Poem: Shadow Tree – Lockdown 19

I’ve been intrigued by the early morning light through a tree in my garden.  The way the shadow that falls on the lawn seems so substantial compared to the dazzling, light-backed living original.  I found myself drawn to sitting within the scope of the shadow tree as I watched the sun rise.

 

This photo was taken a few weeks ago now, the tree is in much fuller leaf these mornings, so the sensation of being caught in the net of shadow less acute. I have loved watching the leaves unfold day by day.  I have even tried to develop a practice of sketching the tree and the shadow, but I am not being very rigourous in keeping that up.  I shall try again, though.

I am keeping up my tradition of the Lockdown Poems, though, so I sat on the ground with my notebook, and wrote what follows.

 

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Shadow Tree  Lockdown Poems 19

I sit on morning damp grass
in the criss-cross light
at the top of the shadow tree –
part of its dark, elegant structure.

The living tree before me
has the sun caught in its branches,
as I am caught in the net
of shadow twigs –
the sun rising,
while lime green
leaves are unfolding
before and above me.

The shadow-trunk curves
towards the base,
to join the living green sap
of the roots, so I see
the tree exists in two planes –
one light, one dark,
one light, one dark.

For a while, despite the
discomfort of sitting cross
legged in my gardening boots,
I shall stay here within
the shadow tree,
seeking its wisdom,
watching its dark leaves grow.

 

Poem: Yellow-leaved Maple – Lockdown 18

The mood of the Lockdown is changing considerably.  It seems fraying and fractured, with grief and anger rising and being held alongside our deep care for each other, our families and communities.

Many are returning, or facing the prospect of returning, to something not normal, but strange and different.  Some are relieved, some are afraid, most are, I suspect, both.

The words of Wendell Berry’s wonderful and sustaining poem, The peace of wild things, keep coming into my mind.  They sum up for me what I am seeking to do in these Lockdown poems, and what I am doing in my life.  Keeping grounded in the beauty and grace I am experiencing in the spring, and finding in them a deeper beauty and grace than the surface, than the expected.  It speaks to something more, within and beyond, as if, by considering the lilies of the field, we may find a deeper truth and insight.

So here is a poem about trees, and also about the shadows that can fall across life, and the possibility of growth, even so.

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I decided to include this one, even though it is imperfect.

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Yellow-leaved Maple   Lockdown Poems 18

I am watching these strange pink
and buttery leaves unfold on the maple,
its long green flowers
covered with bees.

All its life till now
the tree’s canopy leaned back,
partial, growing around the
darkness of that old cedar,
now gone,
as it sought the light.

So now, new leaves are opening
on those thin bare branches
to the south,
exploring that new clear space,
leaves growing where
they did not, before.

Its shape is becoming an
open dome, it will be complete,
and even now is gilded, shining,
and mosaiced with lapis blue light.
Under it feels a holy place.

Patience.  Patience.
When the shadow has passed,
the growth will begin,
and be seen.

Poem: Pencil case Lockdown 17

Another Lockdown Poem to share with you today.  This one is less a grounding in the garden, and more a writing about my pencil case.

I’d been looking for it, ready to go outside in the morning and do my thing, and couldn’t find it.   I went out anyway with my notebook, and there it was, on the bench.  So this is a piece about my pencil – I do prefer pencil – and writing, and the dark.

The next poem will be back to getting lost in noticing the growing things, paying attention to the moment…..

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Pencil case  Lockdown 17

My pencil case has been outside,
on this bench, all night.
As I touch its cold zip,
see its black interior,
I wonder.
Have these pencils known
things I have not?
The meteor shower I missed,
the Milky Way, perhaps,
visible in our now
darkened sky,
The gentle deer,
the owls?

They have known
the chill of night….
I turn over this cold pencil,
soft lead, and dark,
and hold it in my hand,
weighing its qualities.
What might it hold?

Might it be more inclined
to speak of darkness,
things unseen,
unknowable?
Might it brim over
with night?

Yet here I am,
wondering about
hidden stars,
and light that is unseen,
and yet, and yet,
also knowing, also feeling,
its cold, its dark,
as I write, and write.

Poem: What Matters – Lockdown 14, and being on The Verb

This next Lockdown poem looks up to the sky – but it picks up the theme of bird calls,  a theme that has woven through these poems.  We’ll return to today’s poem later, but first I’d like to share with you a little bit about Friday.

