We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Mostly Musical

Fall                                                                         Harvest Moon

Wow. Had a lot on my mind yesterday. Sorry about the length. More yet, too.

Alan, Jamie, Tara

Alan, Jamie, Tara

Anyhow. Met with Tara yesterday. Director of Education at Beth Evergreen. I said, Help. She gave me lots of ideas on classroom management, help. She’s delightful. Bright. Straightforward. Open. An example. How you arrange the classroom is very important. Oh yeah? Where the kids sit, what’s on the table when they come in. Having a separate table for attendance. A close by table for snacks. OK. Would never have occurred to me.

Later in the day Kate and I went to see Funny Girl. It was interesting, very, comparing the tech rehearsal we saw a week ago Wednesday with the full production. The show yesterday had none of the rough edges we saw then. Props ended up in their places. And there were a lot of prop changes. Lines were crisp and the dancing, singing were good, too. It went on about an hour too long for me, but I’m not a fan of musicals. The first act had energy, pop. The second act had some, but to my tired butt, not as much.

Stage ready for act II

Stage ready for act II

Musicals are the cotton candy of the theater world, at least most of them. Lots of sugar, easy to consume, then all that’s left is sticky fingers. I came out humming People Who Need People, so there’s that. I guess I’m more of a drama guy. Beckett. Friel. O’Neill. Wilson. Kushner. Still, it was a nice change up.

Also, it was community theater. Not the high production values of the Guthrie, for example, but pretty good. And the casting depends on a limited pool of volunteers though in spite of that the voices and acting abilities were even better than pretty good.

Fanny Brice

Fanny Brice

The director had some great ideas about staging, including opening and closing scenes that showed the cast playing to backstage on which was painted a theater. We were back stage ourselves, watching them perform. That meant the entire story took place between opening and closing of one of Fanny’s shows. A show between shows about show business. A bit of a fun house mirror effect.

One especially nice piece of staging was a solo by Fanny, leaning on the piano. Behind Fanny and the piano, in half light, a couple danced. It was a view (at least I saw it this way.) inside her mind as she sang. The effect was wonderful.

FannyBrice1c.jpg2We knew people in the cast, saw folks we knew in the lobby, and were greeted by the costumer as we left. He remembered us from our visit to the tech rehearsal. In other words this was also a moment of immersion in community, our community. That’s not the same as a visit to the Guthrie or to Broadway, but has lots of other, ancillary benefits.

Back home at 6:30 (it started at 3:00!) I made Kate a fatty meal for her gall bladder ultrasound today. Oh, boy, another procedure.

Finished the Netflix limited series Maniac last night. You have to have a quirky aesthetic to like it, but I did. It may bear watching a second time. Lots in it and a great cast: Jonah Hill, Emma Stone, Gabriel Byrne, Sally Field, for example.

Reconstruct, Reimagine

Fall                                                                                 Harvest Moon

Circling the question of faith, reimagining it, reconstructing it. A project that now seems life long. One that has the character of silly putty, picking up whatever I apply it to.

My initial and continuing fascination with the idea comes from a sense of restriction that I feel within the religions that I’ve encountered intimately; a sense of restriction that belies their first attraction, a totalizing claim of one sort or another: Ours is the one true God. Find release from all suffering. If only you practice wu wei. Find the universal within the particular. And, of course, the odd bunch, the U.U.’s, defined best by the joke: a religion named for two beliefs shared by none of its members.

That personal akedah (binding in Hebrew, as in the binding of Isaac), that moment when the new faith seems to have a uniquely powerful grasp on things, especially things unseen, has always, for me, been followed by finding a ram in the bush. The ram is the realization that, yes, there is truth and power, vision and nuance here-after all, I’ve climbed this Mt. Moriah with the wood for my own sacrifice bundled on my back-but it’s not what it claims. Rather what it is and what it claims points outside of its hermeneutical circle, affirming the presence of a sacred realm, a holy reality; but, then making the absurd claim that somehow it contains all, has it wrapped up in a series of truth claims that, if only you declare fealty, the curtain will pull back. Oz himself will be there.

So the sense of restriction is itself the clue. But, it’s a yellow caution light, not a red, stop, go no further signal. No human invention can or will encapsulate the universal, the cosmic. However, this eagerness, this passion to understand and embrace something beyond an individual life, beyond a community’s life, beyond a specific historical moment, validates the search. At least to me. It says to me as well that the search, the hunger to find a larger context for our mayfly moment, is not absurd, not futile, not pointless.

