We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Kavod

Fall                                                                            Harvest Moon

We’ve had snow. Again yesterday. Modest accumulation since the ground is still too warm. These are the days when snow mixes with the golden aspen leaves, throwing white into the green and gold colors of Mountain High. Go, Shadows.

Yesterday I finished my work on kavod. Here’s the end of it:

Text #3   “Kavod is translated as honour/respect. Kavod is way beyond good manners and saying please and thank you. It’s seeing the spiritual value of a human being and yourself. The greater sense of my own value, the more I don’t need to search for the approval of others and the more I am able to honour other people and see a sense of their value. If I give genuine kavod to another person than they in turn will value and respect me. We say “kodosh, kodosh, kodosh, the entire world is filled with the Kavod/honour of Hashem”.  http://www.shortvort.com/mussar/10450-kavod>

Rabbi Eliezer said: “Let the honor of your friend be as dear to you as your own.” Morinis, Everyday Holiness, p. 114

Before this text I added an image of Claude Monet’s:

Claude_Monet_-_Claude Monet, Haystacks, (sunset), 1890–1891, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Haystacks, (sunset), 1890–1891, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Monet, of course, was part of the Impressionist movement, committed to painting the colors as they were at particular moment in a particular place. They let the colors build the image rather than using color as a tool to build the image in a way that pleased their aesthetic.

This is similar, I think, to the notion of kavod. With kavod we look into the essence of ourselves and others, see that essence and let it build our image of ourselves and the other, rather than using our biases, our assumptions, our judgments. Just as the impressionists did, though, we have to know that our perceptions of that essence change from moment even though the essence, the imago dei, may remain the same. (I have some disagreement with the notion of soul, or essence, as a sort of Platonic archetype, constant and unchanging.)

Anyhow, I’m looking forward to this gathering of the MVP. I’ve done my awe work for the last month and am ready to get started on kavod.

Who is God’s Rothko?

Fall                                                                     Harvest Moon

Been thinking about a new analogy for reimagining/reconstructing faith: the transition from representational to abstract art. I like the analogy because it reaches deep into prehistory to the cave art of Lascaux and Chauvet of 40,000 years ago. This tradition developed so powerfully that its underlying assumptions were simply not questioned.  What would art be about but the reproduction of the human world in two-dimensions? Then, in 3, but still a man, or a god, or an animal. The introduction of perspective reinforced the representational, but did, I imagine, to the sensitive eye, give an inkling of the manipulation of space and color that really underlay art making.

No. 118 1961 by Mark Rothko

No. 118 1961 by Mark Rothko

So called modern art was a radical break with this tradition. It happened as artists in many places looked at painting and sculpture with fresh eyes. They asked about the purpose of art, the purpose of paint on canvas, the purpose of reshaping wood and stone. What are the primary elements of the work? Color. Paint. Form. Space. Negative space. And perspective, did it have to be mathematical? Was there a perspective that developed simply through the use of color? (Cezanne) Did perspective have to be singular? (Picasso) Could a painting be nothing but color? (Morris Louis, Rothko, Kandinsky) What about painting or sculpting things that could not exist? (Man Ray, Dali, DuChamp)

mao trach dong

mao trach dong

As artists began to consider the fundamentals, the unexamined assumptions of making art that had shaped its global expression since humans began making marks, though, that other tradition, the old representational one, did not die out. There were still portraits, still landscapes, still still lifes, sculpted men and women and animals and mythical beings of all sorts. This reimagining, reconstructing of art itself seemed to displace the older way, but only because museums became so dominant. There were modern art museums like the Walker and the Guggenheim and the Modern and the Tate which seemed to position the older, encyclopedic museums like the MIA, the Metropolitan, the Kunsthistorisches, the Louvre as showplaces of what used to be. Even the development of ateliers, who imagine themselves as the heirs to the older tradition, seemed to be an admission that the reimaginers had swept the field.

danceSo what I’m proposing is not another religion with a different origin story, a different set of scriptures, different roots from, say, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Islam. And what I’m definitely not proposing is a reductionistic attempt to find out what all religions have in common, nor am I proposing a sort of tolerance for all faiths, an attempt to learn from each of them (though this is a good thing to do) and out of that shape a new faith.

