A small c convert

Fall and the Sukkot Moon

I had a dream awhile back. Don’t remember much, but I do remember being around the table at CBE. Rabbi Jamie was there, I don’t recall who else. At some point, I said, “I’m a convert.” And, I suppose it’s true enough in some ways.

Definitely a convert to CBE. Both Kate and I are members. She, who is a convert, with her Jewish identity and me, a pagan “suckled in a creed outworn.” to quote Wordsworth in “The World Is Too Much With Us.”*

This community is diverse in its way: Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist flavors of Judaism show up in conversation and have persons who either identify with them or used to. There are transgender folk and there must be some gay folks. One or two people of color, rare for the Evergreen/Conifer area. Politically conservative, liberal, and radical. I’ve not met a libertarian, but I imagine there are some of those, too. A lot of former East Coasters, but a number of native Coloradans. Some come from Evergreen, Conifer, but many live in Denver or its burbs. A few from Israel, others who’ve lived in other countries for some period of time.

Nearly all though are at least well enough off to own a car, a home. I don’t know the average educational attainment, but it’s high. Might even tip over into the post-graduate level. Almost all are white. Almost all are Jewish. I’m the only outlier who is a member, as far as I know.

CBE reflects an old immigrant motif in America where folk of similar religion and, often, of country of origin, gather in a religious community. Polish Catholics. Shinto Japanese. Muslims from many countries. Irish Catholics. Puritans. Buddhists from many Asian lands. Up here in the Front Range there aren’t many options if you’re Jewish. You come to CBE or go into Denver which has a large Jewish community. (There is one other small Jewish congregation up here.)

But the dream notion of conversion goes deeper than just the community for me. I’m a convert to the reconstructionist way of approaching religious questions. That is, if it’s working, keep it. If it’s not, change it.

In my pagan turn, which came many years ago when I started researching Celtic lore, I have found most of what passes for pagan these days just plain silly. Much of it comes from rehashing, in not very careful ways, 19th century Victorian fantasies, or grabbing parts of other auld faiths, like Nordic mythology. See Asatru, for example. Some of it tries to revive the Olympic deities in various ways. There’s even a clever Satanist twist which has claimed Lucifer’s rebellion as a model for standing against the established order.

At CBE I’ve found a series of parallels with my own (possibly silly to you) approach to paganism. Jews use a lunar calendar, for example, and much of their liturgical year has its grounding in agricultural practices. In fact tomorrow at CBE a Sukkot ritual will celebrate the harvest, out doors, in a structure that by tradition is open to the sky. There is a ritual for each new moon, not often observed, but it’s there.

There is also in Judaism a distinctive body positive attitude that encourages good eating, good sex, good self care. Asceticism is not Jewish. One of the aspects of Judaism, related to this, is a candor about death, a way of including mourners in the community through sitting shiva, care of the body immediately following death, and including mourners in every worship service.

With the horrible turmoil after my mother’s death I find this approach soothing. Wish we’d had it then. This is, btw, the 55th anniversary of her death this month, her yahrzeit.

In the kabbalah, which I have studied a bit, there’s a universalism that comes from believing that every bit of the universe has a shard of divinity, of ohr the divine light. I can move from this understanding to an animist position very easily.

Here again I’m a convert to CBE. I don’t have to give up or alter any of my beliefs to be a full member. In fact I lead adult education, taught middle-schoolers, and participate as an “out” pagan in all parts of CBE’s life.

Jewish tradition and Jewish civilization has much that is humane, justice oriented, thoughtful. It is, like many faiths, a repository of human wisdom, of poetry, of answers to the big questions. I’m learning a lot at CBE and am glad for the particularity of its Jewish life. So, yes, I’m a convert. A small c convert.

* The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. – Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn. 1802

Årsgång

Fall and the Rosh Hashanah Moon

Årsgång, The Year Walk. According to Swedish folklore, the year walk was a method of divination in which practitioners would, on either Christmas Eve or New Years Eve (I’ll bet on the Winter Solstice, too.), sit in a dark room with nothing to eat or drink until it was night. Then they would set off into the woods with no technology, no flashlights.