Back in my college days, when everything seemed up for grabs gender roles, political assumptions, establishment values, many of my friends turned to Eastern religions: Buddhism and Krishna worship, a bit of the Tao, anything that didn’t seem to have the taint of Judaeo-Christian civilization. I wanted to stick with religious traditions of the West, reasoning that the most accessible clues for a life of faith would come within the culture which shaped me. Even religions, it seemed to me then, were culture bound and the most likely chance for a spiritual break through would come without having to laboriously take on another culture’s religious clothing.

Today I’m more relaxed about that sensibility, having learned a good deal from Taoism, Hinduism (I’m a devotee of Shiva.) and from that strange brew, Chan Buddhism, a mix of Taoism and Buddhism that became Zen in Japan. I also gained a great deal from the other, peculiarly Western notion of existentialism. I’ve been immersed, whole life immersion, in three religious institutions: Christianity (Methodist, U.C.C., and Presbyterian), Unitarian-Universalism, and now Reconstructionist Judaism. I’ve also been immersed, whole life immersion, in existentialism, and to a lesser extent, perhaps not whole life, but a significant immersion in Taoism.

I suppose you could conclude that I’m feckless, unwilling to touch down, perhaps a lover shy of commitment. Might be true. From the inside it feels like I’ve been true to the pilgrim, the seeker within, a lover of questions, always suspicious of answers. That’s where reconstructing the very idea of faith comes from. Why does faith have to create a sense of restriction? Why does it have to push toward a holistic claim that is logically absurd?

I’ve come to believe recently that the notion of revelation is a key to this whole enterprise. What is revelation? How do we know it when we encounter it? Well, that I now believe, is exactly the deposit of wisdom all religions carry for us. No, I’m not suggesting all religions are essentially the same, that at their core is, say, love. Hardly. Religions are as particular and strange as any human creation can be.

What I am suggesting is that each religious tradition, including the prefers to not be called a religion of Buddhism, gives us clues to the nature of revelation, to the way the unseen, the sacred, the holy, the other manifests itself. The tendency, shown over and over again, to assume that the particular revelation is what’s important rather than the nature of revelation itself seems only natural to me. A mind shattering encounter with whatever lies beyond the day-to-day, the quotidian feels so powerful that this one, like Mohammed, or the gospel writer Mark or Matthew, the scribes of the Diamond Sutra, or the Rig Vedas, even the oft maligned Joseph Smith and his missing gold tablets, must have revealed it all.

No, that mind shattering encounter precisely proves that all has not been revealed. Why? Because Mohammed’s vision differs from Joseph Smith’s which in turn does not match Krishna escaping from the jail as an infant, or the conclusion that all that matters is following your chi. But. Something encounters these minds. Something so powerful that it can change the lives of millions, billions, effect history, turn nations into enemies, spill copious blood.

It’s the breakthrough of the universal into the particular, the moment when, for at least one person, the wizard’s curtain in the Emerald City is pulled back; but, what is beheld does not create cynicism, but joy, intimacy, knowing of a deep sort not available, apparently, to most of us.

So the key thing we learn from any religion is how to know such moments, how to find that small crack in our daily life that can be pried open to reveal wonders. This has gone on too long for today, but let me give you a for instance, then I’ll quit for now.

In the story of Abraham the brilliant Jewish commentator, Avivah Zornberg, suggests that a key source of such mind shattering moments comes in relationships. That is, our most common life experience, that of contact and interaction with other humans, can uncover glimpses of what is beyond. I’m going to leave this here because I want to eat breakfast, but more on this later.

 

 

Back of the Vehicle Semiotics: A Continuing Search

Fall                                                                            Harvest Moon

20180922_161341A Subaru yesterday with three bumper stickers: Be Kind. Hiker. And, “Not a Native, but I got here as fast as I could.” printed on the familiar green with white mountains bumper sticker that often announces so-called Native Coloradans.

 

Mabon, 2018

Mabon                                                                      Harvest Moon

Shadow Mtn. Drive, about a mile from home. Black Mtn ahead

Shadow Mtn. Drive, about a mile from home. Black Mtn ahead

As I type the heading here, I can look up and see the aspen groves near the peak of Black Mountain. Like golden islands in a dark green ocean. Part of the ever changing beauty of the Rocky Mountains.

