We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

The Grail and the Veil

Winter                                                               Moon of the Long Nights

Sumi Brush“The more I have looked into the Quest for the Grail, it is clear it is a Western form of Zen. There is no grail, it is understanding that the veil is the mystery of existence, it is nothing, but our interactions with everyone and everything.” Woolly and friend, Mark Odegard

Mark is an artist, an author, a sweet guy and a friend of 30 years. He’s done many retreats at a Zen Buddhist retreat center in Minnesota and done calligraphy with that giant brush Zen monks use. He has an ability to come at ideas from the side, or behind, seeing what cannot be seen; the Zen work has informed his sight in substantive ways.

He’s asking the Woolly Mammoths this New Year’s question for their next meeting:

“What personal tool/skill do I need to refine for my quest for the grail’? I will write down your answer to this, and ask you again at the end of the year.

The story represents our own encounter with the mystery of life (often occurring in our late teen years). The meaning is veiled for us, what do you need to lift the veil.”

Mark’s question made me start because I’d just written this, only two or three days ago here on Ancientrails:

“Torah study is about loving attentiveness. It is a way of engaging the sacred world which we can know first from within our own person and which permeates that which we encounter throughout our lives…

God lit up for me. Ah, if I do Torah study, if I engage in loving attentiveness to my Self, my own Soul, and those of others and of the broader natural world, then I can find the knowledge which permeates all things, that very same shards of the sacred that shattered just after the tzimtzum to create our universe. That is God being available everywhere. This is far different from the Latinate imponderable of omnipresence, sort of an elf on the shelf deity lurking in every spot, finding you everywhere. And judging.

No. God is another word for the intimate linkage between and among all things, from the smallest gluon to the largest star. God is neither a superparent nor a cosmic Santa Claus writing down your behaviors in the book of deeds; God is a metaphor for the sacred knowledge which permeates the perceivable, and the unperceivable, world.” Ancientrails

I’m not trying to revive the word God here, nor am I trying to reinsert myself into the thought world which includes God. I’m on the same grail quest I started years ago in Alexandria First Methodist sitting beside the huge stained glass window of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Back then I read the Bible as history, not as mythology. Back then it mattered if there was a Jesus who prayed in that Garden that the burden of crucifixion be lifted.

I pushed those beliefs away long ago, passing through a moment, a long moment of second naivete with them, then moving into the world of the Great Wheel and the cyclical, spiraling time through which all life moves, in fact, all things. Over the last year or so my intense program of Jewish immersion has taken me another big step along this ancientrail, a true Grail quest began when, as a sixteen year old, I began to doubt the stories I’d heard growing up.

Frederick J. Waugh, The Knight of the Holy Grail, c. 1912

Frederick J. Waugh, The Knight of the Holy Grail, c. 1912

 

 

My true philosophical (qua religious) home, existentialism, found me in the aftermath of that doubting and my first encounter with philosophy at Wabash College. When I went into my Christian immersion, through seminary and in the Presbyterian years, my faith went mystical, seeing the divine as divinely personal, as a bright light shining within the darkness of my inner world, a light whose purpose was not to dispel the darkness, but to integrate, Taoist style, both of them.

Now, with Rabbi Jamie, I’m studying the kabbalah. Like Zen it insists on not seeing with eyes alone, but with the heart, with a poetic sensibility that understands religious language, I think all religious language, as metaphor, even and especially for the kabbalists, the written Torah.

The veil is a very important metaphor in kabbalistic thought. Like Mark observed above the kabbalists know there is a veil between us and the mystery of existence. The veil underscores the humility necessary for this work and without humility the quest will fail.

canterbury pilgrims

canterbury pilgrims

This idea is ultimately significant. Or not. We cannot penetrate the veil. Ever. Yet we all stand together on the other side of it. To see through the veil, to actually find the Grail, is not given to us, yet that place which we see through a glass darkly is the place where we stand right now. Yes, right now the Grail is in our hands, a cup from which we can drink at any moment.

