We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Life opens forward if you let it

Imbolc                                                                      New Life Moon

Jim

Jim

Friend Jim Johnson had an opening of his work in Aberdeen, South Dakota the other night. His new work is lots of colors, strings, leaves, nice bright colors as Simon and Garfunkel sang. Jim, and his long time friend Mark, have both taken their art with them into the third phase. Mark has written one book, an initiation tale, about his time in Vietnam and is at work on another, a hero’s quest tale of his time in Fiji and on the road. He also had a show of new work a couple of years ago, his bridge series. I admire them, keeping Bridgit’s hearthfire lit. Life opens forward if you let it.

Bridgit is the triple goddess in the auld Celtic faith, patroness of poetry, of song, of craft, of the creative spirit. At the double monastery in Kildare, Ireland (men and women), Christians kept her eternal fire burning even after the church absorbed her as a saint. This is Bridgit’s time. She’s the goddess of Imbolc, the cross quarter holiday when the magic of life in the womb brought hope to ancient Celts after the long fallow season.

bridgit's holy well, Killdare, Ireland

Bridgit’s holy well, Kildare, Ireland

This is my creed outworn (see Wordsworth in the post below). Or, part of it. James Hillman, a very interesting Jungian analyst, said we find the gods in our pathologies. I believe that, too. Jung said we find the gods in our diseases. I believe we find them, too, in passions, in new art, in turning over old life like a furrow in which to plant the divine seeds of a new one.

A while back I talked about doing the work that only I can do. Jim and Mark are doing theirs. Over the last few weeks, reading Emerson and Deng Ming-Dao in daily meditations, I’ve found resonance with this idea. Emerson said, for example, in his essay, Success, “Each (person) has an aptitude born with (them). Do your work…It is rare to find a (person) who believes their own thought or who speaks that which (they were) created to say.” Ming-Dao, in his 365 Days of the Tao, says, in his entry #40, subconscious: “Everything to be understood is within us. All that must be transcended…is within us. All the power of transcendence is within us. Tap into it and you tap into the divine itself.”

Approa39It is axiomatic that each person is unique, a particular example of the human, of life, of the creative process that began at tzimtzum or the big bang, thrown into a particular time and a particular place. It is that particularity that Emerson elevates. It is that particularity which formulates within us, as instantiations of the whole, our own work. When we tap into the sacred, the shard of ohr (divine light) lodged within us, we come to know our work. And, the world needs it because you are the only one with this spark of the divine and the only one in the whole history of the universe who has it. If you don’t express your ancientrail, it will die with you and the world will be poorer.

We need you. As you are. Not as a bearer of tradition. Not as a follower of rules and laws, no matter what their claim to authority. Not as a sycophant to the culture in which you were raised. No, none of these. Instead we need the you that dances among the stars, the you that drinks from the deep holy wells within you. We need the you that only you can be.

Yes, it’s a scary prospect that you might be worthwhile just for what you are. Not for the degrees you’ve earned or the children you’ve had or the job you do, but for the you that carries a singular vision, a once in eternity vantage point on the universe. Tell us what you see. Tell us what you know. Tell us who you are. We need you, all of us need you.

 

 

 

Gospel Aversion

Imbolc                                                                      New Life Moon

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

The World Is Too Much With Us, William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

 

GaithersWorlds collided last night and I found it unpleasant. Rabbi Jamie, the Evergreen Chorale, and choir director Val Robinson combined for an evening of Jospel music. That’s gospel music done in a Jewish idiom. Val was a spectacular director. She had the choir energized, crisp in its delivery, and used all of its members as if she were playing an organ. A Beth Evergreen member, Cheri Rubin and her husband Alan, helped make this happen.

Rabbi Jamie seems to blend in with other traditions, yet not lose his distinctively Jewish identity, a feat I admire. Last night he was in gospel mode, adjusting his usual musical style to the more upbeat, quick, punctuated rhythm Val and the music brought.

