We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Ohr

Midsommar                                                                      Moon of the Summer Solstice

ein sofKabbalah. Reread Genesis 1-2:3. Now, ask yourself a question that occurred to a long ago kabbalist. What is the light created on the first day of creation? We know it’s not the sun or the moon or the stars because they don’t blink on until the 4th day, 1:14-19. So what is the ohr (light) of verse 3. “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.”?

Kabbalists pay close attention to details like this. They poke and tease at them, using reason-it can’t be the sun-and playing with gematria. In this instance an equivalence is discovered between the 207 of ohr’s three Hebrew letters and raz, also 207. Raz means hidden. Aha! Rabbi Jamie would say. This ohr could be a hidden light. I’m not going to follow this thread much further because the argument quickly becomes nuanced and frankly still not altogether clear to me, but it moves quickly toward the many-worlds hypothesis of string theory and an early intuition of quantum mechanics. All this from some early medievalists.

Remaining open to new ideas can be frustrating, confusing, but as a quote I discovered a while back says, confusion is the sweat of the intellect. Right now I’m sweating a lot as we review the very basics of kabbalistic thought. I did buy a copy of the first volume of Daniel Matt’s translation of the Zohar, kabbalah’s bible. This is a brand new translation from the original Aramaic and one done by a preeminent scholar of Jewish mysticism. It’s both clear and very difficult.

Here’s an example. In his translation Matt quotes an early kabbalist who retranslates the first verse of Genesis to this: With beginning the ein sof (the infinite ohr-light or energy) created God. Now that’s unexpected.

bonfireIt’s a very bright group around the table: a historian, a Berkeley trained lawyer, an organizational consultant, a Hebrew scholar, a rabbi in training, a second lawyer, a teenager with a good grasp of theoretical physics, two retired hospital administrators. This makes the conversation sparky, inspirational.

Rabbi Jamie’s pedagogy is excellent. He asks questions, probes answers, supports new directions, invites us to retrace the pattern of thinking used by these early rabbinic radicals. It’s fun. Too, the kabbalistic project was exactly reimagining faith. It’s giving me a prod for how to go about the task in my own work.

 

 

 

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.

Enchanting, My Dear

Beltane                                                                       Moon of the Summer Solstice

first draftWith the first draft of Superior Wolf finished I’m taking this week to do various tasks up in the loft that I’ve deferred. Gonna hang some art, rearrange some (by categories like Latin American, contemporary, Asian) and bring order to some of my disorganized book shelves. I want to get some outside work in, too, maybe get back to limbing and do some stump cutting, check out nurseries for lilac bushes.

After taking advantage of the weekend to do the hike at Staunton, some slower treadmill work in the afternoon, then two sessions on Sunday, both on the treadmill, one faster, one slower, I got to 11,000 plus steps on Saturday as I said and 9,745 on Sunday. I believe once I go back to my personal trainer, in six weeks or so, I’ll be able to hit the 10,000 target regularly and get my resistance work done, too. Feels like I’m moving past the knee surgery, not fully past it yet, but well on the road.

forest and soulEven so, reimagining is beginning to exert a centripetal force on my thinking, book purchasing, day to day. For example, last night as I went to sleep a cool breeze blew in from the north across my bare arms and shoulder. It was the night itself caressing me. I went from there to the sun’s warm caresses on a late spring day. The embrace of the ocean or a lake or a stream. The support given to our daily walking by the surface of mother earth. The uplift we experience on Shadow Mountain, 8,800 feet above sea level. These are tactile realities, often felt (0r their equivalent).

Now, imagine that we stop, take a moment and feel them, as I now feel the attraction gravity affords me while sitting here, writing this. It keeps me grounded, able to stay in place.

febheadNext, eliminate the metaphorical. If we do that, we can immediately jump into a holy moment, a moment when the bonds that tie us to grandmother earth are not figurative, but real. The breeze on my bare arms and shoulders is her embrace. The sun on my face, penetrating my body, is him in direct relationship with me, reaching across 93 million miles, warming me. The ocean or the lake or the pond or the stream cools me, refreshes me, hydrates me, acts of chesed, loving-kindness, from the universe in which we live and move and have our being.

This kind of reframing, reenchanting, helps us reimagine faith, a faith that does not require texts or institutions, just the opening of ourselves to the mystery and magic that are our literal birthright.

 

 

As the World Burns

Beltane                                                                  Moon of the Summer Solstice

images (2)While the world burns, at least the Trump world, kabbalah suggests a bigger world, more worlds, right next to this one. There is, as Rabbi Jamie said, a bigger picture. I learned a similar lesson from Deer Creek Canyon during my cancer season two years ago. These Rocky Mountains, still toddlers as mountains go, were and will be present when we are not. In their lifetime humanity will likely have come and gone.

It’s tempting to use this perspective-and I believe it’s real, I want to emphasize that-to diminish the swirl of issues like climate change, decent health insurance, jobs that no longer pay a living wage. In time they will be finished, one way or another. We were neither present during the Rockies orogeny, nor will we be present when they become as smooth as the Appalachians. Just so, you may say.

