A Task

Imbolc and the waning crescent of the Shadow Mountain Moon

When I first began reading Art Green’s Radical Judaism, I thought maybe my job would be to think Christianity through from his truly radical, non-supernatural perspective. Look at Christian civilization in the manner of Mordecai Kaplan with Green’s theology as a pathway, a halakha. The way to walk. Couldn’t get any energy up to start. Why?

Ah. I left Christianity behind long ago now. Of course, it still informs me and my life as the Torah informs the life of a Jew whether secular or religious. But, I don’t feel shaped by it in the distinctive manner my friends at CBE exhibit. Even if G-d no longer requires the hyphen, they still bow during the Amidah, wear the kippa, show up for High Holidays. I have no interest in Christmas or Easter services, that old life.

Huh, I thought. That’s weird. I spent all that time in sem, 15 years in the ministry, and I’m a product of Western civilization, profoundly shaped by Christian belief and thought. I like big projects. Why wouldn’t I want to go back and rethink all that?

It came to me slowly. Somewhere in Green’s book, I can’t find it right now and that frustrates me, he casually dismisses neo-paganism. It’s not clear what he meant, whether he’s taking a substantive jab at pantheists from his panentheistic position, or knows the shallow roots of Wiccan’s, witches, and druids. If it’s the latter, I agree with him. Silliness abounds in contemporary pagan practice and what passes for thought.

If it’s the former, he and I are in conversation with each other. In either case though it triggered a realization. I’m a pagan. Maybe not the best word with all its freight, but one I use intentionally. The pagans of the middle ages, rural folk (classical Latin paganus: rustic, villager, rural folk, peasant, unlearned, countryman, bumpkin), held onto their older religious practices and beliefs because the church had a more tenuous connection with them, less power over their daily lives.

In contemporary usage pagan is a very broad umbrella: Wiccans, latter day Druids, Asatru, Dianists, polytheists of many shades all fall under it. There are also pagans, see this page, who use the term much as I do, as a placeholder for a religious position outside the usual suspects of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam as well as outside other traditions, in particular Buddhism, Hinduism, and most shamanisms.

That’s it, I realized. My task is to use the theological tools of Art Green and the civilization leaning thought of Mordecai Kaplan to reconstruct paganism for a contemporary audience. That I have energy for. Stay tuned.



Hello, Hello, Hello

Imbolc and the waning crescent of the Shadow Mountain Moon

Thursday gratefuls: Bergen Bark Inn, Murdoch’s wiggly happy greeting. Seoah eating pho. “I’m a happy girl.” The cold, clean and sharp. Powder all day yesterday, a snow globe day. The Jeffco snowplowers who clear our road. Evergreen. This mountain, Shadow Mountain, on which our home rests.

When we drove into Evergreen, Seoah and I saw a honey wagon. Oh, she surprised me with: hello, hello, hello. A usual greeting for them in Korea, she says. Gives you good luck for the day. Also, if we see a dead people car. A hearse? No, a dead people car. That’s what we call them, a hearse. Oh. Well, she folds her hands together, we say a prayer for them. Good luck for the whole day. What do you pray? Good trip? Yes, we pray go to heaven. She uses pray and heaven though she’s a Buddhist. Still not clear exactly what she has in mind in either case.

Realized yesterday I’ve seen far more of Seoah than Joe over the last few years. She’s come four times and stayed around a month each time. Joe never stays more than a week to ten days. Of course, he’s got this job… And, I can’t leave home.

Call Brigid

Imbolc and the waning crescent of the Shadow Mountain Moon

Wednesday gratefuls: The cold. Fresh snow. Murdoch. Kep. Rigel. Gertie. Ruth. Jon. Gabe. Seoah. Kate. Joe. This body I inhabit. The idea of soul. Panentheism. Monism. (Priority Monism). The moon and its phases. Mother earth in all her garbs. Fresh water. Sea water. All the seeds waiting patiently for the right temperatures, the right angle of the sun. Those bears huddled up somewhere nearby.

Imbolc is the Celtic cross-quarter holiday between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. In-the-belly. Imbolc. The freshening of the ewes. This meant milk, cheese. It was a sign that the days would warm, the snow melt, grass green, and food crops grow. The triple goddess Brigid presides. She is the goddess of the hearth, of creativity and inspiration, artisanship, and healing.

What pots do you have cooking over the fire? How is the health of your home? What seeds have begun to stir in your psyche? How is your body? Is it well? What does it need? Seek Brigid over Imbolc. She’s active in your psyche right now. Preparing, readying things for the coming spring.