No, I want to play with the fundamentals of religion, those things that underlay the tradition of religious thought and practice. I say play advisedly because I think it was the playful aspect of the artists who questioned their tradition that made their work bearable. And, in making it bearable, made it accessible enough to thrive.

Criteria by Bruce LeeSo, what are some of those fundamentals? Prayer, worship, gods, ritual, art, revelation, congregations, sacred space, the notion of sacred, divinity, after life, morality and ethics. How might a radical approach take the long history of prayer, for example, and reshape it, reconfigure it, reuse it for the person who chooses to stand outside particular traditions, but still wants to paint? Or, what about gods? How does the notion of powerful, unseen entities with various agendas fit into the life of persons no longer monotheists, no longer willing or able to see many gods?

I don’t even want to do what Emerson proposed. That is, have a religion of revelation to us rather than the dry bones of theirs. I want to examine revelation itself. What is revealed? Why is hiddenness so important to religion? What is revelation in a quantum mechanical world? Where is revelation? How are things revealed? How have things been revealed all along, but we didn’t notice? And why do we care about a world beyond the one we experience effortlessly?

 

 

Intimations

Fall                                                                      Harvest Moon

Vanitas by Jan Sanders van Hemessen

Vanitas by Jan Sanders van Hemessen

A couple of weeks ago I went in for cataract and glaucoma exams. Then, Wednesday, my hearing aid stopped working. I’ve also been a little short of breath, not unusual up here at 8,800 feet and my oxygen saturation is ok. The good news is that neither my cataracts nor my glaucoma have worsened and my hearing aid got unblocked by the folks at Hearing Rehab. And the shortness of breath does seem to be a response to altitude and not a failing heart.

These are what I call mortality signals. None of them, in themselves, are fatal; but, like my sudden hearing loss at 38 in my left ear, they are blinking yellow lights, caution, fatal error ahead. Birth is a mortality signal, too, of course.

Instead of pushing these signals into the background of my mind I like to embrace them, take the hint of life’s progress towards its entropic end. Nope, not gloomy or depressive, in fact, the opposite. Energizing, gratitude producing. I’m still here and functioning. Happy to have awakened this morning, happy to have a day ahead with Kate and the dogs, happy to have my loft, happy to be in the mountains. Joyful, even.

There’s a message about prayer here though I’m not clear yet on what it is. In response to Rabbi Jamie’s focus on prayer for the High Holy Days, I’m trying to reimagine prayer from a spot outside the Jewish tradition, reconstruct the concept of prayer without the Talmud, the Torah, the long history of Jewish prayer books.

Hermann-Hesse-Quote-Art-is-the-contemplation-of-the-world-in-a

Here’s where I am so far. Prayer is, at its most basic, communication. Important communication, significant to the prayer on the most critical matters in the life of the spirit. Prayer is also, at its most basic, the creation and sustaining of a relationship.

There are many sorts of prayer: supplication, petition, praise, anguished, thankful, angry, loving, contemplative, meditative, even constant. There are also communal and intercessory prayers, prayers of commitment and prayers of repentance.

So the question is prayer from whom to whom? Or, from whom to what? What is the relationship that prayer nurtures, why do I want to sustain it? Why is that relationship important? How is prayer different from other forms of communication, of other ways of creating and sustaining relationships? Or, is it different?

A work in progress.

 

Ruth’s Birthday Photographs for Grandma

Lughnasa                                                                         Eclipse Moon

FullSizeRIMG_1078

Less Angry

Midsommar                                                                 Kate’s Moon

johari windowOn the last night of kabbalah a classmate, Cece, chose for her presentation an exercise involving the Johari window. She had this model (illustration) with blank quadrants for each of us. We filled in 3-6 adjectives in the hidden self quadrant, then passed the paper to our left and others added adjectives in the open self quadrant.

