Get Your Hands Dirty

Just to show you I’m not only about death and cancer. Here’s a response I wrote to Bill Schmidt after reading this article, “Modernity, Faith, and Martin Buber,” from the New Yorker. He passed it along from his friend Nancy.

Bill, it took me a while, but I did get around to the Buber article yesterday. Interesting. I’d not read a synopsis like this before.

He was a contemporary of Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism and the only rabbi excommunicated by the Orthodox rabbinate in the U.S. My kinda guy.

Martin Buber


I would put Buber, Dewey, Kaplan, and Emerson together. They all questioned received wisdom, hankered to get below the surface of thought to find the substrata. Dewey (and William James) as a pragmatist might be the outlier here, but the pragmatists were a unique American contribution to Western philosophy and as such took issue with the philosophical tradition they had been given from European thinkers. Buber, of course, is the only one of the three that is not an American, but he took Jewish thought in a direction I think is very congenial with Kaplan.

In a quick search I couldn’t find any evidence that Kaplan used Buber’s work, but their mutual insistence on a human centered approach to religion, perhaps even in Buber a human/pagan approach: “When something does emerge from among things, something living, and becomes a being for me… It is for me nothing but You!” and on Judaism’s culture, as opposed to dogma, makes them simpatico. “Buber exhorted his listeners…not to abandon their Judaism but to reinvent it.” Reconstruct it.

This is congruent, too, with Emerson who wanted a book of revelation to us, not the dry bones of revelation to them. Emerson I know had a lot of Taoist influence, don’t know about Buber.

Mordecai Kaplan

We might find a distinctly American twist on religious sensibility by looking at all of these thinkers, even though Buber was German. I’d say my project about reimagining or reinventing faith is in this tradition. That tradition seems to say, take nothing from books as true. Test their ideas against reality, test them against reality at its deepest in your Self and at its broadest in the world beyond the Self. Be ready for the sacred to surprise you in the petals of a flower, the flow of an avalanche, the innocence of a puppy. Find the divine within your Self and bow to the divine within the other, be it rock, animal, fungus, or human.

The gooseberries and me

In my work I’ve found the soil, the power of plants, perfect examples. When we consider our reliance on the first six inches of top soil, on the mystery of photosynthesis, on the divine miracle that is life whether green or furry or pink or barked, then, we don’t need to go to Luke or the Torah. My scripture and its most profound secrets exist in the wonder of rootlets reaching into the dark for the nutrients held for them in living soil.

Are you going to be o.k.?

Mortality signals. Coming through loud and strong. A frisson of the world without me. “Are you going to be ok,” Kate asked, “Psychologically?” “Yeah, I think so. I’ll tell you if I’m not.”

Yamantaka

Hard to avoid running the recent news all the way out to the literal end. (see post below) I’m neither a pessimist nor an optimist, I’m a realist. The indicators are not good. But. At this point that’s all they are. Indicators. As Kate also said, “We need more data.” Yes, an axumin scan would have helped, but a ct and an mri will get us started.

Yamantaka and I have been friends for a long time now. I’ve imagined my death, my corpse. Meditated on it. When my mind insists on following the bread crumbs, I let it. I end up the same place Yamantaka has taken me. The same place we all come to. The question isn’t whether, but when.

Yes, this is morbid. And, yes, even if all the signs are negative, nothing’s happening soon. But I can’t be other than where I am. Right now, on this chilly May Saturday, I’m still absorbing.

I do feel I’ll be ok. Psychologically. Which doesn’t mean I won’t be scared. The unknown is the landscape between here and death. Will treatments be able to slow down the cancer? Is there still a chance for a cure? Unknown.

There a couple of mantras I’ve said over and over for quite a while. Live until you die. I intend to do that. Live in the present. I’m doing that except for those pesky moments when the blood hound of logic starts baying at the trail. I still have books to write, paintings to finish, friends and family. Dogs. Those will not change. Books to read. Places to go. Mountains and nearby states to explore.

On that last. I will see the National Gallery of Art in Taipei. This is the museum which contains the Qing emperors collection, all the best of Chinese art over its long history. Chiang Kai-Shek gathered the collection and took it with him to Taiwan after a losing fight against Mao and the Red Army.

Here is a large copy of one piece I most want to see:

Fan Kuan, Travelers with Mountains and Streams, Song Dynasty