As they wandered, they would have supernatural encounters (lots of supernatural entities in the Northwoods.) In one case they would place themselves far enough away so they could not hear the cock’s crow, not eat or drink, and not look into any fire the day before the walk.

After they set off, they would walk until they came to a road. When morning came, they could see funeral processions, including their own if they were to die that year. The village field beyond the road would show if the crops were to be good or not. They might see, too, if a fire was going to break out in the coming year. We could use this info up here on Shadow Mountain.

If we didn’t live in the mountains, I’d be tempted to try this. However. Cliffs and ravines. Oh, my. The Year Walk fits well with my winter solstice night vigil, even though I rarely make it through the whole night. Never thought of divination, but it would be interesting to try. Must have been pretty scary.

In the dark woods with no light. Even with no cliffs and ravines nighttime woods have many obstacles. Fallen trees. Undergrowth. Ponds. Marshes. Perhaps the occasional nocturnal animal. Add to those the supernatural and it would take a hardy or desperate soul to take a year walk. Wanna go?

There’s a cheap, six dollars, video game based loosely on this idea. I bought it. I’ll let you know about the game.

Soul Doesn’t Have Fear of Dying

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

As friend Tom Crane said in an e-mail, the carnival ride here continues with Gabe’s glove and Kate’s crash. Geez. I’ve never been a fan of karma as anything more than a metaphor, but I’m beginning to wonder…

Read an excellent interview with Ram Dass in the NYT. Ram Dass Is Ready to Die. “Thoughts, thoughts, thoughts: Those are the daily attention-grabbers that make it so that you can’t come from your mind to your heart to your soul… Soul doesn’t have fear of dying. Ego has very pronounced fear of dying.”

Hadn’t considered it that way before, but it seems right. The carnival ride is just that, a contraption meant to cause fear and anxiety. If you can step aside, witness it: Oh, that guy from Denmark ran into Kate. and Oh, that Gabe. Swallowing a rubber glove; you can stay engaged, but not captured.

Yamantaka and my soul

My time with Yamantaka contemplating my own death must have helped me with step aside, be a witness. Not perfect at it, of course. Anxiety and fear about certain things still creep into my life, into our life here on Shadow Mountain. During the most intense days of the last year I really wanted respect for the work I was doing with Kate, with our life. When I felt I wasn’t getting it, I got mad. Demanded it.

In retrospect I can see the flaw in my response. The need for recognition took me away from my love for Kate, the why of my care. It negated the very stimulus that made me stay in the heat, rather than pull away. So, far from perfect.

If I look back over my life, using, as Kate calls it, the retrospectoscope, I can see that need for recognition as a stumbling block. Often. When Dad wanted me to cut my hair or leave, I chose to leave. Why? Because he wasn’t respecting my choices about the war in Vietnam. Big loss for both of us and, from this perspective, unnecessary.

I’ve been stubborn in wanting to live my life my way. Not wanting to be shaped, molded by convention or usual modes of thought. Question everything could be the Latin inscribed on my personal crest. As long as that leads me to step aside from the received way of doing things and question them, decide on my own response, it’s beneficial. When it makes me dig in my heels, be reluctant to change, it’s not. Ram Dass might say when it concentrates on my ego.

Come from your mind to your heart to your soul, Ram Dass says. This, too, feels right though that last move, from heart to soul, is hard to grasp. At least for me. Soul. A big, big idea in my current inner work.

Mind. Sure. My mind has written most of this. It’s active and a source of pleasure for me. Moving to the heart response, compassion for Gabe and his glove, Kate and her crash, Tom and his colonoscopy today (with you in my heart, guy!), I get that, do that. Perhaps not as effortless as thinking, writing, but getting to the heart is a natural move.