Mabon is the second harvest holiday and comes on the autumnal equinox. (The rising sun has just hit the aspen grove, now it looks like molten gold.) If you lived in a subsistence farming economy, as most humans did in Europe only a few centuries ago, then what happened on and around this holiday would have meant the difference between life and death in the fallow months ahead. No wonder the market days were so important, so filled with ritual and fun.

mabon-greeting-cardWhat did you plant in the first and second phases of your life that’s coming to fruition right now? Tom. Bill. Mark. Paul. Will you dance around a bonfire? Alan. What will sustain you in the fallow months when work in the fields is done? The loves and passions of your earlier life might do it. Might not. Is there a new field, one that can be worked with the experience and skills available to you? What will you harvest in the third phase of your life?

This harvest holiday I’ve been nostalgic about combines and corn pickers, hay balers and grain trucks, the tall elevators waiting for grain, the train cars waiting to move it. That was my flatlander past. What is the new harvest, the one lived among mountains, streams, mule deer and elk?

mabon8

“The Harvest Moon” by Samuel Palmer

Turns out it has some resonance with crops I’ve planted before. Kate. Family. Friends. Writing. Reading. Religion. Art. Music. Dogs. Closeness to the non-human natural world. But, there are also new crops, most new varieties of old ones, new strains. Judaism. The montane ecosystem. Beth Evergreen friends. Noticeable aging. Submitting work, a true harvest. Making art, sumi-e, playing with colors. This pack of dogs: Gertie, Rigel, Kepler. A married Joseph and SeoAh. A divorced Jon. The grandkids.

Someday, soon or late, the reaper will come for me, harvesting another of this strange fruit, humankind. Each day, think of it, that reaper gathers in a new harvest of souls. And how little we know of that harvest. Do our deaths nourish the universe as our harvests in life have nurtured others? Perhaps.

May you have a pleasant and bountiful Mabon season. Harvest home is near. Enjoy it.

 

 

Before the Fall

Lughnasa                                                         Harvest Moon

taken around Beth Evergreen before Yom Kippur services, 2018

20180919_090427 20180919_090827 20180919_090613 20180919_090653 20180919_090935 20180919_091257 20180919_091357 20180919_091017

 

Oh

Lughnasa                                                             Harvest Moon

Black Mountain, yesterday. From Shadow Mtn. Drive

Black Mountain, yesterday. From Shadow Mtn. Drive

Tomorrow we peek over the transom toward the fallow season. Six more weeks of harvest,  the heart of the harvest season is now, then Samain, summer’s end. Up here the temperature cooled off overnight and we’re at 35 degrees right now, getting close to a first frost. There’s even a small hint of snow for next Wednesday. As I wrote earlier, Pike’s Peak and the much closer Mt. Rosalie had snow last week. Happy with the change.

Deb Brown, my personal trainer at On the Move Fitness, really made me feel good yesterday. “You move better than most of the 30 & 40 year olds I see. And, you’re strong.” She was sincere and I was touched. I told her about the odd finding I got from the 23&me folks; I have the same genetic muscle profile as elite power athletes. “Well, you’re capitalizing on it.” “My wife said, ‘What happened?” “Tell to her to ask you that again when you’re 108!” We laughed. Left me smiling.

book of lifeThe book of life closed on Wednesday. It was a fast day, unusual in Judaism which finds asceticism puzzling, but on this day, once a year, there is a fast for the whole of Yom Kippur*. That’s from evening to evening. The point is to make us tune into our bodies, to remember that the body carries our soul, and to make the final push for teshuvah, return to the holy soul our body carries.

OK. I’ll admit I surprised myself, right here, with this keyboard. It happens, but not often like this. I wrote “make us tune in to our bodies.” Oh. It may be, as Bill Schmidt suggested obliquely earlier this month, that this Jewish experience runs deeper than I’m admitting.

*“The purpose of fasting is to bring one to repent, and true repentance brings about a change in actions. However, repenting without fasting is not enough,” Jewish educator Aliza Bulow explains on Aish.com.

Although there are medical exceptions to fasting, the Yom Kippur tradition dates back to biblical times, according to Chabad.org. When the Jewish people were wandering in the desert for 40 years after enslavement in Egypt, they worshiped a golden calf — which is contradictory to the religion’s monotheistic tenets — and Moses went to Mt. Sinai to ask for God’s forgiveness. Moses came down from the mountain after God forgave (them) him, and that day became known as Yom Kippur. The tradition of Yom Kippur continued when the Jews reached the land of Israel — Jews gathered in the first two temples until they were destroyed — and persisted again when they were ultimately exiled and dispersed across the globe.Time

 

Expats

Lughnasa                                                                     Harvest Moon

arabia

arabia

Being an expatriate is unfamiliar territory to most citizens of all nations on earth. Though we were a nomadic species in our early development, political changes have tended to wed people to a place and its boundaries. Globally. Even here in the often depicted as unusually mobile U.S. it turns out folks don’t leave home all that much*. [The big exception here, of course, being forced migration whether for economic or security reasons.]

