We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

CNS and Social Change

Spring                                                                   New (Rushing Waters) Moon

book-coverToday I’m making chicken noodle soup and Kate’s making Vietnamese pho. We’ll serve this at a Beth Evergreen leadership dinner for Rabbi David Jaffe, author of Changing the World from the Inside Out, a Jewish Approach to Social Change. Along with our friend Marilyn Saltzman, chair of the adult education committee, who is making a vegetarian squash soup, we’ll provide the soups for a soup and salad meal. I really like this low key involvement. It feels manageable.

Although. I am hoping that Rabbi Jaffe’s time here at Beth Evergreen, tomorrow through Saturday as a visiting scholar, will spur the creation of an activist group focused on some form of response to the Trump/oligarch era. In that instance I’m willing to move into a more upfront role, though I would prefer to remain a follower.

Then, there’s the Sierra Club. I wrote here about my excitement with Organizing for Action, Conifer. That was back in January, I think. Lots of people, lots of energy. Good analysis. I thought, wow. Here’s my group. Then, I never heard from them again, my e-mails went unanswered. Weird, but true. Weird and disqualifying for a group that’s organizing political work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo I renewed my effort to connect with the Mt. Evans’ local group of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Sierra Club. Colorado seems to work more through these regional clusters than as a whole. There are nine of them, covering the entire state. The Mt. Evans’ group includes our part of Jefferson County, Clear Creek County and a northern portion of Park County. It’s titular feature, Mt. Evans, is a fourteener (over fourteen thousand feet high) which has the highest paved road in North America leading to its summit. According to locals here it’s also the weathermaker for our part of Conifer.

I finally made it to a meeting a couple of weeks ago. When I came back, Kate said, “You seem energized.” I did. And, I hadn’t noticed. Something about that small group plugged me back into my reigning political passion of the last six or seven years: climate change. Oh, yeah. With OFA I’d tried to head back toward economic justice, my long standing motivation for political work, dating back to the UAW influences I picked up as a teenager in Alexandria. Guess the universe understood me better than I understood myself. Not much of a surprise there.

buy this here

buy this here

My mind began ticking over, running through organizing scenarios, figuring out how we could (note the we) raise the visibility of the Mt. Evans group, gain more members, influence local policy. This is my brain on politics. I might be willing to play a more upfront role here, too, though I want to explore other ways of being helpful first.

Anyhow, between these two, I’m sure I’ll get my political mojo working in some way. And that feels good. Want some soup?

 

 

Remarkable

Spring                                                                               Passover Moon

Synodic-and-Sidereal-3The waning passover moon is behind a faint scrim of clouds giving it a moonlit halo. Each moon cycle repeats the past, yet is unique to itself. The slow orbit (relatively slow) of the moon around the earth produces the same phases each month and in that sense repeats. But the lunar month and the sidereal year do not quite match up*, as all cultures that depend on lunar months for their calendars have long known. Judaism is such a culture.

Each lunar month happens at a slightly different place in earth’s orbit due to this irregularity over the course of sidereal year. In addition, our whole solar system is not static, but moves through the universe at a speed of 12 miles per second toward the constellation Lambda Herculis.** At the same time our solar system is also spinning around the Milky Way and the Milky Way itself is speeding toward a collision with Andromeda Galaxy in 4 billion years.+

sun-movement-milky-way-101222-02When you consider the irregularities in the lunar position occasioned by the sidereal/synodic difference and the speed of our solar system both moving on its own toward Lambda Herculis and around the Milky Way and then throw in the speed of the Milky Way itself, it becomes clear that no one phase of the moon every occurs in even remotely the same location.

Why belabor this? Becauses it underscores the irreproducibility of much seemingly regular phenomena. Now think about the long span of evolution on this moving planet, within this speeding solar system. This means that no animal or plant species has occupied the same cosmic location for even a short span of its existence. So, in this sense alone, each animal or plant species is unique. But, each animal or plant itself is also unique because it comes into existence and dies, having occupied only one small niche in the larger web of life.

Australopithecus afarensis

Australopithecus afarensis

Within this context regard human evolution. Australopithecus, considered the first instance of the Homo genus, has been dated to 2.8 million years ago. Since that time the genus went through many speciations until, about 200,000 years ago, our own species, Homo sapiens, emerges. So, for over 200,000 years individuals of our own specific branch of evolution have been born, lived and died. Each one of them are unique within just our species.