On the other hand the move from heart to soul, from engaged actor to witness, to the deeper, the eternal? Harder. Hard because I jettisoned the idea of a soul for so many years. Existentialist, all there is, is right here, right now. Mind and heart, yes. But nothing escapes death. Nothing remains except memories in the hearts and minds of others still living. Over the last year or so I’ve been questioning this nihilist conclusion and that questioning focuses on the soul.

Not saying I’m back to believing in an afterlife, neither heaven nor hell, reincarnation resonate for me. Not at all. But the sense that their is a core part of me, a grain of sand around which the pearl of heart and ego grow, yes, I can see that now.

Why? Namaste. The god in me bows to the god in you. Yes. There is, in you, a god, and I can sense it. Namaste’s reciprocal claim, the god in me, has lead me to nod.

Love your neighbor as you love your Self. (my capitalization) Yes. Love you, because you are in the image of the divine, as I love my own divine image. Yes.

Maybe all the grains of sand, from trees and sharks and eagles and even Donald Trump, roll down the great river of death into the Gulf of Silence, creating there a sandbar, a shifting stretch of land in the water of eternity. Is there a simulacrum of life there? No idea. But I can imagine us all together, equal to each other, all who’ve lived. In some strange way substantial. So, who knows?

Pole Dancing

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

Three aha moments. Responses to my Facebook post about ending radiation. A Bollywood epic about 21 Sikhs who held off a Pathan tribe force of 10,000. Kesari. 2015 Alexandria Class of 1965 50th reunion.

In 2015, a month and a half or so after my prostatectomy, I drove to Alexandria, Indiana for the 50th reunion of the class of 1965, my class. In Independence, Missouri I got out of the rental car, went back to get my luggage out of the trunk and promptly peed my pants, soaking a pair of jeans. Embarrassed and chagrined I got in the room holding my luggage in front of me, took those pants off and stuffed them in a wastebasket.

The first event of the reunion, at the Alexandria Historical Society, found me with that experience at front of mind. As a leader in academics and the class, you might not expect me to be nervous, feel vulnerable. I did though. It was partly the Independence (irony) moment, yes; but, it was also the knowledge that I’d traveled a much different road after high school than the vast majority of my classmates.

Many of them went to Vietnam. Dennis Sizelove died there. Richard Lawson, a close friend, died later of wounds from his war time. Mike Thomas and several others at the reunion were Vietnam vets. Only a few of us went onto college, maybe 10% out of our class of 180. I didn’t know anybody in our class with a graduate professional degree and a post-graduate school doctorate.

This was 2015, the year before an electoral Titanic took us all down with it. Somebody asked me to speak during our dinner at Norwood Bowl. It was the only venue in town large enough for our meal.

I’m on the right of the seated row. 2015, Norwood Bowl

We’re here together again. After 50 years. But not just 50 years. Most of us were together for at least 12 years before that. Let’s call it 62 years. Yet we’re here. Why? Because we still care about each other, about our town, about the memories we made.

I know we’re divided in many ways: those that stayed around, those that left. Like me. those that supported the war in Vietnam and those that didn’t. Like me. Those that found George Bush a good President, those that prefer Obama. Like me. Those that like the Colts and those that like the Vikings. Like me. I’m sure there are, too, differences over sexuality, abortion, maybe even race.

But this is what’s important. In this room we share something more important than those divisions. We share a community. We are a community. And communities don’t require everyone to believe the same. In fact, they’d be pretty boring if we did. I care about each of you not because of what you believe, but because of who you are. Even if I don’t know you well, I still care because we share a life built together over time.

I was shaking when I started. I’d chosen to lay bare the vulnerability I felt. Hard. But as I spoke, maybe 3 minutes, the vulnerability went away to be replaced by gratitude that I still knew these people. Was still alive with them.

