We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Hanukkah

Samain                                                          Bare Aspen Moon

Ruth at Beth Evergreen, new year's 2017, end of Hanukkah

Ruth at Beth Evergreen, new year’s 2017, end of Hanukkah

Hanukkah begins tonight. I got a Hanukkah greeting from India where a mussar friend teaches English five months or so years to Buddhist nuns and monks. We’ll be celebrating with the grandkids and Jon at his house this coming Sunday and at Beth Evergreen this Friday. Kate has a large lit menorah that we put in our window and we say the blessing each night and light the candles.

Like the Christian festival of the incarnation, Christmas, the meaning of this holiday often gets obscured in gifts and parties, but both have taken on a similar characteristic more related to their month of observance than their specific religious meaning: lights. Hanukkah is the light in the darkness approaching the Winter Solstice as is Christmas, Diwali and shortly after, Kwanzaa.

In the case of Hanukkah the lights are integral to the holiday itself, a celebration of the miracle in the liberated Second Temple when a small cruse of olive oil, only enough for one night, lit the Temple menorah for eight nights. The original menorah described in the Torah was made of gold, had seven lampstands and stood, according to oral tradition, 5.3 feet high, 18 hand breadths. It, along with many other ritual implements, has been recreated by the Temple Institute, the specifications in the Torah and the oral tradition.

menorah replica of the original menorah in solid gold. Temple Institute

menorah replica of the original menorah in solid gold. Temple Institute

Tradition states that a menorah of seven lamps should not be used outside the Temple, so the Hanukkah menorah has nine lamps, four on each side, eight total to symbolize the miracle from the restoration of the Second Temple, and a shamash, or servant lamp, which is used to light the others.

The holiday memorializes the victory of the Maccabees, Jewish freedom fighters, over the Seleucid emperor, Antiochus IV, known as Epiphanes.

 

Jon

Samain                                                                  Bare Aspen Moon

20171130_181733Jon’s 49. As of yesterday. Gabe made him pretzels in the shape of 49. I don’t know about Ruth. We gave him some beef from our quarter and took him out to Jax, a seafood chain, pretty upscale, so a real food oriented birthday.

Part of what we had missed in Minnesota were just these moments, gathering with family to celebrate a birthday, a holiday. Next Sunday we’ll go down to Jon’s to celebrate Hanukkah with him, Ruth and Gabe. A week after that Joe and SeoAh come for five days. December fills up with family moments and we love it.

Jon’s made real progress on his various projects in his new house. Gabe has a Jon-built desk complete with bright red pegboard over it. Ruth’s loft bed has the old kitchen cabinets converted to steps. When finished, it will have a platform for her mattress, books, maybe a plant. Underneath it will be her desk.

Idaho. The eclipse.

Idaho. The eclipse.

The kitchen floor, repurposed wood from a now defunct museum, is coming together, though he said yesterday that he may rip it out and start over. The backsplash over the stove will be metal coated with an acid that will change its color to yellowish. He has a lot of projects, a good thing.

Jon’s life has changed dramatically since May of 2016. The decision to leave the marriage, the arrest, wrangling over the terms of the divorce, commuting into Aurora from Conifer, having the kids only on weekends, then the final orders for the divorce, his eventual purchase of a home and now having the kids weekly, that’s a dramatic and wrenching year and seven months. He’s calmer, though hardly calm.

A hard time for all of us. Family is like that. Needs constant attention. Glad we’re here to be part of it all and to be here for everybody.

With Joyful Interpenetration for All

Samain                                                                       Bare Aspen Moon

found in High Country News, by Gary Snyder:

 

I pledge allegiance to the soil

of Turtle Island

and to the beings who thereon dwell

one ecosystem

in diversity

under the sun

with joyful interpenetration for all

“You’re not supposed to do that.”

Samain                                                                       Bare Aspen Moon

Assistants_and_George_Frederic_Watts_-_Hope_ 1886

Assistants and George Frederic Watts                         Hope  1886

 

Yesterday the bagel table, an informal shabbat service with, yes, bagels, focused on three stories in the Torah that dealt with difficult situations involving sexuality: the stories of Dinah, Tamar and Potiphar’s wife.

The conversation included several #metoo acknowledgments, including my own. I was ten or eleven and on the train to Dallas for a couple of weeks with my Uncle Charles. I regularly took the Greyhound to visit relatives in Oklahoma, but this was my first time on the train. There was a layover in St. Louis and I decided to get out and see the downtown.

