Little Rebellions

I’ve recently taken up the practice of centering prayer. The Divine and I have had a twice daily date for almost two weeks now. It’s totally shaken up my snow globe. The peace, stress reduction and inner calm that usually comes to mind when you hear things like centering prayer and contemplative practice? Yeah, no. Not yet at least. Centering prayer has lead me to places like the study of heartfulness and deeper into my love of solitude. That eremitic itch? Yeah, it’s still there, maybe a little stronger now. I just know there’s a little woodland homestead somewhere in need of my time and attention. Some wilderness cabin that would just LOVE to have me (and Beanie; she and I are a package deal). Decent wifi and heaps of solitude. Plenty of space for prayer, yoga and contemplation – and destressing from the modern world for which I seem woefully unequipped to handle.

Quite frankly, I SUCK at modernity. Too much weirdness, too many rules and “Whaaa???” Add to that most people don’t quite get my compulsive seeking out the Divine at all costs. Should I be presented with something I need to change in my environment, lifestyle, or anywhere else INCLUDING my thoughts (probably especially those) I may have times where I hesitate, but mostly to check out the terrain before plunging heedlessly onward. This has lead to some interesting “deceptions” of late.

I have a deep, deep love of the Orthodox Church. Warts and all. I’ve always adored the Roman Catholic Saints and contemplative practices. I brought many of those practices along with me into my Pagan life. The practices are awesome sauce whether you add a Jesus topping or not. And since we’re on the topic of That Guy, I never quite abandoned my love of Him, either, though my taste for the Jesus served up in either the New Age/Pagan or Christian circles is definitely lacking. None of it tastes like the Jesus I’d gotten a savor of in my travels. He’s either too bland or too bitter, like over steeped, watered down tea. No sweetness but definitely saccharine. His Mother, Mary, posed no problems for me at all. Straight up love Her.

Though I’m not ashamed of my deep love of some things Christian and would happily talk for ages about them to those with a similar love, I have zero interest in debate or defending anything. Many people enjoy that sort of thing; I am not one of them. I have no interest in apologetics of any faith. Nor will I set my treasures out for those who would make fun of them. People have a history of meanieness towards each other over probably anything you can think of. Religions can defend themselves without my help. I am perfectly happy to allow you to believe or not whatever you like. However, this is not the extent of my odd little “deceptions”, which are more like omissions.

I have begun going to church again. Not only that, but I LOVE going to church! I contemplate ways to arrange my schedule so I can attend all the services. The quiet prayerful services are my favorites. I even contemplate playing hookie from work so I can go to vespers in the evenings or pray the Akathist midmorning. (Currently, it’s just mental musings; other demands curtail the urge.) This week, open contemplation time was added on Monday nights where we can show up any time within an hour and simply sit in silence and contemplation in the church. You’d have thought they said “free vegan taco Tuesday – all you can eat”! Alas, I was very sick over the weekend and left work early-ish to go home and rest. Other life commitments again.

I find a certain peace and safety in the church. It’s quiet. It smells nice. I feel at home there. I adore the topic, though I don’t always agree with the language. And even in church I’m trying to look beneath the words and rituals for the deeper meaning, the clues to stronger connection to my Beloved.

So why do I count these rebellions? In our society, we are not supposed to be obsessed with a spiritual life. We’re supposed to “keep things in balance”, which generally means money earning gets all your best efforts and anything else gets squished in around the edges. Family gets the dregs and spiritual life…. gets whatever you can eek out of “me time”. Because any spiritual practices are presumably of no value to anybody but “me” and the maintainance of “me” as calm and stress free enough to go back to money earning, social climbing, positioning, etc., etc., etc. It is very clear in our society: the getting and keeping of money is supposed to be EVERYONE’S top priority.

Even among the devout, I am often cautioned to “not let my seeking get out of hand.” But don’t you see? I want it out of hand! I want it all consuming; I want it to completely take me over. I want to burn with it, drown in it, be buried in it. I don’t want weak tea and idle chatter; I want the full banquet, spicy, hot, sweet, rolling around on my tongue in ecstasy. I want to swoon with love of the Divine. And no, I have zero interest in being a monastic. I consider these rebellions because the life of Spirit is of far more interest and importance to me than money getting. I tried the other way, found it confusing, mean and sorely lacking in substance. Not to mention it made me ill. I see enormous value to myself my family, society and the world in tending to spiritual practice with the greatest care and attention, putting care of the Soul above everything else, crowning Love Sovereign over my life and moving forth from that. This to me is the truest tending of the Home Fires, caring for Hearth and Home.

