we stand on the periphery

We should weep as we watch our society regress into the pre-Christian Greco-Roman/pagan
view of the world.

David Roberston


(Laocoön and his sons, also known as the Laocoön Group. Marble,
copy after an Hellenistic original from ca. 200 BC.
Found in the Baths of Trajan, 1506.)

It’s no secret that I ardently follow and read the words and observations of two very
different, yet actually very similar, clerics who both happen to live in the UK.
One is a Free Church Presbyterian Pastor in Scotland the other is a former Chaplin
to the Queen and former Anglican priest,
who now happens to be Bishop of the Christian Episcopal Chruch.

They are evangelical, conservative, orthodox, traditional–clerics of two vastly
different denominations yet both are much more similar than they are different.

I’m not sure as to whether either man is familiar with the other but I would suspect
that they have some sort of knowledge of one another as each man has had his
fair share of attacks by a more liberal press for holding to and freely voicing a
strong Biblically rooted Christian faith.

When it comes to defending the Christian teachings, neither man is afraid to
take on MPs, authors, professors, reporters or other clergy members.
They are each, in their own right, true defenders of the faith.

They are both very learned men and well read.
And they can certainly hold their own and not think twice nor bat an eye when
it comes to professing the Truth as it is met with every form of attack and or assault.

I admire that in them.

They do not buy into the feel-good dribble being passed off in so many churches these days
as a modern take on Christianity—that when stripped and pared down to the bare bones,
it is nothing more than the self-proclaimed gospel of the individual verses
the Gospel of the Risen Christ.

In Christianity, there are some very hard truths.
Truths that we in this 21st century of ours have grown unable to stomach as we find them
difficult as well as uncomfortable and therefore intolerable to acknowledge or accept.

Jesus did not come into this world to pat us on our heads and tell us of the marvelous
job we are doing.
He did not come to applaud our half-hearted efforts nor the notion of ‘if it feels good,
it is good’ nonsense.

Jesus came to save the sinner.
And the sinner is each one of us.
Each of us is at fault.
If you don’t believe that then your ego is bigger than your very soul.

Each one of us falls short.
Each one of us needs a savior…if not saving from the world…saving rather, from our
very selves.

The fact that our culture is not progressing, as we so often quip with our labels of post
modern progressivism… but rather, in actuality, we are regressing…
Regressing back to a time of self-absorption and intolerant barbarism as we live
our lives preferring the paganism of a myriad of self-created demi-gods to the One True God.

We are slowly becoming what we so smugly deemed of those in the past as primitive,
ignorant, egotistical, ancient and primal.

Hedonistic is the better description.

I am encouraged knowing that there remains those who continue to speak the Truth despite
the world’s desire to dispel it.

Whereas those of us who hold steadfast to the Christian faith know that the battles
continue to rage, the war has already been indeed won—
Yet we may still weep as we take stock of the battles we are beginning to fight.
As fight, we must.

https://ashenden.org

https://theweeflea.com

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead,
and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge:
Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct,
rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.
Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of
teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist,
discharge all the duties of your ministry.

2 Timothy 4:1-5

Don’t ask

The very idea of a bird is a symbol and a suggestion to the poet. A bird seems to be at the top of the scale, so vehement and intense his life. . . . The beautiful vagabonds, endowed with every grace, masters of all climes, and knowing no bounds — how many human aspirations are realised in their free, holiday-lives — and how many suggestions to the poet in their flight and song!
John Burroughs, Birds and Poets, 1887

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(mourning doves / Julie Cook / 2015)

Just as with some people we see, the advice holds true with certain animals and birds. . .
sometimes it’s better not to ask but to merely go on about one’s business. . .shaking a head as you go is certainly permissible.

Luckily however these two mourning doves weren’t up to any funny business, I just happened to snap the camera in mid ruffling of feather and wing.

