We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Destined for War

Midsommar                                                                      Most Heat Moon

masthead800

“The City of Nevada offers the best in small town living to all who treasure its “hometown” charm.” says its own website

Kate’s driving down to Iowa today with her sister, Anne. Back to Nevada, that’s with a long first a. High school reunions are odd affairs. If you attended one, you know. Funny how the social cues of 50 years ago resurface. I didn’t think she’d be able to travel last weekend, but her recovery from the thrush infection has made a huge difference. Her affect is back to normal, her diet improving. I imagine many who attend their 55th reunions face some health challenge or another before they go. Have a great trip back in time, Kate. And Anne, too.

Severe-hotweather3-MEM-170619_4x3_992The dew point and the temperature are close this morning on Shadow Mountain. We’re in a cloud with moisture leaking out of it. Black Mountain is invisible, covered by a gray, wet mass. 47 degrees. The same cannot be said of Arizona or California.

It’s strange being in the house without Kate, Jon, or the kids. An unusual confluence has left me the sole Homo sap on the premises. Three canids do a good job of keeping me company however.

I began reading Destined for War on Monday. It’s one of two recent books I purchased that look at the China/U.S. superpower relationship. While Destined for War tries to place this fraught dynamic in a western diplomatic history frame, Everything Under Heaven by former NYT Asia correspondent, Howard French, goes deep into Chinese history for its frame.

Songtan, near Osan AFB where Joseph deployed

Songtan, near Osan AFB where Joseph deployed

Not sure how it happened for me, but as I’ve said before my life took an Asian pivot at some point. One starting point was adopting Joseph, of course, but there’s been more than that: Asian design and aesthetics, especially Japanese, Asian art, Japanese and Chinese in particular, Mary in Singapore and Mark so long in Bangkok, tea, Asian cinema, Asia literary classics like the Tale of Genji, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, Monkey’s Journey to the West, Dream of the Red Chamber, contemporary Asian authors. Then SeoAh and the wedding trip to Korea. A lot of my thinking and reading tilted that way and I spent several years at the MIA immersing myself in the Asian art collection there.

Now, in a peculiar manner, adopting Joseph has ultimately reinforced this pivot. My grandchild(ren) from Joseph and SeoAh will be 100% Asian, as will be then, my branch of the Ellis family name. Too, South Korea, where Joseph spent a year deployment and where he would like to return someday, is in a continuing dangerous pickle with its evil twin, North Korea.

So I like to stay informed about what’s going on over there. I can recommend Destined for War, but I haven’t started Everything Under Heaven.

 

 

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.

 

The Light In Me Honors the Light In You

Beltane                                                                          Rushing Waters Moon

Working on a presentation for our mussar class at Beth Evergreen. Want to include Berry’s idea of the great work for our generation: creating a sustainable human presence on earth.

Homo-sapien-citizensAlso want to include Aldo Leopold’s land ethic:

“All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts.The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants and animals, or collectively the land.” The Land Ethic, A Sand County Almanac.

natureThe date of the presentation happens to be Emerson’s birthday. So, from 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? 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.” introduction to his essay, Nature.

Linking up with the parsha* (Torah portion read in Shabbat services) I found Leviticus 25 filled with interesting ideas about the land. Here are a couple that fit well with these ideas.

Lev. 25:18 “…you shall live on the land securely.”

Lev. 25:23 “…the land shall not be sold permanently for the land belongs to Me, for you are all strangers and temporary residents with me.”

Of course, this is a mussar class so all of this has to connect with the Mesillat Yesharim, Path of the Upright, that we’re reading. To do that I think kedusha, holiness, hasidut, piety, and chesed, loving-kindness are key. These last two come from the same root.

kedushaHere are some ideas about holiness from the parsha of a couple of weeks ago, Kedoshim. Leviticus 19:2b: “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” In commentary on Kedoshim the Conservative text* that I have quotes many famous Jewish scholars.

Martin Buber: Holiness is not found in rising above one’s neighbors but in relationships, in human beings recognizing the latent divinity of other people, even as God recognizes the divinity in each of us. The commentary adds, “As human beings we can be Godlike by exercising our powers to sanctify moments and objects in our lives.” Namaste.

