.’ He wrote about forgiveness – which of course is related to love.  In addition to forgiving others, it’s important to forgive ourselves. In fact, some argue that you cannot forgive another without first forgiving yourself,” said my teacher.

I smiled and nodded.  This all made sense. No words were necessary from me.

“He also was the first to write about loving your neighbor as yourself. In saying this, he infers that it is first necessary to love yourself. When you truly love yourself, then you can love your neighbor and you can love God unconditionally,” he stated.

The Priest was silent – and so was I for a moment.

My curiosity got the best of me and I asked, “What if you are ashamed of yourself – how can you find it in your heart to forgive yourself? And if you can’t, how can you ever love your neighbor and how can you love God?”

The Priest looked at me oddly.

“That’s a good question,” he replied finally. “I do not know the answer. Perhaps I am not the best person to talk about love. I take the Christian writings seriously.  I try to follow them.  I follow my heart and each time it is a disaster. I love teaching and I love my students. But each term, things go too far, and I have my heart broken again,” he cried.

I looked at him with sadness.  He had his reasons for hating himself. Perhaps that’s why he was snippy at times. How could he forgive himself, when the church told him he should be ashamed of himself?

This time I cleared my throat. I looked at him with tears in my eyes, and said, “Father – it is true that you know how to love and it is true that you are worthy of love – from others, from God. I came to your office that night after vespers a few months ago. I saw you bent over the desk with Gregory – I saw the love that surrounded you.”

The Priest looked at me as if he had seen a ghost.

 

 

I attended the Episcopal Church until I was about five — when my mother became a card-carrying atheist.  It’s a long story.  I remember reciting the Lord’s Prayer. When I think about forgiveness, I think about the lines:

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive them that trespass against us;

 

As I did my research, I was fascinated to learn that in the “Book of Matthew,” chapter 6, of the New Testament, the line after the Lord’s Prayer says:

 

“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”

 

Of course, in my Unitarian Universalist interpretation, God the Father could be the Universe, the Great Spirit, or the Mother/ Father God or God the Father.  It depends on what day it is.

If I’ve offended anyone, please forgive me.

 

Namaste.

 

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (just published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

 

Amazon THEY

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I am posting  a segment of my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (just published by Adelaide Books — New York / Lisbon) and available on Amazon

This excerpt was published in BlazeVox15.

 

A Perfect Mind (1272 BCE)

“It is not too late.” Tamar reached up and took Judith’s hand. “You can still conceive a daughter.” “How?” said Judith. “I am almost to the end of my bleeding time. I will do anything.” “First, you have to examine your mind. You must also look closely at your actions. You have to stop talking about your husband and sons. You have to take off the silver necklaces.” Tamar saw the look of horror on Judith’s face. Amazon THEY

“But who am I without my husbands and sons? They are everything to me — even though my husband barely looks at me, and my sons never listen to me.” Tamar nodded. Judith didn’t have to tell her this. She already knew. She was at peace as she opened her mouth and uttered words she had never heard before. She could feel, deep within her, that these words were true: “You are yourself; you are the first and the last; you are the honored one and the scorned one; you are the whore and the holy one; you are the wife and the virgin; you are the mother and the daughter; you are the barren one; and many are your sons; you are the silence that is incomprehensible; you are the utterance of your name.” Tamar didn’t know where she had heard these words before or where they had come from. They had echoed through her, a truth about Judith. She was all of these things and more. She liked the sound of these words. She would have to remember to write them down later. Judith looked at Tamar and nodded. Tamar looked at the light in Judith’s eyes — and saw her beauty. There was not much light in the tent — only from the one oil lamp and the desert sunset that filtered through the opening above the pole in the center of the tent. Judith’s eyes caught the light and cast it back.