I do so greatly enjoy watching these birds, along with the bevy of fellow winged creatures who call my yard home. There’s just something blissfuly cathartic about spending time, merely observing the fastidious behavior of these feathery neighbors. Whereas the doves are not prone to fly up to the feeders as the other birds, rather preferring to graze about the ground underneath the feeders gobbling up any seed or corn that is carelessly dropped, their waddling and jutting of their heads is often a comical sight.

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I was not aware of the rather peculiar phenomenon of doves, as well as pigeons, of actually producing their own milk. It is a milk of sorts produced in their crops known simply as crop milk. Just prior to the laying of eggs, the female dove stops eating, setting into motion a chain of physiological events trigged by the body reacting to the panic of starvation. This being the time when the body produces the milk, which in turn is what the mother dove feeds her new hatchlings.

It is because of this peculiar maternal sacrifice which has forever linked the dove as being a symbol of motherhood and all to that which is maternal.
Who knew!!??

And as to our Mourning doves earning their rather sombre and reverent name,
we may merely look to the Roman poet Virgil.
Taken from one of his early eclogues and quoted here from wikipedia, we have one of the earliest references to the humble dove and to its most mournful sound.

“Its plaintive woo-OO-oo-oo-oo call gives the bird its name, possibly taken from Virgil’s First Eclogue, (lines 57-59 translated from the Latin as follows):

“Yonder, beneath the high rock, the pruner shall sing to the breezes,
Nor meanwhile shall thy heart’s delight, the hoarse wood-pigeons,
Nor the turtle-dove cease to mourn from aerial elm trees (nec gemere aeria cessabit turtur ab ulmo)
Here the Latin verb gemo, gemere, gemui, gemitum signifies “to sigh, groan; to coo; to sigh or groan over, lament, bemoan”

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Two sides to every coin

“If it pains you to discover that a Nice Man can be a crumbum, Tom, it’s life you’ve got to object to, not Percy in particular.”
― Ellery Queen

Give me liberty or Give me Death
Patrick Henry

I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.
Voltaire

janus
(a two headed Roman “Janus” coin)

Responsibility as defined by Merriam Webster:
: the state of being the person who caused something to happen
: a duty or task that you are required or expected to do
: something that you should do because it is morally right, legally required, etc.

Moral obligations as defined by USlegal.com:
Moral obligation is an obligation arising out of considerations of right and wrong. It is an
obligation arising from ethical motives, or a mere conscientious duty, unconnected with any legal
obligation, perfect or imperfect, or with the receipt of benefit by the promisor of a material or
pecuniary nature. Moral obligation springs from a sense of justice and equity that an honorable
person would have, and not from a mere sense of doing benevolence or charity.

Freedom as defined by Oxford dictionary:
The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or
restraint

Rites + freedoms + liberties = responsibility.

Freedom to:
defame
blaspheme
belittle
mock
desecrate
offend. . .

The freedom to be satirical, to be outspoken, to ruffle feathers. . .
To irritate
To heal
To soften
To entertain
To insult
To defend
To inflame
To incite
To quell
To antagonize
To redeem
To be mean
To be kind. . .
The freedom to be thoughtful
To be thoughtless. . .

The freedom to draw, to write, to sing, to dance, to paint, to soar. . .
The freedom to be expressive regardless of what others may think or feel.
Will you inspire or will you be despised?
Will you be a bridge or will you be destructive?

The freedom to be honorable towards others.
The freedom to believe.
The freedom to turn away.

The responsibility to honor and defend life
Or
The freedom to take life

The freedom to dishonor.
The responsibility to respect.

What is your responsibility?

The freedom and responsibility to defend Freedom
Yet what then is the responsibility of freedom?

“All of Creation is made by the Holy Trinity acting in communion as an outpouring of Love and Grace.”
Excerpt for January newsletter from St Isaac’s Orthodox Skete.

Sense of scent

“At no other time (than autumn) does the earth let itself be inhaled in one smell, the ripe earth; in a smell that is in no way inferior to the smell of the sea, bitter where it borders on taste, and more honeysweet where you feel it touching the first sounds. Containing depth within itself, darkness, something of the grave almost.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke

“Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.”

