We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Daily archives for August 3rd, 2018

Seeking God Is Not The Problem

Lughnasa                                                     Monsoon Moon

Liberal religion. An odd term. Maybe oxymoronic? I mean, what is more conservative than our human wonderings about death and about how to live? What is older than those questions?

And the variety of answers are endless. Taoism, Buddhism, Southern Baptists, Mithraism, Santa Muerte, Hinduism, Catholicism, Judaism and many, many others. Bahai, Druze, Islam. And, no, they don’t all have the same message, hardly.

Back in 1992 or so, I’d given up on one of those answers, Christianity. My reasons were emotional, the rationale came later. Mostly, I’d begun to find my spirituality in a very different locale, in my interior life and in the soil, in plants, in animals. Didn’t work so well in the pulpit.

I needed a place where I could be who I had become. I found a group of folks meeting in a round room over a library. A library. Worshipping in one of my favorite institutions, artifacts of human searching arrayed below us. This was the early Groveland. 25 years later here we are, celebrating your persistence, celebrating the spot you’ve carved out of humanity’s endless quest for knowing how things are with ourselves, with our planet, with time itself.

“The problem lies not with seeking God, but with those who think they’ve found God.” Mordecai Kaplan, founder of Reconstructionist Judaism. In an odd twist to my own seeking, Kate and I have become members of Congregation Beth Evergreen in Evergreen, Colorado, close to our home on Shadow Mountain. It’s a Reconstructionist congregation. No, I’ve not converted. They’re fine with me being what I call, for simplicity’s sake, a pagan.

“The past gets a vote, but not a veto.” Kaplan again. By this he means, quite heretically within traditional Judaism, that Judaism itself is always changing, always reconstructing itself and that literally nothing is sacred. He was not, for example, a supernaturalist.

I tell people that I’m not a Jew, but I am a reconstructionist. And, I am. Here’s the interesting part. According to Rabbi Jamie Arnold, Kaplan got his approach from, drum roll… Emerson. I don’t know that this quote is the exact place, but it’s sentiment is clearly Kaplan’s and current reconstructionist:

“Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. 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? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? The sun shines to-day also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.”

I offer this brief excursion into Judaism as a way of underscoring the liberal religious pilgrimage. It is one that says, yes the questions of religion are important because they are deeply human questions, so important in fact that we should hold all of the answers loosely, hold them as clues, as trail markers, not as destinations. That we should remain open to new clues, new trails, new ways of approaching this ancient probing of what matters most.

When we do, as Emerson did, as you here at Groveland do, we can never tell the impact of it. We might transform that Muslim cleric, that Hindu priest, or, that Conservative Rabbi, Mordecai Kaplan.

“It is not the seeking of God that is the problem.” No, as Kaplan says, the problem is with those who calcify the pilgrimage, enshrine the past, stop up their ears, their eyes, close their minds. You, Groveland, are caravan serai on the oldest ancientrail of all. And, a necessary one. Necessary for what? Unclear. And that’s the point.

Unexpected

Lughnasa                                                        Monsoon Moon

70+ miles I drove yesterday morning. First over to Oak Grove, close to here, then to Stevens Square where I photographed the first Community Involvement Programs building, then the second one. I lived in both. Forgot the place on 1st Avenue, but I’ll get that. Over the course of the morning I visited streets and neighborhoods I’d come to know intimately, St. Paul, New Brighton, Andover, Minneapolis. More on the feelings from this homecoming later

The biggest surprise of the day came at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. I got there about 2:30 or 3:00. Picking up my badge was long in the past, but my body remembered. Passed the guard desk by. The lobby area is completely, well, almost completely different. Tables, a big coffee shop, redone gift store. Pleasant.

I walked all the way back toward the rocks shaped in Lake Tai. Called scholar’s rocks their strange forms, curves, sharp edges, diversity reminded Chinese literati of the mountains, their power and mystery, but most importantly, of the Tao.

Up the first flight of stairs and I was in the Asian arts wing. It holds an extensive collection of Chinese and Japanese art as well as more modest exhibits of Indian, Tibetan, Vietnamese and Thai art. A collection I came to know very well. There were various Buddhas, some calling the earth to witness enlightenment, others with the mudras of reassurance, of wish granting.

A favorite part of the collection for me is the large hall containing Chinese paintings, just off the Buddhas display. Moving from one depiction of mountains to another, often scrolls longer than I am tall, there were the fantastical shapes towering up, up, up, with some small human, usually a lone scholar, sitting watching a waterfall, gazing up at the clouds. The closer I looked, and I examine these painting very carefully, the more an unexpected feeling crept me over me. Grief.

It was subtle at first, felt like simple nostalgia, a sort of sadness mixed with the wonder I’ve always felt among these objects. Slowly though, as I saw the Fergana stallions, the famed blood sweating horses from the area of the ‘stans, and noticed the upcurled lip of the copper sculpture, a rare, fine piece of work, and realized I’d never taken in his mouth before, the feeling became clear. I missed this place so much. It was an ache, a hole in my heart. Unexpected. Very.

The feeling stayed with me as I looked at a long scroll depicting a festival along a river, the Wu family reception hall, the new arrangement of the Japanese collection. It came most into focus when I looked at the tea implements, the tea house.

As I left the Asian collection and went into the excellent rearrangement of the African collection, the feeling dissipated. It did not return while I visited the Native American and Latin American galleries. Nor did it return when I saw a couple of my favorite paintings, Goya’s Dr. Arrieta and the MIA’s Kandinsky. I don’t recall its title. In theses collections I was merely a museum goer, a knowledgeable one, yes, one familiar with the art, deeply familiar in some instances, but no longer experiencing that hole in my heart.

I’m not sure what to make of it, but it was strong, very strong and it has a significance I’ve not yet sorted out.

From the MIA I went over to the Red Stag, sight of many Woolly meals over the years. Tom and Bill were already there. Ode, a colonoscopy prep victim on Monday, got good drugs at the procedure, enough to make him lose a whole day. He forgot. When reminded by Tom’s call, he came down.

It was a good visit, normal in its way. A place we’d been before, together. We’d been together many times, this was one more. Yet it was also abnormal since 900 miles separates me from this normal moment. These are life-long friends and life isn’t over yet.

August 2018
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