2014, Conversation on Race, Thoughts

Ferguson, MO

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

A friend calls

White, blond, Iowa bred

‘Can I ask you something political?’

She tells how her 

sister-in-law-to-be posts

a picture on Facebook.

“She does not understand how one shooting

causes riots. She calls me “liberal”

What do I say? How do I get her to understand?”

The pause is ache. 

“I know from college that to shop

while black, to drive while black,

to live while black is hard.

What do I say? I am so angry with her.”

The silence covers the years of no 

conversations on race. 

A nation inflamed – 

Hands up, don’t shoot 

erupts like a pimple that ached for weeks

on the tender skin that is the American soul.

We don’t talk about it.

We cover it over with accomplishments.

We are post-racial 

(Thanks to a black President 

who is really bi-racial for those who care and black for those who don’t.)

Yet, upstate New York conservatives don’t 

get why one shooting 

brings out what brown skinned folks have known 

for years:

Life while black 

from birth to death.

We are one of two nations with race on the birth certificate.

Marked from the womb to the tomb

You are black whether rich or poor.

The darker the skin, the more easily marked

Yet light skin does not help

When the cop stops you for driving a 

car that is “too good” for you.

“How I got over” – Clara Ward

knew this.

Three women in a Cadillac in Georgia

White men who didn’t like it

Fake possession to avoid

the lynching, killing, robbing

of what was theirs.

Oprah knew this

from Swiss sellers 

who thought she could not afford

the bag, maybe $10,000

A worldwide phenom billionaire

with smooth mocha skin

supporting her sister Tina’s wedding

shut out.

Apologies don’t cover

the race realty for living while black.

No one mentions how media 

makes living black hard,

even among other brown skins that are black

but not born in America.

I tell my friend this. 

She knows she has privilege, 

that no one will follow her out of fear,

but only out of lust or desire.

She has a kind heart and empathy.

It is a hard conversation to have at 9:30 in the morning

when you been up every 90 minutes since 3am

and sleep has granted you reprieve for another 85 minutes

before the phone rings.

How to convey a lifetime of blackness

in twenty minutes before she has to go.

How to say – give your sister-in-law-to-be Peggy McIntosh, 

tell her to read W.E.B. Dubois, 

the story of Matthew Perry, 

Benjamin Baneker, Madame CJ Walker,

knowing that until she has lived as black

she can never know the true depths of 

why Ferguson was not a wake up call

but a reminder of what we fear most:

walking down the street unarmed

and being killed outright for who we are

not what we have done.

We know that if Michael Brown were white

“unrest” would be short

Darren Wilson would have been named in the first 12 hours

arrested

charged

exposed as killer

Not revered as a hero in hiding

Facebook posts asking for protection of his family

as though he is a victim.

We know that if Darren Wilson was black

someone would have taken care of him

and his family

and the media would say nothing

the law would do little

and upstate New York sister-in-law-to-be would say 

justice has been served.

August 24, 2014 – by Clio Ajana

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2014, Prison Ministry, The Gods, Thoughts, Uncategorized

Memories, Apologies and Veneration

As the moon continues its waxing course, while the chronological year draws to a close, there is much in the air to remember. Today, on my way to my regular prison ministry visit, a local talk show aired a segment about the most memorable public apologies made during the year 2014. Often an apology can range from the “Don’t do as I did, learn from my mistakes” category to the “My bad” non-apology apology to a nagging silence that can a gaping wound in the psyche of the one who needs and deserves the apology.

Photo Dec 31, 6 24 13 PMThis is the time of year when many look for new paths, beginnings or a fresh start. Apologies can be brief, with the saying “off with the old, on with the new” being the catch phrase to absolve our own conscience or those of others who might not want to reflect upon the pain or unresolved issues of 2014.  Yet, this should be the very time that we consider apologies, those others gave to us, those we made to others, and most of all, those we wish we had made, but did not. Perhaps we ran out of time through the death of a loved one. Others could not turn back the clock due to a move to another locale, hundreds or even thousands of miles away.  Some chose the “let sleeping dogs lie” rationale to counter the voice of one’s own conscience that reminds the heart of a needed apology.