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What If and Other Oddities of Life

A question from one of my facebook friends sparked an internal questioning. He asked “What would you do if you found out you only had thirty days to live?” My answer “exactly the things I’m already moving into now, only I’d dive in deeper,” gave me some mental noms. “Well, if that’s what I’d do with a mere thirty days left on this earth, why wait ’til then? Why not do it now? What am I waiting for? To REALLY be told I have only thirty days left?”

Honestly, I feel like I’ve died a thousand deaths already and will likely die a thousand more before my body ever kisses the grave. I tend to agree with St. Francis of Assisi, that dying the first time is the hardest and reaching that final death is no big deal afterwards. So many saints and mystics speak of going through a dark night of the soul. We tend to hear the tales and think we are somehow spared because we haven’t devoted our lives to the Divine like they did; besides, they’re SAINTS! OF COURSE they went through that stuff…. and came out better! We’re just ordinary folks. Why would such a thing bother with us when all we want is to get through the day/the week/life? But what if there’s no such thing as “ordinary folk”? From my observations over the years, there definitely aren’t. Just loads of people who think they’re ordinary. And each one of them is of great interest to the Divine. Hooray and bummer!

It’s a very good thing that the Divine takes such personal interest in each of us. It’s good to know that whatever we face – good, bad, etc. – doesn’t have to be faced alone. We always have someone to celebrate with, a shoulder to cry on, a lap to crawl into. And in spite of all the human-created blah-blah, the Divine really isn’t judging any of us. True, it is difficult to be in the presence of Divine Perfection and not recognize how shabby, unkempt and badly in need of a makeover you are no matter how gentle and compassionate a life you’ve lived. We always know we can do better than we have done, we’ve fallen far short of our own expectations and somehow we thoroughly expect the Divine to agree with us. Well, hooray, It does but It really doesn’t care a fig about that stuff. The Divine has seen you at your best, your worst and all the stops in between and STILL wants to hang out with you, still wants very much to be included in your life. But there is a catch.

“HA! I KNEW it!” you shout triumphantly. It’s not what you think. Like any relationship, you rub off on each other. When you’re hanging with the Beloved, the rubbing only goes one way. The Divine is absolute Perfect Love, we are not. The Divine knows us quite well already, better than we know ourselves. We are not so fortunate. We’ve preferred making up lovely (or not) stories in our heads about what the Divine is or isn’t, what It does or doesn’t like, etc., etc., etc. And we call these lovely tales “Truth”. Oh, we make a lot of fuss over our “Truths” too. Start entire wars and generations-long hatreds around them. We ask each other time after time what is “The Truth” concerning the Divine and we get answers, but rarely The Truth we’re looking for. Because the One Person we could easily ask to tell us is the One Person we never think to ask. That would require a dfferent sort of asking and a different sort of listening for the answers. That requires a willingness to be in relationship with Someone you can’t readily see, especially not with the eyes or grasp with all the logics of the mind, but will certainly, eagerly show Themselves to you. You must come to know and love Them with your heart.

So in answer to my friend’s question, I would live more deeply as I do now, go all in, nothing left to lose. Which makes me wonder if what I think I have to lose is really worth hanging on to? Why not live every day as though it were my last? I’m certainly not impressing the Divine by living out of alignment. I’m not proving to anyone that matters that I can be cautious, measured, careful, that I know how to take things slowly.¬†These ideas are serving me not at all. I’ve found the Love of my life and I’m doing no one any favors dipping my toes in water I dearly desire to dive head first into and drown in. What if I only had thirty days left to live? What if Love was calling me to be rash, foolish and just dive in? What if…?