It’s a powerful exercise when done in a safe setting. It was powerful here even though many of us had only the other 5 nights of our kabbalah class as baselines for our observations. The information other people give us about ourselves is key to life in groups, but most of the time the feedback involves glances, body language, or indirect observations. Getting direct information about how others see us can increase intimacy and trust. Not to mention that it’s just interesting.

PEACE DYERToo long introduction to the point. One of the others in the group wrote on my sheet, less angry. There were four people in the class who know me from the mussar class on Thursday afternoon and probably remember my agitation after the 2016 election. I was not and am not a happy U.S. citizen, but something has changed for me. I’m not sure what changed, but I am less angry, though I hadn’t realized it.

I did surprise myself a couple of weekends ago when we were in Glenwood Springs with Lonnie and Stefan. Over lunch they both expressed understandable and referented anger at Trump, at the decline of civility, at the danger facing our democracy. “He meets the definition of a fascist.” Stefan said.

“An election can fix most of what’s being done in Washington right now,” I replied. Stefan had quoted an Italian friend from Florence who said, “We had ours (Berlusconi) and know you have yours.” I agreed with that, going on, “Yes, the nativist and alt-right type movements are strong on the continent, but France just turned them back. And, Hillary won the popular vote here.”

peace“Well, what does that mean?” Lonnie asked, “The system elected Trump.” “The electoral college, yes.” I said, “But more people, some 3 million more, rejected him. He does not have a mandate.”

I think the gridlock and deadlock in D.C. right now reflects that rejection. We are a divided people, yes, but we’ve been divided before. We’re still the strongest economy in the world though by some measures China is catching up. Point is, I was voicing a don’t panic, don’t despair attitude toward our current political mess. I agree with the analysis that Trump is a disaster for our country. There’s no question that he and the Republicans are trying to take us to places as a people that are despicable and mean. True that.

But my anger at all of this has been tempered over the last couple of months. I’m just not as reactive. And I like feeling this way. My analysis has not changed, at least not much. I still view both parties as agents of a rapacious capitalism that creates false gods, false gods on whose altars their worshippers would sacrifice the very lives of our citizens. Just look at the idea of “reforming” Obamacare by gutting Medicaid.  With Medicaid expenditures out of the way, their plan goes, draconian tax cuts for the wealthy won’t break the Federal budget. Evil.

soul-mate-heartI still believe that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. But for me, how to be part of the solution has changed, I think. Long, long ago I realized that my anger toward my father, whether justified or not, was hurting only me. Not him. I set it aside. Somehow the same realization occurred to me about politics and only recently. So, I set that anger aside, too.

Now the question for me is how to be part of the solution. I’ve always had a straight line approach to radical politics. Join up with others, focus on an issue at the root of a social ill and work until something good happens. It’s a strategy that has worked for me over and over since the mid-1960’s. I’m moving in a different direction now.

beautifulThis is in part a third phase change. The angry young radical has aged. I can see the finish line from here and want to make the time before my death as fruitful, loving and creative as I can. Anger interferes. I want to write, to spend time with Kate and Jon and Ruth and Gabe and Joe and Seoah, with friends at Beth Evergreen, friends from Minnesota, Mark and Mary. I want to study Latin, kabbalah, China, art. I want to hike in the mountains, travel this state, see the solar eclipse. Obsessing over the insults to our body politic just doesn’t seem useful to me right now.

spiritual-enlightenment-spiritualityLiving well is a political statement I need to make. Politics, in other words, though crucial to our common life, is not the only component of a life well lived and should not be allowed to interfere with the very goal of politics itself: a decent life for all. In my case I’ve often allowed that interference and right now I’m saying enough. The priority for me, now, is this smaller life, the domestic and semi-public life of family and learning and creativity. Feels calmer, more livable, more age appropriate.