On facebook I’ve made two posts about cancer. First, letting folks know I had it again and that I would undergo radiation treatment and a second one saying I’d finished. On the list of folks who responded and commented were many who post America love or leave it type messages, pro-Trump, anti-snowflake. They were also folks who can’t wait for the revolution. With some of them I share a love of art. With others college during the late 60’s. With others Congregation Beth Evergreen.

Each one part of a venn diagram of various communities to which I belong or belonged. And, in those communities empathy and concern, love, transcend political and religious differences. Why? Because communities do not expect everyone to share the same beliefs.

Kesari. Amazon Prime Video has many Bollywood movies. I like them. I even like the inevitable contrived dance routines and singing.

Kesari is a retelling of the battle for Saragarhi, a real 1897 encounter between 21 Sikhs who held Ft. Saragarhi and an invading force of Muslim Pathans that numbered around 10,000. It has an Alamo feel; the Sikhs fight only to slow the invaders and all of them die.

The lead character, Havlidar (or, Sgt.) Ishar Singh, rallies the Sikh’s both against the Pathan tribesmen and the occupying British, “…who see us as slaves. We can choose to die as free men.” The story remains in Indian memory because it underscored the bravery of the Sikh soldiers and, by extension, all Sikhs.

Here’s the link for this post. At the very end of the movie all but Ishar Singh and one other are dead. The Pathans have demolished a wall of the fort and will soon invade. Ishar Singh, who has had visions of his wife throughout the movie, has one as he stands alone, sword ready for the coming assault.

“Should I run? Or, should I stay?” he asks her. She smiles, “Make our community proud.”

My folks, each and everyone

Here’s the paradox of community. There are inclusive communities, usually we had no choice in belonging to them, like our families, and communities defined by exclusion, like the Sikh’s, say, or LGBTQ, or Trump supporters, or progressive Democrats. These exclusive communities can inspire us, make us feel safe among our own “kind,” but they also reinforce political divisions and make our larger communities less safe.

Pole dancing. I have no magic formula. No way to be in an exclusive community without its pitfalls. Perhaps though if we took a lesson from exotic dancers and were willing to strip ourselves bare, to see ourselves as individuals and, most important, show ourselves as individuals, to each other. Perhaps. Just perhaps.

Parshah

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

definitely not me

Gonna do a bagel table in September. That means I lead a discussion on the Parshah for that week, Ki Teitzei. Parshah are much longer than lectionary selections in Christian churches. Where a Christian lectionary might identify a few verses of one chapter, parshah have multiple chapters in them. Ki Teitzei runs from Deuteronomy 21:10 to 25:19.

I agreed to this a couple of months ago, planning to focus on it after the radiation was done. Well…

David Jordani, Simchat Torah at CBE

Sorta intimidated. Steve, a CBE member who is also doing some of the bagel tables, reported he’s been studying Torah with Rabbi Zwerin and other Rabbis for over 25 years. I’ve been studying Torah for at most 3 years and not in any dedicated way. (caveat: that statement depends on seeing torah as the first five books of the Tanakh. Rabbi Jamie sees the purpose of torah as learning how to be and how to be in the world. I would say becoming, but that’s for another time. In that sense I’ve been studying torah my whole life.)

What did I imagine I could offer? Any quick study of essays and commentaries will leave me short of knowledge, not least because I don’t know Hebrew. Realized mimicking a Rabbi or an educated lay person was not only not possible, but not a good idea either. Why try to be who I’m not?

Gonna read the essays and the commentaries anyhow, but I’m gonna take a different tact. A couple of different tacts. First, I’m going to own my relative ignorance. Relative in that I have studied the Torah as part of biblical literature in Sem.

What I want to do is draw from those who come how they perceive the torah and how they perceive its use in Jewish congregations and in their personal lives. I’ll talk first about the very different way I would look at it from within a Christian hermeneutic. Then, we’ll discuss their perceptions of torah as a whole, then their perspectives on the particular content of this parshah. I’m going to try to communicate Rabbi Jamie’s idea of torah, too, because it makes a lot of sense to me.