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The Path

The longer I am on this path, the more I realize I know nothing. Recently I realized the more I learn, the less I know. The more I give myself over to the Divine, the less I actually know. About anything. I am not so learned. I have no fancy degrees, no certifications, no one has recognized me for anything. I don’t know even who I am. Oddly, it feels as if this is exactly as it should be. Any label could pin on myself, any identity I could craft for myself would be only a partial picture anyway. Like trying to label the Divine, I am far more spacious than any title I or anyone else can come up with. All my ideas about who I am or might be are more things, more baggage to surrender along the path. And yet, through I am no thing, I am also all things.

I’ve noticed my desire to defend or protect myself stems from identifying with the labels I have allowed myself. “I am this but not that,” differentiating “I/me” from everything else. Then I realized I am that, too. I am at once everything I see, every label I or anyone else could craft. I am the good woman and the whore, the good mother and the bad one, the smart person and the idiot, the fool and the wise woman. I am all of it. And none of it. And all the breaths and spaces in between. Therefore I have nothing to protect or defend. Neither have I anything to prove or hide: if I am all things and nothing all at once, there is nothing and no one to prove anything to or hide anything from. I am the good tenant and the nightmare tenant and the plain pain in the butt tenant, the freeloader, the taker, the hard worker, the lazy person, the dedicated, give-it-my-all person. The dreamer, the doer, the watcher, the compassionate, the callous, the hateful, the meanie. I contain multiverses and some of the things I contain aren’t such nice things. I am all of that in all of my “thatness” and all of this in all of my “thisness”.

Through this, I am coming to understand the meaning of I AM. When you are as vast as you are, what else fits after “I AM”? Anything you say after I AM is pointless because you can immediately and rightfully claim its opposite. I am beginning to understand I have no idea who I AM. I AM this and that, too. Well, what is that? And if there is nothing that I AM not, then I have no idea who I AM or I actually do know, but it would certainly take a long time for me to answer that question. And even in the answering, the answer would be insufficient. There are no words, not enough words to give proper answer to this seemingly simple question. Like the Apostles said of Jesus when asked who he was “Come and see,” not realizing at the time that that was likewise an appropriate answer for themselves and anyone else they might meet.

And yet, how to function in the world as I AM? I feel expanded and small all at the same time. It’s an odd place to find oneself for certain. Who am I talk to? Are there others who feel the same way, who have had these same realizations? Others who have gone ahead of me who can hep me navigate, point out the path through the weeds? This is not an always obvious path to walk (sometimes run, sometimes crawl). It feels weird, or more likely I feel weird wandering around in the world, seeing from this vantage point that appears so different from the places most people I encounter are seeing from. Sometimes I think “What a silly ass you are, compulsively seeking out the Divine. Don’t you know that at best it’ll get you labeled a weirdo and at worst labeled mad and locked up? Only the truly weird bother with that stuff.”

I suppose then I have been “truly weird” my whole life. Even when I was a wee ‘un with no labels for what I sought. And I am told “What you seek is here in (insert name of religious tradition)!” So I went there. And there. And there and there and there…. Everywhere I found traces, scent trails, love notes from the Divine, like those “So and so was here” notes you see painted on walls and such. A flavor of it, a whiff, then the trail goes cold and I keep searching. Divine peek-a-boo. “Tag! You’re it!”

Recently while driving, the Divine sent me a butterfly. I was delighted and I giggled. I then remembered I also love hearts and thought “What a lovely game it would be to trade hearts everywhere!” My immediate answer “The only heart that interests Me is yours.” Ah, these love games of the Divine! How am I to live in the regular world when the farther along I go, the less it seems to mak sense? The concerns of the world are of barely any interest to me on a good day, though not in any sort of withdraw and pretend it doesn’t exist kind of way. I know it is important to many and out of compassion they are important to me. Most days the world seems to have gone wholly mad. Completely off its rocker! Pain and meanieness are the result of fearful, hurting people. But I am not focused on the same things. I understand why many who find themselves on this path tend to withdraw: we just seem
weird to people and they to us. We’re both saying “Well, just look at
what’s right in front of you!” as explanation for our points of view and though we’re both of us looking in the same direction, looking at the same things, we each see something comepletely different.

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To Be Surrendered

What do you mean it's really MY fault & I've just been whining?