We need her here on Shadow Mountain. Health of the body, healing of the body has taken so much of our time, our energy. Bites. ILD. Tube feedings. Prostate cancer. COPD. The hearth, too. Dogs. Murdoch gone. Gertie dead. Seoah here. Cooking, cleaning, laughing, smiling. The artisanal craft of sewing, quilting lies dormant, awaiting its mistresses return. What will come to me over the next weeks and months? I don’t know, but I know I need to make.

Class this morning, the last section of the Torah chapter. Looking forward to that. Fell far behind on the Daf Yomi during the bites and Gertie’s suffering. Will catch up. Two pages a day, at least.

Seoah and I will visit Murdoch today. No movement yet on a new place for him though Joe’s made some inquiries and so have I.

Back to working out. Resistance with some cardio and high intensity interval training. 3 of the resistance and 2 of the hiit. Using an old workout now, will wait another six weeks before getting a new one. I have several old ones that I could use.

Midrash of Ordinary Things

Imbolc and the waning crescent of the Shadow Mountain Moon

Tuesday gratefuls: Colors. White snow. Green lodgepole pines. Black sky. Blue sky. Pink skin. Pale coffee skin. Fur. Kep’s. Rigel’s. Hats for us bald guys. Gloves. Coats. My Chilean fjord scarf knit with love. Coffee. That first bitter taste in the morning. Eggs. Bacon. Rice cakes. Pho. The gas heater in the loft.

Continuing to study Art Green’s Radical Judaism. Read the final section of the Torah chapter yesterday morning. The power was out, our generator on, but the internet was down so I couldn’t write.

Last week Rabbi Jamie talked about midrash, a playful method of reading the Pentateuch, Its chief characteristic is finding relationships among seemingly unrelated verses, etymology of similar words, looking at individual Hebrew letters, considering their gematria (numerological significance). Green, for example, explores an Hasidic midrash that connects the ten utterances of God in the creation narrative and the ten dibrot, or ten words, that constitute what Christian’s call the Ten Commandments.

The underlying assumption of midrash is its critical feature. Everything connects, everything relates to everything else. We have to pay attention, be aware. Since, according to Green, paying attention is the ur religious task, occasioned by our nature as sentient creatures, midrash is an important tool for uncovering the occulted sacred.

Paying attention = Carey Ream’s, “See what you’re looking at.”

Midrash as a neo-pagan’s tool is my current fascination. Stars and fish. Mountains and apartment buildings. Cars and amoeba. Self and other. What is the underlying connective tissue? How are they related to each other, how do they critique each other? What can we learn from the frisson between two apparently disconnected, unrelated things?

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. A midrash on space and time. Thanks for all the fish. 42. A depressed robot. The restaurant at the end of the universe. Douglas Adam gives us dialectical shock after dialectical shock. Dolphins and whales in space? Building a freeway, through the solar system? The hyper drive. A mechanical person with feelings.

The cloud slowly falling down Black Mountain. When the cloud covers the mountain is the mountain still there? How can small droplets of water obscure (or, delete) 10,000 feet of granite and basalt? What does the gradual disappearance of the mountain suggest about what the mountain itself hides? We live in and amongst mystery.

Gratitude can open us to the midrash of ordinary things. What a wonder, a matter of sacred beauty, is color, which reveals as it hides. That piece of bread, toasted, eaten, is no longer toast, no longer wheat, but is now you. Breathe. We cannot live without the second by second inspiration of a gas we cannot see, yet need desperately. Hold your breath. Know the intimacy of our connection to the world around us.

Think, too, of the intimate connection Green proposes as our new sacred narrative, our link to that first squiggly cell coughed up by inorganic matter around a sea vent or in a tidal pool. Or, press even that idea back to the formation of stars and the creation in them of elements. Extend the link with the flow of change that is our universe. Where does it go? Nobody knows.

I’m leaning into monism right now. Seeing the midrash in the everyday. We’ll see where that takes me.

Enough

Imbolc and the waning crescent of the Shadow Mountain Moon

Monday gratefuls: Jon, Ruth, Gabe. Their Gertie stories. Mark, for his Gertie stories. Kate and mine’s. Tony’s for the pork schnitzel and the potato medallions. Seoah for cleanup. My Lodge cast iron frying pan. Kate’s calm. The sun today. Blue sky.

Gertie stories. How she would guard the bed when Jon tried to get in with Jen. Crating with Sollie. Biting the mailman. Jumping into the water off a walkway. Biting Kate when Kepler bit her. Christmas Eve, 2015. Biting me when the gutter guy was here. Defeating my electric fence. Her waggy, waggy tail. Her licks, kisses, snuggles. How she came to Kate in a dream two nights ago, whole and healthy, kissing her.