― Patrick Süskind

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(perfume bottles on a silver tray / Julie Cook / 2014)

Opening the door I immediately smelled March.
But this is November, how does one smell March in November?
It was the humid damp warmth mixed with the grey sky.
More mild than cool, more heavy then light.
Not sweetness but rather warm dampness–but not so warm that it was enveloping.

Not long ago, I randomly bought a jar of facial night cream by Lancome. When I first opened the jar, in order to use it, I immediately smelled my grandmother, Nany. Not in that sickeningly sweet grandmother smell that borders on cheap perfume, hair permanents, and medicine, but the smell of sudden nearness. A palpable longing for someone who has been gone for what seems forever.

I am five, standing in her bathroom. I’m at the vanity on the right standing by my cousin as we are readying for bed during a tiny special spend the night party– a grandmother and both of her granddaughters. It was as if I was actually standing in that bathroom as the memory was so strong. Not only did I smell the smells, I even saw the captured moment frozen in time in my mind. The white cabinets, the double sinks. . .

Opening my eyes, it’s just me, standing in my own bathroom, alone.

On a recent trip to Target, I wandered down the candle aisle. Picking up a candle, I give it a good sniff, I close my eyes as I draw in the warm scent. Immediatley I am transported, as if by magic, to a candle store at the mall near where I grew up. It’s the early 70’s. I’m a young teen who is wandering around the mall as I walk into a new store that sells candles. On a round brown table in the center of the store, I notice a small candle in the shape of a little red convertible VW bug with a blue top, my dad at time had a blue bug. I loved the smell, sweet and light, being drawn to the fact that it was a cute little VW bug– I made the purchase, proudly adding the little candle to the growing eclectic treasures of teenager’s room.

Opening my eyes, it’s just me, standing on the candle aisle in a Target, alone.

I recently bought a bag of mothballs, not even knowing if they still made those things. I had brought home a box of old papers and what nots form Dad’s. I wanted to preserve what was in the box but there was no telling of the minisucule critters that were already doing damage to the yellowing papers and books.
I thought that when I repacked the “archives” in a new plastic bin, a few moth balls thrown in might ward off any unsuspecting and unseen nibblers.

When I opened the sack of moth balls I was no longer standing in my son’s old room but rather I was crouched in Mimi’s closet, my mom’s mom. Her house, in Atlanta, was built in the early 20’s. It was old and she had a cavernous closet in her bedroom. I was playing hide and seek. Disappearing deep into her closet, pushing past clothes, shoes and boxes, all the way to a back corner, I’m consumed with a smell that to this day reminds me of my grandmother. Dotting the floor, the flat old light brown carpeting, are a myriad of tiny white balls. Moth balls.
Moth balls will always smell like Mimi’s. To most people the smell might repel, to me, it’s Mimi.

When I open my eyes, I’m no longer hiding in a closet at my grandmother’s, but standing in my son’s old room, alone.

It is said that scent is most often considered the greatest of our senses because of it’s exceedingly strong association with memory. The olfactory bulb in the brain, the part of the brain which processes scents, smells, odors, is linked to both the amygdala and the hippocampus, the parts of the brain responsible of both the processing of emotions as well learning.

The smells that we draw into our brain though the nose, which are caught by the olfactory receptors, allow our brain to process and then link the individual smell with those initials smells from childhood, the time we begin in earnest the association of events with smells. Yet researchers have even determined that we are actually exposed to scent while in utero, which is actually when the imprinting, processing and associating of smell with memory begins.

It is often noted, particularly in Catholic teaching, that there exists a “scent of sanctity”
It is a very real and very strong smell or odor of perfume, specifically floral in nature, that emanates from “the saintly” just prior to the time of death or immediately following. It is said that those who have seen or sensed the presence of various saints were first overcome by a powerful scent of “perfume.”