Yet, some do. Both my brother Mark and my sister Mary have lived the bulk of their adult lives abroad. Mary lived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for several years, then moved a good while back to Singapore, where she has remained. Mark lived a long time in Bangkok, spent time in Phnom Penh, and several years, including this upcoming one, in Saudi Arabia. He has circled the globe many times, as has Mary. Both have traveled extensively from their homes abroad. Mark once took the Trans-Siberian Railway from Vladivostok to Moscow.

452158While Mark’s visa application (always a hitch in the get along)  for his upcoming work in Saudi Arabia  undergoes review by the Saudi embassy, he and I communicate by e-mail. He’s currently living in Amarillo, Texas. I sent him a note that said the expat life has many oddities. He replied with the below which I found fascinating:

“Indeed, it does. I find it rather well exemplified in Martin Sheen’s opening performance in “Apocalypse Now.”  He is rather drunk, in then Saigon. He starts thinking of his ex-wife. He gets really wired, and starts smashing the mirror in the hotel. Martin, “When I was there, I wanted to be here. When I was here, I wanted to be there.” He then really smashes the mirror, and passes out. All the time, a fan is whirling above him. Coppola captured, I feel, the expat dilemma superbly.”

*”Internal migration has fallen noticeably since the 1980s, reversing increases from earlier in the century. The decline in migration has been widespread across demographic and socioeconomic groups, as well as for moves of all distances…Despite its downward trend, migration within the US remains higher than that within most other developed countries.” NBER

 

Deep in the soul

Lughnasa                                                                 Harvest Moon

yomkippurToday is Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, the day when God seals the book of life for another year. May you be inscribed in the book of life (for the coming year) is a greeting we will hear today. It completes the ten days of awe that began back on September 9th, Rosh Hashanah, New Year’s day and by rabbinic logic the 6th day of creation, the New Year for humans.

The whole sweep of the days of awe reach deep into the soul; the month of Elul prepared us for the chesbon ha-nefesh, accounting of the soul, that culminates today on the metaphorical turning of a page in the book of our life, closing off the last year and opening a blank one, ready for a renewed person, returned (teshuvah) to the original, unique, best we are.

Of course there is no need for the ten days of awe to do what the Jesuits would call examen and I’m sure there is no book on a divine table that determines whether I will live or die in the upcoming year. I am equally sure that schmuz gathers on the soul like creosote gathers on a fireplace chimney or plaque in an artery. From long life experience I know there is no holy chimney sweep I can hire to clean me out, no heart bypass operation for the soul. The examined life requires an inner examiner. The high holidays are a communal reminder to do serious inner work and to give that work outer expression through worship and apology. I’m grateful for the prompt, aware of its necessity not because I believe I’m a deeply damaged person in need of unconditional forgiveness, but because I know I’m an ordinary human with the tendency to shift away from my best person.

1000Kate and Charlie in EdenKate and I had a sweet moment, a grace filled moment, when I sat down with her and asked her forgiveness for the times I’ve wounded her in the last year, for the times I’d been short, thoughtless. Sure, we could do this at any time, but these holidays encourage it. We rested our heads together, aware of the reality that we’re just two folks traveling our journey, doing the best we can. “I’ve not always been at my best.” “Neither have I.”

Akedah

Lughnasa                                                                  Harvest Moon

Torah being read at a Bar Mitzvah

Off I went to seminary in 1971, knowing Minnesota not at all and the world of academic Christianity almost as little. When classes began that fall, there were full day and half day classes. Core curriculum subjects like church history, theology, ethics, and biblical study were full day. I don’t recall right now what subjects were half day classes, I think homiletics, liturgy, practical theology.

What surprised me was my fascination with biblical study, studies in the Old Testament (as we called the writings of the Jews) and the New. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been preparing for a mussar session on rachamim, compassion or mercy as a character virtue. In my preparation I’ve sought out particular Torah passages that typify or describe rachamim. I’ve found myself drawn again into this antique mythic world, one where humans and the holy shared day-to-day experience, a world Emerson called, “the revelation to them.” And I’m loving it again. All over again. Maybe more.