She will live on with us as do Celt, Bucky, Iris, Scot, Morgana, Tully, Tira, Sorsha, Hilo, Kona, Emma, Bridgit, Tor, Orion, Vega. Kep and Rigel continue their story-making, as does Murdoch (just elsewhere). As the snow melts down, the Arcosanti bell’s clapper will once again be in the wind. Each time that bell tolls it calls the spirits of all our departed dogs.

Tightening family bonds. An effect of the last month and a half of doggy miseries. Shared concerns for each other, for canine lives. Easing Gertie beyond this life. Solving the Murdoch/Kep puzzle. Healing from that same puzzle. All of us: Ruth, Jon, Gabe, Seoah, Joe, Kate, me. In the mix, trying to find solutions, offering care. We are stronger now. Nothing is univalent.

Life together teaches us. I know Tom and Roxann’s mothers had a difficult 2019. As have, then, Tom and Roxann, and other extended family. It is these kind of moments that can bring families together, and, yes, split them apart, too.

Families, friends. Life itself. Enough.

Living

Imbolc and the waning crescent of the Shadow Mountain Moon

Sunday gratefuls: Jen. Who called my attention to a lapse in judgement. King Sooper. Who will load my groceries this morning. Tony’s where I’ll get the pork schnitzel. The crescent moon above Black Mountain. The Storm Glass Ruth got me for Hanukah. Jon home from the hospital.

I reported something here said to someone else about yet another person. That was a lapse in judgement and I apologize to Jen for that.

Past the seventy-three marker and heading into another Aquarian year. Might be a good time to get my chart read again. Sorta put all that away after an initial burst of interest. Maybe an annual thing? Like an oil change and vehicle inspection? Time has slipped by, following the trails of Maxwell Creek, Upper Bear Creek, Cub Creek. Running toward the sea of souls.

In another liminal space, a large one this time. After Gertie. After Murdoch. As the wounds heal. Quieter, solemn. Rigel and Kep both subdued, following us, I suppose. No plans. One day in front of the other.

Even Trump seems far away, perhaps only an orange smudge floating out over the Atlantic. Our little family so dispersed. Atomic. Held together by the weak nuclear force. Yet, held together.

The two feet of snow melted in the warm days. Our roof not as layered. Our driveway almost clear. Another round coming, maybe today and tomorrow. Colorado.

This space between, a sacred place, a holy place. Happening on our mountain top. In the Rockies, in the West, in Colorado. The Midwest a humid memory. We’ll see what comes. Living. That’s it right now. Living.

Never fully understanding

Imbolc and the waning Shadow Mountain Moon

My friend Grace sent this note. Sad, sweet, and true.

Charlie, so sorry to hear your Gert is gone. Makes me think of this again- “we who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own, live within a fragile circle, easily breached. Unable to accept it’s awful gaps, we still would live no other way. We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully understanding the necessary plan “ – Irving Townsend . Peace to you and Kate. Grace

Brown Eyes Blue

Imbolc and the waning Shadow Mountain Moon

Saturday gratefuls: Staff at the Burn clinic where Kate’s fingers will go through rehab. Jon’s improvement overnight. A clean refrigerator. Birthday present from Seoah. As well as the holiday meal with sweet potato noodles. Joe’s call. Kate. Always Kate.

A bit of weirdness at the DMV on Thursday. Got there at 7:20 am. My goal, no one there. I was the first. Improbably, with at least three clerks behind the long l-shaped desk that followed the skating rink sized room’s south and west sides and no one else waiting the receptionist said, “Have a seat and your number will be called.” I rolled my eyes.

The clerk nearest me motioned me over. Now, that made sense. A pleasant young woman, maybe early thirties. Cafe au lait skin and bouncy, frizzy hair.

“What are you here to do?” “Renew my license.”

“OK. Last four letters of your social.” I gave them to her.

“What color are your eyes?” “What do you think?”

“Blue,” she said. I nodded. My eyes, my dark brown eyes. No more. For a while the color has been fading leaving me with blue surrounding a shrinking circle of brown. For the next five years, from now on, I have blue eyes. Wow.

Then, “What color is your hair?” Reflexively, “Brown.” She nodded. My hair, now all gray, hasn’t been brown for years, but my brain doesn’t remember. I don’t see it often enough to remember, I guess.

My new license says blue eyes, brown hair. Who is this guy?

They took my picture. My new photo looks like I had a stroke during my renewal. Oh, well. Only five years to a new one. Wonder what colors I’ll have at 77?

Benson Pulikkottil, a hand surgeon, looked at Kate’s fingers. He repaired them a week ago yesterday. They looked good, he said. I found this news story about his work on a man whose face got ripped off by a grizzly bear.

