We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Gettin’ On a Jet Plane

Fall                                                                         Joseph and SeoAh Moon (new)

Taking off today for Robins Air Force Base in Georgia. Will see Joe and SeoAh together for the first time since the wedding, though I did see Joe earlier this summer. Not sure about a computer setup there, so this may be it until I get back. We’ll see.

Had my first adult Hebrew class yesterday. Ouch. I’m long out of practice. I took a semester’s worth of Hebrew and Greek, mostly just to be able to use lexicons, no grammar in either instance. That was 1972. 45 years ago. And, since I didn’t serve a parish, I had little use for it over the years. Atrophied is too generous for my current state of knowledge.

 

Mom

Fall                                                                        Harvest Moon

In just two days it will be the 53rd anniversary, yahrzeit, of my mother’s death on October 20th, 1964.

One of the practices of Jewish culture that I find soothing is the acknowledgment, annually, of the death of a family member, a friend, someone close in to your life. In each shabbat service, near the end, those who have experienced a death in the last week or so and those who have a yahrzeit stand and the congregation recites the kaddish, a unison prayer.

The other practices around death, chevra kadisha, or care for the corpse, and sitting shiva, a traditional mourning period of seven days following the funeral, make death an ongoing part of living in community. This is far away from the culture of death denial prevalent in significant parts of American culture.

My family suffered from that denial. Mom’s death happened suddenly, over the period of a week or so, following a stroke. She was 47. In a town of 5,000 many folks knew her, knew Dad, knew each of us, Mary, Mark and me. The immediate time following her death is a psychic black hole for me, the funeral, the days, the shiva (seven in Hebrew) days passing without memory for me.

Our family never recovered from the shock of her unexpected death. The next fall I went off to college and returned home only occasionally until, in my junior year, Dad and I had a falling out that persisted until his death in 2003. My first nights away from home, sleeping in a common, cold dorm, with about 40 other guys, I had nightmares. That was a very tough year for me, going from valedictorian of my small high school class, to classes full of people smarter than I was. Making that adjustment without Mom was very, very difficult. Two habits acquired in the Wabash year, smoking and drinking, would take a decade or so to eliminate.

I absented myself from the family, anger at my father’s rigid rejection of me fueling an estrangement that did not really ever end, though we did see each other occasionally after Joseph’s adoption in 1981. Mom’s death created a vacuum in our lives and took, at least for me, years to integrate. Each fall, around this time, I would slip into melancholy, going inside, wandering the halls of my soul and losing touch with the day to day. That melancholy seems to have lifted for me, but only recently, perhaps in the last five years.

A part of this dislocation in my soul, perhaps a major part, came because death was a dirty secret in the late fifties and early sixties. It happened, yes, but in hospitals far away from home. A funeral happened, then life went on, death having had its day. Even the deaths I had encountered prior to Mom’s, her parents, happened physically, but more importantly psychically, far away. Death was unexpected because it came and was gone, mostly hidden from daily life.

Mom was a sweet person, compassionate and loving. Remembering her on the anniversary of her death feels normal, healthy. She cared for me during my long bout with polio, helping me regain my ability to walk, a gift of love that allowed me to live a normal life. I could have been in braces or a wheelchair. She maintained close contact with her sisters and brother, her father and mother. We visited them often, encouraging a sense of extended family that persists to this day.

She only learned to drive late in her life, but when she did, she used her driving to go back to college for her Bachelor’s degree. She already had a two-year teaching degree, but requirements for teaching had increased. Her teaching would pay for our college. That was the plan.

A WAC during World War II Mom had traveled, unlike most of her generation and all of her family. She was in Italy and Algiers in the Signal Corps, military intelligence. We grew up, unusually for our small Indiana town, with mementos from Capris, photographs and stories of mom in the Casbah. Overseas adventures uncommon in the forties.

It would have been better for our family if we said kaddish yearly for her, and for my father, too. If we had sat shiva, mourning for seven days after their death, supported by friends and members of a community. If death had not come as a sudden, terrible tragedy, but as a known visitor to all families. If. Well, always if.