Birdsong was the theme of Friday 15th’s edition of The Verb.  You can listen to it by following that most recent link.  I was enormously excited to have my poem, The Blackbird included.  My contribution is a little after 20 minutes in, but I would start at the beginning if you can.  The section on nightingales is so lovely.  It was strange having something that was part of my spontaneous record of lockdown being shared so wideley, and I felt a little nervous, and vulnerable, as it went out.  But I know that is somehow the point of this series, or sequence –  that it is unpolished, private even.  I hope it connects with people reading and listening because of that.  We don’t know where this is going, or where these poems will take us. It is, like everything else, a work in progress, a step into the unknow.

It was so good to find my recording in such excellent company on the programme, opening up, exploring, a love of birdsong, in particular as a means of deepening our connection with and affection for the rest of the natural world.  It is a feature of this lockdown, in spring, that many of us have been able to hear the birds with greater clarity, and deeper joy, than busy lives usually allow.

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Back to today’s poem, also featuring birds and their calls – a crow this time, a very different experience, and very powerful.  As it was a moment of aerial combat, I didn’t take any photos to share with you, but crows have featured in my poems before.  Here are links to two  – Crows and Crow, on the lawn

In the absence of photos, and continuing the home produced theme, here’s an experiment at linocutting to sit alongside the poem.

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One thing many of us are doing during this lockdown is thinking about what matters.  Our priorities seem sharper, and values clearer.  I thought of that as I watched this crow.

What matters  Lockdown 14

Sudden, sharp, deep –
I know that crow-call
and look up, suddenly,
sharply, to see one solitary
bird, small in the wide blue,
small next to the great buzzard
it harries, and parries.

The buzzard twists away,
and edges, back,
and twist, and edges,
back and back,
weaving a brown thread
through the relentlessly blue sky.

Just one crow, keeping them safe,
keeping the nest and the young
and the tribe safe,
for surely the buzzard must know
it’s too much bother to bother
with these, so well defended.

Does the crow feel fear,
anger, rage?
I do not think he makes
a cool calculation of odds.
The crow knows what matters,
defends what matters,
threading the blue with
its black zigzag,
keeping all safe.

Lockdown Poem on the radio!

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I am delighted and astonished to announce that one of my Lockdown Poems is going to be included in this week’s episode of BBC Radio 3’s wonderful  The Verb.

That’s Friday, 15th May at 22:00 BST. If you follow the link to the programme above, you’ll be able to find it on that date.  The programme is entitled birdsong.  I’m just after 20 minutes in, but if you start at the beginning, you’ll hear the nightingales…..

It’s a fascinating programme, and very beautiful.  It explores our relationship with birdsong, which has become much more intense during the lockdown, and how people have been inspired by it, and how we connect to the natural world through it.  The producer invited me to say a little bit about myself and the process, as well as reading the poem.  So I’ve been learning how to record myself on my phone, which is one of many new tech experiences of this time.  The poem is The Blackbird – Lockdown 7.

I sat on my bench quite early in the morning, and did manage to capture some birdsong in the background, which was just perfect.  The blackbird was joining in, as is only right.  It’s his poem as much as mine.

Thank you for your virtual company through these poems – there are more in the notebook, wainting to emerge.

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Poem: Red Leaves – Lockdown Poems 3

I’ve been spending time with my notebook, while we’ve been in lockdown.  Usually, the words come from what’s going on around me, grounding myself in my ground.  I am aware how fortunate I am to have sight of new leaves, as here, but I hope these small verses give you a place where your imagination can connect with the spring, wherever you are.

They are just moments as they come.

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The subject of this poem springs from the story of Moses and the Burning Bush, which you can read about here.

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A moment in the garden, shared with you.

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Red leaves   lockdown 3
Oh, the sun through those red leaves,
shiny and shining,
And here, too, the smokebush,
just kindling to red flame,
before the leaf-smoke thickens,
as the sun’s light strengthens.
You can almost feel them growing,
as you bask in their cold fire.

It’s all holy.
All this good earth.
As my knees feel the
softness of grass,
and the air smells so of green,
and of the damp warming soil,
and grass, and primroses.

Yes.  This place.
Yes.  This time, even this.

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Poem: Today, sound. Lockdown Poems1

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As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I am writing during this lockdown – as a way of expressing something, as a way of grounding myself in the physical experience of where I am, of keeping some kind of a record of what this time feels like, which is very different from what watching the news feels like, at least for me.  What emerges from this practice is simple, free, unpolished.

My notebook comes with me into the garden, and so it’s to the garden that I invite you now, especially if you are in a place where you have no view of green growing things, and hear no birdsong. I am aware how fortunate I am to have such a place, and how much harder it is to navigate this time without sight of spring.  So I hope that, as I share these poems with you, you can come outside in your imagination, and sit on the bench, and rest awile in the sun.