In fact, I may introduce a bit of Emerson to them, that introduction to Nature I’m so fond of.

Oh, yes. My answers came.

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

A friend asked me: “(As a result of facing death) have you been informed by any wider sense of the simple joy of being?  Or any other description of the immediate worth of being?”

Mortality signals. They’ve been in my life since toddlerhood. Polio in 1949. Mom died in 1964. Lost all hearing in my left ear suddenly at 38. MRI for brain tumor as a result. High blood pressure. Took me years to come out from under mom’s death. An alcoholic haze lasting until my late 20’s.

Even after I emerged from my grieving sober, there was still rage, still self-loathing, still so much overburden. Took another decade of Jungian therapy. Then, finally, I met Kate.

She was my chance to live a different life, one unhooked from the patterns and history, or, at least, unhooked from their power over me. We made a pact to support each others creativity, each others deepest hopes. And, we have done that.

We’ve raised two boys into men. We went as close to Mother Earth as we could. Years of soil amendments, planting seeds. Corms. Tubers. Bulbs. Slips. Trees. Shrubs. Harvesting tomatoes, leeks, onions, beans, beets, carrots, raspberries, apples, pears, plums, cherries. Bee keeping. Artemis Honey for friends and for ourselves.

Kate’s quilting and sewing became her place to express love and imagination. I wrote. Many novels. Literally millions of words on this blog. We both supported, in our own ways, political values of compassion, love, justice. Or, leadership as my friends Paul and Sarah Strickland, Lonnie Helgeson, and Gary Stern defined it for Leadership Minneapolis back in the 1980’s. (funny story there. for another time.)

We moved. For family. And, because, as John Muir said, “The mountains were calling.” Mortality signals began coming with more urgency. Prostate cancer once. New knee. Prostate cancer twice. Kate’s Sjogren’s, her bleed, weight loss, lung disease. Her new shoulder and, earlier, hips.

All this time, even from my youth, besotted with religion, small r. The deep, the awesome, the wonderful. Sure, in my childhood it had Methodist as a label. Threw that away in my junior year of high school. “Your god is too small.”

Went looking for other clues. First in Roman Catholicism. Then, existentialism. Later, a more examined, more intellectual, more spiritual Christianity. The ministry. Disillusionment.

Here’s the synchronicity. Before I met Kate, a year or two, I’d been in spiritual direction with John Ackerman at Westminster Presbyterian. As I explained to him where I found spiritual sustenance, in the earth, a tactile spirituality, I said, he had an ah-ha, “Charlie, you’re a Druid!”

By the time I met Kate I was well on my way out of Christianity. In fact, I was all the way out, yet still, Grand Inquisitor fashion, working in the ministry. When she agreed to my quitting the ministry to write, the timing saved my soul.

She recommended I find a niche, a place to call my own when writing. Hmmm. Looked to my ancestors. Knew I had some Irish and Welsh blood, Ellis and Correl, so I went searching into Celtic thought.

The Great Wheel. Seems innocent enough, ordinary. An agricultural focused calendar. The Celts started out with only two seasons: Summer and the fallow time, Winter. They added the solstices and the equinoxes, then named the cross-quarter holidays: Beltane, May 1, Lughnasa, August 1, Samain, October 31st, and Imbolc, February 1, each halfway between either a solstice or an equinox.

The sequence was “…a Druid!”, Kate, Celtic thought, Andover and the perennial flowers, the orchard, the raised beds, the fire pit, the bees.

After, in Colorado, living in the Rockies, I found the consolation of Deer Creek Canyon. Drove back home to Shadow Mountain after my biopsy results confirmed my cancer diagnosis. Through Deer Creek Canyon.

The mountains on either side of the road that followed Deer Creek Canyon. Exposed rock, cliffs, peaks. Deer Creek moving rapidly down toward the South Platte. Their age. The Laramide Orogeny. Rock thrust up from its place in the earth’s crust. Started 80 million years ago, ended 33 million or so years ago.