One lesson that I have learned through my visits to men, incarcerated for years, and sometimes decades, is that an apology is not just a saying or a brief “I’m sorry” hastily given.

Instead, these men have reminded me how in Paganism, in the Craft, or in any tradition, self-reflection and self-accountability are key to a strong religious practice.  Yes, many will say that they came to a particular aspect of Paganism because they hate organized religion; however, I have not yet found a Pagan path or tradition that does not emphasize some aspect of knowing the self and making amends, either through action, words or both, as a part of an ethical framework. There is something in the human condition, regardless of religious or spiritual path that cries out for fairness, balance and redress when a perceived slight has occurred. For most of us, that comes down to a sincere act of reflection and awareness of the impact of our words or actions on others. An apology can be the very act that demonstrates to the recipient the true nature of the giver.  When we apologize in sincerity, we are saying that we know and are aware of our flaw in a certain area, that we publicly declare our remorse for said action, and that we intend to change our future behavior to reflect this newfound recognition.  This is also a lesson that is given in many so-called “organized” religions.

Today, I saw men who were attempting to grapple with the depths of human emotion for actions committed years or decades earlier. Their reflections on 2014 were based in part on improvement in their relationships with each other and their families. Some placed their remorse on the page, while others recollected their successes trusting others to accept their verbal confessions. These mens’ lives are incredibly structured and at times, it is only the perceived sincerity of an apology by those around them that will help to move them a fraction of a step closer to eventual release. Some crave the freedom to do what many of us are able to do freely: demonstrate awareness of our remorse publicly with the knowledge that our apology is received and accepted in kind.   Others remain haunted by the first step towards a genuine apology: remembrance of the words or actions that require the apology.

It is in memory that we reflect and grow as humans.  For those who are on Facebook, there is a commonly seen item on news feeds of late:  X’s Year in Review. You are invited to see your particular friend’s year in pictures and quotes. In a way, Facebook is allowing its users to take a step to see the good and bad of a particular year. For those who live on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and the like, technology provides the tools either to recall good times or to express a sigh of relief at the “oops” moments swiftly deleted from public memory – and ours.

courtesy of pixabay.com

As the year closes, we can see our memories and make promises to do better. This brings to the surface the matter of veneration. We honor and revere our Gods and our ancestors through the acts of memory, acknowledgement and apology. Regardless of one’s path, the ethical and personal connection with the ancestors and Gods is strengthened by the choices made in these areas. This year’s Winter Solstice on December 21 (in the US, December 22 01:36am GMT) was also a Dark Moon at zero degrees Capricorn, an auspicious time to sweep the slate clean and to begin major undertakings for the year 2015.  Capricorn signifies, among other things, discipline and commitment.  We do both when we choose to remember and to apologize.  I am grateful to the men who shared freely of their own remembrances of 2014 with honesty and the understanding that trust and faith in the Gods means being ready to move forward in awareness and apology.  May we each have the same courage as we begin 2015.

12/31/2014 by Clio Ajana

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2015, Thoughts

Letter of Gratitude


pumpkins-821805_640

Thanksgiving is a traditional time for family gatherings, relaxation, charity walks, protests, pre-Black Friday online shopping, and gratitude. As a fall holiday, Thanksgiving  gives opportunities  to embrace the positive.  It is also a good time to reflect on how to turn the negative into positive in one’s life.  As a witch of color,  a creative spirit and a  loving daughter, I am grateful for my circle, my family, the good times and the hard times.  As the calendar year of 2015 wanes,  during this Thanksgiving season, I am grateful to the Gods for the lessons gathered through caregiving.

My home faith, Hellenic Alexandrian Tradition,  stresses the four personal virtues of moderation, self-control, reciprocity, hospitality in combination with a fifth virtue, Charis (grace or the  outward reciprocity between humanity and the Gods)  to frame our religious concepts. Prayer and creativity are the twin flames of practice and belief.   In the room next door, my mother sleeps. As I listen to the sound of her breathing,  I am grateful that she is alive for me to care for her, to love her, and to be annoyed at little things she does. She is the gentle reminder of how the personal virtues combine with gratitude to enrich everyday life.

