We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Awesome

Lughnasa                                                                                       Eclipse Moon

OzymandiasThe last night of the Eclipse Moon, a disastrous month for North America from the eclipse to its waning moment. The wildfires are still burning in the West from the state of Washington to California, in Oregon and Montana and Idaho. Harvey and Irma related disaster cleanup has only begun. The same in southern Mexico for the victims of the 8.1 earthquake. Jose is still pounding around in the Atlantic and Maria, now a category 5, has just shattered Dominica, Guadeloupe, and is headed for Martinique and Puerto Rico. It’s not the apocalypse, no, but for those whose homes and forests are on fire, under water, battered by wind or destroyed by the movement of the earth, it may as well be.

Awe is not confined to the benign, the amazing and wonderful. Each of these disasters, both in their gestalt and in their particulars, and as a collection of events, is awesome. They show the limits of human preparation, of human intervention. We are not, even with our nuclear weapons and our space station and our icebreakers, more than bystanders when these acts of earth strike us. We even have a name for them, force majeure, enshrined in insurance policies.

Nations and civilizations rise and fall, but earth, air, fire and water continue in their eternal way, or, at least as long as the earth herself lasts, to do what they want, when they want, where they want.

We are, in the end, Ozymandias, look on our works, ye Mighty, and despair.

L’shanah tovah!

Lughnasa                                                          Eclipse Moon

Samuel Palmer, The Harvest Moon (c 1833)

Samuel Palmer, The Harvest Moon (c 1833)

That old moon, the one that occulted our star, has two days left in its cycle. It will give way to the first moon of this new fall, this moon that oversaw the journeys of millions to watch it work in the daylight. It also presided over Hurricane’s Harvey, Irma, Jose and Katia, over the 8.1 earthquake in southern Mexico and the fiery end to many forests in the U.S. West. Earth, Air, Fire and Water. What will this next moon bring?

I’m still feeling a sense of exhaustion from Saturday night, not unusual I guess. Seventy after all. The burns I got on my right hand making the sugar cream pies last Tuesday are still healing. Again, seventy year old skin. This exhaustion feels ok, part of the third phase.

Went to bed last night in a mild funk, exhaustion will do that, allow negative moods to take hold, grip me. They’re like infections, sudden and pervasive; but usually, if I can find their source, a triggering event, then I can quiet the infection, let it dissipate. It takes brutal self-honesty.

Abandon all attachment to the results of action and attain supreme peaceYesterday I traced the funk back to an e-mail I sent out late Saturday night thanking all the main participants in the Evergreen Forum. Two folks responded quickly, thanking me, too, and I realized, as I searched for the source of the mood, that I wanted more of those and when they didn’t come, I wondered why not? It was that wondering that created the bad mood. In others words I had poisoned my own well, then drunk from it. Well, I realized, that’s silly. Take the compliments, move on. So, I did.

Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday evening, erev Rosh Hashanah. This is a pensive time in the Jewish calendar. As the old year ends, Tishrei 1 (Sept. 21st) ushers in the Jewish year 5778. Rosh Hashanah, according to Chabad.org, means head of the year and celebrates the birthday of the universe and in that process, the day of the creation of Adam and Eve.

After it there are then 10 days to complete a cycle of seeking forgiveness from others so God can be approached on Yom Kippur for forgiveness. At the end of Yom Kippur the book of life is sealed for 5777 and written in the book will be all those sins for which forgiveness has not been received.

Happy-Rosh-Hashanah-Shofar

This is a wonderful way because it encourages an annual cleaning of the slate, then beginning a new year ready to live fully, unburdened by baggage from the year before. Whether or not you accept the metaphysics, the practice itself is healthy.

Prayer

Lughnasa                                                              Eclipse Moon

The Sacred Wood, Arnold Bocklin, 1882

The Sacred Wood, Arnold Bocklin, 1882

The first Evergreen Forum has happened. Rabbi Jamie Arnold, Imam Mohammad Noorzai, Rev. Dr. Judy Morley, and Pastor Peter Hiett spoke about prayer to forty or so folks at Beth Evergreen. It was a lively evening with great food provided by my oneg Queen, Kate, setup and other help provided by members of the adult ed committee: Tara, Marilyn, Sally and Anshel. A couple of other Beth Evergreeners pitched in, too.