Surely, you jest.

Or not. Sometimes, living the surrendered path is a pain. A. Major. PAIN. Sometimes in a very literal sense. It puts me in mind of a story I heard of St. Theresa of Avila: St. Theresa was out for whatever reason one day in the rain. A carriage went by or she fell or some such. Either way, she ended up soaked in mud. When she asked God what the deal was, He answered “This I save for my special ones,” to which she then replied “It is no wonder You haven’t more.” Of course this isn’t as lovely or witty as the tale when I heard it, but you get the gist. And I can seriously relate to St. Theresa’s feelings of the moment. Like “SERIOUSLY, GOD?!? SERIOUSLY?!?”

There are times I feel like the deeper my devotion to living in alignment with the Divine, the more troubles get heaped on me, the more bs I end up having to slog through, the more I am wounded by just being alive. I could armor up against it if 1) I could remember how to do that 2) armor wasn’t so darn uncomfortable and 3) the Divine wouldn’t just send something along that completely shattered my armor to uselessness. It can be a challenge. One not meant to be got through without the Divine, but it would be nice if there were stretches of ease and relaxation instead of what feels like a constant onslaught of hardship and meanieness. It makes me wonder if the Saints aren’t all stooped over like they are in icons because of a little too much Divine TLC.

I read somewhere that the periods of utter peace and bliss come after years of really hard stuff. Surely I must be up for some kind of mid-way quietude by now? I mean GEEBERZ! I can see why so many people say “Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll stick to the normal way of living.” A lot of this spiritual stuff is ouch when you really commit. But then, committing to a relationship of any kind is going to be ouch at some point in some places. It’s all in the process of rubbing each others’ pointy parts smooth. In the process, you’re occasionally going to poke each other, make each other bleed, cut each other up. Perhaps the difference lies in that you’re both human. With the Divine, it’s not exactly clear where my pointy parts are poking. Sometimes it feels like the pointy part is all of me and I’m being rubbed and tumbled until my soul is raw, scraped out and bleeding. And I must be the world’s biggest idiot because instead of pulling away and saying “See ya!” I go deeper, begin another practice meant to take me closer to the Divine. Sometimes I wonder if my mom dropped me on my head a few times as a baby or maybe I fell out of a window or something.

There are moments of sweetness and peace. I have experienced an inner calm so still and unflappable, days were the ordinary is so heartbreakingly beautiful, days where I effortlessly see radiance in the beggar, the businessman and the sulky teen on the street alike. And it is this that tempts me to endure the hardships, to drag myself that much closer in the midst of some of the biggest storms and darkest darks. Believe me, it gets REALLY dark sometimes. Such darkness it feels surreal, the force of it pressing hard against my face; deafening darkness where I fear my eardrums will burst from its pressure. I long for human companionship and am told this stretch I must walk alone.
I am tired and ragged and beaten. (Cue those three Revolutionary soldiers limping and hobbling along the road with drum and flute – only without music. Hmmm…. Maybe cue zombies instead.) I want to quit, entirely give up but don’t know the shape of such. I reach for the hand of the Divine, name it Beloved and stumble blindly on in not-so-perfect trust, but trusting nonetheless.

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Finding Home

I think I may be the most Orthodox Christian Pagan woman I know. Okay, I’m the ONLY Orthodox Christian Pagan woman I know. Or have even heard of, though I’m sure there must be more like me – male, female or otherwise. I used to be a card carrying Orthodox Christian. Though I liked choir, I preferred chant. I loved the quieter services like Orthros and vespers; Lent was my favorite season with all its inward focus and oodles of time devoted to prayer. There’s just something about Lent that does it for me. I guess it’s that draw to contemplation and emptying…. Aw, who am I kidding? If there’s even so much as whiff of “The Divine was here” I’ll be all over it like white on rice! I don’t much care where it’s located: church, sex, trees, New Age book stores – none of it matters a whit so long as I can encounter even a small scent of the Divine.