Moderation in caregiving is a daily reminder that nothing has to be overboard and that there is time, however brief, to enjoy a loved one’s presence and just have fun. This year, I been grateful for the ability to use moderation in dealing with minor setbacks. Instead of a long or stressful plane flight, a walk around a park or down the block on a sunny day may bring just as much of a smile as the lure of seeing another place. Watching a favorite show or a classic movie leads to conversation about past and present goals.  When the end of life is staring you in the face, joy in the small things is a good thing.  I am so grateful for that lesson this year.

Self-control is hard as a caregiver. I live as an activist, a supporter, a defender, and a champion for my loved one. It doesn’t matter that Doctor X recommends Option A and Doctor Y recommends Option B; I am grateful for the will and strength to fight to get the best medical care possible for someone who did the same for her mother and her mother-in-law. Daily prayer helps to strengthen my self-control at times when anxiety robs my mother of the ability to sleep and it is more important to remain calm than to yell or scream at her. It is the little mentioned side of caregiving: the willingness to maintain control of the self even as the one you love is regressing, be it through illness or an accelerated aging process.

Inward reciprocity reflects the joy of giving back what has been received from others, a type of “pay it forward”.  It is easy to give back to a loved one when the memories are good and the tasks are simple;however, it can be difficult to pay the love forward when the recollections are negative.  When looking at times that others,especially my mother, have nudged me in the right direction, I latch onto the desire to share that love and bounty with those who need it now.  In caregiving, my mother says the funniest things at 2am, when we look out the window at snow on the ground, the wind is still, and the full moon shines in brilliance.  These moments strengthen the desire to express compassion with others, as they have expressed it to me. Laughter during times of stress is the gift my mother has given to many. During those early morning conversations, when I ask her to try counting sheep to get to sleep,and she reminds me that the sheep don’t want to be counted, I have to laugh. She laughs too.  We pay it forward to each other.

Hospitality as a personal virtual is one of welcoming. In caregiving, taking care of the self is just as important as the needs of the recipient. Often, it is the easiest part of the task to forget.  During this holiday season, I am grateful for the reminders that being kind to myself, nurturing myself with good food, maintaining solid friendships, developing a healthy mental balance, and enjoying physical activity are not options, but necessities. As a creative spirit and a child of the Gods, I cannot let the well run dry. How can I be genial, kind, warm, and generous as a caregiver when the same qualities are ones I  don’t enjoy with myself?

During my talks with the Gods, I pose questions, address frustrations, and simply want to know how to do the best job that I can.  For this Thanksgiving, I can honestly say that I have one of the best jobs in the world: caregiver.  No, I am not giving false hope, nor am I (too) excessively sleep deprived. It is the fifth virtue, outward grace Charis, that helps to shape and to maintain the whole, to remind me that gratitude nourishes and gives back so many times over. Caregiving unites all of these virtues with love of the Gods, the Craft, overall the power of prayer, and the necessity of always practicing what I believe as a witch.   I wish the blessings of gratitude, the personal virtues, and grace to all this holiday season.

11/28/2015 by Clio Ajana

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2015, Aging, Thoughts

A Few Thoughts on Aging and Paganism

This is a repost from an earlier blog post at Daughters of Eve.  With my grandmother’s death earlier this year, the subject is even more timely now.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daughtersofeve/2013/04/a-few-thoughts-on-aging-and-paganism/

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Lately, I  have been thinking of what happens when we age. I watch my mother, her gait slowed by arthritis, chronic illness, and the effects of a life ravaged by urban living and the urgency of our modern times. She is Christian. She can find any place she wishes in a variety of Christian denominations, should she wish to enjoy assisted living or even a nursing home in a Christian-positive religious setting.  Yet, when my time comes, as I know it will, where will I go? As a witch, as a pagan, as a lesbian, there are few places for us. As a witch of color, there are even fewer places.

I have observed the vagaries of aging in our society through the lens of assisted living and nursing home practices during the past ten years. I have watched how those who manage and interact with the aged on a day to day basis treat those who age. The administrative detritus that swamps the nurses, aides and staff build on a daily, monthly and yearly basis to the point where the aged are no longer individuals, valued for their wisdom, but bodies, numbers and problems.