This ancientrail, the quest for the Grail, the turning of the Great Wheel, the lifting of the burden of our crucifixion, flowing up and down with divine energy through the Tree of Life, is our life, is the life of this world, this cosmic pulsing brilliant reality. Yet we let so many things: work, fear, hope, pride blind us.

winter solstice3The Woolly Mammoths have been my companions, fellow pilgrims, on the way to Canterbury. Or, fellow Tibetan Buddhists inch worming their way around the sacred mountain, Meru. Or, my fellow Torah scholars, davening as we read the sacred texts. Or, fellow Lakotas, our skin pierced and tied to the world tree during the Sun Dance. Or, friends traveling through this life together until it ends.

“What personal tool/skill do I need to refine for my quest for the grail?” Out of far left field, I’m going to answer, “A Sumi brush, rice paper, an ink stone. And the courage to use them.”

 

 

Glass

Winter                                                               Moon of the Long Nights

As she wanes, the moon of the long nights has gone sliver, showing herself this morning covered in a gauze of clouds over Conifer Mountain, just above the tops of the lodgepole pines. Soon she will fade away and the night sky will be black, the best stargazing.

The language of Judaism. Expressed yesterday evening in stained glass. Rich Levine has been teaching in the religious school at Beth Evergreen for several years. He’s connected with a stained glass artist named Linda Elliot. His students and Linda have collaborated to design and then create three works for the congregation.

stained glassThe first is a star of David made of 108 triangles. This familiar symbol of Judaism has six points creating a triangle pointing up toward the source of all things and another pointing down toward this world, the ancientrails of human and sacred movement. This piece was made with 3rd and 4th graders who wrapped each triangle in copper foil and placed them.

The next window, made with another religious school class, presents Joseph’s second dream. In this dream there are eleven stars, the sun and moon and the eleven stars bow down to Joseph. This dream triggers the theft of his coat of many colors and finds him left for dead in a pit. Since this is the means by which Joseph ends up in Egypt, where his entire family eventually joins him during a famine predicted in his first dream, it is also the start of the Egyptian bondage.

Linda Elliot and Joseph's Dream

Linda Elliot and Joseph’s Dream

This image incorporates the rainbow, the sign of the universal covenant between God and all peoples, all the descendants of Noah. It has eleven stars, more abstract than the star of David, with the moon in the lower right hand corner. The sun joins the image when it rises each day.

The third window, seen veiled in the right of this photograph, created this last year by yet another class of religious school students, focused on abstraction, the expression in form and color of love. To my eye it’s abstract in a manner similar to Joseph’s Dream though Joseph’s Dream focuses on a particular narrative.

In the new work the twelve tribes  emerge from the base line and push up toward the burning bush, spreading their message out, out, out in rays away from the bush.

Linda explained that the glass in this piece was made in Oregon. “They have a recipe, like Betty Crocker, which they use to create predictable colors.” But on Saturdays, she said, the same workers go into the glass making shop and tweak the recipes, creating what this company calls Saturday glass. This piece is made of Saturday glass and is, as a result, unique in its most basic material.

unveiling

unveiling

Love

Love

The burning bush itself has two layers of glass, one more orange tinted that faces in to the social hall and another, red, that faces the outside. When the sun shines directly through the burning bush, the red will appear like flames. This red is one of the finest reds she’s ever seen in glass according to Linda. I’ll take a picture of this panel on Thursday when the sun’s out and add it back into this post.

In the new work I see a beating heart, the pulsing center of generations spreading out into the whole world from the twelve tribes.

These three works, Rich’s work with religious school students and Linda’s help in their realization illustrates my point from a post below about religions as a language of the soul. In them Congregation Beth Evergreen finds particular references to the ancient tradition, yet they also convey the universal power of symbols, the revelatory nature of dreams and the outward extension of a small nation made of twelve tribes, history made by the human family.

20180109_192846

 

 

Celebrating the Obverse

Winter                                                              Moon of the Long Nights

sol-invictusThe solstices mark swings to and from extremes, from the longest day to the longest night, there, and as with Bilbo, back again. Darkness and light are never steady in their presence. The earth always shifts in relation to the sun, gradually lengthening the days, then the nights.

