We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Up in Smoke

Spring                                                                Mountain Moon

A cloud crawls down Black Mountain,

Cotton embraces ski runs, blue above.

A light scrim of snow covers our solar panels,

The sky falls toward us, slowly.

 

four twentyToday is 4/20. In Colorado and elsewhere it’s a pot linked holiday and here’s a brief explanation of its strange origin.* A couple of years ago I was downtown Denver near the National Western Stockshow Grounds on April 20th. Driving to a small taqueria for lunch I passed hundreds of people walking along the road, smoking joints, smiling, lots of dreadlocks under Rastafarian knit saggy caps. Last year the 4/20 crowd made such a mess at a city park that Denver stopped the celebration for this year.

4/20 is also Adolph Hitler’s birthday, my brother Mark reminded me. Hitler is a figure in the childhood dark closet of most Baby Boomers whose parents, like mine, were veterans of WWII. My dad had a beaten up copy of Mein Kampf, Hitler’s autobiography. It always seemed strange to me as a boy; but, as an adult, I came to realize how large Hitler loomed over his life, occasioning several years in the military for both him and my mom.

Nazis+on+parade.Now Hitler is mostly a boogeyman, a perfect example of either evil or the potential power of white supremacy. His Nazi party serves a similar function, offered up in movies if an ultimate villain is needed. Just as the Vietnam War, which dominated my life in the late sixties and early seventies, has faded from the memory of millennials, so even the holocaust has begun to fade from memory. Yes, it’s dangerous to lose sight of this horror; but, it’s also human. As an event moves further away from us, it changes, transforms.

Most, all?, religions are an attempt to hold a historical moment close, to keep it vibrant, vital. Easter and Passover. Even these though show the great difficulty in maintaining the urgency of something that has been covered over by distance and lack of direct experience. Max Weber called this the rationalization of charisma. As the charismatic figure or moment recedes, institutions grow up to protect its memory, but that very fact, the institutionalization of a matter of the heart, encrusts the event and eventually depletes it of its power. It becomes covered over by dogma, by tradition, by the ridigities of too much thought.

Emerson'Emerson knew this. “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?” From the introduction to his essay, Nature.

We need to discern not only, perhaps not even most importantly, the facts of the holocaust, though they are incalculably significant, but we need to look evil in the face in our time, confront it now, name it now. Stop it now. Evil, like good, does not stop in a historical moment, but gains new, contemporary expressions. If we keep looking for revelation about what it means to be human in sacred texts or historical tragedies, we can easily miss the revelation appearing in the neighborhoods and rural areas of our own country.

 

*In 1971, Steve Capper, Dave Reddix, Jeffrey Noel, Larry Schwartz, and Mark Gravich, five high school students[4] in San Rafael, California,[5][6] calling themselves the Waldos[7][8] because “their chosen hang-out spot was a wall outside the school”,[9] used the term in connection with a fall 1971 plan to search for an abandoned cannabis crop that they had learned about,[7][10] based on a treasure map made by the grower. wiki

 

Yom ha-Sho’ah

Spring                                                                        Mountain Moon

Holocaust Is Fading From Memory, Survey Finds. NYT

Anti-Semitic Incidents Surged 57 Percent in 2017, Report Finds. NYT

20180415_155755Sho’ah is Hebrew for catastrophe and has come to refer explicitly to the catastrophe for Jews after slavery in Egypt, the Holocaust. On the 27th of Nisan, April 12th this year, Jews celebrate Yom ha-Sho’ah, or Holocaust Remembrance, on the anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising. This is a crucial twist to Holocaust remembrance because it frames the day with a symbol of Jewish resistance to the Nazi’s.

One thing I’ve been privileged to observe over our time so far at Beth Evergreen is the complicated relationship Jews have with the Holocaust. It is horror beyond imagining, yet there are photographs and family memories and its dispiriting constancy in everyday Jewish life. Rabbi Jamie tries, each time he refers to the Holocaust, to inoculate the congregation against an attitude of victimization. Victims have little agency and the worst sequelae of the Holocaust would be a self-enforced powerlessness.

20180415_155411It’s a tragedy so outsized, so without precedent as an act of calculated evil, that how to approach its remembrance, its historicity, is fraught. Words and analysis, though important in certain venues, cannot touch the emotional complex around its reality. Congregation Beth Evergreen, this Sunday, tried another approach. Dance and music.