The worship began with a real memory dredger and heart massager, We Shall Overcome. Appropriate for Black History month and for a setting which commemorated the strong Jewish involvement in the early civil rights movement. So far, I was with the program.

As the music went on, words projected on two screens to either side of the sanctuary, though, I found myself wanting to be elsewhere. Too much God language with too much evangelical style emoting. The woman in front of me sat with her hands palms up, forearms lifted, elbows on her chair rests. Then, the God language got patriarchal with God on his throne and the heavenly father with an excellent name.

BlakeI didn’t realize the distance I’d come from Alexandria and the gospel music style of Bill and Gloria Gaither, my high school teachers who went on to become big stars in the niche genre of popular gospel music. No, that’s not quite right. The style is treacly and sentimental, pop in its overtones while churchy just underneath. That doesn’t push me away though it’s not music I’d turn on voluntarily.

What pushes me away, what I felt physically as a desire to leave the room, was the patriarchal God language, though even that is not the nub of it. The nub of it is the presumption of knowledge, certainty, about a god. That certainty which presents an anthropomorphic deity, gendered and crowned, comes from a text based religion which confuses the words of others with revelation. This confusion, common in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, leads to all the poisoned politics which those monotheistic faiths engender. (ha, a pun there.)

No thrones. No gender. No person like god. No. That cannot be read in the wind howling down Mt. Evans. That cannot be known from the blooming of the bloodroot in spring. That cannot be found in the cry of a new born animal whether human baby or puppy or calf or tiny turtle scurrying toward the sea. That cannot be learned from the glitter of the stars at night or the gentle silver light of a full moon.

No. Just no.

Night and Death. Yes.

Imbolc                                                                      Imbolc Moon

20180131_185045The Imbolc moon has had its night in earth’s shadow, its night as super and blue and red. Hey, up in the sky, it’s Supermoon! And last night it was wonderful again. High, full, behind a faint veil of clouds. Orion and the moon. My two favorite celestial objects. Well, ok, the sun, too, but I can never look at it.

Something in a full moon moves me to the depths of my soul. I can find myself tearing up, a catch in my throat at the sheer extravagance of its beauty. It’s offered over and over, available to all, free.

So, too, Orion. He rises. Greets any who bother to find him. He stands always ready astride the horizon, a hunter and his dog. I don’t know whether he remembers our nights in Muncie while I watched over the entrance gate at the factory, but I like to think he does.

The night sky, in its shorter versions and in its Winter Solstice maximum, offers solace to those of us who want it. The night is, to paraphrase LP Hartley, a foreign country. They do things different there.

caphLast night I went back to Beth Evergreen, more kabbalah. Studying the kabbalah at night, especially under a full moon. Yes. Learning about more double letters: Pey, Caph, Reish, Tav.

I know this Jewish immersion of mine must seem odd to some of you who read this; but, it’s happened over many years, a sort of there and back again phenomenon. In this current instance Kate’s conversion long ago made us seek out a synagogue, just to see. We found Beth Evergreen, a special place, unique I imagine, even among Reconstructing congregations.

It was long ago though I read Isaac Bashevis Singer. Chaim Potok. Later, Rebecca Goldstein. It was long ago that I walked into the synagogue in Muncie for an anthropology assignment. It was long ago that I dated the jeweler’s daughter, Karen Singer, and found her father’s knowledge of philosophy astounding. Over the years many Jews have come into my life and I’ve always felt comfortable around them. As if we shared a common spirit. At Beth Evergreen that feeling surfaced immediately and has grown deeper over time.

green Natural-Burial--275x275Being part of the tribe? No. Not for me. Walking along with the tribe as it wends its way through this moment in time? Yes.

Let me give you an example. The friend I mentioned yesterday, Bonnie Houghton, the green cemetery and burial, rabbi in training, Bonnie, got me going on the Recycle Me idea. It fits so well with my pagan sensibility and it’s something I can act on through this community.