Privacy and rights that many of the able-bodied and young take for granted erode during the process of a slow decline in the present state of assisted living and nursing home facilities. For each vibrant ninety year old who lives at home, drives his or her on car and amazes the world through the maintenance of an ordinary life, there are dozens of aged who are simply marking time in a listless, institutionalized existence.

As Pagans, we embrace free will and  the freedom to do as we please. We enjoy festivals, gatherings, rituals and the beauty of honoring nature, Earth and the Gods who exist around and among us.  We have made great strides in coming out of the closet as individual religious traditions under the common umbrella known as Paganism.  Soldiers’ tombstones can now be marked with a pentacle. Clergy are more frequently granted access to Pagans of all religious traditions in hospitals and in prisons.  It is not perfect;however, it is progress.

Yet when one looks around at Pagan gatherings and festivals, there is a segment that is greying. Current crones and elders in their fifties and sixties soon shall become the blessed guides of wisdom in their seventies, eighties, nineties and beyond.  The gods grant us time to learn, to enjoy and to embrace the world around us and each other. We speak of personal responsibility to ourselves and to the the larger community of Pagans. If we truly wish to continue and to prosper, even as those of the first and second generations raise third, fourth and fifth generations, then we need to honor a placed for the aged among us, as we do the young.

We are saddened when a crone or an elder passes. I have observed recent obituaries in our local PNC. None of the elders was over 65 or 70. As I care for my own mother, who has passed that age, and my nonagenarian grandmother, who recently passed on, I think of what can be done now, so that those whose mundane lives will be dependent on non-Pagans will have a home to embrace and enjoy as Pagans.

We are many and widespread throughout the world.  Perhaps there might not be a senior building, but perhaps a series of homes, places there are wheelchairs and eldercare friendly. These spaces would have wide doorways, lower countertops and shelving units, and companions  who share earth-based and nature based values. Companions can be paid and volunteer. They can live onsite or off. Ritual would be a common occurrence, bi-monthly or more as moons and sabbats allow.  Eldercare friendly ritual materials would be a common sight. Unlike the current system of care for the aged, where activities are subtly or openly monotheistic and primarily Christian or Jewish based, a new system based on the variety of religious traditions would be permitted.  Given the nature of some in the Pagan community who are also LGBTQIA, there would be room for those who affiliate with both groups.

Will there be costs and questions of how to finance such an an undertaking, as well as where to locate it? Absolutely.  I used to teach a course called “Voices on Aging”.  One of the final projects that I would give to students was the challenge to design a greenhouse, an intentional living community for the aged.  Only one student ever included an actual greenhouse for plants because she farmed. Her idea of an intentional community included giving back to the larger community with a food bank consisting of fresh, greenhouse-grown vegetables.

In a model greenhouse, crones and elders are not tagged or institutionalized, but thriving in an emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually nurturing environment. Such communities can include care centers, hospitals and joint community centers to encourage interaction. The benefit of the greenhouse approach opposed to current standards is the emphasis on avoiding isolationism and the encouragement of freedom for those who live there. This would not be a place, similar to one Midwestern home my student described, where you could look out back window of the assisted living facility and see the cemetery where you would eventually be buried and the nursing home where you might stop along the way.

This is a place that considers the economic reality and the rights of those who only have social security as being equal to the rights of those who have several hundred thousand set aside for retirement. In each case, students were required to figure out how such facilities could be reasonably financed.  For some partnerships with local and state governments in addition to plans that start 10 to 30 years before a resident expects to enter are solutions. For the more able-bodied, bartering services, time and resources to support the cost are options.  For some greenhouses, private pay with a small circle on private land was the key.  There is more than one method and more than one location.

I live in a cold weather state, blessed by winter four to five months during most years. I was not surprised at the range of student suggestions for greenhouse communities set anywhere south of I-10, in the desert, or close to vibrant locations that cater to retirees, such as Ithaca, NY. Other potential locations could be close to educational communities, good quality and inexpensive medical facilities and a plethora of family.

Each time I leave my adopted home and return to the temperate climes of the mid-Atlantic region, I think of these things. My nonagenarian grandmother had her sights set on the century mark, in a monotheistic facility. She ended her days in such a place, without the concerns that those who are Pagan have. I hope that in the coming years, each of us will find a place where we can freely and openly commune and identify as Pagan.