One thing, a happenstance in a way, stood out for me. We had the grandkids, Ruth and Gabe, with us. Mohammad brought his son and granddaughter, Lila. Lila, Ruth and Gabe played while the adults talked about prayer. A major aspect of the adult event was to increase interfaith understanding and comity. The kids did it naturally, punctuating the evening with occasional shrill cries of delight, crossing the Jewish/Muslim barrier with no problem at all. Might be a lesson here.

jackfruit_instructions2Kate was nervous about her food, but it was received well, its disappearance a testimony to its yumminess. Especially the jack fruit. Kate found it at King Sooper this week. She bought a 20 pound one, then she and Ruth performed a fruitectomy on it to retrieve the sweet yellow flesh. This southeast Asian fruit is unfamiliar to most North Americans, but I had it for the first time when preparing to board a water taxi on the Chao Phraya in Bangkok. If you haven’t had it, really good.

Today is a rest day. Tomorrow, back at it.

 

 

Exhaled from the abyss

Lughnasa                                                                    Eclipse Moon

Say awe. My focus phrase for this month’s middot: yirah, or awe. (middot=character trait)

CamusAlbert Camus. One of my favorite theologians. It occurred to me that the abyss Camus mentions may be what gets crossed when we experience awe. Somehow we let the absurd in, or the mute world gives us a shout.

“For Camus … [our] astonishment [at life] results from our confrontation with a world that refuses to surrender meaning. It occurs when our need for meaning shatters against the indifference, immovable and absolute, of the world. As a result, absurdity is not an autonomous state; it does not exist in the world, but is instead exhaled from the abyss that divides us from a mute world. ‘This world in itself is not reasonable, that is all that can be said. But what is absurd is the confrontation of this irrational and wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart. The absurd depends as much on man as on the world. For the moment it is all that links them together.’ …” 

Here’s another way of thinking about awe from Alan Morinis, a mussar guru:

“Awe is the feeling of being overwhelmed by a reality greater than yourself and greater than what you encounter in ordinary life. A curtain is drawn back and the little human is overtaken by a trembling awareness that life is astounding in its reality, vastness, complexity, order, surprise. Experiences of awe awaken a spiritual awareness.”

yggdrasil

yggdrasil

Immanuel Kant used the phrase ding an sich, the thing-in-itself, to name that from which our senses separate us. We experience the ding an sich, the mute world of Camus, only through our senses, through our sensory experience of certain qualities, qualia, that the thing-in-itself presents. We do not, in other words, experience that which has the qualities, but only its qualia and then only those within the very limited range of qualia accessible to our senses.

The ding an sich, the abyss, a reality greater than yourself all name a something beyond ordinary experience. There are many ways of articulating the gap between us and the ding an sich, the things in themselves.

Here’s one I like.  Bifrost is the rainbow bridge of Norse mythology. As in this illustration, bifrost connects Asgard, the realm of the Aesir (Odin, Thor, Freya), and midgard, or middle earth, the realm of humans. Awe could be a brief moment when we stand not on midgard but on the rainbow bridge, able to catch a glimpse of the realm beyond us.

Or, we might consider the Hindu concept of maya. Among other meanings maya is a “magic show, an illusion where things appear to be present but are not what they seem”” wikipedia

heimdallWhat all of these ideas suggest, I think, is that a gap exists between an individual and the really real. An important religious question is what is beyond that gap, or what constitutes the gap, or what is the significance of the hidden for our spiritual lives.

I don’t know how to answer that question. Camus’ notion of the absurd makes sense to me. If that’s not an oxymoron. What I do know, for sure, is that the only tool we have for answering it is our experience. Awe may help us. It may allow us a momentary peek into the abyss, or place us on bifrost, or pierce the veil of maya.

What has awed you this day? This week? This year? In this life?

Embarrassed

Lughnasa                                                           Eclipse Moon

mussar chartThe mind and heart, so wonderful, so necessary, so amazing, but also so fragile. Take mine for instance. Yesterday was a full day, beginning, as my days do, around 4:45 am. I got the dogs fed, ancientrails written, Jennie’s 750 words written and went downstairs to eat breakfast and make two sugar cream pies.

I met Rabbi Jamie for lunch in Evergreen, drove back to Shadow Mountain and took Kate to Bailey for her Patchworker’s gathering. Stopped by Happy Camper on the way back home. A 30 minute rest, then back to Evergreen for a meeting about the first ever Evergreen Forum.

Here’s the tricky part for me, the tricky part for moving more fully into the space of Beth Evergreen. My responsibility for the meeting was to get the four panelists there. I reminded them all in an e-mail a week plus ago, but only Rabbi Jamie and Rev. Dr. Judy Morley of the Science of Mind church showed up. I was embarrassed. Of course, they’re adults and had plenty of prior notice; still, I felt I failed at part of my task. Not a great feeling. The planning went fine though and we got the work done.