Her long dark hair shone. Her oval face held the luster of dark olives. Tamar knew that the things that were undefined were larger than Judith’s existence as a wife and mother. And she knew that Judith was ready to know her own greatness. All Judith had to do to fly was to let go of the past and to catch Tamar’s words in mid-air. But she wasn’t ready — yet. “The necklaces are all I have to show my accomplishments. ” “Just put them away for a while. You can always put them back on later,” answered Tamar. “Every day, in the morning, sit and breath for a while — at least until the sun shifts. Let go of the outside voices that say you are less than. These voices might come from your husband, from your sons. They might be the voices of the women in the marketplace. They might be everything that was told to you since you were a girl. But you have your own inner voice. And that voice will free you.” “Okay,” said Judith. “How do I start?” Tamar smiled serenely. “Sit down with me,” she said. Tamar sat cross legged on one of the folded camel hair blankets. “Remember several growing seasons ago, when Leah brought the scroll that had been passed onto her and we sat and watched our breath and listened to the sound of “OM?” Judith nodded. “We started every ritual after that with watching out breath and making the sound,” said Judith. “Yes,” said Tamar. “And remember Leah and I said that it was good to start every day with a practice of quietness — of watching our breath until the thoughts in our own minds go away and we are emptied. This way we are making a space for your own voice.” “I remember that Leah suggested that we do this at home in our own tents. But I have too much to do to practice. Besides, I don’t have that much privacy and my husband and sons would wonder what I am doing.” “We can do it right now,” said Tamar. “Wait a minute. Tell me about the scroll. Where did it come from?” Tamar looked at Judith. “The teachings of the scroll are not outlawed,” said Tamar. The voice in her head said Yet.

This was true, but Tamar was wise enough to be protective of the scroll. “But no one knows of its existence. And because it does not acknowledge the one God, it will surely be destroyed if anyone finds out about it. You really want to have a daughter, right?” “More than anything.” “First, you must promise not to tell anyone about the scroll — not your husband and not Jacob and Samuel at the village well. Not anyone.” “I promise,” replied Judith. “Leah has a friend that she has known for many years, almost as long as she has been in our goddess cult. This friend has a friend who had gone to the South of India and he brought back the scroll in a clay jar that her friend bought and gave to her. The man who had travelled to India was trading in scents and perfumes and creams. He sells his wares to the Nabataeans, the desert nomads in North Arabia.” “I’ve heard of the Nabataeans,” said Judith. “But not good things. They worship many gods, not the one God. My husbands and sons say that they are bad and to stay away from them when they sell their scents at the market.” “And do you always do what your husband and sons say?” “I say that I do,” admitted Judith as she sat down on a folded blanket and faced Tamar. “But I bought some jars of Egyptian water lily scented cream from them. I use it on myself between the few times each week when I bathe. It really does soften my skin. The scent is delicate and fragrant. I keep the jar hidden. Bram doesn’t notice the smell and neither do my sons.” “See. You know how to keep something to yourself when it suits you.” Judith nodded. “Yes, I can keep a secret.” “Then you must keep the secret of the scroll. And do not tell anyone that you want to conceive a daughter,” said Tamar. “I know that,” said Judith. “I learned when I was a girl not to say I wanted a daughter. Mother taught me that women only pray for sons and those who pray for daughters never get what they want.” “That is what we are taught,” said Tamar. “But all prayer doesn’t have to be that way. This scroll talks about a religion that worships the feminine. And by sitting quietly and noticing our breath, by feeling our oneness and saying the first sound of creation, ‘OM,’ we can remove all obstacles because they begin in the mind.”

“But is feeling our oneness the same as worshipping the one God?” asked Judith. “I think it is the same, but others may not agree,” said Tamar. She knew that if Judith felt bad about betraying the one God, she would have a hard time removing the obstacles that blocked the conception of a daughter. But Tamar was also telling Judith what she knew in her heart to be true. Judith nodded. “Just remember,” said Tamar. “To pray not only for yourself. Yes, you want a daughter more than anything, but you want to give birth to a daughter who can help others as well. You want a daughter who will make the land better when she walks upon it. You want a daughter because she will bring happiness, joy and peace to all who look upon her. “I hadn’t thought of that,” said Judith. “But you are right. My daughter will bring happiness to others. And she will make our land a better place.” “That’s right,” whispered Judith. The two women faced each other and breathed deeply. “We’ll start with ‘OM,’ the first sound that came out of the great void, that embraces all that exists and that has no beginning and no ending, the name of God,” said Tamar. “But is He our God?” asked Judith. “Our one God?” Tamar shrugged. “Some would say so. Others would say not. And others would say that this God is not a He or a She. This God is a vibration, the sound of the brightest stars as they shoot across the desert night sky, the shifting of the grains of sand that make up the endless expanse of the desert and the song of the wind as it sculpts the sand.” “I see,” replied Judith. “This is the same as the one God, but different. OM is the sound of creation. Yet the one God is said to have made everything. I remember my mother telling me the stories. The words lulled me to sleep then. Even now they move me. But my mother told me that Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden because Eve listened to the serpent and ate the forbidden fruit and then convinced her husband to have some.”

Judith laughed abruptly and said, “as if serpents could talk!”