Those rocks reached out to me as I drove, called to me. I thought about the Appalachians, once mighty and tall, now worn down by millennia of rain and streams and trees and grass. They formed 480 millions years ago. These mountains, these rocky mountains through which I drove were young. Still jagged, still exposed in parts. Might take 400 millions years, maybe more, to wear them down to Appalachian size.

The may fly. Flies up and mates in one day. Then, dies. Oh. I see. My life. A may fly life. Shorter, even, compared to the Rockies. More like a fraction of a second. When I’m gone, my may fly life ended by prostate cancer or something else, these mountains (I’m still driving and thinking and feeling shocked) will look as they do now. Yet, even their life above the earth’s crust has limits.

So, too, the earth. When the sun comes to the end of its life and becomes a red giant, it will engulf the earth and our planet, our only home, will be gone.

That day the strongest mortality signal I’ve ever received cracked me open, laid my soul bare to the complex interleaving of human life, of life itself, and the souls of the mountains. We are one, all part of the cycling of elements that began with the Big Mystery. We have our time, long or short, then we return to the primal forces that wander among solar systems and galaxies.

That was the Great Wheel realized at its most expansive, a repeating series of beginnings, growth, harvest, and decay. The movement from Beltane to Samain. It became enough for me, spiritually and religiously.

When the cancer reemerged, I was in a different place. The consolation of Deer Creek Canyon, the fundamental and universal rhythms of the Great Wheel had reshaped my inner landscape. I do not need a text based religion to tell me who I am or what life means. I do not need a guru or a silent retreat to go into my own deep well.

This is me. 72. Prostate cancer. Still alive. Still living my life. I sleep well at night. When I wake, I do not ruminate. I have a pleasant, floaty feeling, then return to sleep. This is new for me. Not something you’d expect after a recurrence of cancer, but true anyhow.

Here’s my direct answer to my friend. “Have I been informed by any wider sense of the simple joy of being?  Or any other description of the immediate worth of being?” Shifting one word is enough. “Have I been informed by any wider sense of the joy of becoming? Or any other description of the immediate worth of becoming?

Deer Creek Canyon finished my long journey from monotheism to a process theology. I was not. I am. I am not. I don’t care. A Roman epitaph. I would change it to: I was becoming. I am becoming. I will become. I love this butterfly turning of the Great Wheel.

With Chuang Tzu, I don’t know if I’m a butterfly dreaming of Charlie or Charlie dreaming of a butterfly.

A little hep

Summer and the Radiation Moon

Relaxed. A no pressure weekend away from the cyber knife.

SeoAh and Joe, December, 2018

Decided to have the mitzvah committee bring us meals. Over the months of Kate’s ordeal we had a brief time with them, early. Very helpful. SeoAh came twice. The rest of the time I made meals or we ate leftovers.

Cooking requires more motivation and energy than I have at the end of a radiation day. Kate’s stamina is better, but she’s not up to standing for as long as it takes to cook meals. The mitzvah committee will organize a rotation.

a middot (character trait) that Kate and I will present in August

Even though I know this is the right thing for us, and even though I know this is something many in the congregation have wanted to do, there’s still a I should be able to handle this feeling that niggles at the back of mind. Like we’re imposing on the good will of others.

When I said it felt like we needed help, Susan said, “We’ve asked multiple times.” And they have. Alan, Rich, Marilyn, Sherry, Michele, Rabbi Jamie, Ron, Tara have each asked multiple times, too. It’s part of what it means to be CBE, to be Jewish.

It reminds me of the way farmers help each other, or members of small, rural communities. It’s a sense, no, a knowing, that we’re all in this together, that life throws challenges at us that sometimes exceed our resources.

Of course in Judaism there is also belonging to the tribe. This is real by blood, by history, by persecution, and for many, by religious conviction. The tribe takes care of its own. In this sense I’m as much a part of the tribe as Kate is. This community has my commitment to it and I have its to me. A covenant by love rather than blood and history.