This was just to get the ball rolling.

What are your thoughts?

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2015, The Gods, Thoughts

A Dedication to and Rumination on Lord Ptah and Lady Diana Lucifera

Lord Ptah, Lord of Eternity!

As Grand Architect and Preserver of World Order,

you see the large scope, the grand plan

and use structure and dexterity to create.

You see the big picture,

the safety of all,

and the long-term creations of those on this plane of existence.

You are one of a trinity for inventors, artists, and craftsmen,

along with Lord Hephaestus and Lord Vulcan.

Great listener, you are the internal fire that provides sustained nourishment during long projects.

When a chapter isn’t working,  when the plan misses a critical piece,

your calm whisper, your insistent nudge reverberates in the soul

a reminder of the overall plan.

It is not the part, but the whole.

Foundation, discipline, and manifestation result in creation, the sacred purpose, the gift to the world.

Divine Artificer,   I dedicate myself to the path and discovery of the plan and I thank you for your presence in my life.

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Hail Diana Lucifera!

Goddess of the Divine Feminine, you have taught me to embrace the positive side of being feminine.

Bringer of Light and Understanding, your touch and your words note that the feminine current is not for women only, but for all adherents.

When I have acted in a clingy, negative, and childish manner in the craft, it is not the Positive Feminine, but a deformation of what could be. If the positive creates and unifies, the negative destroys by having too much of a good thing. You have helped me to understand when endless demand deteriorates gains into deep wounds and losses and when excessive order erodes into mania and rigid control.

Through your guidance,  my understanding of the feminine is both overt and covert.

I ask for your continued blessings and seek to maintain and to understand the balance between the Goddess and God parts of myself.

Lady and embodiment of the feminine current, your power seeks and grasps all who are willing adherents – men and women.

As you have reminded me often, full knowledge of the feminine is not limited by gender.  Purification requires the strength of the feminine and the masculine currents. With your tutelage, I seek to continue to strengthen in the feminine current, as I work with others to fortify myself in the masculine current. Both are necessary, and for a long time I ignored one for the other.

Revealer of the Eternal Feminine, at this most recent dark moon, I re-dedicated myself to the path of internal and external knowledge through  your wisdom and guidance.  You are the moon, the light, the unconscious,  and a balm for the part of my soul that needs healing.

I thank you for the light that you have brought and continue to bring into my life.

Doxa Theion!

Agape

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2015, The Gods, Thoughts

Dedication to and Rumination on Lord Hephaestus and Lord Vulcan

Lord Hephaestus, one of the forge and creativity. You do not mince words.

Stick to the grindstone a bit a day – This will get you to more.

Stick to the grindstone. Come back with product. I speak no more – not of this.

And when I have seemed stuck you remind me: I have spoken little because you have done little.

Lord Hephaestus,  are the fire of creation that feeds the bellows of my heart. When I write, I create product.

Work.  You are one who demands much, the contribution. You demand individual choice.

Work hard at your dreams, you say.  I cannot tell you what they are. I can help with them.

When I have wondered about my journey, my path, you remind me:

Beneath each person is a polish that is chipped. We are known through our imperfections.

Each creator or creatrix owes you a great deal. Creativity is love. Creativity requires discipline and commitment.

When we work with form and shape, it pleases you. We are making efforts as works of Gods, as mageia.

Ritual is work. It is craft, it requires devotion and the fires, the fuel that come from the internal forge.

In devotion to you, my creativity is my crown.  As you have said, it is to be treated with care and constant cleaning. Cleaning the physical workspace and the mind. Cleaning in conversations with others, and cleaning as a means to push forward.

To clean is to create rather than to let fester the wounds of sullenness. To do what I do with joy, this is what you state as the tribute to you, God of the Forge and Creativity.

The grindstone may be bloody, yet blood is sloughing off unneeded excess. Each task completed paves the way to wholeness.

Strength is gained through repetition, yet work is not mindless drudgery.

As you have noted: “I may seem to bludgeon about in my forge, yet each item has a purpose, a gift; each turn of the wheel, swing of the hammer or push of the instrument is from strength, devotion, and love.  I love what I do. Do you?”