 

click here to read the entire piece in BlazeVox15

 

Another excerpt is in the recent issue of Sinister Wisdom — the fortieth anniversary issue

A different excerpt is also in the aaduna literary magazine  (this excerpt was nominated for a Pushcart Prize)

View YouTube videos of readings and performances of THEY by clicking here.

Text excerpts from THEY and my introductions presented at UUCR (Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration) can be clicked on below.

To read the text to the “Descent of Ishtar” and the introduction (where I talk about ancient Babylon), click here.

To read the text to “Forty Days And Forty Nights” as well as my introduction, click here.

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keeping our dreams intact when we are forced to work mind-numbing jobs

This morning, Sunday September 3rd, I co-led a Unitarian Universalist service on Labor Day Weekend.  The theme was labor.  As part of this service, I read from my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books, 2012).

You can view my reflection below on the YouTube video or read the reflection below that.

 

 

Good morning.

 

Today on Labor Day weekend our theme is labor.  I immediately thought of this section of my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters. This is a story about the survival of how we keep our dreams intact when we are forced to work mind-numbing jobs.

                      ________________________

My mother and I both stared at the iron legged ottoman, covered with a faded tapestry that my grandmother wove more than a half century ago.  Whenever I looked at the patterns of the ottoman, the faded edges and the lines of darker colors, I saw my grandmother, a single mother who worked in the Kensington section of Philadelphia in a textile factory.

My grandmother was a woman of great dignity.  The Episcopal Church, especially after she had divorced and returned to the city, was one of the major pillars in her life.  I don’t know, in fact, that she was particularly religious.  But I remember visiting Saint Simeon’s with her, and I could see the appeal of the church, especially to a poor woman who had little, if any, luxury in her life.

She might have been saying prayers that she no longer believed in as she sat there, her head bowed and covered, next to her two girls—my mother squirming in the aisle seat and my aunt sitting next to her daydreaming as she stared at the stained glass windows. The shiny brass organ pipes reached to the ceiling and looked as beautiful as sound.  The pews were polished mahogany, the wood smooth and cool. The scent of incense and flowers permeated the air.   All St. Simeon’s needed was some red-velvet seat cushions and gilded cherubs on the ceiling and it could have been easily transformed into the sensuous lair of an opera house or, perhaps, a bordello. Sundays at St. Simeon’s was a respite from the rest of my grandmother’s life.

trinity-three-blog

Her days in the textile mill encompassed her like the full spectrum of shadow falling from a sundial.  The morning light filtering through the small windows of the dark mill would have been diffuse.   Her hair would have been tied back into a bun as the light fell around her.  She would have bent over the heddles that kept the warp lines in place as she threaded the machine.  The colors on the ottoman— rust red, dusty blue, olive green, black—would have filled the spindles that unraveled furiously into the automated looms as her hands kept pace.  When the morning light turned into afternoon and the heat rose in rivulets of sweat dripping from her skin, my grandmother would have reminded herself that she was lucky to have found a job.  The soup lines were getting longer.  The unemployed and the homeless were marching in the streets.  Even if my grandmother didn’t know anyone who committed suicide, she would have read the listings in the daily papers.

I wondered what it was like for my grandmother, a woman with dreams and aspirations, a woman whose life dictated that her only option was to work in a mill or to clean someone else’s house, which was what she did after she left the mill. Did her dreams keep her going through the tedium of her life?  Or did knowing that her dreams would never come true make her life close to unbearable?  And if her life was unbearable, what kept her going?  Did the thought of her girls having better lives make it all worthwhile?

When my grandmother worked at the textile mill, she was a woman who was no longer young but not yet old.  She still had her girlhood daydreams as an escape from the pure tedium of her life.  At the same time, the features of her face would have been hardening themselves into the lines of her future.  Her lips may have opened easily in laughter, but they were on their way to becoming a stitch in the center of her face.

My mother told me that when she was a girl my grandmother would tell her stories about her own childhood when she and her cousin took bit parts in the People’s Theater, the local community theater.

My grandmother’s memories would have swirled through her mind as she stood sweltering in the textile mill, reloading the spools that needed to be filled faster than her fingers could go. Her back might have been aching and her fingertips numb—she might have been wondering how she could afford to pay the rent—but in her dreams she was stately as a queen as she stood center stage.  Her imagined green chiffon dress was a waterfall cascading down her.  A diamond tiara sat on her head, sparks of light reflected in Romeo’s eyes.

Sitting in the living room with my mother, I could hear the distant applause, replaced suddenly by the din of the mill.  The noise of the loom, the thud, the thwack, entwined with a ceaseless rhythmic tramp—the tread of hundreds and thousands marching through history.

————-

Namaste

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