 

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Today – sound.  
Lockdown poems 1

Today, it is quiet.
Cars, if they pass at all,
come one by one, strung out,
separate,
dark beads running along
a dark thread.
The old sound comes, and goes,
comes, and goes.

Here, today, in this green space,
we hear, instead, the buzz of
long-tongued bees, feasting
and drunk among the primroses.
Primroses, spilling yellow,
everywhere, in the lawn
on which a faint dark
line threads – the path
of a soft deer
who comes by night.
And above, now,
buzzards and hawks
have the high sky to themselves,
flying in their wide circles.

I hear now, as if for the first time,
full birdsong, triumphant, liberated.
Suddenly an audience has turned
from its spent tables
towards this wide green stage,
and listened, amazed,
as loud song rises louder,
louder, knowing it will be heard.

 

 

 

 

Poem: Easter 2020 Lockdown poems 9

I have been writing this lockdown, and am sharing this poem with you first, although it is not the first I have written.  I am sharing it while we are still in the season of Easter – a strange, isolated Easter it’s been.

I wonder, though, if it is more like the first Easter than our usual celebrations, in many ways.  I wonder how it will seem, when we look back at it.

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Easter 2020  Lockdown 9

It wasn’t loud, or triumphant,
that first Easter.
The worship places were not full
of people shouting, together,
Alleluia.

I wonder if it was,
strangely, more like this.
Strange.  Shut away
for fear, for love,
behind closed doors,

quiet, while the world
fell apart, while dreams
lay cast aside, a coat
for a long-gone season.

And you came like a gardener,
maybe smelling of soil, with
sap-stains on your un-white,
un-shining clothes.  You brought
earth and growth with you

to Mary, who could not touch you,
to others, behind those doors
closed against the world. You
met them in their shut away places.

Maybe you will meet us too,
in our scattered homes, afraid,
untouched,  and working in shops,
and bending in fields, that we may
all eat in this wilderness,

maybe exhausted by
the work of healing,
and still holding the hands of those
who are passing into the darkness
of the tomb,
speaking softly in their ear.
Maybe these are the places you
are to be found, this year,
every year.

Holy Week at home – Some readings, poems, and Good Friday resources here on my blog.

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As we approach Easter, many people take time to focus on the journey Jesus makes towards the cross.  Our usual practices at this time are those of meeting together, and remembering together.  We can’t do that this year.  Instead, as we stay inside, for love of each other, we will have to do things differently.

Perhaps we can focus on an inner journey, something quieter, more contemplative.  As we do so, we may find, as many have before, that we get to a place of deeper connection, more grounded truth, fuller love.  We may find new meaning in Jesus’ teaching and example, of letting things fall away, of finding himself alone, of allowing.

In case it helps, I’ve gathered together some of the blog posts here that you might find help.  I will add to it as more things occur to me, and as I write and update more.

Please feel free to use any of the resources you find helpful, and to share them, saying where they are from.
A little explanation about  Easter Retold

The Retold thread of my blog gives you sections from my book, “The Bible Story Retold in Twelve Chapters”, and “Prayers and Verses” that sits alongside it.  You can get hold of these through the internet, and maybe your local bookshop if they take orders for delivery.  It’s good for all ages, and is used in family services and care homes.

The House at Bethany, the Raising of Lazarus

Many spend time with this Gospel story in Holy Week.  It’s a story that means a great deal to me.  You can find some links below.

Sunday Retold – Lazarus raised from the dead

Here you will find the readings, and some things to ponder, as well as one of my Mary at your feet poem.  If you would like to focus on the poetry, you could go here:

The ‘Mary, at your feet’ poems – Two

The ‘Mary, at your feet’ poems – Three
This last also contains a contemplative prayer/writing exercise.

There are readings, things to do, things to reflect on, in the I Am series which draws on another of my books.

Jesus said, I Am – for Lent. Chapter 5, the Resurrection and the Life

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Artist – Frank Wesley

 

Other Holy Week stories – You can find these in Chapter 11 of my retelling – both editions:  The Bible Story Retold, and The Lion Classic Bible, which share the same text.  The second of these has lovely illustrations by Sophie Williamson.

Prayers and Verses also has a section in Chapter 11 called The Road to Good Friday, which you might find useful.

Maundy Thursday – The Last Supper, Jesus washes their feet.

Retold –
Retold: Maundy Thursday

Poem- Poem: Jesus washes Judas’ feet.

We also find two of the great I Am sayings in this narrative:
Jesus said, I Am – for Lent. Chapter 6 – I am the way, the truth and the life.