We know that the making of perfume dates back to early Egypt, followed by both Greek and Roman cultures.
The use of perfumes and scented oils was essential to ancient Jewish customs and rituals, in particular the burying of the dead. There is biblical reference of the woman who came to the tomb to anoint the dead body of Jesus. There is the story of the woman, thought to be Mary Magdalene, who had brought a very expensive perfumed oil in which to anoint Jesus. It is a story symbolizing the future anointing of his crucified body yet some believe it symbolizes his bringing the grace of forgiveness into an unforgiving world. This is also one of the few stories which is included in all four gospels.

And so it is, on this March smelling November day, there is indeed a change in the air. Rain is on the way, and with it the cold and the comforting fragrant balm of crackling fires. . . I can smell its presence in the air. As the scent of change swirls about, dancing lightly in the wind, those thoughts and memories of days gone by, gently drift, sweetly woven to the very air which sustains my life, waiting to be brought to the forethought of recall by the simple act of breathing . . .

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task.
2 Corinthians 2: 14-16

August’s doldrums

“August depresses me a little. I don’t even feel like eating. And when I don’t eat, that’s a sure sign of stagnation.”
Willard Scott

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(a lone little piece of a sand dollar awash in the surf / Julie Cook / 2011–seen in a previous post)

The calendar has turned to our eighth month.
August is a time in life, in the Northern Hemisphere, when everything slows to a snails pace. We typically attribute this drastic slowing down to the heavy blanket of sticky oppressive heat and humidity which descends upon the world at large. This in turn leads to what those of us here in the extreme southern area of these United States refer to as the Dog Days of summer.

Dog days have been around since Greek and Roman times when the ancients used the same term to denote the hottest time period of summer, as this was the time when the star known as Sirius, the dog star, would shine brightest.

The grass is no longer cool and refreshing to ones bare feet—instead it is now dry and crunchy. The once beautifully rich greens and bright colors of Spring have long since faded. Plants have grown leggy, blooms have long fallen away, and many succulent tender plants have since perished under the heat of a relentless sun. Rain has been sparse. Enthusiasm for the out of doors has waned as everyone attempts to avoid the often dangerous heat of the day.

We dart from house to car, from car to store or work, from work or store to car, from car to home–dashing in and out as quickly as possible before expiring from our excessive perspiring.
The noseeums, the mosquitoes, the gnats, the horseflies, the wasps now all rule the air. The joy of lingering in a rocking chair on a lazy summer evening, idly whiling away the hours, is all but a faded memory as there are simply too many bugs looking for a free meal underneath the hot and heavy blanket of air that is simply too thick to breathe.

This stagnate time of heavy languishing heat, when experienced out on the open seas, is known as the doldrums. A time of utterly calm seas lacking wind or wave. According to Wikipedia: “The doldrums is a colloquial expression derived from historical maritime usage, in which it refers to those parts of the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean affected by the Intertropical Convergence Zone, a low-pressure area around the equator where the prevailing winds are calm. . .The doldrums are also noted for calm periods when the winds disappear altogether, trapping sail-powered boats for periods of days or weeks.

Sailors would dread being stuck in the doldrums. Zero winds equalled zero movement as the sad sails would dangle limply from the mast. Days would turn into weeks. Provisions would run dangerously low and drinking water would become a dire disappearing commodity–as ship and sailor languished in a giant bathtub of deathly still water.

August, this eighth month, is the time of year when we sail into the doldrums.
A time of stagnation and languishing, both in climate as well as with vegetation.
Gone are the days when the entire family would be needed for the harvest. Hence why our schools would not begin until September, long after the crops had been finally gathered.
As we now live more and more in the urban regions of the country, our agrarian society is but a fading memory.
Much of Europe has closed down for the month of August, as the general populace heads on holiday.
Even our central governing body has recessed until Fall (unfortunate, but I digress)

Yet there is a shift beginning to take place.
Schools, here, are preparing to open their doors.
Our teachers and students will return to their routines come Monday.
Sadly for many a young person the end of “summer break” is upon us.
We are now in the in-betweens.