I can also link this idea to the Japanese ichi-go ichi-e, once in a lifetime, attitude gleaned from the work of Japanese tea masters, especially the renowned  Sen no Rikyū. He learned ichi-go ichi-e from his master, Takeno Jōō.  “Jōō believed that each meeting should be treasured because it can never be reproduced.” wikipedia

ichigo ichie

ichigo ichie

Another of my favorite Japanese ideas is shinrin-yoku or forest-bathing. Here’s a one-line summary from the website linked to here. “The idea is simple: if a person simply visits a natural area and walks in a relaxed way there are calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits to be achieved.”

More from the commentary on Kedoshim: “The modern distinction between “religious” and “secular” is unknown to the Torah. Everything we do has the potential of being holy.”

Again, from Buber, “Judaism does not divide life into the holy and the profane, but into the holy and the not-yet holy.” Another scholar, a man named Finklestein, adds, “Judaism is a way of life that endeavors to transform virtually every human action into a means of communion with God.” or, perhaps with a pagan sensibility, ichi-go ichi-e.

namasteI say perhaps intentionally because my reimagined faith could intersect with these ideas in a positive way, especially so if the locus of the divine is the individual soul, that part of us that connects with collective unconscious, Brahma, the three Sephirot: kether, the crown, chochmah, wisdom and binah, understanding, that part of the other to which we bow when we say Namaste. Or, as I quoted Buber earlier, “Holiness is not found in rising above one’s neighbors but in relationships, in human beings recognizing the latent divinity of other people…”

This, too, is in the commentary: “…(find) ways of sanctifying every moment of your life. We can be as holy as we allow ourselves to be.” again, the Japanese ichi-go ichi-e and shinrin-yoku.

I’m also trying to pick up some ideas about Hebrew roots but that, so far, has eluded me.

Somewhere in this stew is enough material for a session. Just gotta sort it out.

 

 

 

*Etz Hayim, Torah and Commentary, The Rabbinical Assembly, The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. 2001. New York, N.Y. 10027

Outer, Inner

Beltane                                                                      Rushing Waters Moon

rumiOur next Sierra Club meeting will be on June 19th, one day before the summer solstice. Sierra Club work is paganism stripped bare of its mythic content. There is passion for sure, but not the poetry, no ritual, no inner work. It’s all outer work: hike, lobby, analyze, network, persuade. We may, for example, show the next Al Gore movie, Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. See trailer below.*

The work is good, necessary. It is even, as Thomas Berry said, the great work of our generation, but it often feels mechanical to me. Pull this lever. Have this meeting. Create this sign. Monitor Polymet. Call the governor. Write your Senator. Hike this trail. In its mechanistic form this does not feel like my love for our home, this earth, this planet, third rock from the sun.

tree_of_lifeSomehow I need to find a way for my inner work to imbue my outer work. Todd, a long-time member of the Mt. Evan’s local group to which I belong, talked about a hike he took yesterday in Reynold’s Park. He named a particular orchid that he found and his face lit up. “A bullsnake, too.” It may be that these folks, tied to the very local region encompassed by our borders, find their inner work in being on the trail, hiking Mt. Bierstadt, taking the Mt. Evan’s road, helping clear trail.

The hike I took at Flying J Ranch (see posts below) was shinrin-yoku, forest bathing. Perhaps that’s a way to combine the inner work with the outer work. Or, perhaps I could follow the mussar notion of outer work affecting the inner work. Not sure. But, there is a need for me to more closely match my spiritual journey with this work. Maybe the mountain art notion will fit here, too. More to come.

 

 

*

Cultural Appropriation

Beltane                                                                           Rushing Waters Moon

Transformation Mask, Richard Hunt, 1993

Transformation Mask, Richard Hunt, 1993

Cultural appropriation. I’m not sure I understand this argument, but this wikipedia entry contains a long summary. I get it when the issue is the Redskins as a football team name or Indians as the basketball team name in Anderson, Indiana with its related arena named the Wigwam. I understand it when the issue is blackface, Aunt Jemima, the wearing of war bonnets as fashion statements. I fully understand and appreciate, for example, the Northwest Coast First Nation’s desire to own their artistic heritage, a good example of which is the Transformation mask at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

The argument begins to fray for me when I see complaints about using traditional cloth in new and different ways or even when others choose to reinterpret traditional art. Or, particularly, when I read books that create characters from different cultural traditions, gender perspectives, or ethnicities. I don’t understand how the life of art can go forward without all kinds of cultural appropriation.

culturalIf, as a Western white male, a U.S. citizen of mostly European genetics, I cannot create characters in my novels that are outside that narrow slice of the world’s reality, my work is restricted in ways that make no sense to me. Would I always get it right? No, of course not. But how do we understand other’s understanding of their others unless we can see it or read it or watch it? And is not the fraught interaction between and among cultures important to understand from all perspectives?