Beth Evergreen commissioned The Thomas Dance Troupe, five members of the Colorado Ballet who work together outside of the Ballet, to come up with works that could serve as, well, I’d say, a cri de coeur. They performed with a select few members of the Evergreen Chorale, a pianist, and a violinist.

It was a powerful program, aimed straight at the heart and it arrived. Many of the most important truths which we humans can access are not communicable in words, in the language of reasoned discourse. Those we must find in art.

Gonna Miss Her

Spring                                                                        New Shoulder Moon

In Gwangju, April 2016

In Gwangju, April 2016

SeoAh goes home today. Murdoch misses her and Joe needs her. Her flight is at 11:45, so we’ll leave around 8:30 or so. After I get her checked in, I’ll turn around and drive back past Conifer and on to Littleton to Hearing Aid Associates. My hearing aid no longer takes juice from batteries.

The dishwasher saga is still not over. After substantial research into dishwashers, it’s my conclusion that no one makes one that lasts very long or very well. The combination of swirling water and electronics seems to make them more vulnerable than most appliances. So. If you’ve had a good experience with a particular brand, let me know. Gonna buy one soon. Sigh.

Gwangju, April 2016

Gwangju, April 2016

Joseph’s been running an exercise at Robbins all this week. His wing commander told him on Tuesday, “Brief at 1 p.m.” This was at noon. He usually has much longer to prepare. 500 people. “I knocked it out of the park, Dad.” Baseball metaphors come naturally to this boy who was young when the Twins won the World Series twice. He also told me he still answers the phone, “Capt. Buckman-Ellis,” then has to shift quickly, “No. Major Buckman-Ellis.” 6 years a Captain wears a pretty strong groove in the brain.

Last night was the first night of the new qabbalah series, Time. The first year introductory curriculum covers the three dimensions of the qabbalistic universe: soul, space and time. Time, above all other concepts we think we understand, bends and twists when we try to hold it down, flog some sense out of it. I confess to being more unsettled as to my understanding of time than any other idea except the notion of self.

kabbalah magicThe two have a close relationship. It’s the human observer who brings time into being, I think. We know from Einstein that time and space are inseparable; but, I’m still with Kant, that time and space are actually ways our minds use to make sense of the data we gather from our senses. The implication is that they are constructs of human consciousness and that we cannot know their existence in what Kant calls the ding an siche, things in themselves.

These classes are like one long late night conversation in college. And fun for that reason.

Tarot and Craft Beer

Spring                                                                    New Shoulder Moon

Intrepid Sojourner Beer Project

Intrepid Sojourner Beer Project

Went out last night to an Atlas Obscura/Denver event. Yes, this funky website now has local, meet-up like events in various cities. The one last night was on tarot, a presentation at the only in Denver, Intrepid Sojourner Beer Project. The presenter, Joy Vernon, has been reading tarot cards since 1991 and presently works out of the unfortunately named Isis Book Shop. Isis has since changed its name to Goddess Isis Bookshop to distinguish itself from the new caliphate.

20180409_194615Besides the quirky reputation of Atlas Obscura, which draw me in, I also went because Joy said she would discuss qabbalah and the tarot. Only a couple of mentions but they were there. Here’s a for instance in this blurry photograph of one of her slides. In another spot she mentions the correspondence between qabbalah (translation note: Rabbi Jamie says the q is the correct translation) and the qabbalistic Tree of Life with its ten sephirots. Not a detailed examination of the relationship, but enough to make me want to explore it further.

Joy was knowledgeable about her subject and an entertaining speaker. To pass over the “dry” history portion (her word) she suggested a drinking game. We were in a pub after all. Each time she mentioned a place or a Tarot card with Bacchus on it came up, each person had to say Bacchus and take a drink. The crowd, mostly millennials, was into it. So when she mentioned Milan, for instance, someone in the crowd would yell, “Bacchus!” and people would drink. Pretty modestly, but hey!

20180409_194857Tarot by itself has fascinated me for a long time and I have three decks of my own. I like the iconography and the mythical, archetypal leanings of current Tarot readers. That doesn’t mean I put much stock in the readings themselves, though I do believe any sincere examination of self, whether occasioned by a hallucinogen, meditation, an analyst or a Tarot reader can be of benefit.

The next Atlas Obscura event in Denver is a presentation by a crime scene cleaner. Wish I could go but it’s on April 22nd in the evening. On that night we’ll be dining at Domo, the rural Japanese style restaurant, with Ruth and Gabe and Jon in honor of the kid’s birthdays, Ruth on April 4th and Gabe’s on the 22nd, 12 and 10.