It was a Sunday so the streets had almost no people on them. I had my brownie camera with me and went looking for someplace to take pictures. I did that, finished a roll and needed to change film. The air was pulsing with heat, so I went into the alcove of a closed store to be in the shade. I had the camera open when a man approached me.

Squatting down beside me, I was also in a squat, he reached between my legs and touched my testicles. I said, “You’re not supposed to do that.” got up and left. He did not resist my leaving and my memory is that he was gentle. Though it did ruin the moment, I recall feeling relieved that he didn’t use force. He did accept my no as a no.

It’s a little hard from the distance of 60 some years to recall how I felt, but I know that for me it was scary, but not scarring. I remember it, so it obviously had an impact, but I don’t remember it as different from any other sort of scary moment in my childhood. It was the only time I had that sort of experience and that may have weighed against any larger impact. If I’d had a string of them, as some girls and women do, I sense my reaction may have been stronger.

 

Cogent. From within the evangelical camp. Damning. Worth Reading.

Samain                                                            Bare Aspen Moon

from today's Post Secret

from today’s Post Secret

The death of Christianity in the U.S.

 Miguel De La TorreChristianity has died in the hands of Evangelicals. Evangelicalism ceased being a religious faith tradition following Jesus’ teachings concerning justice for the betterment of humanity when it made a Faustian bargain for the sake of political influence. The beauty of the gospel message — of love, of peace and of fraternity — has been murdered by the ambitions of Trumpish flimflammers who have sold their souls for expediency. No greater proof is needed of the death of Christianity than the rush to defend a child molester in order to maintain a majority in the U.S. Senate.

Evangelicals have constructed an exclusive interpretation which fuses and confuses white supremacy with salvation. Only those from the dominant culture, along with their supposed inferiors who with colonized minds embrace assimilation, can be saved. But their salvation damns Jesus. To save Jesus from those claiming to be his heirs, we must wrench him from the hands of those who use him as a façade from which to hide their phobias — their fear of blacks, their fear of the undocumented, their fear of Muslims, their fear of everything queer.

Evangelicalism has ceased to be a faith perspective rooted on Jesus the Christ and has become a political movement whose beliefs repudiate all Jesus advocated. A message of hate permeates their pronouncements, evident in sulphurous proclamations like the Nashville Statement, which elevates centuries of sexual dysfunctionalities since the days of Augustine by imposing them upon Holy Writ. They condemn as sin those who express love outside the evangelical anti-body straight jacket.

Evangelicalism’s unholy marriage to the Prosperity Gospel justifies multi-millionaire bilkers wearing holy vestments made of sheep’s clothing who discovered being profiteers rather than prophets delivers an earthly security never promised by the One in whose name they slaughter those who are hungry, thirsty and naked, and the alien among them. Christianity at a profit is an abomination before all that is Holy. From their gilded pedestals erected in white centers of wealth and power, they gaslight all to believe they are the ones being persecuted because of their faith.

Evangelicalism’s embrace of a new age of ignorance, blames homosexuality for Harvey’s rage rather than considering the scientific consequences climate change has on the number of increasing storms of greater and greater ferocity. To ignore the damage caused to God’s creation so the few can profit in raping Mother Earth causes celebrations in the fiery pits of Gehenna.

Evangelicalism forsakes holding a sexual predator, an adulterer, a liar and a racist accountable, instead serving as a shield against those who question POTUS’ immorality because of some warped reincarnation of Cyrus. Laying holy hands upon the incarnation of the very vices Jesus condemned to advance a political agenda — instead of rebuking and chastising in loving prayer — has prostituted the gospel in exchange for the victory of a Supreme Court pick.

Evangelicalism either remained silent or actually supported Charlottesville goose steppers because they protect their white privilege with the doublespeak of preserving heritage, leading them to equate opponents of fascist movements with the purveyors of hatred. Jesus has yet recovered from the vomiting induced by the Christian defenders of torch-wielding white nationalists calling for “blood-and-soil.”

The Evangelicals’ Jesus is satanic, and those who hustle this demon are “false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve” (2 Cor. 11:13-15, NIV).

You might wonder if my condemnation is too harsh. It is not, for the Spirit of the Lord has convicted me to shout from the mountaintop how God’s precious children are being devoured by the hatred and bigotry of those who have positioned themselves as the voice of God in America.