Of course intentionally stereotypical representations are abhorrent, but should not the critique of them be left up to the reader or the viewer? At least in the way I write self-censorship is the ultimate enemy, a foe to be fought off. This notion seems to introduce so large an element of self-censorship that an artist could find themselves crippled. This does not create cross-cultural understanding, it undermines it.

Minstrel_PosterBillyVanWare_editAs a former student of anthropology, I know that cultural diffusion is always happening. Look at pidgin languages. Look at the appreciation of art in the different departments of encyclopedic museums. Look at the cultural diversity within the fabric of our nation. Go to Singapore and see the merging of several South Asian cultures into one nation.

I’m interested in reactions to this piece since I’m sure I don’t have a complete understanding.

Wild, Wild Horses

Beltane                                                                                 Rushing Waters Moon

I belong to a facebook group called Front Range Wildlife Photographers. The following photographs are by Boulder resident Michelle Theall. I think they’re amazing.

Michelle Theall3Michelle Theall2Michelle Theall

A Clashing of Spiritual Longings

Beltane                                                                          Rushing Waters Moon

St. LaurenceIrv Saltzman invited us to a performance by his singing group, the Renaissance Singers. It was held in a wooden Episcopal Church, St. Laurence’s, which is near our home. Directed by a Chinese national, Hannah Woo, who is finishing her Ph.D. in musicology, they were 8, four men and four women. As a group, they matched each other well. April, a soprano, had a lovely clear voice and a large range. Irv, formerly a tenor, has now transitioned into a bass/baritone role. Their performance was wonderful. At a meal afterwards we discovered April is our neighbor.

musicRenaissance choral music and instrumental renaissance music has always captivated me. It’s easy to see courtiers in colorful costumes listening to this music in a palace, brown robed and cowled monks hearing it in a morning prayer service, or small groups performing at home for their own amusement. It’s also the music most often heard at Renaissance festivals. Sorta makes sense, eh?

The sanctuary had a vaulted ceiling with exposed beams and two large, clear windows that looked out to the east, toward Shadow, Evergreen and Bear mountains. It rained while we were there and the mountains were in mist, the windows covered with raindrops slowly moving from top to bottom. There were individual chairs, padded with kneelers, arranged in a three sided configuration, making the sanctuary a sort of thrust proscenium stage, an ideal arrangement for a small group of singers.

A church artist had painted the stations of the cross and they were around the sanctuary, set off by bent sheet metal frames. A copper baptistry, large, sat over a cinerarium where the congregation deposits cremation remains and memorializes the dead with small plaques.

Edited+Holy+Week+2017-21Between the two windows hung a large crucifix, a cross made of bare, light wood and a bronze Jesus hung by two nails. I had an odd sensation while listening to this music I’ve often heard in monastic settings on retreat. It carried me back into the spiritual space of an ascetic Christianity that often comforted me. This time though I came into the space as a peri-Jew, identifying more with Marilyn and Irv and Kate, with the still new to me spiritual space of Beth Evergreen, than the theological world represented by this spare, but beautiful sanctuary.

The crucifix stimulated the strongest, strangest and most unexpected feeling. I saw, instead of the Jesus of Christianity, a hung Jew, a member of the tribe. More than that, I felt the vast apparatus and historical punch created by his followers, followers of  a man who shared much of the new faith world in which I now find myself. It was an odd feeling, as if this whole religion was an offshoot, a historical by-blow that somehow got way out of hand.

These feelings signaled to me how far I’d moved into the cultural world of reconstructionist Judaism. I see now with eyes and a heart shaped by the Torah and mussar and interaction with a rabbi and the congregants of Beth Evergreen.

pagan humanismThis was an afternoon filled with the metaphysical whiplash I’ve experienced often over the last year, a clashing of deep thought currents, spiritual longings. This process is a challenge to my more recent flat-earth humanism, a pagan faith grounded not in the next world, but in this one. Literally grounded.

What’s pushing me now is not a desire to change religious traditions, but to again look toward the unseen, the powerful forces just outside of the electromagnetic spectrum and incorporate them again into my ancientrail of faith. This makes me feel odd, as if I’m abandoning convictions hard won, but I don’t think that’s actually what’s going on. There is now an opening to press further into my paganism, to probe further into the mystery of life, of our place in the unfoldingness of the universe, to feel and know what lies beyond reason and the senses.

June 2017
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