 

An Amazing Gift

Spring                                                                      New Shoulder Moon

1514204356436Family. Often, our main contribution to the world and its future is simply doing our job as mammals and raising our children, staying in touch with our kin groups. That families can get out of whack, become dysfunctional was almost a mantra of my generation as we baby boomers pushed back against establishment values, upended gender roles and experienced backlash from the so-called greatest generation. (which I think is an unfortunate use of a superlative) So for many of us boomers now careening into old age, trying to slide home before the devil knows we’re dead, family can be problematic. Those of you who understand this know who you are.

It’s this context that makes what might be ordinary in many, maybe most families, so wonderful. SeoAh comes on Saturday to spend a few days with us, help lighten the load. Joseph, too, offered to come. His work schedule makes dropping everything hard, so we agreed that he would stay behind. He has an exercise he’s in charge of this next week.

1514558225692I’ve been proud of my boy for a long, long time, but I was never prouder than when he offered to ask SeoAh if she would come up. “And I can come, too.” She told Joe, he said, that, “She wants to come. She needs to come.” This is family at its best.

At this age there are unknowns lurking. Yes, there always are, throughout life, but in the third phase the probability of something showing up gets higher with each passing year. That means there is an undercurrent of uncertainty; sudden disastrous events can happen in a minute. Literally. No matter how self-sufficient we are a stroke, a heart attack, a fall, a difficult disease diagnosis can push us out of our normal life into one where we need not just some help, but a lot.

Camus one-cannot-be-happy-in-exile-or-in-oblivion-one-cannot-always-be-a-stranger-i-want-to-albert-camus-123-46-22Kate’s shoulder replacement surgery has shown us that we have two immediate resources to soften such a blow. SeoAh and Joseph’s response means we have family we can count on. And, Congregation Beth Evergreen has offered, through several different people, help. The surgery has been a good, non-disastrous moment in that regard. The tao of the time has been deepening relationships, between Kate and me, between us and family, between us and Congregation Beth Evergreen.(I say immediate resources because I know there are still Minnesota friends who would aid us as well if things got dire.)

What the affirmation of these ties means is that the uncertainty of the third phase can be quieted. We don’t have to worry about being alone. This is a peace I didn’t know I needed until this moment. That uncertainty isn’t a top-level anxiety; but, it exists, fuzzed in the background and brought into the present during Kate’s recovery.

The tao flows through this moment in unexpected, powerful ways, allowing us to lean into the future rather than shrink away from it. An amazing gift.

 

 

Liberated and Vital

Spring                                                                        New Shoulder Moon

Tteokguk

Tteokguk

The full new shoulder moon hangs over Black Mountain right now. It’s the middle of Nisan in the Jewish lunar calendar, the first month of the year. Passover is a spring festival, not unlike the ones in Asia that we tend to call Chinese and Korean New Year. It’s especially similar to the Korean Spring Festival. At that festival the whole nation eats tteokguk, rice cake soup. When they finish the soup, they are all one year older. Passover reinforces a sense of tribal (national) identity for Jews all around the world through eating the Seder meal.

Matthias Grunewald

Matthias Grunewald

It was also Easter yesterday. Easter marks out Christianity’s most unusual and defining theological belief, that Jesus died on the cross and rose three days later, defeating death. Strip away all the institutional hoo-hah accreted over the last two thousand plus years, all the dogma spun out of the dross of fevered thought, and this is what Christianity means: death is either an illusion or temporary. Without the resurrection Christianity is a watered down Judaism, a Middle Eastern faith borne of a particular moment in time in a particular ethnic space. Resurrection is its bid for universality and a good one.

It was a big weekend for Middle Eastern religion, two of the three distinctive monotheisms, the Abrahamic faiths, celebrated key events in their sacred years. I feel both part of these events and to the side of them. I have incorporated the secular understanding of liberation and Jewish identity underscored by pesach and the pagan meaning of resurrection found in the rites of spring. They are part of me now.

Happy holidays.

 

Ancient Holidays

Spring                                                                       New Shoulder Moon

Chagall, Pesach

Chagall, Pesach

It’s the second night of pesach tonight and tomorrow morning is easter. Liberation and resurrection, or liberation and death’s final bow. Resurrection is hard to integrate since its hard proof lies beyond the veil of this world. Liberation, on the other hand, is much easier to integrate because it applies to so many this worldly situations: slavery, imprisonment, forced poverty, mental illness, racial and gender and sexual preference discrimination, being in Trump’s America.