Most folks celebrate the Winter Solstice for its moment of change toward increasing light. Sol Invictus, the Roman sun god, added a martial spirit. The ancients feared that the nights would continue to grow in length, and act as a shroud thrown over the earth marking an end to growing seasons, to warmth, to life. It’s no wonder that relief at the return of the sun, revealed by small increases in the length of the day, caused holidays to be born around this subtle astronomical change.

There are also bonfires and songs and drinking and sex on the Summer Solstice. The sun manifests itself as light giver, light bringer, with the longest days. The growing season is well underway then, the miracle of life that the sun’s increasing light creates is the very relief anticipated on the Winter Solstice. Fear and the vanquishing of fear. Sol Invictus, the conquering sun.

Yet even in ancient times there had to be a few outliers like myself. We don’t begrudge the return of the sun, nor deny all the miracles that its return makes possible, that would be silly; but, for some psychic reason, perhaps not clear even to us, we reverse the common sensibility and find succor in the gradual lengthening of the nights that begins at the Summer Solstice and reaches its maximum on the night of the Winter Solstice.

We know that the cold and the darkness, the fallow time whose genesis each year happens on the longest day, is also necessary, also worthy of honor. It is earth’s sabbath, a time for all the generative powers to rest, to regather themselves, to ready themselves for the next florescence. I suspect somehow in our psyches we honor slight dips into depression or melancholy, knowing that in those times we regroup, rest the eager forward creative parts of our souls and the gradual lengthening of the darkness outside mirrors that.

winter solstice4In these long nights the cold often brings clear, cloudless skies. The wonderful Van Gogh quote that I posted a few days ago underscores a virtue of darkness, one we can experience waking or asleep. Dreaming takes us out of the rigors of day to day life and puts us in the realm where ideas and hopes gather. So, the lengthening of the nights increases our opportunity to experience dream time. Whether you believe in Jung’s collective unconscious or not-I do, the rich resources of dreaming are available to us with greater ease when the nights are long and the cold makes sleeping a joy.

It was, too, many years ago when I pushed the notion of transcendence out of my spirituality in favor of immanence, incarnation over a god in the sky. My focus moved to down and in, not up and out. Our inner world is a mystery, a place of fecundity, but also a place often occulted by the demands of the day. When we shift our focus to the night, to the half of the year when darkness grows, we can use that external change as a trigger to lean inside, to find the divine within. If we can make this discovery, the god that we are, we can stiff arm the notion that revelation stopped thousands of years ago.

each birth, always

each birth, always

Every moment of our existence is a revelation, the path of a god, the most fundamental ancientrail of all. No, we are not omnipotent, that’s an illusion created by the idea of transcendence, the need to find validation outside of our own soul. This is the true polytheism, the one that folds its hands, says namaste, bows to that of god in everyone, in every animal, in every plant and stone and star.

When you reach out in love to another person, to a dog, to a crocus blooming in the snow, you bring the finger held out by the white haired floating god in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling. That moment of creation is always, ongoing, a joint effort between and among us all, human and inhuman, animate and inanimate, the cosmic dance of Shiva brought into this mundane world. He or She is not out there, waiting to be called by prayer, but in here, waiting to be called by the quiet, by the joy, by the persistence held in the soul container that is you.

 

On the Path

Winter                                                                Moon of the Long Nights

86Winter break continues. The identity crisis has passed as I knew it would. The crisis focused on my passive choices, taking the path of least resistance after college and I did do that, giving up my intentionality about career to a socialization experience with clergy-focused fellow students. But. Within that decision to just follow the education I had chosen as a way to get out of a dead end job and an unhappy marriage, I was intentional.

The threads that continued from high school through college, into seminary and afterward during my fifteen years in the church were three: a commitment to political action, a desire for spiritual growth, and a thirst for learning. These same threads continue today though political work has taken a diminished role to the other two. When I met Kate, writing became my chosen focus and added itself to the other three as life long pursuits.