As a young man, I walked down the sawdust aisle at a Southern Baptist church and gave my heart to Jesus. Besides offering my broken heart, I also gave my mind to understanding God, and my arm to procuring God’s call for justice. I have always considered myself to be an evangelical, but I can no longer allow my name to be tarnished by that political party masquerading as Christian. Like many women and men of good will who still struggle to believe, but not in the evangelical political agenda, I too no longer want or wish to be associated with an ideology responsible for tearing humanity apart. But if you, dear reader, still cling to a hate-mongering ideology, may I humbly suggest you get saved.

So cold

Samain                                                               Bare Aspen Moon

668-zero-630x522The great wheel has turned again, moving Orion further down the southwestern horizon in the early morning. The air is cooler here. A Beth Evergreen friend, Alan, came in to the kabbalah class and announced, “Winter is really here. It’s so cold outside!” It was 22. Now in my fourth winter season here I’ve stopped commenting.

Temperature tolerance is so much about perspective. I saw a meme on Facebook that featured two parka clad folk with frost on the edges of their hoods. “What people in Texas are like if the temperature dips below 80.” A man from Texas wrote, “This is true.” Another posted a photograph of a red bench rest with two snow flakes, “It’s a blizzard in Dallas!”

faith-in-what-will-beThose -40 degree nights at Valhelga during one Woolly retreat. Working out on my snowshoes in the woods behind the library in Anoka, -20 degrees. The moments of -50 degree wind chill. Days with the temperature below zero, many days in a row. Minnesota. Not a lot of snow, but pretty damned cold.

And, yes, my body has begun to change its reaction, 22 does seem cold. Yet my brain. Nope. T-shirt weather. Rock the sandals and the shorts.

The Winter Solstice, no matter what the temperature, is coming. My favorite time of the year.

Eaten Hearing Aid

Samain                                                                      Bare Aspen Moon

kabbalah2Wednesday, adult Hebrew at 4:30 with Rabbi Jamie. Then, kabbalah at 7 p.m. Thursday. Mussar at 1 pm. Then mussar leadership group at 6:30 p.m. Result? Both nights up past my bedtime and an 8 a.m. rising this morning. Oooffdah, as we would have said back in the land of the frozen mustache.

I’m in a graduate program in Jewish studies by immersion. The learning is constant and interesting. Beth Evergreen has made me a better person, calmer and even more introspective.

unveilingJudaism is humane and that aspect of it appeals to me. A lot. Example. Rich Levine, the lawyer who did our estate documents, attended the MVP meeting last night. He had, he said, with his brother just unveiled his father’s gravestone. Is this a common custom, I asked? Yes, he said, most if not all Jews follow it. A loved one is buried, then not more than a year later, a gravestone is erected. The wait considers a journey the deceased needs to make that can last as long as a year. But, Rich said, you don’t want to make them think that you think it would take them a whole year, so usually the gravestone goes up somewhere between 10 and 11 months after burial. Much less fraught then.

This morning I had to retrieve parts of my hearing aid, (my $3,200 aid) from Rigel’s depredations. Aaarrggh. Hippety hop to the hearing aid shop in Littleton. Still under warranty, so a shot at repair first; and, if repair’s not possible, then a loss and damage claim for a new hearing aid with a $250 deductible. About a week or so.

hearing-aid-alta2-nera2-ria2-minirite-silverMy sweetie took me out to lunch at Okinawa Sushi to soothe me. Rigel also ate the mustache trimmer I had received and unboxed only an hour before. So, double aarrggh. We may have to consider where we deposit things. It’s possible Rigel is a neat freak advocating for a clutter free home.

Today is now officially a rest day. No working out. No writing. Just naps and replacing ruined items. Tomorrow there’s a service at Beth Evergreen focused on sexual harassment. Kate and I will be there.

Enthused and excited

Samain                                                         Bare Aspen Moon

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

I got excited before my presentation at Beth Evergreen. It felt substantial and unique, so I was eager to see what others would think. There were three of us presenting last night. Anshel talked about the mezuzah and its correlation to the tree of life. CC presented Maslow’s hierarchy and laid it over the tree of life. It fits well. Seeing both of them wrestle with their material and its fit with the tree of life reinforced our learnings and gave us new insights.