Both are important to me. I long ago left behind the death is no more school of theology. It seems cruel to me, an assertion confounded at every death bed, every school shooting, every war. Death still rides her pale horse, galloping through the living world and pruning, pruning, pruning.

I do, however, retain my confidence in resurrection; that is, the power of the changing world to incorporate death and decay as precursors for life. Each spring, as our temperate latitude winter fades away, bright green shoots spear their way through the soil’s surface. Flowers bloom. Vegetables grow. Trees leaf out. Lambs and kids and calves and piglets are born. All these are evidence of transubstantiation, the literal changing of grapes and bread into our bodies. This transformation happens regularly and green burial will help us remember that we humans do participate in it, that concrete, water-tight “vaults” and expensive coffins do not shield us from our part in the web of life.

El Greco

El Greco

This weekend presents to us two powerful stories, stories that have changed the world: the exodus from Egypt of Hebrew slaves and the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, known by many as the Christ. Narratives have real potency, the ability to change lives, turn the pages of history, answer our deepest questions, quiet our deepest fears. Oddly, you can see this power even more clearly if you take a stance just outside the metaphysical claims, but not in the camp of folks like the new atheists, who are simply boring.

I’m neither Christian nor Jew, my metaphysics is bound up in the ongoing evolution of the universe and literally rooted in the soil of the midwest and the hard rock of these mountains where I now live. Even so, liberation and resurrection, through the stories of the passover and easter, are important to me, tell me about human possibility, about the human capacity to face enslavement and grief with hope, with the chance to turn both into moments of human triumph.

Though it has taken me a while to learn the rudimentary geology of our immediate neighborhood, I now know that we live among three mountains. We live on Shadow Mountain, up a valley that runs from its base to our home. On the opposite side, the west side of this valley, is Conifer Mountain and then, the mountain most visible from our house, Black Mountain.

Black Mountain

Black Mountain

Think of the changes evidenced by these huge landforms. This is rock that was once, millions of years ago, imprisoned far below the earth’s surface, held there by weight and history, perhaps even put there by accretion when another planet slammed into the still forming earth. Yet now I live on it, can see it clearly, far above the surface, pushed out and up by forces wielding power unimaginable, unavailable to us humans.

Is this liberation and resurrection? Not from a human perspective, but from the perspective of our planet, very much so. And yet it does not end there. Once liberated from their stony dungeons wind and water act upon them taking these high mountains gradually down to sea level, then into the ocean itself. In the soil formed in this way plants will grow, animals will feed off the plants. Liberation and resurrection are everywhere, if only we see what we’re looking at.

 

Regress to advance

Imbolc                                                                             New Shoulder Moon

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.”
– Anatole France

melancholyThe last letters of the Hebrew alphabet now have renderings in sumi-e, lying on my table ready for quotes and the chop. A member of Beth Evergreen last night referred to me as an artist. Oh. I thought he said audience. Artist is not a word I’ve ever associated with myself so my brain heard something else. A revealing moment. How others see us is not always, perhaps often, not the way we see ourselves.

An obituary on Terry Brazelton had this summary of a major finding of his research: “Development does not occur on a linear path, with each skill building on earlier ones. Rather, it unfolds in a series of major reorganizations in which children temporarily regress before mastering a new developmental milestone.” NYT

Well. That explains melancholy, at least as I’ve experienced it. There’s a plateau effect, then a hesitation, a pause while the psyche incorporates a new way of being, one probably not available to consciousness at the time of the pause. Since it’s inchoate, the reorganization seems like a regression, a stutter. The mind and the body both slow down, awaiting something they don’t understand. Result: melancholy.

 Van-Leyden St. Jerome in his Study by Candlelight (1520)

Van-Leyden St. Jerome in his Study by Candlelight (1520)

If you’ve read my posts over the last month or so, I think you’ll see what I’m talking about. My psyche had moved on, already aware that I needed more tactile moments in my daily life, already aware that it was time to resort my priorities based on a new constellation of possibilities made real by our move.

Last night at the shabbat service a rabbi friend of Jamie’s gave a short reflection. She had us consider an unusual moment in the Torah when the former Hebrew slaves remembered fondly the foods they had in Egypt. Using this seemingly inscrutable nostalgia for a time of bondage, she suggested that during transitions, a time of instability, wandering in the dessert for example, we often want to return to the stable state we know to ease the anxieties and uncertainties of a transition. Thus, when faced with a period of eating manna during an often frustrating movement toward the land promised, but not yet reached, even slavery seemed to have its charms.