However. This meeting preceded a second meeting, Mussar Vaad Practice leadership, of which I am also a part. (MVP, get it?) At this one I’m part of a group of six taking responsibility for continuing the integration of mussar’s character development work into congregational life. This was the meeting for which I baked the pie.

During this meeting, I fell into a dispirited place. Dispirited is such an interesting and evocative word. Exactly right here. My spirit, my ability to engage as me, waned during the course of the time. Why? Well, MVP intends to lead by deepening our own personal practice of mussar. Part of that practice involves focusing for a month on a particular character trait, last month’s was self-awareness, this month’s is awe.

The practice involves using a focus phrase, mine was be aware, to keep our attention focused on how we are with that particular trait over the month. I said I’d journal my awareness. Others made lists twice a day of how they made choices, another put a note on their car dashboard asking, Where I am going, why, Where I am going, how, and another turned off the radio in their car and used that time to focus, while yet another checked in on how they were eclipsing themselves, hiding their true feelings behind socially expected behavior.

At check in we said how it had gone over the month. Most of the folks had very fruitful months with some behavior changes I would describe as significant. When it came my turn to check in, I couldn’t remember any of the things about which I’d journaled and I admitted that the journaling didn’t last long. As my Woolly friends who read this will know, I love assignments and am diligent about fulfilling them. Comes from all those years as a student. Except I hadn’t this time. Again, I felt embarrassed.

Too, this meeting went until 8:30 p.m. I’m in bed at 8:00 p.m. since I get up at 4:45 or 5:00 to feed the dogs and start my day. I’m not sure, but I think as my mind begins to move toward sleep, at least at this age, my emotional resilience goes down, especially when I’m out.

The end result of this was that I came home feeling like a failure. Too big a word? Not really. The good news here is that I recognize the context for this feeling, why it came over me and that it was contextual, not core. I told Kate I’d feel better after some rest. And I did.

Being older means having gone through this cycle before and being self-aware (hah, ironic, eh, in light of last month’s character trait?) enough to know the feeling will pass. This is so important, though it may not be obvious. If I allow my embarrassment to mutate into shame, then it could well weaken the bonds I’ve begun to develop at Beth Evergreen.

Shame at not being able to fulfill my obligations could make me much more reticent in future meetings and in general with the people involved. It could push me away from Beth Evergreen. But that only happens if I see the embarrassment (my reaction) as being produced by the other’s shaming me. If I understand and own the reaction as my own, and as a reaction to circumstance, not as a character flaw, then I can continue in community.

A tough but good learning.

 

 

Engaged

Lughnasa                                                             Eclipse Moon

The waning Eclipse Moon stands high in the southern sky this morning above Orion’s head and shoulders. The brightness of even a half moon obscures many stars, a good reminder that light does not always reveal. It can hide things, too.

sugar cream pieToday is a busy one. Once I’ve finished my writing, ancientrails and Jennie’s Dead’s 750 words, I’m going to make two sugar cream pies. One is for home, the other for the mussar leadership group that meets tonight. Sugar cream pies are a distinct cultural marker for the Hoosier state, but more than that, they’re really delicious. Why I don’t make them often.

At noon Rabbi Jamie and I are going to eat at Sushi Win, a sushi joint, excellent, in Evergreen. We’re going to discuss the Evergreen Forum, in particular the meeting with the four participants at 4:00 p.m. this afternoon. We have to decide on format, setup, a questionnaire. The topic, prayer and worship in each person’s tradition, is already chosen.

kaddish the first line from Bleichrode prayer book 1923

Judaism, evangelical Christianity, science of mind and Islam will present this coming Saturday night. This will be the first of what we plan to be quarterly events. I’m excited about it, a little nervous, since it’s my idea, but Beth Evergreen is a collaborative place and many others have helped move the concept to this point. Next up will be a Buddhist, a Sikh, a Hindu and a Native American. That will be December 5th. A visiting scholar will present in the first quarter of 2017 on Reconstructionist Judaism’s thinking on these topics.

After lunch with Rabbi Jamie I’m going back to Shadow Mountain. Kate needs to get to the library in Bailey for her patchworkers group which meets there. I’ll take the opportunity to to go over to The Happy Camper and pick up some edibles.

Back home for a nap, then over to Beth Evergreen for the meeting at 4:00. Following this is the mussar leadership group at 6:30. Home around 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. A very full day.

End Times?

Lughnasa                                                                 Eclipse Moon

Earth's CirculationEnd times. Remember Harvey? The really big hurricane that hit Houston. Last week. Nope, neither do I. I’ve only got eyes for Irma now. Tracking her path north, a bitch goddess of mother nature’s fearsome pantheon: hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, torrential rains, drought, wildfire, volcanic eruption, tsunami, avalanche is an exercise in awe. So big. She’s so big. So powerful. So demanding and unyielding.