This has moved me so much that when Rich told me he was helping Jamie with the new cemetery, I said, really without thinking, “Good. I hope it works. I’d like to spend eternity with the members of CBE.” Whoa. This current is running deeper than I had imagined.

Adversity unveils gratitude. To have the mitzvah committee available to us when we need it. To have friends who will think of us, who want to help, who are eager to help. Like Paul, Tom, Bill, and Ode who said if I needed driving to radiation and couldn’t find anybody to help, one of them would be out here. To have family and friends in faraway places like Bangkok, Singapore, California, Georgia, Arkansas, Texas, Tennessee reach out.

Awe begets gratitude. Awe = Grand Canyon, Ring Nebula, lava flowing into the sea, birth, death, yes, all these. Awe also = active caring, love, loyalty, family bonds, friendship. Without these last we would remain isolated, stuck in our fleshly prisons, bound to a lonely journey. With them we are humans in community, as Ram Dass said, “Just walking each other home.” Thanks for being my partner on this walk home.

One small step

Summer and the Radiation Moon

Let’s see. Heat waves. Bad ones. The moon landing at 50. 50? And, of course, Send them back! Send them back! I really tried to stop it in the biggest way. Nobody could have tried to stop it harder. Nobody.

Consequential. Each of them. I still remember the first time I was in Phoenix. 107. Might have been August or September. Walking from the motel a few blocks to experience the heat I could feel the sidewalk through the soles of my shoes. The air was still.

Downtown Phoenix had several places that had misters, spraying a sheen of water out and over sidewalks, open air cafes. Fans aided the cooling effect. It was delicious. A revelation. But. It was still hot.

On a CME venture with Kate early in our marriage we went to Mexico City where Kate saw Rigoberta Menchu. Afterward we went to Oaxaca and Merida. We stayed at Casa de Balam, the House of the Leopard, in Merida. Our bodies have conditionings of which we are unaware until they are challenged.

Merida

It was hot. And, humid, unlike Phoenix. In the afternoon rain clouds gathered over Merida. Rain fell. And the heat and humidity got worse. It was like an open air steam bath. Rain washes away heat. After the rain comes a cool breeze, a sigh of relief. Nope. Not in Merida. Not that day. It shocked my body before I even realized what was odd.

Both of those times stick in my mind (plus that trek across Singapore’s Botanical Garden in 2016) as outliers, extreme situations occurring in places I visited infrequently. Now, Merida is coming to a city near you.

The moon landing. July 20, 1969. College was done. Judy and I had a small apartment in Muncie. It was hot. No AC. No misting water. Just sweat. I put aluminum foil on the rabbit ears of our tiny television, waved them through the air to find our best reception. The most complicated electric appliance in our apartment was my Selectric typewriter, the one with the ball.

We wore as little as possible. The moon was new that night, so the sky was starry. I remember the scratchy voice of Walter Cronkite saying something. The scene, like a set from a 1950’s sci fi movie, had a strange desolation, Buzz Aldrin would the call the moonscape, “Magnificent desolation.”

NASA

Cold beer. A joint. As night fell, we began to wonder if the astronauts would ever come out. The Eagle had landed at 3:17 pm and now it was nearing ten. Then, the hatch opened, a bulky white suit emerged and went slowly down the metal ladder. A human about to touch a surface other than earth’s. “One small step for a man, one giant step for mankind.” (btw: correct quote according to NASA and Armstrong.)

Our chests flew open, all of us, that night. We saw the unimaginable. We were alive when the first human walked on the moon. I was 22, drunk and stoned. But high, too. Up there. With Buzz and Neil.