Anshel, for example, explained that the placement of the mezuzah on the door post relates to the four worlds of the kabbalah and should be placed at the bottom of the top third of the doorway. The mezuzah protects against demons and will protect the whole house. It guards space and reminds us that the space about to be entered is holy.

maslow mysticsCC’s work with Maslow sparked a conversation about the difference between human agency in moving up the pyramid as opposed to the necessity of God’s agency. Within my worldview this is a false dichotomy, but the conversation was fruitful. It’s a false dichotomy to me for two reasons. 1. How else would God move someone up the pyramid save through human agency? 2. Since I see energy moving up and down the tree of life, from the invisible to the visible and back through the visible to the invisible, this energy flow is the key agency involved, imh. I might call it chi, or prana, or l’chaim. Could also call it divine or vitality or consciousness. I don’t see that adding God to the conversation accomplishes much.

I got antsy during these two presentations, wanting to be sure I had enough time. I wanted the conversation over with. Not my finest hour. I’d gotten myself so enthused that I really wanted to see how people would react to my ideas. A teachable moment for me. I did reenter the moment during both presentations and was proud of myself for being able to.

When my turn came, it was past 8 pm and we usually end at 8:30. We quit around 8:45 or 8:50, so I ended up with plenty of time. The conversation was eager and engaged. Debra said the ideas “gave her chills” and Rabbi Jamie said it was fascinating. Because I didn’t outline my ideas, they flowed better, but I did leave out some key material.

foolIn the end I felt heard and honored for my understanding of the relationship between the cyclical turn of the seasons and the meaning of the tree of the life to kabbalists.

This is a unique place, Beth Evergreen. I’m accepted as a full member of the community, in every meaningful sense, yet I’m on a divergent spiritual path from nearly every one else.

Reconstructionist Judaism and I approach religious matters in an oddly similar way, looking for the fit with real life, for the way to articulate ancient knowledge in a contemporary idiom. We share, in other words, a way of thinking about religion, though we do not share starting points. That’s tremendously exciting to me.

Add in, then, the kabbalist’s contention that all torah is metaphor and I find myself able to learn from the thousands of years of Jewish thought while maintaining my status as a fellow traveler.

pilgrimSince I have long believed that the world’s religions are philosophy and poetry accessible to all, I remain eager to learn from them. Since I know their claims cannot all be true, I choose to remain outside them, yet to walk with them as part of my journey. During college, when fellow students were turning to Asian faiths: the hare krishnas, zen, tibetan mysticism, I believed that the religious traditions of the West were most culturally attuned to the American mind. I still believe that and find Judaism and its traditions and thoughts, like Christianity, trigger a depth of understanding I don’t get from the Asian faiths.

That’s not to say that zen, tibetan thought, and particularly for me, taoism, don’t have lessons and insights, too. Of course, they do. But, for me, acculturated in the Judaeo-Christian West, I find I learn best from within my cultural framework broadly defined.

 

The Great Wheel and the Ten Sephirot

Samain                                                                        Bare Aspen Moon

SamainThink I’ve figured out my kabbalah presentation. Still a bit rough around the edges but that’s going to be part of it. It’ll be a how to think with the tree of the life as a touchstone example, using the Great Wheel as an instance.

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks trying to figure out whether or not I’m trying to put the cliched square peg in a round hole. That is, can the Great Wheel be interpreted from within the tree of life’s basic framework? Or, vice versa.

My tentative conclusion right now? Yes, they both speak to  the same essence, to a fundamental truth about the nature of reality as we humans experience it. Both abstractions focus us on the dynamic of life arising from the inanimate and returning the borrowed elements to the inanimate at the end of a cycle. We could call it entropy, but entropy does not have the revivifying element of both the tree of life and the Great Wheel.

sephirothshiningonesThis a crucial difference between a secular, scientific world view and a mystical one. Entropy posits, as I mentioned in a post not long ago, that all things die, including death, I suppose. The Great Wheel and the tree of life challenge that grim metaphysics with an alternative.

In the tree of life emanations from the keter, or crown, flow down through the ten sephirot, emerging after a journey through possibilities and limitations, into malchut, the realm of the Shekinah or the feminine aspect of the divine. This is the daily reality you and I experience. Rabbi Jamie uses the illustration of a fountain with metal leaves (the sephirot) that catch the emanations, then direct the flow downward toward malchut. This could be entropic. Divine emanations could flow down to malchut, exist there for awhile, then simply disintegrate, disappear. Or, they could all flow down to malchut until it was filled, then the flow would stop. The heat death of the universe could be seen as such a result for the big bang.