38d9f3b4e2e64361ce68ca237f270a42Yet. We do not live either in the deep geological past nor in the distant geological future, we live now. Our lives, our mayfly lives from the vantage point of geological time, come into existence and blink out, so we necessarily look at the moment, the brief seventy to one hundred year moment into which, as Heidegger said, we are thrown.

This is all we know of life, this moment. In it our whole awareness comes into existence, matures, then winks out. From that mayfly perspective then climate change, decent health insurance and a living wage are not insignificant. Albert Camus spoke of the great river which carries us toward the ocean of all souls. Ram Dass reminds us we’re all just walking each other home. And Lord Keynes famously said in the long run we’ll all be dead.

Time_Clock-620x587Somehow we have to realize that though our lives are small compared to the immensity of the universe and the imponderable nature of time, they are everything while we have them. As for me, I find all this comforting. Putting my efforts in the larger perspective gives me peace, putting them in the immediacy of my life gives me energy. We will not complete the task, no, we will not. But we are not free to give it up either.

 

 

Three Mystical Moments

Beltane                                                                    Moon of the Summer Solstice

Here are three instances of amazement, still resonant, still filling my inner world.

ipperwash sunset

ipperwash sunset

When I was 12 (1959) my family went to Stratford, Ontario for the Shakespeare Festival. We camped at Ipperwash Provincial Park a few miles outside of Stratford. One evening I wandered down to the rocky beach of Lake Huron and sat watching the sun go down. As it fell behind the turning earth, the colors lit up the Great Lake, making me feel as if I were surrounded by the lake, the sky, the coming night. It didn’t make me feel insignificant, rather it made me feel part of a great mysterious colorful whole.

 

ayahuasca-art

I studied philosophy as an undergraduate. In the fall of my sophomore year, 1966, I took metaphysics. After a class about the process metaphysics of Alfred North Whitehead, I wandered out of the humanities building onto the quad. The maples and oaks on campus had turned, making the grounds glow with red and gold leaves. Just as I stepped out of the building and onto the quad, my interior life lit up with red and gold. Then my connection to that time and place dissolved. A feeling of calm fell over me and threads linking me to the rest of the universe, red and gold threads going out and coming back in vibrant motion, filled me. The sense of calm transformed into wonder as I knew, just knew, that I was part of all this, all this amazing universe. This was not intellectual knowledge, not a feeling, but a direct knowing. The universe and I were one. I’ve known this to be true ever since.

Photo by Oystein Lunde Ingvaldsen, Nordnorsk Reiseliv

Photo by Oystein Lunde Ingvaldsen, Nordnorsk Reiseliv

In September of 1974 I moved to the farm that Judy and I bought near Nevis, Minnesota. One evening soon after I took my fishing rod and tackle down to a small lake set in a bowl of earth with reasonably high sides. As was my usual experience, I caught no fish, but the air was warm, so I stayed as night fell. The Aurora Borealis lit up the night sky. Great flashes of green shimmered up from the base of the sky to its domed center. The same display hit the lake and suddenly I was adrift in space. The Aurora vibrated all round me, carrying me higher and higher and higher, then further and further out of time. I don’t know how long it lasted, but I stayed until the Aurora played itself out.

 

Kabbalah and Son

Beltane                                                                   Moon of the Summer Solstice

maxresdefaultA whirlwind. Left home at 6:15 pm last night for kabbalah at Beth Evergreen. First class in this esoteric Jewish mystical tradition. A lot of it unexpected. More as it comes into focus. It’s sort of blurry right now.

Decided to skip going to Boulder for a long Shavuot evening on holiness. Joseph unexpectedly had a trip to Colorado Springs and there was an opportunity to see him for breakfast this morning.  I drove down there from Evergreen, spent the night and saw him at the Black Bear Diner on Academy Avenue.

Turned around and drove back home, through the mountains this time, passing through Manitou Springs, Woodland Park, Decker and Pine Junction on my way to Hwy. 285, coming out about 7 miles southwest of Conifer. Got home around 11:30 am this morning.

At 2:30 Kate and I leave for Beth Evergreen today for its Shavuot celebration. I have to help set up.

More later, but kabbalah left my heart and my epistemology spinning. In a good way, but it was decentering. Seeing Joseph filled my heart, then left me sad when he had to go for a day learning about future Air Force tech. On my home my inner world kept insisting on its presence, pushing its way into the drive. Feelings tumbled all over the place. Guess you could say I was alive.

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.

Sounds From Silence

Beltane                                                                    Rushing Waters Moon

The sound of radio waves from Cassini as it crosses Saturn’s rings and the gap between them and the planet itself. Dust particle hits make most of the noise in the second clip. I found hearing these sounds an eery, literally other worldly experience. An extension of our human senses is actually out there, between Saturn and its rings. That’s what this sound said to me and said it in a way multiple photographs for some reason cannot.