No visa required. No passport control. No detention centers in the Sea of Tranquility.

the apple, the tree

Our current sadness. The smallness of the fearful white person. Fed by the orange would be Julius. On July 20, 1969, the federal government gave us a moment of wonder, of awe, a moment shared with the world. On the 50th anniversary of this remarkable human accomplishment this once great country now separates families at detention centers. Its President tells four U.S. citizens to go home. He encourages the cries of his base base, Send them back. Send them back.

And that heat. Study shows opening up Federal lands to oil and gas exploitation will increase climate change. Huh? Really? The administration has silenced scientific analysis, by government scientists, on the risks posed by climate change. Including the military, which sees climate change as a national security issue.

NASA

Oh to slide back into the wonder of the moon landing. To imagine a world where feats of human innovation still wow us. Where government fights racism instead of propogating it. That’s a backward look though. Let’s look forward instead. To a new, cooler time with awesome moments still ahead.

The Mountains Are Calling

Summer and the Recovery Moon

Yamabushi monk

Not sure exactly what’s going on here. They mention Shugendo. It’s a fourteen hundred year old tradition that has esoteric Buddhism, Taoism, and Shinto roots. They refer to themselves as Yamabushi, those who prostrate themselves on the mountain.

Master Hashino

It seems like they’re dedicated to reducing the distance between humans and mother earth. Or, perhaps better, creating awareness of that already existing intimacy, now obfuscated by so much.

Fellow travelers with me, I think.

The religion that is written and elaborated is not religion.

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

Tomorrow is the Summer Solstice. The day of the sun’s maximum presence for the year. On the solstices the day/night balance shifts. On the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year (though if you check the time tables the difference between June 21st and July 21st is only 13 minutes), the night begins to encroach, slowly.

Whatever guides my soul prefers the dark days, the fallow time. I celebrate on this holiday not the victory of the light, but the coming dominance of the night. I do like the bright blue days here in Colorado, not saying I don’t. Just that my soul gains more richness, more depth as darkness grows. Probably one of the reasons I felt so much at home in Minnesota, at the 45th latitude, half-way to the Northpole.

As a gardener, of course, I relished the light for the vegetables and fruits, for the flowers that fed our bees. The summer solstice signals the growing warmth and long days that nourish all plant life. It was also the time, though, that bugs grew more troublesome, when the humid weather encouraged fungus and mold, viral infections in the plants.

In Sweden, Scotland, and other Gaelic and Scandinavian countries the auld religion still calls to its people. Bonfires. Nudity. Parties through the night. Feasts. I like the idea of them. If there were one close by, I might go.

My relationship with neo-paganism is as fraught as my relationship with Christianity. Judaism, too, at the doctrinal level. There’s so much intellectualizing, writing of ideas, logic. I’ve come to believe that elaborating our feelings toward the natural world in a Wiccan or Asatru way, a neo-pagan syncretic way, is as damaging to the soul as the dogmas and laws of other religions.

In the language of Taoism, the one lens which seems to consciously push away dogma, I would say it this way: The religion that is written and elaborated is not religion. Barriers between our soul and its path.

Emerson has influenced me here and he was, in turn, influenced by Taoism. If you’ve read me for any length of time, you’ll have read these words more than once:

“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.” Emerson’s Introduction to his essay, Nature.

It is this sensibility that I celebrate as each of the Great Wheel holidays roll round. The sensibility that helps us become native to the various places where we live. The sensibility that finds the soul’s interaction with the seasons enough. The sensibility that drags down, pulls away the words to look directly at this universe into which we are born. The sensibility that does not fight the turning of the wheel, but sees the seasons of our lives as one with the changing seasons. This is my understand of wu wei, conforming our life to what is, not what might be.

What I encourage is the sun on your face. Your hands in the soil. Your feet on a hiking path. Your ears alive to the buzzing of bees, the bugle of the elk, the bark of the dog, the words of your friends. What I encourage is living your life as it comes, knowing that it leads to death, yes, but that until death you are alive.

Hug. Smile. Laugh. Cry. Plant. Harvest. Compost. Be grateful. That’s enough.