It just so happens that the Divine has a habit of playing “Tag! You’re it!” with me in Orthodox churches.¬†Must be some kind of crazy juju in the incense they use. Every time I get a whiff of it, I feel at once like bawling my eyes out and like I’m home. It’s a bit disconcerting at times, really. And yet, like seeking out the Divine, I find it comforting. Like it’s the one place on the planet that’s safe to let go of everything, set any and all burdens aside and have a safe haven to fall apart. Completely. Just completely crumble into a pile of rubble, seams and all. I spent about half of liturgy today with tears streaming down my face. I couldn’t even bring myself to look at the chalice without rivers welling up and flowing me blind. No particular reason, I just cried each and every time I looked or even focused my attention in that direction. The tears came from deep within me, like I have a well that needs purging and is overflowing.

The tears don’t always happen at church, but they’re pretty much a guarantee there. I’ve had experiences in other places – home, work, driving, where they have spontaneously started flowing, sometimes with an ache of longing for the Divine, sometimes when something particularly poignant occurs: a homeless person begging on the side of the road, rainbows, someone looking pinched and hurried trying to get to where ever they’re going. But church is a dead ringer: I walk in the door or even just pull into the parking lot and tears will come. I wondered briefly when the tears would stop, then realized I didn’t care if they flowed forever. Whatever it is, it’s not necessarily about me, my needs, my desires and I’m okay with that. I don’t need to have answers. My answer has become as the Theotokos’ (that’s Mary, Jesus’ mother for those of you who don’t know): “Let it be done to me as you say.” Complete and utter surrender to the Divine. Scary? Yeah, sometimes. A lot of times because I have no idea where I’ll be lead and often can’t see even where to put my feet next. It gets dark, but it’s a bright darkness; I am never alone. I make my way by trust, by faith. But then again, I found home right under my nose just when I didn’t think I was looking for it. So I’m good.

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Love Notes

All the little places where love leaks in.
We pass them by every day,
all these little love notes
from the Divine.
“See how much I love you?”
says the Divine
perfectly crafting tiny chickweed blossoms in the sidewalk
that we ignore.
“From my heart to yours!”
says the Divine
releasing a passionate thunderstorm
that we run away from
and curse.
“Something soft just for you!”
says the Divine
sending wild rabbits onto our paths
that we ignore, curse
or run over with our cars
leaving the broken, bleeding bodies
in the road to rot.
But see how much adored we are
by the Divine?
There are always more
love notes
in the trees
in the wind
in the stray animal begging a morsel
in the homeless person anticipating kindness
or just a smile.
love notes from the Divine
Who never leaves us
nor ever gives up on us,
just awaiting patiently for our invitation to dance
with
each
specially crafted
love note.

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Tolerance

We speak so much of a need for tolerance. This is a first step, yes a good step if it means in your tolerance of me you will not commit meanieness against me, you will leave me at peace to live my life. But tolerance is only the first step. True harmony begins with acceptance. In tolerance there are still judgements, still room for meanieness because tolerance can have limits. Tolerance can be grudging. Tolerance can be full of fear. Acceptance goes deeper.

Acceptance says “Yes, you are different from me or you live in ways I do not understand or choose for myself, but that’s okay. We are neither of us causing harm nor committing meanieness. We are on our own paths. Please live your life alongside mine in peace.” There is no fear or judgment in acceptance. There is no room for meanieness or harm in acceptance. You simply see what is there to the best of your ability, acknowledge it, bless it and continue on your way. The next step after acceptance is love, but that’s a pondering for another time.

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Why I Prefer to Bless Everyone and Everything

When we shout “Curse you! Curse you!” these Children of our heart and spirit joyfully run out into the world, our dutiful servants and do as they were created to do. Then, in love and joy they return home to us saying “Look what we did! We brought you MORE of what you sent us out for!” There is no refusing their gift, for this is the very thing born of our our heart and spirit; it rightfully belongs to and with us.

When we curse them, complain about them and meanly yell at them to “GO AWAY!” these are as love songs and lullabies to them. They zip out into the world, gather more curses, more meanieness, more harshness and bring it back to share with us. They are very loving, dutiful Children eager to serve. And loyal: they always return home, never empty handed. Imagine what peace, what joys we would experience if the Children we birthed and sent into the world were “Bless you! Bless you!”