Each of us, then, from the moment of our birth and for the very brief span of our life (in cosmic terms), travels literally millions and millions of miles, speeding around the sun, the Milky Way, toward Lambda Herculis and as part of our galaxies own rush toward Virgo and Libra. In addition each of us represents a specific instance of an evolutionary branch with its own branch on the tree of life, a branch that split off on its own some 2.8 million years ago.

This means we are each unique in many different ways in addition to the obvious ones of parentage, genetics and personal development.

image of godFinally, the point. We are, each of us, unique and precious instances of over 2 billion years of evolution of life on Earth. We represent a moment in time, yet even our moment is not static. It finds us moving incredible distances.

A key insight of both Judaism and Christianity is the notion that we are all made in the image of God. This insight casts a bright light on both each person’s uniqueness while also revealing our oneness. This truth does not change no matter what content you put into the word God.

treeThink about it. Out of all the billions of years since the Big Bang, moving in all the various ways discussed above and at speeds that make Formula One look slothful in the extreme, you and I exist in this special time together. How remarkable! We are in fact made as the conscious image of this whole universe, with all its reckless momentum and we have been given the chance to know each other and through knowing each other to know the universe that gave birth to us.

Camus talked about the river of life that flows toward death, what I have called in recent posts the Gulf of All Souls. He suggested that it was our common responsibility  to make this journey as pleasant and peaceful for each other as possible. As Ram Dass says, we’re all just walking each other home.

 

 

*watch this short movie to understand the difference between the sidereal month, 27.322 days, and the synodic or lunar month of 29.531 days.

**solar system speed and the other measurements that complicate it

+This webpage shows the difficulties in measuring the speed of objects in the universe and gives a speed for the Milky Way as it moves in the universe–an amazing 1.3 million miles per hour!

Wakin’ Up Mornin’

Spring                                                                             Passover Moon

easterEaster morning. Sunrise services somewhere. The celebration of the resurrection and, by implication, the incarnation. As Passover defines Jews, Easter defines Christians. Whether you find the idea of resurrection absurd or inspiring, it heralds, as does Passover, the coming of spring. It’s not difficult, at least for me, to see the power of resurrection in the emergence of spring ephemerals: daffodils, crocus, grape hyacinth, early tulips, snowdrops, pasque flowers, bloodroot.

The same flowers could be seen as passover metaphors, too. Their emergence from the long sleep of winter makes good on promises made the year before as the bulbs, corms, rhizomes all stored up energy from the sun, drank in nourishment from the minerals of the soil and sipped up water from the sky, all gathered below ground after the leaves and flowers of last year withered away. The hiddenness of these promises and the darkness in which they flourish is like the life of the Hebrew slaves in the Egypt of the Exodus.

haggadahMoses reminds the slaves, and God, of the covenant made with Abraham long ago. That covenant is the bulb planted in the hiddenness and darkness of bondage. When God finally forces Pharaoh to let the slaves go free, the bulb begins to push its stalk toward the surface. Though it takes forty years of wandering for the stalk to break the surface in the Promised Land, the beauty of freedom’s flower has dazzled those struggling with their own personal or political bondage ever since.

My sister Mary’s friend, Anitha Devi Pillai, who teaches in Singapore with Mary, posted on facebook about the Kerala new year, Vishu, which is also celebrated right now. This was new to me, but it underscores the number of New Year holidays that honor the same rhythm of mother earth. The spring festivals in Korea and China, which come earlier, also mark the resurrection in fields and gardens.

These human holidays honor the emergent freedom from darkness and cold as each new flower and vegetable breaks the surface. VishuSo on this great wakin’ up morn, I’m greeting the sun, the greening lodgepole pines, the daffodils, the pasque flowers and bloodroot with a religious fervor.

During my cancer season two years ago I wrote about the consolation of Deer Creek Canyon, the stolid, very long term lifetime of the mountains that create the canyon. Today I’ll make note of the consolation of spring, its power to awaken wonder. We will all die, this we know, but the mountains will continue and so will the daffodils. Blessed be.

The Gulf of All Souls

Spring                                                                           Passover Moon

Under the full passover moon Kate and I drove over to Mt. Vernon Country Club for a community seder. There were about 60 people there, sitting in groups of 8 around circular tables. The dining room looked out to the south and east. As the sun set, the lights of Denver began to sparkle around Table Mesa in the distance.