Jesus said, I Am – For Lent. Chapter 7, Vine

Later in the evening, when Jesus is arrested, there is a further I Am moment:

Lent: Jesus said I Am …… Holy Week, I am he – Jesus betrayed

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Jesus Washing the Feet of his Disciples, 1898 (oil and grisaille on paper) by Edelfelt, Albert Gustaf Aristides (1854-1905) chalk and grisaille on paper 58×47 © Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden Finnish, out of copyright

Good Friday

Retold: Good Friday Retold

Now, we come to the new poems I’ve written for Good Friday – based on the seven sentences Jesus spoke from the cross. I’ve put them together with some readings, music, and art, to give you a Good Friday Meditation.  I’ve recorded the readings and poems, and they should appear on YouTube, on Good Friday, under my name.  I’ll post the links here when that happens

The poems themselves: Poems – Seven Sentences from the Cross

The meditations: A Good Friday Meditation – including 7 new poems

And I’ll add the YouTube material here.

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Angus Dei  Francisco de Zurbaran

 

Easter Sunday

A simple retelling: Retold: Easter Day!

If you are following in my books of Bible retellings and prayers, Chapter 12 moves us into New Life.

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Thank you for joining me.  I hope you find these things help.
Keep safe and well.
Bless you.

Jesus said, I Am – For Lent. Chapter 7, Vine

This post – for Holy Week – is the next in the series based on my book, Jesus said, I am – finding life in the everyday.

It’s also Palm Sunday, when we think of the crowds laying down palm leaves. This year, such crowds seem very far away from our experience, as we are isolating at home.  It’s a time when churches often fill with people, or process with branches.  This year, we can’t do that.  Instead, some are making palm crosses, or gathering greenery, to decorate their doors as a sign in participation in this time.  It’s part of how we are all adapting to our situation, and finding ways of connecting, and marking times corporately.  These things help.

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My Palm Sunday leaves.

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Back to another growing thing, to the Vine.

I do not have a vine in my garden, but I have so many other plants that are just opening up to new life.

I have been planting seeds.  My veggie beds, rebuilt a few years ago by my son and a friend, have not been productive in the past, but this year, there are signs of hope.  There are a few little shoots coming up, and raspberry canes beginning to grow.  I hope that we’ll have fresh salad leaves before too long.

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I’ve also been thinking of the wisteria, and the corkscrew hazel, in the light of this reading which tells of vines and gardeners.

This year, the wisteria is covered in long purple buds, and will soon be heady with scented flowers.  Last year, my gardener worked hard to cut back the unproductive growth, to focus the plant’s attention on the buds of  this year’s flowering.

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The corkscrew hazel requires less skilled intervention – I can manage to tell which stems are coming up straight, and need removing so the wild disarray of the corkscrew can grow freely.

These moments of intervention  are part of what happens here – I also love the wild flowers – or weeds, I love to watch what happens, what grows of its own accord. It is a hospitable place.  I love the rhythm of managed and wild.  I love the crowds of birds, the insects, the butterflies and bees that seem to thrive here.

This year, many are noticing and valuing the gradual creep of spring, the morning birdsong, the clearing skies, in a way they haven’t before.  These small joys are opening up to us, and we find they are deeply satisfying.  If we have a windowbox, or a garden, or a view, the subtle changes we see bring us joy.

Our Father is a gardener, we read.

John 15:1-17

Once again, we will just touch on some of the themes this image opens up for us.  There is always more.  Here are a few things, offered for your reflection – and some suggestions of how we might live inside this  song of the vineyard.

There is a way of seeing the overarching narrative of the Bible that looks like this: three gardens – the garden of Eden in Genesis, the garden tomb of the resurrection and the garden city of Revelation.  If we hold this narrative in our minds, we see a story of flourishing, of hope, of new growth despite the winters we encounter.  Gardens and their gardeners are a theme that runs through the whole Bible text.  Gardens are both beautiful and necessary, a sign of a settled life, a sign of peace and security, a promise of plenty.  And within the garden, the vine winds and trails its way through scripture, a sign of the people of God in both testaments, their frailty and fruitfulness, their need of a gardener to bring out their best flourishing, their provision of fruit and, more especially, wine to gladden the heart, wine soon to be poured out.

We are invited to be part of this fruitfulness and flourishing.  We are invited to be part of something bigger than ourselves, joined to others as well as to Jesus. We are invited to participate, and to contribute, to give and to receive.

As Jesus and his friend walked in the dark past vineyards, the image of the vine was real, fragrant, touchable.  This song was no distant allegory.  It was before them.  What would they have glimpsed, in the thin light?