 

Family Celebration

Midsommar                                                                          Kate’s Moon

Jon has made it through, all the way through, a year plus of divorce drama with court appearances, lawyers, contested final orders. Those final orders, written in November of 2016 and recorded then, have now been in place for over six months. The daily crisis mode has fallen away, replaced by the gradual establishing of new norms. Both Jon and Jen must find a new balance, as must Ruth and Gabe. When kids are involved, you’re not divorced from someone, you’re divorced to them.

To celebrate we all went to Domo. It’s a unique restaurant, one of my favorites in Denver, that focuses on serving dishes typical of rural Japan, especially its mountain prefectures. Below are some pictures.

Waiting for supper

Waiting for supper

20170729_190250

Inside

Inside

20170729_190758

Gematria

Beltane                                                              Moon of the Summer Solstice

gematria chart

Wandered into strange territory last night at Beth Evergreen. Gematria. Each Hebrew letter has a corresponding number. The chart shows the correspondences. Kabbalists, especially, use these numbers to determine the numerical value of words. After calculating a word’s value, it can be used to compare that word to another with the same value.  This comparison is another method of peeking under the garment of the torah.

An example comes from the story in the garden of Eden. The snake is the usual suspect in an ancient story of how humanity lost its way. But. In Hebrew the numerical value for the word snake and the word messiah are identical. Early Kabbalists used this correspondence to suggest that the meaning of eating from the tree of knowledge was very different from the usual interpretation, that in fact it was the first step in humanity’s liberation.

Rabbi Jamie had asked us to do some reading on gematria, discover some things on our own. When he asked us what we’d learned, I said, “This whole idea seems strained, strange.” Not being one to mince words, as some of you know. A history professor in the class agreed with me that her reading had produced the same thought. Others were intrigued.zodiac

Staying open, of course, is the only way new learning can occur, so I attended to the ideas in spite of my skepticism. As the evening progressed, I began to find the idea a bit less odd. The kabbalists use gematria as a tool, a tool similar to the Zen koan. At first its results may not make sense,; but, that’s the point, the frisson between the snake and the messiah which opens a new mode of thought about the story. It also undermines any tendency to take the torah literally, an essential first step toward searching for the primordial torah.

Garden of Eden, Lucas Cranach the Elder

Garden of Eden, Lucas Cranach the Elder

So although I find the method strained and strange, I still do, I believe I understand at least part of its purpose. That’s enough for now. I’ll learn more as we go forward.

Bound

Beltane                                                                     Moon of the Summer Solstice

Second hike at Staunton. Chose the Mason Creek Trail. It goes up, then up and finally it turns into switchbacks, going up. Huff and puff, not at Hogwarts but here in the Front Range. The Mason Creek Trail will provide a consistent challenge, plus it has meadows, waterfalls (see video) and large rock formations.

methodology-sight-size-827x399While hiking and thinking about Reimagining, I realized I’m taking an atelier approach to it. Ateliers train would be artists in the classical mode, using lots of drawing, life models and work with perspective. They’re considered conservative in today’s art world, a sort of throwback to the artist/apprentice studio that dominated art education for so many centuries.

In my case I studied Christianity and the Christian ministry in a seminary, United Theological Seminary, and earned the world’s most outrageous degree, Master of Divinity. In the late 1980’s I took a doctorate at McCormick Seminary in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. The Presbyterian ministry occupied me for 15 years and afterward I dabbled in the Unitarian-Universalist ministry. Now I’m in my second year of Jewish immersion, not a convert, but a close student of this ancient tradition.

bound to the earthYet what I really want to do is rethink what faith is, why we go to the places that we go to for spiritual nourishment and whether there might be a real faith, an approach to the religious life, that emerges naturally from the world in which we live and carry on our daily lives. That is, one without a charismatic founder or an ethnic base, a faith which would help us see the holy ordinary, that would expose the ligatures that bind us to this planet, to the plants and animals and minerals and atmosphere, expose them and help us see them as the loving embrace that they are, not only as limits to our lives.