In-between Summer joy and Fall splendor.
In-between heat and cool
In-between long day and short night
In-between bloom and fade
In-between indoors and outdoors
In-between inactivity and activity.

As you find yourself a bit lost, hot, bored or stuck inside a tad too long during this month of seemingly endless time and heat, find comfort in the words of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner as we languish together in the hot still sea of August. . .


All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
‘Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, no breath no motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Pantocrator

“According to greek mythology, humans were originally created with 4 arms, 4 legs and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves.”
Plato

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I don’t know what first drew me to this particular image, or more aptly put, Icon. Oh I’ve written about Icon’s before, quite some time ago, which means I don’t want to rewrite a post (see “What is an Icon” dated 3/1/13) however there is a little background necessary in order for one to fully appreciate the image accompanying this particular post.

An Icon, which translates to “image” is just that, an image. A bit of an artistic photograph if you will. It should be noted that Icons are not considered paintings at all, but rather are referred to as written images– as in the artist is not painting but actually “writing,” what I like to describe as, a love letter.

Now back to this particular image.
No doubt you have seen it at some time or other as it is quite notable as far as Icons are concerned. It is an image of the Christ, or Pantocrator as He is known in Greek/ Παντοκράτωρ—–meaning Divine (translated from the Hebrew El Shaddai). This particular image dates to the 6th century–let’s say 500 years or so after the death of Christ. It is considered to be the oldest known image of Christ or as He is known to many, as the Chirstos.

I don’t want to give an in-depth mini history lesson today regarding icons, or of this particular image, as there is so very much out there in the form of books or on the web for the curious to discover. I simply want to share with you something that is very meaningful to me. I think it is important to share with others the things that significantly impact our own lives as those are the things that make us who we are.

As a person who grew up with Western Christianity, or that of the Roman or Latin branch of Christianity, I was always accustomed, as no doubt you were, to what typically is considered to be images of Jesus. Benevolent images of a young man of fair skin complexion, soft brown hair and beard who most often had blue eyes. But the problem with that stereotypical image is that Jesus was not European. He was a Middle Eastern Jew. Therefore that meant he most likely had a more dark or olive skin tone, with a thicker head of very dark hair. He was an orthodox, meaning devout, Jew, so it is theorized that he most probably wore the hair ringlets as do the modern day Hasidic Jews. His features were not as close to ours in the West but rather he was closer in appearance to those currently living in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, etc.

Knowing all of the geographical information of Jesus, I’ve never gravitated to the images depicted in much of our Western Culture’s art and literature regarding Jesus, as I just didn’t think it a true likeness. I knew he didn’t look like me– as he grew up in an entirely different area of the planet that does not have many light haired, blue eyed folks running about. I wanted to see Jesus for who is was, not some stylized image.

And so it was when I first saw this image—I was truly taken by this image. The question of whether or not I was glancing at the closest image of the man who has had the greatest impact on humankind–let alone my life, resonated in my head.

This particular image is considered to be the benchmark for all other artistic images of Jesus—that is until the expansion of the Christian Church in the West, meaning Europe and eventually the new continent of the Americas.

This Icon is located in St Catherine’s Monastery in the southern end of the Sinai Peninsula. St Catherine’s is located at the foot of the mountain, Mt Horeb, in which it is believed that God spoke to Moses in the form of the burning bush. It is also within these mountains that Moses later received the Ten Commandments. St. Catherine’s has been in existence as a practicing Monastery since the year 564—making St Catherine’s Monastery one of the oldest practicing monasteries known in all of Christendom.

It is troubling, given the current political crisis in Egypt, that St Catherine’s has had to shut its doors to pilgrims most recently as the safety of Christians, particularly in Egypt, is a perilous situation. I’m attaching a short nice informative link to a Youtube clip concerning a brief overview of St. Catherine’s as narrated by the monks:

There is also a most fascinating book based on the travels of two of the first Western woman, sisters from Scotland, who journeyed to St Catherine’s in the mid 1800’s. The Sisters of the Sinai by Jancie Soskice– Theirs was a journey of the discovery of ancient manuscripts. A most interesting true tale.