Yesterday was Tu B’Shvat, the new year of the trees. It’s a part of the Jewish holiday year, just like Yom Kippur, Purim and Passover. Kate and I went to the celebration yesterday before kabbalah. Later, as I rested before returning for kabbalah, an image struck me: a Tu B’Shvat celebration in our yet-to-be green cemetery. We would be honoring trees, trees of all kinds yes, but especially, in this celebration, those trees growing from the graves of deceased members of Beth Evergreen.

Can you imagine? An ancient holiday celebrating trees and the gifts that they offer, now including trees with their roots literally in members of the congregation? How mystical, how wonderful would that be. Out there, on the mountain side, perhaps a mountain stream running nearby, a breeze rolling down the slope and my tree, the tree that is a tree and me, our leaves rustling as the gathered folks sing, pray. Yes.

 

 

Shoulder, Trees, Writing

Winter                                                                         Imbolc Moon

shoulder-arthroplasty-Mayo-ClinicHippity hop to the ortho shop. Kate’s got an appointment at Panorama Orthopedics today. Her right shoulder. She can no longer hold things up with her right arm and has to use two hands to put dishes away, sometimes to lift a cup. Annoying and painful. Screws up her sleep, too. She needs some kind of solution, more than likely a shoulder replacement. This is the first step, a consult to see what her options are.

A friend of Kate and mine is having surgery for breast cancer today, too. It’s a cancer that has the improbable, but very desirable, cure rate of 100%. In the sort of piling on that getting older can deliver, her husband, only a week later, got a diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. It’s a killer, but slow, maybe 5-10 years. He’s mid-70’s. Mortality is always stalking us, but seems to knock on the door more often past three score and ten.

Sister Mary tells me she’s been invited as a visiting professor to a university in Kobe, Japan this summer. Very close to Kyoto. And, great beef. Congrats to Mary. Brother Mark is in Bangkok right now, chillin’ in the tropical heat.

Tu B'ShevatAn interesting week ahead. A session on green burial tomorrow night at CBE. It’s part of a conversation about creating a Jewish cemetery up here in the Evergreen/Conifer area. Oddly, I think I’d like to work on that. The next night, Wednesday, is Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees. Judaism has a lot of pagan inflections, Tu B’Shevat and Sukkot, a harvest festival at the end of the High Holidays, for example. Looking forward to this one because there’s a seder, too, with seven species of fruit and nuts. I’ll explain more on Wednesday. After the this celebration is another Kabbalah session, more double letters in the Hebrew alphabet.

NovelIdeaRigel has her second appointment at the Vet Referral Clinic with Dr. Bayliss this Friday, too. I’m excited about it because we’ll get a clearer picture of what’s going on with her. And, it’s not the dire prognosis we anticipated when we took her in a week ago last Friday.

Meanwhile, I’ve finally levered myself back into writing, now on both Jennie’s Dead and Rocky Mountain Vampire (only a working title). Not sure exactly how I did it, just did it, I think.

Getting closer to using the sumi-e brushes, maybe today. Yesterday I tied string at the base of each new brush after applying a bit of glue all round, too. That had to set for a day. I gathered some towels, watched a couple more videos. Youtube is a fantastic resource for all kinds of things. Jon watches Japanese woodcrafting videos to calm down, for example.

Next week is Kate’s quilting retreat in Buena Vista.

 

Challenges

Winter                                                                     Imbolc Moon

Kep and Rigel

Kep and Rigel

No word yet on Rigel’s further tests, the ones focused on her GI tract. We do have her now on a diet exclusive of all proteins other than rabbit and those from milk products. She seems less needy, appears happier and to have gained a bit of weight, or, at least doesn’t look as emaciated as she did. These are all good signs and we’re hopeful, but still tentative. We go back to see Dr. Bayliss next Friday.