What can I do going forward now, at seventy? I can remember mom and dad on their yahrzeit. Write about them, include them, it just occurred to me, in my life. I can encourage Joseph and Jon in the same practice, encourage them to include a sensible attitude toward death in their lives and in their families. Jews don’t have a monopoly on a sensible, healthy attitude toward death, but theirs is one. And it’s one I plan to follow.

 

 

 

 

Daily Life

Fall                                                                                Harvest Moon

Ruth and me destinations

Destinations with Ruth (planetarium in Boulder and Sweet Cow, an ice cream place in Denver) The Rav4’s purpose.

Into Stevinson Toyota yesterday for a Rav4 oil change. Stevinson’s West on the western edge of Denver. The big yellow signs with their dire steep inclines, tight curves warnings go past me now unremarked, except for the occasional realization that I’ve acclimated to mountain driving some while ago.

Stevinson is about 35 minutes away, but the Toyota approach to service appeals to me enough to make the trek. They do what needs to be done to keep the vehicle in good shape. That’s what I want. And, it works. The next oil change will be at the 100,100 mark. Can’t say I like the Rav4, but it gets us from point A to point B, even in winter in the mountains. I do sense an electric car in our future.

Kate, Ruth and Ruths bff, Wilson

Kate, Ruth and Ruth’s bff, Wilson

Family business meeting at Brooks Tavern over lunch. We’re still absorbing some financial strain from Jon’s time with us, so the budget’s a little tight, but that won’t last forever.

Kate’s doing well with the substantial burden Sjogren’s places on her daily. Though the dryness that is Sjogren’s signature symptom, especially mouth, throat, eyes, is definitely bothersome, the most difficulty for her comes from fatigue. It makes her self-defining upper middle class get’r done energizer bunny approach to life just not possible anymore, except for short periods of time. That imposes a psychological burden that is worse, I think, than the fatigue itself.

Finished the installation of the weather station. It looks great, to my eye, on the loft’s deck. I’ve reacquainted myself with some of the buttons and whiz bangs of the console, but it will require some rtfm to get back to facile with them. The internet connection might be harder because I purchased the link for it back when Vista was the most recent Microsoft OS. We’ll see.

20171016_165812Been trying to get Boiler Medics, the guy who installed our new boiler, out for a seasonal check of the system. Something’s happening there because they’ve ghosted me for the last few days. This behavior is the mountain way for tradespeople in our stretch of the Front Range; it’s frustrating.

Get my new workout today from On the Move Fitness. I’m enjoying getting a new workout every 6 weeks or so. It’s easy to get in a rut with fitness and Deb, owner of OMF with her husband Dave, seems to have a good grasp of my needs. The workouts she devises challenge me, but are not onerous. Lower back pain and my left shoulder pain have largely disappeared thanks to them. Not to mention that knee. I can now get up from a chair using only my legs, an accomplishment that seems small unless you’ve spent a good deal of time unable to do it.

In A Techno-Desert, Thirsty for Human Interaction

Fall                                                                             Harvest Moon

5:20 am on Shadow Mountain. 43 degrees. 12% humidity. Pressure 22.60. No wind. Crescent moon. All the same without knowing these data points, I know. Still. I like to know them anyhow.

naisbittThis week Thursday I get to see Joe and SeoAh. I’m excited just to see them, to have some high touch in this high tech age. Remember Alvin Toffler? A futurist, he posited that the more complex and sophisticated our technology becomes, the more necessary direct human interaction. (Toffler preceded Naisbitt by at least two years with this idea, but Naisbitt made it a corporate buzz phrase. I find his notion of balance between our physical and spiritual reality an interesting idea.)