Wider by double than the state of Florida, Irma will make landfall in the Keys as a Category 5, the highest number in the Saffir-Simpson scale. Its winds are higher even than the criteria for Category 5, but as an article explaining why there would never be a Category 6 hurricane said, “Once you reach catastrophic, there’s no more damage more intensive winds and rains can do.”

The Ellis side of my family is basically in Texas and Oklahoma. We have relatives in the Houston area. Joseph and SeoAh are in Macon, Georgia. The cone of Irma’s path north has Macon in the center. Of course, she will have diminished in strength considerably by the time she reaches mid-Georgia, but high winds and torrential rains are definitely coming to Robbins AFB and Macon.

Totality

Totality

On August 21st we went to Idaho to observe eclipse totality. I wrote then that these events may be a key to humility, that our assumptions about the way things are may be fundamentally wrong. The sun does not go dark on a cloudless day. The sun. Oh, wait. It just did. No wonder an eclipse could strike real fear in our ancestors. That fear is similar to the one experienced, but in slow motion, at the Winter Solstice.

The night has overtaken the day. The earth is cold. Will it ever warm again? Will we ever have a spring? This question of the sun’s return, whether light and hope can emerge from the dark, is a sort of abstraction, a conclusion or a fear based on the sun’s apparent disappearance. It makes us philosophical, scientific.

Storms like Harvey and Irma are blunter instruments. They come screaming at us from the world ocean, hurricanes in the Atlantic, typhoons in the Pacific. There is no question about their intent, about their results. Devastation and havoc follow in their wake. Some will wonder why. It is our nature to ask these questions, but our answers too often obscure rather than reveal. Take, for example, Rush Limbaugh who thinks reporting on Irma and Harvey is a plot to convince us about climate change. Or, a pastor who believes the hurricanes are a direct response to homosexuality.

Wild Hunt, Caceria Salvaje

Wild Hunt, Caceria Salvaje

No. These are answers that reveal our fears, take our own Rorschachian temperature, but the why is not about us. The why is the delicate, yet sometimes fragile balance of temperature and humidity added to a whirling planet’s churned up atmosphere. Hurricanes like Irma are goddesses in the oldest sense of the word, creatures of nature beyond our ken and propitiation. We cannot pray to them and expect changed results for their ways are not our ways.

We are, in their presence, revealed as weak and defenseless animals whose only recourse is to flee. Look at the news footage of evacuation traffic out of Florida. Look at the devastation of our burrows and other shelters built on Caribbean islands. Look at Houston in the aftermath of Harvey.

The divinities of this earth are not human, not anthropomorphic and not separated from us by a sacred veil or a hidden world. They are very much of the earth. And they are neither evil nor good. To paraphrase Matthew 5:45, …she (mother earth) makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

So, no. These are not the end times. These violent storms are part of our planet’s readjusting of water and heat, seeking a balance between the frigid polar atmosphere and the heated tropics. Oh, yes, we have meddled with that balance, throwing more heat into the equation. We have increased the fury and power of these earthly beings and in that sense we have brought a kind of judgment on ourselves, delivered by the impersonal forces we do not and can not control.

As for me, I’m in awe. We move out of the way of Irma as the mule deer and elk of the mountains flee human presence. On the days of hurricanes the mountains are a good place to be. When the wildfires come? Not so much.

Working

Lughnasa                                                                         Kate’s Moon

hell2Moving forward, slowly, with Jennie’s Dead. Exploring the religion of the ancient Egyptians, trying to avoid hackneyed themes, not easy with all the mummy movies, Scorpion King, Raiders of the Lost Ark sort of cinema. Jennie’s Dead is not about Egypt, ancient or otherwise, but it plays an important role in the plot. Getting started is difficult, trying to sort out where the story wants to go, whether the main conflict is clear, to me and to the eventual reader.

Also moving forward, also slowly, with Reimagining. The pile of printed out posts has shrunk considerably, now filed. As I’ve gone through them, I read them a bit, for filing purposes. One notion that jumped out at me was my turn away from text-based religions, from the sort of quasi-scholastic reasoning that occurs.

image of godAs Emerson said, “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? Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?”

I guess Emerson and I had the same quandary. We love the ancient texts, their poetry and philosophy, yet do not want to be bound by them. We want our poetry and revelation straight from the source, nature and the human experience of our own time. Yet, it seems to me, we’re both informed in our search for the poetry of existence by the way those seekers of the past found revelation in their time. Surely the logic of wanting our own revelation grounds itself in the stories of Genesis, the work of Moses, the resurrection story of Jesus, even the night flight of Muhammad and the whirling cosmic dance of Shiva.