 

The Ordinary Holy

Beltane                                                                  Moon of the Summer Solstice

stapleton art fair

Made chicken noodle soup yesterday morning. Worked out while the chicken boiled. When that was done, Jon, Ruth, Gabe and I took off for the Stapleton Art Fair. Stapleton was the Denver international airport before DIA. Its vast footprint is now new housing, a very successful example of new urbanism with what Jon thinks is about 14,000! new units. There are also many parks and small retail hubs. The art fair was in the Northfield section of Stapleton, spread out around the edges of its Central Park.

Ruth, 11

Ruth, 11

The fair had vendors with high production values, but usually not high aesthetic values. Not unusual for these things, but still disappointing. A good example was a woman who had obvious sculptural skill, but wasted it on kitschy 4 feet high hugging abstract forms. She could clearly do something much more interesting.

It was hot in the way of the arid west. Not oppressive, as in a Minnesota summer, but high UV, so standing or walking in the sun soon felt risky to this fair-skinned Celt. Ruth and I went to an Indian food vendor and got his last bit of food, vegetarian korma, on the house. I ate it with a fork, she used the knife. Skillfully.

Gabe, 9

Gabe, 9

We found some shade and watched kids wander through what was in effect in a big puddle, stone pavers slightly inclined away from a simple apparatus consisting of two seven foot high metal poles and a highly polished metal pipe running between them at the top. Holes spaced a couple of inches apart let a steady jets of water stream out. Lots of screaming as kids ran under the water curtain, then often lay on their stomachs on the wet stones. Meanwhile various musical acts played indie rock, then country western.

It was an ordinary outing, the kind of thing families do, but these ordinary things are what knit families together. Afterward, I made grilled cheese sandwiches to go with the soup and we ended the day with supper together.

 

Depth

Beltane                                                                    New Moon (Summer Solstice)

everbean_colorado

Lunch with Bonnie at the Everbean, a coffee shop overlooking Lake Evergreen. Bonnie is in a mentored adult education style path to becoming a rabbi in the Renewal Movement. I wanted to discuss my material for today’s mussar session. She was the mussar point person as Beth Evergreen managed a two-year grant awarded to them. The program focused on how to integrate mussar into synagogue institutional life. 22 congregations received a grant and coordinated their work with each other. (If you don’t recall what mussar is, here’s a reminder website.)

Bonnie encouraged me that my approach, focusing on the application of the ideas of hasidut (a person of loving deeds) and chesed (loving-kindness) toward grandmother earth was in bounds for a mussar dialogue. We’ll see how that works out later today. I’m excited.

In the evening Kate and I went to a havurah, a fellowship gathered for a specific purpose. This havurah is a once a month mussar session that features food and wine before exploration of a middot of the month. The Thursday afternoon mussar group studies a text and meets weekly.

Bonnie led a session on tikvah, hope. She took us into the idea by using the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah.

I found the melody haunting and the poem, written in 1877 or 1878, used for the lyrics, a profound expression of the yearning for a place to call home. Bonnie led us in a close reading of the poem’s stanzas used in the anthem, only two.

The lines that struck me most were these:  “Our hope is not yet lost,
The hope of two thousand years…” The two thousand years here references the destruction of the second temple in 70 a.d. It still amazes me to be in the midst of this group of Jews, members of the tribe, whose time horizon extends far back. This two-thousand year old hope marks a rebellion by the Jews against the Roman empire, a failed rebellion since it ended in the destruction of the temple built to replace the first constructed by King Solomon.

Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin, 1929-1930: "The Jews march captive out of Jerusalem bearing a golden Menorah or candlestick of the Temple."

Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin, 1929-1930: “The Jews march captive out of Jerusalem bearing a golden Menorah or candlestick of the Temple.”

What amazes me is the historical reach while genetic and genealogical descendants of that same history sit around the table as we discuss these things. My viewpoint toward religious matters is radical and skeptical, but I also have a conservative side that relishes history and personal connections to history. Judaism, like the Chinese civilization of the Han and Japanese civilization, all cultivated over several thousand years, appeals to me in part for this reason. These older, truly ancient trails offer a correction to the almost ahistorical sensibilities of American culture.

 

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