My career, if that’s the right word, has involved expressing in whatever context I’ve found myself, a journey on four ancientrails: act, grow, learn, write. The container has not mattered. And, it still doesn’t. That was the piece I was missing the other day, a brief regression, a going back to pick up something lost. Found.

 

Ofrendaless

Samain                                                               Bare Aspen Moon

spanish cilantro soupSpanish-Cilantro soup, served cold, is delicious. A good starter for a meal. Lots of allium: onion, garlic, leeks. Plus potato and, of course, cilantro. Recommended.

Slept in until 8:30 yesterday. Kate and I have not found ourselves on the road at 10:30 pm very often of late. The moon was full and high, clouds for background, the mountains hulking with only their dark shoulders visible. The traffic was somewhat heavy, probably folks coming back from the first night of Christmas lights at the Botanical Gardens. That was what created the traffic going in, we learned from Marilyn.

So yesterday was slow, a rest day. In the afternoon I took Kate to see Coco. It was better the second time. I even liked the mostly silly Olaf 21 minute short, an extension of the Frozen franchise. This time I noticed how Remember Me dominates the movie as plot point, central theme and as music.

ofrendaThe anthropologist in me got to thinking about ofrenda, the family altars created at Dias de Los Muertos, and prominent in Coco. Similar in purpose to the ancestor tablets in traditional Japanese, Chinese and Korean homes they create a bond with the memories and accomplishments of dead family members, encourage the passing down of stories over generations, help glue together families in the present through the care in creating them and the sense of living a shared narrative. They also reinforce family norms.

They are, too, similar to the yahrzeit in Judaism and the yahrzeit wall at Beth Evergreen, not to mention Samain, the equivalent Celtic holiday celebrated on the same day. Thinking about this made me wonder about the relative disappearance of dead relatives from the homes of European ancestry Christians. There is no moment in the Christian year when the dead are remembered save for All Saints Day and that’s not celebrated by many Protestants. I suppose the idea of heaven and resurrection turn the focus away from the dead and toward the afterlife and eventual resurrection. If we’re all gonna meet up at the end times, why bother with the past.

dadOh, we have our photo albums, our knick knacks, but we too easily slip past the family past to engage career, building our own family, taking care of our own lives. We’re relatively disconnected from our past, from our family. Read this article in the NYT about lonely deaths in Japan. It’s not only beautifully written and illustrated, it shows what happens to a society where declining child birth leaves the elderly alone, ofrendaless.

I point the finger at myself here. I have a small permanent ofrenda, a replica of a Spanish style balcony I bought in Bogota on my first international trip. Its purpose in Colombian culture is to hold photographs, mementos of loved ones. In it I have family photographs, a couple of small U.S. flags for mom and dad’s veteran status. Near it I keep my dad’s old briefcase, his silly animal hat. But really I rarely think of it, rarely return to their memories. Dad and I were estranged at his death, true, but I long ago mellowed on him. Even so, there are no moments during the year when they come to mind, when Aunt Mary and Uncle Charles, Grandma and Grandpa Keaton become the stuff of story and ancestry.

3 generations of our family

3 generations of our family

Good art gets us to reflect on ourselves, our own lives. It may either gently or roughly remind us of things we have neglected, emotions we bury, yearnings we had forgotten. I guess Coco stirred in me a longing for those deeper family connections, a more in this life experience of the Ellis family story. Good and bad it is my story and Joseph’s story, Mary and Mark’s story and now by extension Kate and Jon’s, too. Ruth and Gabe and SeoAh’s as well.

As the holidays begin to accelerate, perhaps this is a good time to ask the question about how we Anglos might learn from our Latino neighbors? Maybe the ancestral traditions of other lands, other peoples, can enrich our own. Help us sing Coco’s song, Remember Me.