20-the-map-is-not-the-territoryThis means I’m in a curious position relevant to my own education in the Christian tradition and my new education, underway now, in the older faith tradition of Judaism. Both are normative, in their way, but not as holy writ. Rather, they are normative in a more fundamental sense, they reveal the way we humans can discover the sacred as it wends and winds its way not only through the universe, but through history.

We may not, in other words, be bound by their philosophy and insight, the history of their revelation, yet how the ancients made themselves open to the whispers and shouts of the sacred, how they received its insights and what use they made of it in their lives, those shape us because we are the same vessel, only thrown into a different time.

Arthur_Szyk_(1894-1951)._The_Holiday_Series,_Rosh_Hashanah_(1948),_New_Canaan,_CTThis is a similar idea to that of the reconstructionists, but not the same. Reconstructionists want to work with a constantly evolving Jewish civilization, grounding themselves in Torah, mussar, kabbalah, shabbat, the old holidays, but emphasizing the work of building a Jewish culture in the current day, reconstructing it as Jews change and the world around them changes, too. I’m learning so much from this radical idea.

2695406589_2517d8b0f2What I want to do though, and it’s a similar challenge, is to reimagine, for our time and as a dynamic, the way we reach for the sacred, the way we write about our experience, the way we celebrate the insights and the poetry it inspires. In this Reconstructionist Judaism is a better home for me than Unitarian Universalism. UU’s may have the same goal, but their net is cast into the vague sea of the past, trying to catch a bit from here and a bit from there. It is untethered, floating with no anchor. Beth Evergreen affirms the past, the texts of their ancestors, their thousands of years of interpretation, the holidays and the personal, daily life of a person shaped by this tradition, but also recognizes the need to live those insights in an evolving world.

 

The Black Sun

Lughnasa                                                                               Kate’s Moon

PutrefactioA week from today we’ll be on the road in a rented R.V., Ruth and Gabe on board, headed to Driggs, Idaho. It will be Kate’s 73rd birthday.  I wrote a post on Ancientrailsgreatwheel.com about dark ecology and the ecocide. It occurred to me just now that the total eclipse might be the perfect metaphor for it.

As the extinction event occasioned by our rapidly changing climate, both already well underway, slides over the face of our inner sun and blots it out, we will not enter total darkness, but the corona of that black sun will flare in our consciousness, the heavens filled with the stars and galaxies of our inner universe will pop into view. We will have a chance then to consider the majesty of all of which we are a part, often hidden. We will see the world without us and know that it can and will be beautiful, more than we can imagine.

alchemyPerhaps this eclipse on August 21st is an opportunity for us all to merge the outer with the inner, to experience the same fear our long ago ancestors did when they imagined the world might die, the sun might never reappear. It may be a chance to integrate this slow motion catastrophe through which we are living, in which we are implicated, and consider it in a new way.

I’m going to try for that experience. Maybe you will, too.

 

 

 

Simcha

Lughnasa                                                                     Kate’s Moon

beautifulIt’s been a rainy, cold week here on Shadow Mountain. The dial on the various fire risk signs is either on low or moderate. Gotta love the monsoons. Yesterday we came home from Beth Evergreen and it was 71 in Evergreen, 60 at the house. Not very far mileage wise from Evergreen, but the altitude really makes a difference.

I’ve returned to a state of general well-being, forget why I veered off that course for a few weeks. Joy is around every corner these days from Kate’s progress in living with Sjogren’s Syndrome to Jon’s new house to our upcoming trip to Idaho for the eclipse. Rigel’s return to her young dog-on-the-hunt persona livens our day.

spiritual-enlightenment-spiritualityRuth and I are going to the Fiske Planetarium tomorrow for a show on the moon. Kate will go along, as will Gabe. That way Jon can have time to work on the bench in the dining room. I’ll have a chance to stop at the Growing Kitchen‘s outlet store while Kate takes the kids elsewhere. The Growing Kitchen is a company that makes its edibles from the bud of the marijuana plant rather than from trimming created when the bud is processed for joints. I want to see if there’s a quality difference. Seems like there would be.

We’re also attending shabbat services tonight. It’s a “mostly musical” shabbat with all original music written by Rabbi Jamie. The poster for it reads: Is your Rabbi a rock star? Ours is! He’s a very talented guy, both musically and intellectually. Beth Evergreen has become a solid part of our lives, a community that always seems to make me feel better for having shown up. It actually is what the Christian church talks about as a beloved community. Interesting I had to go Judaism to find one.

 

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