True. We exist, at least many of us, especially those younger than a certain age, in a cloud (pun intended) of virtual data. This blog, for example. Facebook. Instagram. Snapchat. Email. Text messages. Twitter. I see, regularly, information and pictures about high school friends, old college friends, friends in Minnesota, family. I don’t use Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, not enough time in a day, but I’m on Facebook at least daily. I send and receive many e-mails, text messages. All this keeps me up to date, to some extent, on people I care about, a gratifying level of connection available, in yesteryear, only to voluminous letter writers.

1954-09 Galaxy Magazine by Ed EmshwillerBut the connection is, of course, partly, maybe mostly, illusory. We get only snippets, usually disconnected snippets. No hugs. No careful listening. No smiles. No touch on the hand during a conversation. No walks. No meals. The further out from our fleshly world, the less real information about another we receive because the context for what we know is very limited.

I don’t happen to see this as bad. I’m grateful for the chance to learn about even parts of the lives of people who once belonged to my fleshly world. But it does create a longing for in person moments, to embrace Joseph and SeoAh, for example. Or, to attend a 55th high school reunion, or show up at a Woolly Retreat in November,which I will not be able to do this year.

High Tech High TouchAs we age and travel becomes more difficult, I imagine this will become an even more poignant issue, extending even into our fleshly world. There’s promise, yes, in telemedicine, for example. We already meet with our financial planner over Skype. How many of our now daily or weekly interactions will become virtual? The key issue here, the one I think Toffler alluded to, though he may not have named it outright, is isolation.

We are on the map of the future where a cartographer might write in florid typescript, “Here there be dragons.” We just don’t know what the combination of high tech and increasingly low touch world might mean. Isolation is deadly, killing the spirit and ravaging the soul. Will we end up in a technological desert, thirsty for real human interaction, seeing it in the shimmering illusions of social media, but not being able to reach it? If so, what can we do about it?

 

The Weather on Shadow Mountain

Fall                                                                       Harvest Moon

20171015_071504Jon put brackets around the pole for the Vantage pro2 weather station. Secured to the deck now with the anemometer up maybe 20 feet off the ground, I’ll attach the weather station itself to the pole this morning. It’s out there right now though and functioning, sending information back to the console.

These are the conditions at 7:20 a.m. this morning, October 15th. Temp outside, 35. Humidity outside, 15%. Barometric pressure 22.60. No wind. No rain or snow.

Next step is to set up the console so I can toggle various data points such as wind chill and dew point. That requires digging back into the manual. After that comes linking the weather station to the internet so I can both share my data and collect it in files for future reference.

tornado-risk-mapThis system is not as important on Shadow Mountain as it was in Andover because we have no orchard or a garden, but it feeds a lifelong interest in the weather, a hobby of sorts. Alexandria, Indiana, where I was raised, is in tornado alley, as is my home state of Oklahoma. The weather could get you.

A group of Twin Cities’ residents shared weather data and commentary on the Minneapolis Star-Tribune website for a couple of years. I used my weather station for very localized weather reporting. That was fun, but it got onerous. It made me realize how much work it is to forecast or even comment on the weather each day, throughout the day.

Vantage pro

Vantage pro

Here in the Rockies our weather changes from valley to valley, from altitude to altitude, mountain to mountain. Many, many microclimates. That means weather reporting and forecasting is often too broad in its sweep to accurately predict what’s going to be happening on, say, Black Mountain Drive.

The weather itself here, unlike the tornadoes of Indiana or the deep, dangerous cold of Minnesota, is not so severe, but the local effects of the weather can be devastating. When the humidity is low, winds are high, and there’s been no moisture for a while, then we get red flag warnings. Wildfire danger goes up and down with these conditions. Since winter is our humid season, it’s usually less worrisome in that regard.

It’s fun to have the console up and the weather station functioning.

 

Live

Fall                                                                                   Harvest Moon

My sister found this:

Deeds

The Journey So Far

Fall                                                                                       Harvest Moon

copertasign_wide_web

Because we began our married life together in Rome, Italian restaurants have a special place in our hearts. Not to mention that the Italians really know food. We went to Coperta last night in downtown Denver. The name means blanket and connotes a warm, comfortable place. It was.