 

Jews Do Jews

Samain                                                                                      Bare Aspen Moon

Did my new workout. Plank and reverse crunches still ouch. But that’s good, in its strange way. Finished another chapter of Jennie’s Dead. Kate picks recipes that suit her new, more pallid palate and I make them. Yesterday afternoon it was Spanish-Cilantro soup. This is from a 12 months of Monastic cooking cookbook. Straightforward recipes for serving whole rows of robe clad monks. Good enough for this pilgrim pagan and his Jewish spouse. Haven’t tried it yet. For lunch.

jews do jews

We drove into Denver for our second musical event in three days, Jews Do Jews. And experienced the same damned sort of traffic we encountered going to Swigert for Gabe’s fourth grade concert on Thursday. We were twenty minutes late to dinner. And, we left with what I thought I was fifteen minutes of cushion. Oh. Well.

Jews Do Jews: Kol Isha is the sixth iteration of what has grown into a very popular annual series, now filling a large venue, L2 Church on Colfax across from East High School. This celebration of Jewish women songwriters, coming as close on the heels of the Weinstein/#metoo moment as it did was powerful.

Ellie Greenwich

Ellie Greenwich

Congregation Beth Evergreen was on stage and upfront in this pan-Jewish Denver event. Sherry Rubin, a wonderful pianist who plays frequently at Beth Evergreen, was on stage most of the night as part of the backup band. Her daughter, Francesca, the youngest performer of the night at 21, sang two powerful songs, one by the late Amy Winehouse and one by Phoebe Snow. Rabbi Jamie Arnold led a rousing version of Do Wah Diddy, a song co-written by Ellie Greenwich. She also wrote Leader of the Pack and Do Ron Ron. Jamie chose her because she was relatively unknown. When all the singers came out for a medley at the end, the first song was a vibrant version of Do Ron Ron. The last two were Carol King covers.

katie glassmanTwo other Rabbis sang, Joe Black and Jack Gabriel, a cantor or two, and many other Jewish musicians from the Denver metro. Joining them was probably the most polished performer of the evening, Katie Glassman. She plays fiddle in a western swing and hot jazz style, sang Willow Won’t You Weep For Me and Sunny Side of the Street in a dusky torch singer voice. She’s appearing at Dazzle Jazz on December 8.

We went with Marilyn and Irv Saltzman and had dinner before hand at the Pepper Asian Bistro.

And life goes on, in endless song

Samain                                                                  Bare Aspen Moon

hebrewFinished chapter 1 in the Hebrew text, about half way through chapter 2. My plan is to keep working on the chapters until I’ve finished. The Hebrew class itself is a bit chaotic, lots of great information, but they’re teaching Aleph and Bet, beginners and next level, together. I’m out to sea at least part of the time. OK. Most of the time. Still, I can now recognize shabbat in Hebrew and pronounce five letters. Slooooowwww. Next class with Joann Greenberg at 4:30. Two weeks ago Bill and Tom were here for the class.

Nut, similar to this

Nut, similar to this

We hung some art in the guest room. Two batik pieces that Mary brought us from
Bali and an image on papyrus of Nut that I bought on the sidewalk outside the British Museum. Kate’s thinking a gray blue for the guest room. She’s beginning to get her interior designer on.

More Jennie’s Dead. Last two scenes were in Selma, Alabama and Denver. High intensity cardio yesterday, slow and long today. New workout tomorrow.

Centurylink comes today to install our new 60 Mbps service. This one requires some work between the box and the house, then a new modem, plus some inside changes at the jack, too. Faster is better and it’s much stronger wifi. That’s good because I bought the grandkids a tv for Hanukkah and it will get its reception with a Roku stick inserted into its USB port.

20171027_161725Kate and I have begun an ongoing effort to help her manage the fatigue which Sjogren’s, rheumatoid arthritis, sarcopenia and reduced available oxygen cause her. We have to be smarter about what mix of activities she does and what ones I do, yet we can’t set up a situation where she becomes housebound. Not good. A delicate balance. Right now we’re looking at the week ahead and trying to imagine how the week will challenge her, then planning for that. A transition to a new phase of life for us.