We drove up Broadway from Swedish to St. Joseph’s. Jon is there. He looked and sounded good, chastened by the scare he had Thursday night. I believe this high blood sugar incident may shock him into getting back to good self care. I hope so.

Seoah cleaned the refrigerator for my birthday. It needed it. Looks great. She also made a Korean holiday dish. Very sweet. Talked to Joe, recovering from another week in classes in Singapore. Still no resolution for Murdoch, but we’re all working on it.

Sansin

Imbolc and the waning Shadow Mountain Moon

Friday gratefuls: For a return to my orbital goal post. Murdoch, bouncy and happy yesterday at Bergen Bark Inn. The Village Gourmet. Dogsondeployment.com, maybe a solution. Chocolate rocks. Jon made it to the E.R.

Moving from the bewildering and sad to the chaotic and absurd. Jon called about 10 last night from the Emergency Room. Yes, really. He’s been sick since last week and that screws up a diabetic’s response to insulin. His blood sugar got very high. He called an ambulance and had himself transported to E.R. He was afraid of dying.

We waited on his lab tests. Don’t yet know what they showed, but the docs transferred him to the hospital. We’ll see him today after Kate’s appointment with hand therapy and her surgeon. I know. Strains credulity, doesn’t it?

In other family news. Septuagenarian adds another year. Valentine’s day. Anti-climatic given recent happenings here, but there you are. The calendar ticks over despite events. 73 seems, unusual. Not sure why. An odd number. Perhaps a bit mystical: 7 and 3.

As I’m entering this phase of aging, the numbers seem to have less and less significance. Days, weeks, years. Artificial, like borders for nations. Irrelevant, too. I’m alive or not. In this moment, alive and typing.

Tom wondered in a recent e-mail about a name for our house. Our place in Andover was Seven Oaks after seven oak trees clustered on a small rise southeast of our home. In looking up matters related to Korean birthdays I found the name of the Korean mountain gods, Sansin. When I came to close on the house over Samain 2014 and on the day before I started radiation, mountain spirits visited me in the form of mule deer and elk bucks. So. Sansin. Full name, Honoring the Sansin of Shadow Mountain.

The Sansin of Shadow Mountain has blessed me through direct visitation twice. We belong here, in this place, on this mountain. I can feel the god’s presence, a massive bulking, a dense collection of ohr on which we have our home. Becoming native to this place.

The Day Before

Imbolc and the Shadow Mountain Moon

Thursday gratefuls: That I’m alive to renew my driver’s license. Bulgogi made by Seoah. Art Green’s Radical Judaism. Yet more snow. The cold. Sleep. Resting. Writing. The loft. Kate’s discernment. Joe and Mary in Singapore, Mark in Riyadh. The quarter Shadow Mountain Moon, brave and bright.

Yesterday I drove nowhere. Wow. Part of my exhaustion, driving. I like driving, but when I go everyday, then spend time waiting, then drive back home, it saps my energy. Today I get my license renewed. Ha. Colorado licenses are good for five years, so this is a ritual that will, as long as I live, mark our time here. 5 year increments.

Kate goes tomorrow to see a hand therapist and her surgeon. He wants to see me, too. My bite stayed infected in spite of an augmentin regimen. Kate added sulfa on top of the augmentin. The infection subsided, but the whole wound lingers, slow in its healing, much slower than the first bite. I imagine he wants to be sure this doesn’t happen to Kate’s fingers.

Tomorrow. Valentine’s Day. 73rd birthday. A celebration Sunday night with Jon and the kids, a celebration, too, of Gertie’s life. Kate’s idea, a German meal, wiener schnitzel, red cabbage, spaetzel seems right. Maybe German chocolate cake, too. German wire-haired pointer. Rascal.

Each year is precious, but as time ticks down past seventy, even more so. I’m looking forward to my 73rd. Or, is it my 74th? Calendars and daylight saving time. Challenges. Whichever, it’s the next year of my life. More time with Kate. With Seoah and Joe. Jon, Ruth, Gabe. Rigel and Kep. Even Murdoch. (but not in the same place or time as Kep. Nope. Not ever again.) CBE. Friends near and far.

I’m entering this new year with old expectations sheered away by grief and exhaustion. Putting a vision for my life in the trash bin. Going full Taoist. Let it come, flow with it. Watercourse way. No more hopes. No more career. This day, then the next one.

This is not, btw, resignation. It’s about entering each moment, hanging in it, not pushing for what comes next. Living until I die. My always intent. Kavanah. Hebrew for intent, direction of the heart. Jews prepare to pray by making their kavanah clear. I will live my life, not hide from it, not demand more from it. That is my kavanah.