To that, I answer that yes, I can truly say that I do love what I do.

It is this realization that I hold fast as I speed down highways, the joy wielding the combustible engine in my  heart and hands.  This knowledge strengthens me as I help others on their personal journeys, through the instrumentation of the keyboard or the invisible fibers of the conventional phone system.  In our contemporary mundane world, work  is not glamorized, except when it is considered monetarily successful. In your worship, I have learned that each task done well is a tribute to you and to the process of life, regardless of the material gain.

Strength through repetition. This has been a hard, but necessary lesson learned.

I thank you, Lord Hephaestus, for your quiet counsel, and your keen insight from the heat of the forge.

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Lord Vulcan,

I call upon you during the season of Brunalia, as the light is still in its early waxing stages.  The heat of the south is your territory, the hammer and metalworking your symbols. As inseminator, you represent the spark of fire, of life, of fertility.  In dedication to you, I ask for your continued guidance in understanding the fire used in the arts, in alchemy, in the transformation of creative potential that resides within.

Fire destroys, creates, nurtures, and transforms.  The saying, “to burn a bridge” often indicates a point of no return, when the past cannot be retrieved.  At times, I’ve burned bridges when it has not been necessary, and left some standing that should have been blasted out of the water. I ask for your guidance in wielding the destructive and transformative nature of fire in the same manner that I have learned to create and to nurture, to offer as sacrifice and to use for cooking.

When your time comes in August, I look forward to seeing you in the fires and through the smoke. We harvest, we destroy, we celebrate.

I thank you and look forward to learning more with you.

Doxa Theion!

Agape

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2015, The Gods, Thoughts

Dedication to and Rumination on Lord Okeanos and Lady Tethys

Hail Okeanos!

I remember the days, as a new initiate, spending time hearing you

at night until four or five in the morning.

No one told me that your power could (and did) keep a person awake,

even though the nearest ocean tide was well over a thousand miles away.

Your presence reminded me of travels in Vladivostok, where your smell and

your abundance surrounded me.

A child of the Atlantic, I knew you then, long before the call came.

You were alive for me at the Pacific, which has a feel of roughness that belies its name.

Eight years ago, your power curled around me nightly, reminding me that  the world, no matter how large, is small in comparison to what is beyond our immediate comprehension.

Each dip, each trip to see you in physical form was another opportunity

to savor, worship and revere the depths of emotion that flow within.

At times, it was too much and then, you would remind me that one day

some how,

I would understand the whispers and thoughts

without losing too much sleep.

I missed you so much and waited.

Then, five years ago, I saw you again, but it was not time. There was too much happening.  I tossed a coin or two into a fountain beneath a big statue in your honor. Through the cold marble, I just could hear your whisper…

After all, we are mostly water.

There is an emotional growth cycle for every witch with his or her gods. With you, it was absence and hearing the lure in the shells that surrounded me that forced growth and eventually called me home – to you.

Yesterday was the first time in a very long time that I felt the call luring me

to remain awake, to drown in the depths of Okeanos, the ocean-god of many gifts.

Now, it’s okay. I have the strength to know when the emotional flow from the Atlantic and the fierce waters of the Pacific need balance within and without.

I thank you for that and reaffirm my devotion and worship to you.

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Lady Tethys, Consort of Okeanos and Mother of Rivers,

I have called upon you as purifier, both in the past and at present.

You help to ease and wash

away the spiritual pain and burdens.

Water always has been a cleansing, renewing force.

To purify is to bring awareness to a situation.

It is not always pretty or neat or well-organized.

There is a flow, like liquid without a container.

As Dark Mother, when things need to come out,

you are a powerful force for change.

May your healing power, with the vastness

of the many bodies of water on this planet continue to

bless and heal those who call upon you.

Thank you for your guidance,

your presence in salt water, and the calm voice that

reminds all who care to listen of what is truly important:

discipline, devotion, and dedication.

We see water as emotion, wild, unrestrained and the opposite

of those three, yet the strength lies in knowing

when to be restrained and when to cut loose.

You help with that and I thank you.

Doxa Theion!

Agape

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