 

 

 

Up With Which

Samain                                                                           Bare Aspen Moon

prepositions-timeThe day after the day after. See, there’s the sneaky part of our language. This is the day after the day after Thanksgiving. Yet, really, this is another day, neither after nor before, just a day on its own. Yes, it’s a little further along the third planet’s track around the sun, but it’s a spot on the orbit, so different than yesterday and tomorrow, but no different as a day than either of them save for the slightly less light occasioned by the planet’s tilt, now away from the sun for those of us in the northern hemisphere.

OK. We’ll not flog the old time horse anymore right now. There is a case to be made for chronos, too, but it’s the assumption we share and it obscures other, equally important ways of understanding time.

20171123_142055Anyhow leftover capon, pancetta and fig stuffing, green beans, mashed potatoes, sweet potato pie and caramelized sweet potatoes, pecan pie and deviled eggs rest in the fridge, awaiting their moment. The slow and the stuffed have gotten up off the couches, the beds, the chairs and started to move around again within their lives.

Yesterday (as my mind insists on designating it) I drove down the hill to Aurora. Jon has trees and shrubs on his fenceline that he wants removed. This is something I can do, so I wanted to get exact instructions. He showed me. It won’t take long to do and I plan to go down tomorrow (as my mind insists on designating a day/night cycle we’ll repeat as we return to this spot on our tilt-a-whirl ride of wandering space rock).

Yes, I’m having a little trouble letting go of thoughts about time. It’s just that the prepositional nature of our language is so larded with sequencing words that each time I start to use one, I jerk up short mentally, pulled on the leash of cyclical time. Henry Gustafson, my New Testament professor, talked about writing a prepositional theology. Prepositions and their less common linguistic sibling, postpositions, indicate relations between nouns. “Prepositions and postpositions, together called adpositions (or broadly, in English, simply prepositions),[1] are a part of speech (class of words) that express spatial or temporal relations (inundertowardsbefore) or mark various semantic roles (offor).” wiki

Ah, well, I’ve learned something here. It is exactly prepositions work in our language to indicate time and place. No wonder I keep bumping against them as the ship of cyclical time tries to stay at the dock and not drift away. We use prepositions because we cannot make sense of our reality without locating things in space or time. In using these words though, we reveal an underlying consensus that, while definitely shared, may well not be accurate. OK. I’m in the weeds again, apparently not yet done with the idea of cyclical time.

TampopoJon, Ruth and Gabe and I went to Katsu Ramen for lunch. It’s close to their house, sort of, and I’ve wanted to eat there for a while. Ramen places are a very typical Japanese restaurant, more common there, I imagine, than sushi ones, because ramen is food for the masses, a sort of fast food. “Tampopo”, a Japanese movie from the mid-1980’s, features two truck drivers who learn how to cook great noodles.

I drove them back and returned to the mountains. Yesterday was a rest day, so I kicked back and watched yet another Marvel TV series. I’m as captivated by them as I was by Marvel Comics when Atlas comics rebranded themselves in 1961 and introduced the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Doctor Strange and the Hulk, among many others. One of my cheesy regrets about my childhood is that I, like most other kids, threw away my early collection of Marvel Comics, not realizing how much an X-Men number 1 would be worth in 2017. Hell, I’m not sure I believed in 2017 back then except as an indefinite location filled with flying cars, rocket ships, interstellar travel, huge skyscrapers and maybe a few aliens.

drStrangeMarvel has expanded its media presence to both movies and television. Spider Man, the Hulk, the X-Men, Guardians of the Galaxy, the Fantastic Four, Thor, Doctor Strange, Captain America, Iron Man all have at least one movie, some many more than that. Now on television Marvel has pulled off a rather stunning feat, populating streaming services like Netflix and Hulu with original made for television serials featuring many other Marvel characters. Right now you can watch (and I do) Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, the Punisher, the Gifted, the Runaways, the Inhumans, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Defenders and Peggy Carter.

There is a link, which I’m not going to explore right now, between my affection for the Marvel stories and religion. I think they trigger the same impulse, the same capacity for wonder and speculation, just in different idioms.