A winter vineyard looks as dead as dead can be.  The bark flakes and pulls away.  But, here, in the spring, buds would have been bursting out.  What appeared dead was returning to life, throwing out tendrils, leaves, maybe blossoms.  They knew the importance of the vine, and the care and wisdom needed to tend it and make it fruitful. Passover required the drinking of four cups of wine…. Their blood was warmed with wine as they walked through the chill of night.

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And in the spring, sap runs through its veins like blood – it pours through, swelling the hidden buds.  This is a kingdom vine.  The way life flows through it is like the way the Spirit will sustain Jesus’ followers after he has gone.  The vine is loved and cared for by the Father.  God alone is the gardener of this vine.

 

Remain

To a group of people who will soon be scattered in the darkness, who will abandon him, Jesus talks of remaining, abiding.  He talks to them, assuring them they are already connected to the vine, already clean.  What will happen does not change that for them  He says this first, at the beginning of the song.  All else that follows is held within the certainty that they are part of the vine.

Here is the melody of the song, and this is what we need to treasure – that we are also part of this vine, the sap flows through us.

The heart of it all is remaining in Jesus, as Jesus remains in the Father; remaining because of love, so that joy may be complete.  We may not understand, but we an hold open the possibility of this love and grace and belonging.

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Fruit

We have talked about abiding, remaining, but the purpose of the vine is the fruit and the purpose of the pruning is to increase the vine’s capacity to bear fruit.  As Jesus continues his song of the vineyard, we see this fruit linked to a circular pattern of love – it begins with the Father for the Son, flows from the Son to humanity, who are then, for the second time, commanded to love in their (our) turn. The outcome of all this is joy – Jesus’ joy will be in us and our joy will be complete.

Love, joy… from there, we are naturally drawn to another mention of fruit in the New Testament – the fruit of the Spirit.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  There is no law against such things.
Galatians 5:22-23

The branches attached to the vine have the life of the Spirit flowing through them.  There is beauty in a fruitful vine, with its leaves, blossom and, in time, the ripening fruit.  Our lives, filled ith the flow of the Spirit, can have such beauty.  The life of Jesus, flowing through us, is transformative.  Maybe Jesus is telling us here how the Spirit works, how our lives can be part of something greater.  Connection to the soure of all life and love leads to flourishing.  We are not isolated, purposeless, lonely individuals.  We are part of the something greater, and we can live out our lives fruitfully.

Reflection and Response

Further Study

Read the account of the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12). Reflect on the symbolic meaning of the empty jars used for religious cleansing, here filled with fine wine at a wedding.
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Colossians 1:15-20.  How does this image of Christ connect with your thoughts on the vine? How do all things hold together in Christ?

Prayer and Meditation
Lectio divina
meditation – rooted and grounded in love
Read Ephesians 3:14-16, asking God to speak to you by drawing your attention to a word or phrase.  Read the passage out loud, slowly, twice, leaving silence between and around the readings.  See where your attention snags, what strikes you, and ponder that.  If you are with others, hold a time of silence, then share your words or phrases.

Read again.  On the last reading, be alert to anything that applies to you or your situation directly, any place where the Holy Spirit may be moving or guiding you.  Thank God for what you have learned.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Now remain in my love.  John 15:9

 

When you dwell on the idea of all being connected, and held together in Christ, does that help as you navigate this world in which we are more physically separate than we would wish?

Have you ever experienced anything that felt like pruning?  What happened? What was that like?  Offer any loss, any gain, through that process to God in prayer.  Be alert to signs of new life that may emerge.
Our lives are seriously curtailed at present.  Might there be, even in this real difficulty, some space where something new and better might emerge?

 

How can we connect in a time of disconnection? How can we show solidarity, and offer help, when the normal means of being together are not available for us?

Life and service

Connection and community
Take some time to connect with people in your community.  Be on the lookout today, this week, for ways you can build connection with those around you.  It can be as simple as taking a few minutes to speak to a neighbour, smiling at a passer by or something more.

ways you might be part of making a stronger community.  Ideas could include:

  • using local shops
  • walking or cycling where you can.
  • with others, notice the needs in your community, and finding ways to bless and reach out – the elderly or housebound may require help, or young families, etc.
  • litter picking the streets around you, or clearing snow or leaves as appropriate

……..

Care for a garden, or a piece of land near where you are.  Collaborate with others to enrich and bless growing and living things nearby.

Further reading – I recommend Richard Rohr’s book, The Divine Dance – the Trinity and your Transformation

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The Rublev icon

 

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