Passover

The tables had platters of oblong chunks of gefilte fish, a bowl of haroset (a sweet mixture that symbolizes the mortar used by Hebrew slaves in Egypt), a small bowl of pink grated horseradish, a stack of matzo covered in a linen napkin, and a seder plate with the traditional passover items: lamb shank, boiled egg seared over a flame, parsley, haroset and maror (horseradish). And an orange. The orange is a recent addition to the passover plate-at least for Reconstructionists-and it symbolizes the fruitfulness of women’s contributions in Jewish history and in the present.passover-seder-plate-cropped-430x245

The haggadah, the telling of the story, contains all the prayers, readings, songs and explanations for the evening. The seder (order) of the passover celebration has 15 steps, symbolizing the 15 steps that led up to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple passover celebration had two priest on each of the fifteen steps and they sang the passover ritual as worshippers brought up their lamb for sacrifice.

The evening followed this ancient ritual, commemorated in Christian churches as the last supper and ritualized among them as communion or the eucharist.

Dirk-Bouts-The-Feast-of-the-Passover

Dirk-Bouts-The-Feast-of-the-Passover

As Kate and I got out of the car at Mt Vernon, a young woman asked, “Is this the place for the seder?” It was, I said. Her name was Leah. We walked in together, past the slightly ridiculous pretension of the lobby, its fireplace and the sitting room with the observation deck like windows. Down a set of stairs was a lower level under the sitting room.

We chatted casually with Leah. The room was almost empty then, not many had come. We were early. I went out on the big deck that overlooked Table Mesa and Leah followed. She knew Rabbi Jamie in the synagogue he served previously in Buffalo, New York.

“I’m bi-polar and I went on a road trip, trying to find someplace new. I went to Florida, drove all over and came this way but decided I couldn’t cross the mountains in the winter, so I ended up working in Boulder.”

Oh. I have bipolar illness in my family. Two aunts hospitalized, one died in the state hospital, another came out, but under heavy medication. “Oh. That’s good. Well, I mean it’s not good that you have bipolar in the family, but it’s good you understand.”

And I do. It was as if this ancient ritual, one that gathers the tribe across the world to honor its release from bondage, had found a member of that tribe who also belonged to mine. Leah sat next to me and we dipped our little fingers in the wine, the parsley in the salty water, the tears of those in bondage, ate our matzo with haroset and made our Hillel sandwiches, haroset and maror between two slices of matzo.

river-lb

The ways the universe conspires with us: it lets us paddle along the river of time for a bit, then puts us through some rapids, lets us drift into a clear pool, but always moves us forward through the Grand Canyon of our life, and sometimes helps us to land on shore for awhile, perhaps in a spot that looks familiar, yet is always new. At 70 the river which carries me is much closer to the Gulf of All Souls than it was in my twenties, but unlike then, I can see through the translucent canyon walls to the canoes of my friends, family and new acquaintances.

There are even moments, like an April passover meal in the Rocky Mountains, when we come together on the strand of our common journey, our lives and our rivers joined for a moment. We travel apart but we are not alone.

Sacred Time

Spring                                                                         Passover Moon

20160330_091630“You need a rest day.” “Not for cardio.” This exchange with Kate has reverberated since we had it a couple of days ago. “You need a rest day.” I’d taken Sundays for many years, but recently began doing a longer cardio workout on that day.

Then again. A rest day. A sabbath. Oh. Since early in my seminary days, I’ve been taken by the idea of sacred time. Christianity adopted the word and a changed practice from Judaism. Christians, except for the 7th Day Adventists, shifted the sabbath to Sunday and started the day in the morning, rather than on the night before. This was to emphasize that the Christian sabbath celebrated the resurrection. With the crucifixion recorded as happening on a Friday, three days later meant Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday.

Even in my youth Sunday had a special tone. Just why it should was not well understood intellectually, but it was strong in practice. We had church in the morning with Sunday School then communal worship, in our case sitting in the second pew from the back, on the west side of the sanctuary, under the stained glass window of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Mangas Cafeteria

Mangas Cafeteria

Afterward, we would often drive 7 miles to Elwood, Indiana and eat lunch at Mangas Cafeteria. This was a major event in our week since going to restaurants was a rare occurrence. I don’t recall if the later afternoon had much of a pattern, but we did often visit relatives on Sunday, too.

What I do know is that my body remembers Sunday as a day when doing nothing was encouraged. Even now, at 70, Sundays still have a languid feel, a pull away from the usual, whatever the usual is.