 

 

 

The Raw and The Cooked

Samain                                                                           Bare Aspen Moon

The Raw and The Cooked, French Edition

The Raw and The Cooked, French Edition

After a very busy week, a good busy with friends and Hebrew, kabbalah and time with Kate, yesterday was a rest day. Wrote, did my workout (which takes a while), napped, had a wonderful lamb supper cooked by Kate, who’s a wizard with meat. Watched some more of the Punisher on Netflix. On seeing that on the TV as she went to bed Kate said, “I don’t like your choice of programs.” “I know,” I said. Eating red meat and watching TV are hangovers from my Indiana acculturation, neither of which would I recommend to my children or grandchildren, but which I also thoroughly enjoy. No excuses.

Admitting to liking television in the crowds in which I tend to run is like admitting you enjoy belching or farting in public. Declassé. And it is, I suppose. My rationale (or, perhaps, as is often the case with rationales, my rationalization) is relaxation, in particular relaxation from a day usually spent in intellectual and physical activity. I love stories and TV, especially right now, is full of good storytellers who use visuals to enhance their storytelling. I’m sure there’s a sophisticated psychology explanation for this habit, but TV serves a purpose in my life. So there.

Thanksgiving this week. I’ve got a Martha Stewart recipe for capon with pancetta and fig stuffing. Which, of course, requires finding a capon, a mystery meat, as I said yesterday, to Colorado butchers. Tony’s Market. I ordered one and I’m going to call them today just to make sure it’s really coming. I did try to find a capon on which to experiment, but the only one I could find was $63.00. Ouch. Thanksgiving will be the experiment.

capon2I really like cooking, used to do a lot more. It requires mindfulness and produces a meal for others to enjoy. Just popping up from my days of anthropology: The Raw and the Cooked, by Claude Leví-Strauss. In this book the French anthropologist talks about the binary of raw food to cooked, prepared food, seeing the development of cooking as fundamental for the human species, a key movement leading toward civilization. (I’m not going to go into it here, too complex, but if you’re interested in dialectical thinking, the raw-cooked distinction is an example of binary opposition, a distinctively French version of dialectical thought which underlies Leví-Strauss’s idea of structuralism, a short introduction to it is here.)

My point in this last paragraph is that cooking is central to being human; so, engaging in it, at any level, links us directly to the story of human evolution. In that way we can look at Thanksgiving, or any big holiday meal, as linking a key step in our change from merely animal to animal with culture, to another key step, the abstraction of particular days, the elevation of particular moments in time, into holidays. The other night I realized that for dogs all days are the same no Tuesdays or passovers or superbowls, no Guy Fawkes or Mexican independence days, rather sequences of day and night, with food and friends, human contact.

EmersonWe’re not like dogs in that fundamental sense. As Emerson observed, “The days are gods.” Another binary opposition is the sacred and the profane, like the holy and the secular, ordinary time and sacred time. We imbue, out of our speculative capacity, the passing of time with certain significance. The day we were born. The yahrzeit notion in Judaism, celebrating the anniversary of a death. A day to celebrate the birth of a god, or to remember a long ago war against colonial masters. We identify certain days, a vast and vastly different number of them, as new year’s day, the beginning of another cycle marked by the return of our planet to a remembered spot on its journey.

20161229_161617_001When we merge our speculative fantasies with the chemistry of changing raw food into a beautiful cooked meal, we can have extraordinary times. The natural poetics of wonder join the very earthy act of feeding ourselves to create special memories. Very often on those days we gather with our family, a unit that itself memorializes the most basic human purpose of all, procreation of the species. We don’t tend to think of these most elemental components, but they are there and are sine qua non’s of holidays.

So, cook, pray, celebrate. Laugh. With those you love. If you care to, take a moment to consider these amazing things, too. That we know how to transform a neutered rooster into something delicious, something that will undergo the true transubstantiation, the changing of soil chemicals, the bodies of animals and plants into a human body. That we have the idea of Thanksgiving, or the idea of Hanukkah, or the idea of Labor Day and mark out a chunk of the earth’s orbit as special for those ideas. That we choose to gather on them with our small unit of humanity’s long, long ancientrail of development and critical change and doing so honor all of these elementals.

 

 

 

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.

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