Realized we hadn’t done this in a while, gone out together, into the city. It was revivifying.

We mulled over the move, again, congratulating ourselves on doing it when we did; when we had tired of the work in Andover, but before we’d gone deep into old age. We love living in the Rockies, seeing wildlife and rock, mountain streams every day. Our house fits us perfectly and provided a good respite for Jon and the kids during the last 14 months. The dogs like the yard. Beth Evergreen has given us a community of like minded folks, all searching for their best selves.

IMAG0927_BURST002January 2015

The first three years have had their challenges, most readers of this blog already know them: prostate cancer, Kate’s struggles with rheumatoid arthritis and now Sjogren’s Syndrome, total knee replacement, and Jon’s divorce, his moving in with us. It would be nice if the universe would let up on the lesson plan, give us some time to regroup, get our breath. Could happen.

27 years. 28 next March. Years of learning each other, of supporting each other through thick and thin, challenging each other, cheering each other. Last night we ate Italian and enjoyed the memories it evoked.

Kate and me

Fall                                                                                 Harvest Moon

Ahead

The gold is mostly gone from the mountains, at least up here. Summer’s heat lit up the aspen leaves, then dispersed into air. Now the nights are cooler, the sun lower on the horizon. We have shifted toward the season of night and cold, away from the urgency of growth and into the relaxation of a fallow season. Now, with Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah, holiseason begins earlier for me, around the time of the fall equinox and lasts until Epiphany on January 6th. It’s my favorite time of the year.

Well. OK.

Fall                                                                             Harvest Moon

shame-quote-2Shame. It’s a quiet burning just under the skin, a turning of the inner face away from the self, embarrassed. What have I done? I suppose its power comes in the possibility that the person who acted like this could be the “real” me. And, it doesn’t have to be an egregious act to call it up.

Example. Mussar says, pay attention to how much space you take up. Do not dominate your environment, for example. Leave plenty of room for the other, for their response, their reaction, their choices. On the other hand, do not shrink into the background.  Leave room for yourself, your reaction, your choices. There is no sphere of life where this idea does not apply. Work. Family. Synagogue. Church. Recreation. Community affairs. Politics. All spheres of human interaction.

In mussar each character trait exists in a polarity, say patience-anger or humility-pride. Neither pole is always best, the dynamic of mussar suggests that in certain situations either pole may be appropriate, though the sweet spot is in the balance between them. Patience, for example, should not be allowed to subvert the need to take action. Anger should not be allowed to control or force a response. The key is to know when to be patient, when to allow anger to show. So we try to remain in the middle space, ready to use which trait will produce the most human, most needed act.

Shame-Test-940x690Getting to the point here. I’m a student, probably since my first conscious thought. How the world works fascinates me. History, too. Literature. Art. Religion. Philosophy. Politics. Last night for example, before I went to sleep, I focused on my breath as I often do. I began to wonder, “OK. I know about inspiration, the lungs take in air, blood in the lungs binds the oxygen to the hemoglobin. But what about expiration? How does that work? Where do the exhaust gases, the carbon dioxide, come from? How do they get expelled? Why don’t the two processes interfere with each other?” Still don’t know the answer, btw, but I’m going to ask Kate at breakfast.

As a student, I’ve always been rewarded for speaking up in class. Classroom participation, remember that one? At age seventy it’s a long ago embedded part of my behavior. I’m aware I can dominate a class, so I try to be circumspect, not to follow every rabbit down every hole, though the desire to do so is always there. Where do the exhaust gases come from? Why does god put the angel with the flaming sword at the gates of Eden? It’s the way my mind works.