That nostalgia, I think, is the root of melancholy, a hope that the past can ease the upset of the present. The psyche knows that’s a false hope, a trap, but is unable to articulate why. So, stasis, moving neither forward nor backward, which the ego interprets as negative without knowing why. Really, the moment is gestational, a new way awaits its birth. Not back to Egypt, but on to the promised land. Not back to the life of forty years in Minnesota, but on to the new life developing in Colorado.

 

 

 

Moving Forward, Cloud Dissipating

Imbolc                                                                             New Life Moon

20180315_080213Under the New Life moon a new life has emerged, related to the old one, but different nonetheless. The trajectory and the distance of the change got a marker last night on the final evening of the kabbalah class on the mysticism of the Hebrew letters.

I had my first art exhibit! (well, since elementary school.) I have done over half of the Hebrew letters in my sumi-e calligraphy, adding a quote I felt highlighted some aspect of the letter’s significance. And finishing them off with the chop. Oddly, the thought of displaying my work didn’t daunt me, as it would have in the old life. In the new life my work is my play. Self consciousness doesn’t enter the field.

Some even called my work beautiful. Wow. Don’t get me wrong though. I was proud of these pieces and as a result was able to appreciate how the others responded to them, not deflect it.

20180315_080239Too, under the new life moon I’ve become the regular dinner cook at our house, experimenting at times, at other times (mostly) using recipes, but enjoying myself immensely. Added to my long practice of working out, even that has a new flavor with the workouts every six weeks or so from On the Move Fitness, I’ve got tactile time each day. I’m using my hands and a non-verbal creative impulse.

The day after my birthday was the new moon. That means these changes have all happened in my 71st year, facilitated by the earlier fall into a melancholic state. So today I speak in favor of sadness, of gloom. Without the stasis and the deep reexamination that melancholy brings this new life would likely not have emerged.

20180315_080258It is no accident, though in real time it was, that this period was also the time of the middot of joy. Joy and sadness are not enemies, rather they are a vital source of learning if we don’t suppress them. Steering away from grief, tamping down joy in favor of a false stability, a false calm defuses the opportunity our soul offers to us through these emotions. They signal the soul’s gladness, the soul’s mourning, both key to a depth appreciation of our journey.

How the rest of my life will adjust, shift in light of these changes is not yet clear to me. And that’s ok.

 

 

 

Experiencing Joy to Learn More About Joy

Imbolc                                                                           New Life Moon

joy chauvetBefore we got to Beth Evergreen yesterday, we stopped at Safeway. Kate had a fun idea. She would buy bite size Almond Joy candy bars and have them for everyone. While in the store, she also found some yellow roses and bought enough to give each person around the table a flower to take home. Though she had to settle for full size Almond Joys, the idea was still there and the flowers were a gentle, beautiful and fragrant memento of the time together.

Kate’s idea for teasing out experiences of joy over a lifetime worked well, too. After she began the afternoon with a chant/song of her own devising, Kate led us in a Hebrew blessing for torah study. She explained how to use her chart with single digit, adolescent, and adulthood as columns.

joy of cookingWe then spent an hour plus in an energetic sharing, each person picking one instance from each column. The responses were as varied as the people in the room and the time frames to which they returned while filling them out. “Getting my pilot’s license.” “Grandchildren.” “First kiss.” “Traveling alone, being alone in a strange place.” “Throwing rocks up so bats would follow them down.” “Playing hide and go seek.” “Having sex and finding out you’re not pregnant.” The general tone was joyful, celebratory as we both learned more about each other and got to share in each other’s joy.

When everybody had offered their experiences, I asked if we could use that content to try to define joy. How do we know joy when we see it, feel it?

flowcsikszentmihalyiHere are several words and phrases offered: Joy requires authenticity. It has a definite physiological, embodied component. Joy flows; you can’t hoard it; it’s contagious. Joy mixes awe and gratitude. Many people identified natural settings as joyful. Joy is transpersonal, often involving connection, (I would say intimacy.) with animals, other people, places. We get outside of ourselves, beyond ego, become one with whatever causes our joy. Being with children, especially grandchildren. Constant learning is a source of joy. Degas. Joy is transformative. Joy ignites gratitude. Joy is quiet and internal; happiness loud and external. Joy is a choice.

We skirted the issue, for this afternoon, of the links between joy and sadness, joy and gratitude, joy and generosity. For another time.

We ended with deciding on a practice. A few shared theirs. It was a bright moment and made more joyful for me by sharing the leadership with Kate.

 

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