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Ponderings on My Beloved

Alone in my room
I ponder
“I am my Beloved’s”
says the Lady
“and my Beloved is mine.”
I am my Beloved’s
I am my Beloved’s
I am my Beloved’s….
Except I belong to no man as yet
and no man belongs to me.
Though indeed I long for such things,
sometimes ’til it aches and
threatens
to rend me apart,
in the quiet spaces of my room
beneath the blankets
hiding from the chill,
I cannot say I belong to no one
for I am someone.
I belong to
myself
and this is a very good thing.
I am entirely, deliciously,
my own.
In this moment,
in my contentment,
alone in my room
I am my Beloved
and my Beloved is mine.

 

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Hullo, World. It’s Me.

“You’re a depressed girl,” I hear muttered in the back of my mind as I go for my morning tea. Perhaps I am that, but what I really am right now is tired. I’ve been going and going and going and holding it together for so long now. Not just the year and some since my divorce. No, I’ve been holding it together a lot longer than that. MUCH longer. And i’m tired. I’d quit if I knew how to do that, but I don’t. I haven’t even got a clue what that looks like. I do , however know how to let go. SO that’s what I’m doing. Letting go. Letting the river take everything, all of it, all of me. Letting the river hollow me out, polish my rough edges, clear away the debris of lifetimes until there’s nothing left. Hollow. Empty.

Yes, empty. Empty is good. Empty can be filled. We think of being empty as this awful, sad thing. It often is if you’re not truly empty, if there’s still old clinging to the sides, or chock full in the middle leaving no room for the water to flow. A hollow log likely does not feel sad about its emptiness, nor does a glass or vase. The things that belong there, however temporarily, would find no room for themselves if those things were not empty. A canoe is itself because the log was first made empty. A jar holds beans because it was first made empty. A lot of our favored dishes require the vessel to first be made empty. Think how yummy stuffed mushrooms or tomatoes or bell peppers are, adding their own special flavors to the mix of whatever else we stuff them with. Empty does not necessarily mean no longer itself. The empty thing must remain itself in order to function as it should.

And this is where I find myself: empty. Waiting to be filled with whatever is next. I can not keep gong as I am, so I must be emptied. I must allow the river to be my strength, to fill and overflow me, hollow me out until I am ready to be filled again. I touch myself and it is as though I feel through mittens. I feel me as one touching someone vaguely familiar, but mostly unknown. This is supposedly my face and I feel the sensation but I am somehow not inhabiting either the hands that are touching nor the face being touched. I awaken and see the world through eyes that feel borrowed. Who I borrowed them fro and why I have no idea. Oh, that’s right! I borrowed them from myself! They are mine! But somehow that information feels irrelevant. In fact, all previously important information feels irrelevant. I keep feeling nudges telling me things are not only not what they seem, but what I used to give so much importance is no longer relevant. “EEK! The world is falling apart!” I hear from so many places. “Let it. It all must fall away. Do not try to save it, love.” “But people will be hurt!” “Yes, Beloved. Sometimes birth hurts. Alleviate pain where you can, but don’t bother trying to save or stop anything. That is not yours to do and you couldn’t even if you wanted to.”

Sigh. Surrender. Give myself to the river. Allow myself to be hollowed, hallowed, emptied. DO my work. Work is holy, I remind myself, even if it’s work I don’t much care for. Then rest. Rest is holy even when I feel like I should be doing something else, something more than the nothing of resting. I am being hollowed, emptied. In this I am doing my work. I’d like to say I’ll arise stronger from the ashes, the remains of whatever I was, but I am informed that is irrelevant, though it is what people expect to hear, want desperately to hear. But I will not. I will say no such thing. I am told I will have no need of strength. It will be unnecessary baggage should I choose to hold on to it. Yes, I can choose to keep it; I can choose to keep anything I like, but not everything is useful. I am being guided in the packing of my satchel. My burdens are burdensome because they are no longer useful and are better left behind. “Fairies travel light!” I hear with a giggle. So I trust. And surrender. And will likely emerge a small, fragile thing of beauty not meant to be handled roughly. Soft, impossibly beautiful and sparkling. Resilient, yes, but not strong. Full of the river’s waters. And I am to offer you a drink from my cupped hands.

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