Yesterday in mussar Rabbi Jamie asked us to be aware of those who don’t speak or speak less often. To be sensitive to what they might be wondering, sensing, have to offer. Oh. Oops. He means me, doesn’t he? Well, probably, but also the others who tend to speak up frequently. Still, even the possibility, the likelihood, that part of his comment was aimed at me, made me go pink around the ears.

cone-of-shame-dog-funny-pictures-lolI shrank back in my chair, at least metaphorically, vowing, again, to keep my hand down. To keep that curiosity publically in check. To filter my thoughts, about whether they need to be expressed.  Hard for me. I’m eager when it comes to learning and part of learning is bouncing ideas off each other. But there’s that balance idea, the sweet spot between curiosity and taking up too much space, the need to honor the contributions and questions of others, to not privilege my own at other’s expense.

Letting shame dominate my response, however, is not helpful. Shame can lead to exclusion, to fear of being in a certain situation, in a certain group of people. And, paradoxically, it can also lead to an inflated idea of a particular moment’s meaning. Oh, I’m so bad that I can’t show my face here again. No. Learn the lesson. Keep it available as a guide, as a lesson, not as a definer of the Self. We are all more than even our worst mistakes and shame alerts us, usually, to the slighter mistakes, not the worst ones.

I’m talking to myself here. Writing does that for me. Gets me down to the root of an experience. So, here’s what I’m saying. Yes,Charles, modulate participation, but don’t go quiet. Yes, accept the observation as relevant, but not as a diminishment.

 

 

 

 

Metaphor? Of course.

Fall                                                                               Harvest Moon

kabbalah8The tree of life, the tree of immortality guarded by the angel with the flaming sword; the tree itself still growing in paradise, concealed by language, by our senses, by the everydayness of our lives; the path back to the garden often forgotten, the exile from paradise a separation so profound that we no longer know the location of the trail head and even harder, we no longer have a desire to search for it.

Metaphor? Of course. But in these three words lie a trap for the unwary, a trap in which I allowed myself to get caught and held, a mindhold trap. My life seems like a sine wave of grasping, then losing the significance of metaphors.

When young, I felt the mystery behind the communion wafers and the grape juice at Alexandria First Methodist. At the tenebrae service, when we extinguished the little candles with their paper drip guards and the sanctuary went dark, I thrilled to the change from ordinary experience, sensed the power rolling over us as the memory of crucifixion and death came hurtling through the centuries to land in our small Indiana town, in the very spot where I sat.

The sunrise services held on Easter morning lit up my whole inside. The power of the tenebrae had been defeated and life did go on forever, death only a mistake, an illusion, misunderstood as a cruelty when in fact it was a gateway. I suppose on those days, repeated over many years, I had a glimpse of the path back to the garden.

My mother’s death, I think, shattered this instinctive faith. Those feelings occasioned by grape juice soaked squares of bread, darkness and the rising of the sun, were a true path and one I lost when the brutal reality of grief smeared the way.

But the memory of that way remained. So I moved up from the instinctive triad of netzach-hod-yesod, forced by fear and loss to skip the next triad chesed-gevurah-tiferet and go to the one easiest for me to access, hochmah-binah-daat. I know these hebrew words may mean nothing at all to you, I’m still at the base of a steep learning curve with them myself, but they do appear on the illustration above so you can see where they are on the tree of life.

In simple, but not simplistic terms, the triads are netzach-hod-yesod, the realm of instinctual behavior, chesed-gevurah-tiferet, the realm of emotions and hochmah-binah-daat, the realm of the intellect. Movement in the tree of life goes from the keter to malchut and back from malchut up to keter, so there is no real top or bottom, only different spots in an ongoing process of creation.

kabbalahBut here’s the trap. Metaphor, of course! I studied philosophy, religion, anthropology in college. Then, after a few years stuck in unenlightened instinctual behavior-the storied sex, drugs and rock and roll of the sixties and seventies-I moved to seminary. The trap tightened. I learned about the church, scripture old and new, ethics, church history. It was exhilarating, all this knowledge. I soaked it up. I remained though stuck in the intellectual triad, pushing back and forth between the polarity of intuitive wisdom, hochmah, and analytical thought, binah, often not going on to daat, or understanding. I learned, but did not integrate into my soul.