To the casual observer the life and worship at this most ancient of monasteries is something of another world and time—And so it is—yet it must be understood that the monks at St Catherine’s have been practicing these rituals since the year 500 with little to no change. . . so if anything, it is our worship today that is otherworldly and foreign. It is on my bucket list to one day travel to St. Catherine’s. The original burning bush is purported to be within the walls of the monastery as the bush in question actually does date to the time of Moses. The library is full of ancient texts as well as the largest collection of original ancient Icons all of which are housed within St. Catherine’s fortified walls. It is said that the aired conditions have helped to preserve these ancient and holy relics with many dating to the birth of the Christian faith.

The story goes that a cloth was found just at the inception of the monastery, buried within its walls, which was purported to have been part of the burial cloth of Jesus—not the Shroud but rather the face cloth that was customary of the time to be placed over the face of the deceased before being wrapped in the burial shroud. This cloth, or what the Eastern Church refers to as a napkin, Holy Napkin, is said to have, just as the shroud, held the image of a man—-of what the faithful claim to be that of Jesus. It was shortly after the discovery of this cloth that this particular image of Jesus, the Pantocrator of Sinai was created—making it the first known artistic image in existence based from something that is said to be the original image of Jesus—making this image to be the closest thing Christian followers would have to an exact image of Christ. Some stories even attribute the Icon’s creation to St Luke as he was considered an artist as well as a medical doctor.

But it is the facial features of this particular image that draws me from mere observer to that of one of awe and worshiper. The duality of God rests in this image–the Deity as well as the Human–two separate entities, yet united in one face. If an image of the face from the Shroud of Turin is laid over this image, the two faces are proportionate, lining up equally. If you split in half the face of this Icon’s image you will note that both halves of the face are vastly different, making this image asymmetrical rather than symmetrical– as we consider the human face to be–more equal than different.

One side of the face is that of a tender and loving man–that of pure-hearted love, that of Savior. The other side is a man harsh and stern–that of Judge of Mankind. I am reminded of the verse in Matthew where Jesus tells the disciples that at the time of Judgement He will separate the sheep form the goats. The sheep on the right having done the acts of kindness during their lives of clothing the naked, feeding the poor, visiting the sick and imprisoned will all see Glory. On the other hand are the goats, those to His left, who did not do the act of kindness to the strangers throughout their lives—they will be cast away to eternal damnation –the Savior vs Judge–the two compelling actions all within one individual.

I first saw this image, oddly enough, in a store specializing in Icons on a street corner in Rome. In the shadow of the great Latin Roman branch of Christianity, that of St Peter’s, exists an Eastern Orthodox store of Iconography. The irony was not lost on this little pilgrim. The store clerks spoke only Greek and no doubt Italian. There were reproductions of many Icons, but it was the Pantocrator of Sinai which truly spoke to me. It is said that one does not choose an Icon, but that the Icon chooses you. I brought home a copy that I eventually framed–later purchasing a mounted image from St Isaac’s Skete–a wonderful small orthodox Skete located in rural Wisconsin which offers a beautiful selection of mounted Icons as well as commissioned Icons by the trained monks. (http://www.skete.com )

And so it is, as I stand in my kitchen, just on the counter above the sink, sits a small collection of Icons. As I spend countless hours in the kitchen, I am afforded time to ponder these images—pondering the significance they play and have played in my life as well as the cascading significance they have played throughout the existence of humankind. I marvel and stand in awe of the duality of God. I am drawn to the face of both Grace and Judgement. At times I am compelled to look away, as I feel so unworthy, so less than, so dirty by the weight of my sins—and just when I feel defeated and worthless, less than— the face of Love draws me back–

Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot sweep it away.
If one were to give
all the wealth of one’s house for love,
it would be utterly scorned

Song of Solomon 8:6-7

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