The Emersonian Turn

Summer                                                                     Woolly Mammoth Moon

winter solstice yalda-night-persian-calligraphy

winter solstice, Yalda night, Persian calligraphy

Well, it’s incremental. Down from 14:59 to 14:58 today but the needle has begun to move. By the end of the month daylight will have decreased to 14:56, but, by the end of July, to 14:16. August 13:05. September 11:49. December 21 9:21. That’s for Colorado, of course. Other locations will vary. A lot. But the trend is the same. And, on top of this mountain, welcome.

Started working on lesson plans, a first for me. My task involves the 6th graders of our religious school. Rabbi Jamie has a worksheet I’m using with four columns: Hebrew, Torah, Middah, and Mitzvah. Guess what? The first column is in Hebrew. That makes it a challenge for me. But, in this wonderful age of quick information access I can plug in the word to google’s task bar and get at least a clue quickly.

Glad I learned the quote, “Confusion is the sweat of the intellect.” After yesterday’s work on the lesson plans the metaphorical sweat came easily. It’s no easy feat stepping into another tradition, even one with which I have some familiarity. Yet, it is also rich, resonant.

Not a Jew, but a reconstructionist. That realization about my comfort level at Beth Evergreen has given me a broader insight. It’s a little strange, so bear with me, please.

Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde

Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde

I love definite, strong connections to the past, both Christianity and Judaism offer that to their adherents. So does travel. And reading. Among my favorite places to visit are ancient ruins like Ephesus, Angkor Wat, the Great Wall, sites of ancient Rome, Pompeii, Bath, Delphi, Delos, Cahokia, Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, even the castles of North Wales like Conway and Dinas Bran, encyclopedic art museums, and worlds created by writers like Ovid, Homer, Dante.

This could make me a conservative, a thinker and an actor with a preference for things as they were, a reluctance to change what works. But, oddly, it has had the opposite effect. I find in the ancient world a panoply of human possibility, ways of coping with this odd gift, life. How we think today, how we feel, has its roots in this vast web of life’s journey. We don’t have to experience everything as brand new, don’t have to figure everything out for ourselves. Others have loved, have doubted, have feared, have wondered, have hoped. So can we.

thoreaus_quote_near_his_cabin_site_walden_pondBut, and I might call this the Emersonian turn, we cannot use the offerings of the past without remembering his introduction to Nature: “The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs?”

When we wittingly or unwittingly chain ourselves to the experience of others, especially those others from the distant past, we disrespect both them and ourselves. We disrespect them by claiming their authority as if something we had earned. We disrespect ourselves because we cheat ourselves of the present, of our own deep intuition, of our own revelations.

When we recognize though that those previous generations did behold God (bracket content) and nature face to face, that they did have an original relation to the universe, that they did create poetry and philosophy of their own insight, that they did create their religions by access to their own revelation, we learn an important, perhaps the important, lesson. We too live in this world with the same faculties, the same powers of observation and discernment that they had.

Gawain and the Green Knight

Gawain and the Green Knight

It was not those who had a religion of revelation to them that blinded us though. It was men, yes mostly men, of institutions, who tried to make the words of the past govern us. Those who declared scripture inerrant and infallible meant they knew what it meant, once and for all, and we had to obey. Well, I call bull shit on that. Those original beholders of God and nature opened themselves, in their present moments, to the awe and wonder all round about them. What a thing of beauty! Think how the mere record of their lives has effected us down to this day.

It is, though, the record of their lives. Only that. In our present, in this sacred moment, we have the same opportunity that they had, we have the same responsibility that they had. Think how the mere record of your life might effect others as distant from us in tomorrow as those are in yesterday.

Open up. Lighten up. Dance to the music of our time. Rip back the cloth from the temple gate in your life. Peak inside. Tell us what you see. We need to know.

Remember this. Always. “In the coming world they will not ask me—Why were you not Moses? They will ask me—Why were you not Zusya?” Rabbi Zusha of Hanipol