There was a time, after seminary, after ordination, as I groped my way around in the work of ministry, that I found the path again. It was in mystical traditions like the Jesus Prayer, or the use of lectio divina, contemplative prayer. I had spiritual directors who guided my prayer life and I meditated often, daily for years, went on private retreats for days at a time. In those years I found my way back to the netzach-hod-yesod triad, traveling again on the instinctual path formed so long ago.

The trap sprung another time, though, as I got better at my ministry, more able to apply organizational development paradigms to congregational life, more able to pull the levers of political power for the good of various purposes: affordable housing, unemployment policy, economic development for poor neighborhoods, fighting off corporate takeovers of those same poor neighborhoods, more able to navigate the internal politics of Presbytery life. I became stuck in malchut, the material world which we experience everyday. So stuck that eventually I could see nothing else and the path disappeared again.

interior_dante_divinecomedy_inf_01_002My heart knew I had gotten lost, in exile once again. In Dante’s words in Canto 1 of the Divine Comedy:

In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself, in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost.

It is a hard thing to speak of, how wild, harsh and impenetrable that wood was, so that thinking of it recreates the fear. It is scarcely less bitter than death…

I cannot rightly say how I entered it. I was so full of sleep, at that point where I abandoned the true way.”

This time I knew I had to extricate myself from the subtle trap, get out of the thought world that had me lost in the dark wood, the direct way lost. It was a wild, harsh, seemingly impenetrable forest.

It was clear that for me the Christian faith had gotten muddled up with ambition, immersion in the world of power. And, most problematic of all, it had become part of the metaphor trap. The metaphor had gone stale, had become a barrier instead of a koan. Not the fault of the faith itself, but of my journey within it.

IMAG0650croppedAt the time of its crumbling another path had begun to open for me. Fiction writing emerged when, ironically, I began writing my Doctor of Ministry thesis. Instead of working on it I ended up with 30,000 plus words of what would become my first novel, Even The Gods Must Die. Irony in the title, too, I suppose.

In the train of that shift came a decision to look into my Celtic heritage as a source for my fiction. While researching Celtic religion for the fantasy novels I wanted to write, I discovered the Great Wheel.

It grounded me. So to speak. My spiritual life became tactile, bound up in soil amendments, bulbs, corms, seeds, spades and hoes, fruit trees, raspberries and bees. And, of course, dogs. Always dogs.

Meeting Kate enabled me to move gracefully out of the ministry and into a pagan worldview. I was back in the netzach-hod-yesod triad, but now firmly attached to malchut, the queendom of this world.

Writing fiction found me exploring the chesed-gevurah-tiferet triad, having to reach into my heart for believable characters, story lines. Over the course of those years, the years since leaving the Christian ministry and now, I began to gradually integrate the triads, at least the three: intellectual, emotional and instinctual. The combination of family life, the Andover years, writing, and working as a docent at the MIA began to slowly weave them into my soul.

2010 01 19_3454Even so, I sat behind the barrier, the flaming sword, the metaphor trap. Beth Evergreen and Rabbi Jamie Arnold have started me on a journey back to where I began, immersed in the dark. Seeking for the light, yes, but happy now in the  darkness, too. The Winter Solstice long ago became my favorite holiday of the year.

When I left Christianity and took up my earth-bound spirit, I shut off access to the fourth triad, the one subsumed under keter: faith-joy/pleasure-will, and its source of energy, the ein sof, the infinite One, perhaps god in small letters. Today, as I write this, I’m more pagan than I’ve ever been, more embracing of the body, the mountains, the stars, the elk and the mountain lion, than any words from any source.

2011 03 06_3396But. At Beth Evergreen I have begun to feel my way back into the fourth triad, the mystery I first encountered on the hard wooden pews in Alexandria, the one pulsing behind the metaphors of tenebrae, of crucifixion, of resurrection,  and now of Torah, of language, of a “religious” life. I knew it once, in the depth of my naive young boy’s soul. Now, I may find it again, rooted in the old man he’s become.

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