09 11 10_Joseph_0256Emerson wanted a revelation to us, “not the dry bones of revelation to them.” I agree. But how do we know revelation? What is it? Take for example the difficult, painful story Jewish commentators call the akedah, the binding, the binding of Isaac. It’s the sort of scene from which I would avert my eyes were it to play out before me. (Or, I would call child protective services.)

akedayYet, let me put it in personal context, the binding of Joseph. I’ve encountered this very dilemma as my son, the son of my heart whose small hand I held, whom I carried on my shoulders, took himself to his own Mt. Moriah, the USAF, willing to carry the wood for his own sacrifice on his back, much as I had carried him. How could I countenance this self-sacrifice? I couldn’t. Only a father who loves his son could entertain such a decision and so I can see the awful choice facing Abraham. A higher duty called him, a responsibility that he felt, a responsibility that cut into his own flesh.

Joseph has not yet been required to mount the altar, to lie down on the wood he carried and feel its flame lick round his feet, his torso, his hands. I am very glad. Perhaps there will be a ram caught in the bushes for him, too.

foolThere are in these stories archetypal truths. There are in these stories a record of how the ancient mind heard the inner voice, how powerfully their imaginations worked, a record of how careful attention to the soul could reveal a way to make the pilgrimage from beginning to end. I do not believe they were written with a holy goose quill, nor by a secret transmission through a sheet, then transcribed on tablets of gold. I do believe they belong with the Greek myths as some of our best sources for understanding this fool’s journey we call our life.

It feels like time for me to follow Paul Ricoeur into my second naivete with these texts, to spend much more time this next year in the study, following the parsha as they advance through the Jewish liturgical year, reading especially the works of Avivah Zornberg as commentary on them. Writing about them, listening to them, probing them for clues for how to see a revelation to us. These texts do call me. It is time I paid attention. Again.

 

The Blues

Lughnasa                                                                      Harvest Moon

Melancholy 1532 Lucas Cranach the Elder

Melancholy 1532 Lucas Cranach the Elder

The blues follow me right now, the season of the coming darkness reflecting itself in a slight spiral downward, not too far, but enough to shadow my feelings, make me want to duck and cover. I’d forgotten, as we will about pain, that though the gradual darkening of the days excites me, motivates me, it can also pull me toward the drain.

Feelings float close to the surface, sometimes, like yesterday evening at the entrance ramp lights, boiling over. A BMW driver, top down, ran the red light ahead of me and merged. It was hot and so was I. I acted inappropriately, out of proportion. Full testosterone, no filter. No excuses. Out of line, over the line.

Salvador Dalí Uranium and Atomica Melancholica Idyll (1945)

Salvador Dalí Uranium and Atomica Melancholica Idyll (1945)

Reflecting. April of 2015, three months after our move to Colorado, prostate cancer. Surgery. Recovery. May of 2016. Jon invites me to a Mexican restaurant and tells me he and Jen are getting a divorce. A few weeks later he’s in trouble. From that summer until the next October, 2017, Jon lived with us while processing an ugly and contentious divorce. During that time I had a knee replacement, December 1, 2016, and Kate’s Sjogren’s began to manifest. Kate’s health has gradually worsened over the last year and a half. In some ways a continuous series of stressors since that exam in April, 2015.

On the upside we have had the beauty of the mountains, deepening relationships with Jon and our grandkids, Congregation Beth Evergreen and especially mussar, Joe and SeoAh’s wedding and the integration of her into our family. With the exception of Vega’s death our dogs have been mostly healthy and the house has sheltered us, given us a place to call home.

AheadIf you asked me today about our move, I’d say it was one of the best things we ever did. Funny, huh? That’s because, in spite of the stress, we were able to be here for Jon and the grandkids. That’s because, in spite of the health challenges (horrible, but accurate cliche), our lives have gone on and at our ages health issues are no surprise.

Good friends, new and old, silver and gold, have buoyed me up, made me know that I’m not alone, not struggling in a barren patch of cold ocean, but on land and part of a community. Without you this time might just have been unbearable. You know who you are. And thank you. You are all in my heart.

As always, writing helps put a little distance, a shim underneath the door of my soul that lets in the light. Even though the strength of darkness is profound, without the fallow times there is no later growth, I don’t want the door to close, to leave me in that melancholy which makes life a molasses too turbid to negotiate.

On that cheery note, I’ll close for today. Things to do. Places to go.

 

 

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