But this fountain flows both ways. Malchut, as Rabbi Jamie explains it, is also a pump and the fountain sends water (divine energy) back up the tree of the life, returning it to the ein sof, the infinite oneness. Repeat until God is repaired.

tzimtzum_classicGod became fractionated during the tzimtzum, the contraction of divine energy that made the finite possible. This idea is still difficult for me, but I’m just accepting it for the purposes of this presentation. During the tzimtzum the infinite light, ohr, tried to manifest in the finite, filling the space created by the contraction, but the vessel, things, (ein sof = no-things, infinity) could not hold it and shattered. That shattering created all the elements that now make up our universe. (and other universes, too) Trapped inside all of these elements is the ohr. The ascent and descent of divine energy, from the keter to malchut and backup through the sephirot to the keter from malchut, is the way the ohr will once again join with the infinite. How? No clue.

OK. So how does this correlate, if at all, with the Great Wheel? The Great Wheel divides into two halves, a fallow half beginning at Samain and ending at Beltane when the growing season begins. That’s roughly from October 31st to May 1st on the Gregorian calendar, but of course the reality varies by latitude and altitude. The key thing to consider here is a growing time, a time of vitality and, not only vitality, but vitality created from the inanimate materials of soil, air and sun followed by a fallow time when plants die back, when the animate returns to the inanimate.

slinkyThis is a malchutian manifestation, I think, of the ascent and descent and ascent again of divine energy represented by the tree of life. Why? Well, until the divine energy passes through yesod and becomes real in malchut, it is hidden, invisible, just like the vivifying function of the soil and the air and the sun is hidden during the fallow time. Both represent the cyclical nature of things coming into existence from apparent no-thing, then returning themselves to the invisible, the hidden.

Whereas the summer solstice could be seen as a major holiday for malchut, so the winter solstice could be seen as a major holiday for the keter and the ein sof. The summer solstice is a celebration of growth and fertility, the winter solstice a celebration of darkness and hiddenness, the depth (or height) of the nine sephirot and their crown.

Now it could be said, and I have said, that the Great Wheel represents cyclical time and that the notion of time itself is a matter of mental organization for the human mind. It could also be said that the very nature of the Great Wheel limits it to malchut since it expresses the seasonal changes of our particular planet. I believe, at least right now, though, that the Great Wheel instead reveals the universal nature of life on our planet, in malchut, as a simulacrum of the energy paths of the tree of life.

Planetary_Motion_SpiralThe slinkys I will hand out, tiny one-inch ones, illustrate what I mean. The Great Wheel turns through one year, one orbit around the sun, then repeats and is, in that, cyclical and not chronological. But, if you link this orbit to that one we get a spiral as our rapidly moving planet follows our solar system around the galaxy at unimaginable rates of speed. The Great Wheel then extends in space, in a spiral, this year’s revolution becoming another while the whole planet and its sun captive neighbors push further and further around the Milky Way. And, just to add complexity, as the whole galaxy moves, too.

 

Remember

Samain                                                                                 Bare Aspen Moon

dia de los muertos 2017Just noticed a quirky reminder of Coco and the song that saves Hector, Remember Me. Each time I have to login into a site, I enter a username and a password. Then, just below the blanks for those is a small square to check or not. It says, remember me? It reminds me, too, of the posts of the dead on Facebook. I can’t think of anyone else right now, though I know there are others, but I still get the occasional reminder for Kathleen Donahue who died two years ago from lung cancer. In my instance there is the now quite long trail of bytes and bits that breadcrumb my life over the last decade plus. Perhaps we could create digital ofrendas.

All of the holiseason holidays are, in a sense, living ofrendas, bringing back memories of Thanksgiving celebrated with now dead loved ones, Hanukkah menorahs lit by now still hands, Christmas trees put up by parents now gone. We do weave those who died into our lives, sometimes happily, sometimes not. The nature of family.

SamainI’m thinking that an intentional celebration of Samain could reflect, in a Celtic idiom, the  upbeat nature of Dia de los Muertos though Samain is a more somber, more dangerous holiday. It emphasizes the thinning of the veil between the living and the dead, the crossing over of loved ones, but also faery folk, those of the Other World. I guess in this sense it has more in common with the festival of Hungry Ghosts in the Chinese tradition, where the dead have to be placated.

Still, the underlying messages are the same. The dead are gone from the physical world, but not gone from our lives. Relationships with them remain alive and need nurturing, attention. We may try to ignore those relationships, but they burrowed into our souls long ago, now create and sustain aspects of our personality, our responses to the world. If the relationships are conscious, ongoing, we can work with them, have them as resources in our daily lives; if they are unconscious, they can control our behavior and our moods in ways that puzzle us or even harm us.

So here’s to the dead who live among us, all crying out, Remember Me.

 

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