When I was in the ministry, Sunday was, ironically, a day of work, with Monday taking the place of Sunday, as it does for many Christian clergy. After I retired from the Presbyterian church in 1991, leaving behind Christianity for good, Sunday lost any sacred aura it had, but retained the languid overlay.

06 20 10_Garden_6705As many of you know, I began, not long after this time, to follow the Celtic sacred calendar, The Great Wheel, a practice now long embedded in my life as you can see each day on this blog in the upper left hand corner.

Now, with shabbat shalom a familiar greeting on Friday night and Saturday, I’m still fascinated with sacred time and wanting some version of the Jewish sabbath as part of my week. Why? Well, at its simplest, it’s a rest day. But, it’s a rest day with a purpose. The Jewish sabbath emphasizes relationships and torah study.

SabbathTable-1Work is discouraged (forbidden, in the stricter applications). The discipline includes not even discussing work on the sabbath, no planning for the next week. It also emphasizes personal spiritual development, torah study, attending services, private meditation. This is a day, once a week, strictly for being. Being in the here and now.

As I’ve written here before, this makes a lot of sense to me, even in retirement. So, I’m going to take my rest day starting on Friday night and continuing through Saturday night. I’m not becoming a Jew, nor do I want to play one on TV, but I believe I am becoming Jewish. That is, a lot of the cultural practices of Judaism resonate with my own spiritual development. Beth Evergreen encourages that growth and I find it nourishing. Trying out the sabbath, the old, original one, is part of that ancientrail and one I plan to walk on for now.

So, yes. A rest day. Kate was right. And today is that day.

Recently

Spring                                                                      Passover Moon

20170405_191415Well. The sun is out, the snow has melted on the roads and it’s a cheery day here on Shadow Mountain. The changes here are fast and often extreme.

Kate and I went to a cooking class for a passover meal last night and stayed out until 9:30. That’s late for us since we turn in between 7 and 8 pm. I remember back when I was young. I could stay up until, you know, 10 pm, 10:30 pm, no problem.

The cooking class featured chicken breasts, a very surprising quinoa cake, asparagus, crepes with a haroset like mixture of sauteed apples, pears, dates and nuts and a coconut chocolate confection for dessert. There were fifteen of us and we spent the time wandering from dish to dish, helping with this or that.

I helped set up. I’m really liking being in a religious community and not having a leadership role. Helping put out tables, arrange chairs, set out plates, glasses and silverware feels good.

We’ve seen lots of elk and mule deer this week, much more than in the month or two prior. Last night at the cooking class there were three female elk dining on the grass outside while we learned the secrets of egg whites and egg yolks inside. Just all us mammals getting what we need from our environment.

Put it on, Take it off

Spring                                                                 Passover Moon

“It is easy to see the mountain in the distance. It is not so easy to see the mountain on which you stand.”

20170330_064303

Masks. I’ve been using the kabbalistic notion of masks-personas, complexes, yes, but somehow mask makes thems easier to discover. For me. It’s simple, at least in concept. We wear a mask all the time, often perhaps usually unconsciously. The kabbalistic idea taught by Rabbi Jamie Arnold encourages us to recognize our masks and get to know them with the ultimate goal of being able to take off and put on masks at will.

Masks may have a pejorative connotation for you as concealers of the “true” person, but this understanding suggests that our pure soul, that part of us perfectly attentive to the universe, needs no mask. A Christian might call this pure soul the imago dei. Whatever it “really” is, it is the Self that nests within the necessary apparatus for connecting with the world. It cannot touch the world by itself. When it comes into contact with the world, a mask forms. This enables the Self to see partially rather than comprehensively. (I made up this last idea, but it makes sense to me as far as I understand the concept.)

As I said in a previous post, many masks are obvious: devoted husband, father, brother, scholar, timid business person, brash businessperson, prophet, lover, athlete, lawyer, plumber, mother, sister. Part of the discipline is to stop, to take a moment, and ask what mask am I wearing right now?

For instance, at the moment I’m wearing my Ancientrails mask, a writer, blogger, self-revealer, journaler. I’m also wearing my naturalist, photographer mask which gets called up as Black Mountain goes through its morning changes. My Ancientrail’s mask is introspective, yet also expressive. It does conceal much of my Self because it links to specific and partial aspects of who I am. But. It also reveals. It reveals in the quite literal sense of putting these words on the page, but it also reveals that certain part of who I am when I have it on.