Little Forces, Big Results

Spring                                                                           Rushing Waters Moon

Upper Maxwell Falls, 2015

Upper Maxwell Falls, 2015

The mountain streams we see regularly: Shadow Brook, Maxwell Creek, Bear Creek, Cub Creek have begun, a bit early, I think, their post-ice plummet toward sea level. In May these streams are often boiling, filled with snow melt and pushing the limits of their banks. On any given day driving past them as they speed downhill, down the mountain, they look interesting, worth watching for the tumult; but, in fact, these racing streams are much more than merely interesting.

They are the levelers of mother earth. They take the mighty and strip them down to size, pebble by pebble, rock by rock, chunks of soil by chunks of soil. A defining characteristic of a mountain is its imposing size, its thereness. Mountains dominate their landscape, putting up barriers to human passage that often forced the pioneers of nineteenth century America to go around them rather than over them. They seem, in the moment, eternal.

When living in or visiting a relatively young mountain range like the Rockies, no reasonable person would ever expect them to look any different than they do right now. Colorado is proud of its fourteeners, those summits exceeding 14,000 feet. Mt. Evans, for example has a summit of 14,265 feet. That’s precise. And, would you add it to a website or book or road sign if you expected it to change? No.

Near Bailey, 2015

Near Bailey, 2015

But it will. One only has to drive east toward the Atlantic to see what’s in store for even Mt. Evans. Look at the Appalachians. Their mountain building episode (orogeny) happened around 480 million years ago. When it was done, the Appalachians stood as tall as the contemporary Rockies. The Rocky Mountain orogeny was a quite recent, geologically speaking, 80 million years ago. They too will wear down.

In the spring we see this process at its most obvious as mountain streams from every summit in every range of the Rocky Mountains, including here in the Front Range, obey gravity and try to find the lowest points available to them. Of course, the streams are not the only process at work. Drive on Highway 285 out of Conifer, as we do often going down or returning from Denver, and you will see large steel mesh hanging over some cliffs. In other places there are bolts driven into the side of rock faces, giving them a slightly Frankensteinian look. In other spots massive retaining walls of concrete encase an especially troublesome chunk of mountain.

These CDOT efforts are not always successful, witness the many Watch for Falling Rocks signs sprinkled throughout Colorado. Freezing and thawing splits the rock faces and they come tumbling down, creating talus or road obstructions. Just this last year, near Glenwood Springs, a large boulder broke loose from its millions of years long position and crashed down on an SUV on I-70, killing the driver. Winds, too, often reaching high double digit speeds, also wear away the rock.

These forces are slow, miniscule in appearance, but massive in their results over long periods of time. When driving by a mountain stream in full force, remember the Appalachians. They’re coming, but not soon, to a Rocky Mountain range near me.

That Old Magic That We Know So Well

Imbolc                                                                 Anniversary Moon

Odd sensations while thinking about the inner world, moments of free floating, as if the inner world is an ocean on which my this world self bobs like a cork. And what is it of me that navigates this ocean? Is it the soul? Maybe, but I have come to associate the soul with the totality of me, including the physical body, which seems to rule that out.

253_Body_Mind_Spirit

This may be the place where my high notion of the Self comes into play. The Self, as I understand it, is the true uniqueness of any living thing, its thatness. Yes, it includes the physical body, but can be abstracted from it, too. Maybe that’s the same as the traditional notion of soul and I have the concepts reversed, but I’m going with this idea for right now.

I’m also aware of the Buddhist notion of the self as a matter of response to the moment, a matter with no real existence, no reality beyond the story we tell ourselves of who we are. This has a truth value, too, but one that explains, for me, the disjunctive quality of day to day, moment to moment experience, not the total peculiarity, indeed, singularity of a life form. Any life form, from trees to fungus to bacteria to walruses and humans is a once in the infiniteness of this universe instance. (not going to try to think about the multiverse here. too confusing.) That onceness extends at least from birth to death, beyond death the data is sparse to non-existent.

Bee-guy

So the navigator of the vast sea that extends within me is my Self, not a momentary instantiation with no history and no future, but an up to the moment amalgam of my life, both externalities like Alexandria, Indiana, polio, Woolly Mammoths, dogs and Colorado, but the internalities, too, like grief related to my mother’s early death, the sudden brilliance of philosophy, working my Self up to asking Kate out for a date, the wonder of Joseph’s infancy and growth to adulthood, dreams and journeys within inner space.

man and nature

Paul Tillich quote on a rock near his tomb in New Harmony, Indiana. [man (sic)]

He, or rather, maybe, it, plunges in and swims or walks or runs or takes a dirigible or submarine or jet plane. While there, the Self participates in a world beyond time and space, categories of the mind for ordering the details of the outer world (Kant). The Self can contemplate its own journey through both realities there. It can encounter fragments of life without regard to their dates of occurrence in the round the sun way of measuring experience. So, my nights on Monroe Street playing hide and go seek are not 60 years ago, but today, right now. They may be memories, or may be influenced by the strange mechanisms of memory, but those nights are present to me in this moment.  My Self is there, not remembering, but living.

Well, enough for now. This is a truly ancientrail, one many have walked, but few understand. I certainly don’t understand it. But, I am living it.

 

June 2017
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