20170330_063248

My naturalist, photographer mask came on me several times as I wrote this because Black Mountain’s changes this morning were strikingly beautiful. This mask took me out of Ancientrails, out of the inner world, and into the Front Range, into the world of mountains and light. I found myself gasping several times as the light changed this 10,000 foot peak’s face to the world, its mask.20170330_065707

 

 

Shifts and Changes

Spring                                                                      New (Passover) Moon

2010 01 19_3454Writing can lay bare something hidden, perhaps something that needed excavation or something attached to a thread, even a flimsy thread, by which it can be pulled from the inner world. Things get lost in there, pushed behind stacks of unused memories or stored with a faulty label. Sometimes ideas once full and vibrant get partially severed from their context, crucial links of thought go missing and the idea fades away.

“I’ve continued to write and study, my primary passions.” March 21, 2017 This sentence is an example, a recent example. It stares back at me, rather baldly. Oh. Well, that’s right, isn’t it?

I love to read, follow an idea through its growth and changes, learn about something in depth, wonder about it, tease out of it new implications or old truths.

I love to write. I don’t know why. Might be an inheritance from my newspaperman father. Might just be long established habit. Whatever the reason writing is my painting, my sculpture, my photography. I have to do it to feel whole.

2010 01 19_3455Which, speaking of ideas, then links to the idea of the third phase. That quote comes from recent thoughts on the third phase. A primary wondering for me, I think for all third phasers, is this: what am I about in this last phase of my life?

The Trump catastrophe, a miserable wound of our country’s own making, pulled on the 60’s radical thread always near the surface for me. I’ve been trying to put that mask back on, to become the political activist I once was. I felt obligated. You know, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

But it hasn’t been happening. I just haven’t connected with other activists. I haven’t been doing much more than writing about it. (a clue here, by the way) Grousing and complaining, yes, sure. But not acting.

Writing and study. Third phase. Beth Evergreen. With Kate I’ve found a community that cherishes study, scholarship, a community that finds writing an understandable vocation. Right now I’m thinking, wondering. Should I lean into my primary passions? Stay with them. Dig deeper. That feels right.

Here’s a confession, too. I’ve never liked politics. The person I become, the masks I put on then, feel far away from my core Self. Why then have I spent so much of my life in one political arena after another?

611333-ancient-roman-wall-with-street-nameboardPart duty. For whatever reason I came out of Alexandria with fully formed political ideas about justice, equality, fairness. They were strong, rooted in the powerful union movement among my friend’s parents who worked for General Motors, reinforced by the liberal politics of my Roosevelt Democrat parents and then pushed toward action in the turmoil of the 60’s.

Part ego. It feels good to lead, to have people hang on my ideas, to see change occur when something I’ve helped shape makes things happen. But this is part of what feels far away from my core, introverted Self. That ego drive also presses forward an angry, demanding, often insensitive persona. A persona I dislike.

Part religious conviction. The almost random way in which I ended up in seminary, then the ministry came from following political conviction away from graduate academics and toward an institution willing to pay me to organize, to act politically. There was a merger of political passion and the prophetic line of a certain strain of liberal Christianity, even radical Christianity.

No conclusions here. Not yet. Just more of the shifts and changes, movements in my soul. Something will come out of all this. Not sure what. Not right now.

 

 

Learning How To Live

Imbolc                                                          Anniversary Moon

Teeth cleaning a.m. Kate and I now schedule teeth cleaning and annual physicals together. I call it medical entertainment. Just like going to the Tallgrass Spa together. Almost.

mussar

Mussar afternoon. Soul cleaning together, too. I’m learning a lot about Judaism with her. And, I’m impressed with what I’m learning. Here’s the key new insight: Judaism has, from a long time ago, insisted that abstract ideas like mercy, compassion, judgment, faith have embodied reality. That’s what all those laws are about, how to make the faith work in daily life.

This is very different from the Christianity in which I was trained. Christianity unhitched this very earthy, practical religion from the notion of embodied abstractions, letting the abstractions become dominant. This led to a growing gap between dogma and actual practice. Of course, many Christians work at making their faith inform their lives, but the tools are not as good the ones in Judaism. It’s not the laws themselves, but the spirit of actively grappling, every day, every moment with what it means to show mercy, to judge, to practice loving kindness, to exhibit patience that gives Judaism its lived flavor.

Rabbie Jamie and congregant

Rabbie Jamie and congregant

Still don’t want to be a Jew, no interest in converting, but I have a lot of interest in learning how to live from the community of Beth Evergreen. Probably the best religious experience of my life.

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.

 

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