Cooking and sumi ink painting are my gardening equivalents here on Shadow Mountain. I realized not that long ago that I need some active, physical work in my life. This surprised me because I think of myself as an intellectual, a reader, a writer, sort of an in my head guy a lot of time. Which is of course true. Partially. I’m also an emotional guy with Kate and the dogs, family and friends. And, I also spent 20+ years as a serious horticulturist and beekeeper. Oh, right. Yeah.

kitchenI don’t miss the heavy lifting (the literal heavy lifting) for the most part, though part of my time at Beth Evergreen involves setting up for Adult Ed events and I do like moving chairs and tables, that sort of thing. Go figure. But I also need purposeful, intellect engaged physical activity. Different from exercise, which I also need. Cooking is physical and intellectual, also creative.

I’m challenging myself, trying to do things I’ve not been comfortable with. Don’t laugh, but I made pan gravy last night after pan frying some nice pork chops. I’d not done that before. Seemed, I don’t know, too delicate or fussy for my skills. Easy peasy. I also did the pork chops. It’s pretty easy to heat pork out of its flavor and tenderness zone, not as easy to cook it so it’s moist and tender. Got it last night!

zenThe sumi painting I’ve not yet fully engaged, still collecting materials, setting up my work space, learning techniques, but I intend to stay at it as long as it takes to get some proficiency. Precise or artistic hand work has never been my thing, but I’m going to change that, at least to some degree.

I have two areas I want to investigate. The first is the Zen calligraphy typified by circles and crescents, done mindfully with brush and paint as a meditation. The second is Hebrew calligraphy, drawing the letters as art. This last one interests me because I’m learning (well, sort of) the language itself and, more interesting for this work, I’m also learning the history of the individual letters, their symbology and their story. Their shapes are intriguing and I think focusing on making individual letters in the same style as Zen calligraphy may open them up to me in a new way. We’ll see.

This guy needs his hands in, something or other. Right now, the stove and the ink brush will do.

Just Sayin’

Winter                                                                           Imbolc Moon

mcCormickBrother Mark asked me about my Doctor of Divinity. Well, it’s actually a Doctor of Ministry, the old D.D. was usually an honorary title, this one is earned. I graduated in 1991, walking down the aisle of Rockefeller Chapel on the campus of the University of Chicago, though the degree granting institution was McCormick Seminary. Yes, that McCormick, of reaper fame. (ironic for a religious institution, I think)

20180124_093748But. I do have one of the most audaciously named degrees any institution can grant and I earned that one back in 1976: The Master of Divinity degree. Just think about that. Yahweh, you do this. Baal, you do that. Mithra, take down that Trump border wall. Osiris, raise that person from the dead. A very powerful degree, neh?

 

Life is like an hourglass

Winter                                                                             Imbolc Moon

hourglass

This is a short piece from a book, 365 Tao: Daily Meditations. It’s day 350. It fits so well with kabbalah, as I’m finding Taoism often does.

Life is like an hourglass

Consciousness is the sand

Imagine an hourglass.

Its shape is like the symbol for infinity. Its form recalls the double helix of DNA. Its two sections represent polarity. The material on one side, the immaterial on the other. The male on one side, the female on the other. Hot and cold, positive and negative, or any duality. (dialectic)

The sand runs in a stream, the same stream as the course of energy that runs up your spine, the same stream that is the road of life.

The movement of that sand is what we call Tao. Our consciousness alternates between the various states represented by the hourglass. It is as difficult to grasp as a stream of sand. Therefore, it is foolish to examine things minutely. It is unwise to focus on the material. It is wisdom to understand the movement.

 

The Grail and the Veil

Winter                                                               Moon of the Long Nights

Sumi Brush“The more I have looked into the Quest for the Grail, it is clear it is a Western form of Zen. There is no grail, it is understanding that the veil is the mystery of existence, it is nothing, but our interactions with everyone and everything.” Woolly and friend, Mark Odegard

Mark is an artist, an author, a sweet guy and a friend of 30 years. He’s done many retreats at a Zen Buddhist retreat center in Minnesota and done calligraphy with that giant brush Zen monks use. He has an ability to come at ideas from the side, or behind, seeing what cannot be seen; the Zen work has informed his sight in substantive ways.

He’s asking the Woolly Mammoths this New Year’s question for their next meeting:

“What personal tool/skill do I need to refine for my quest for the grail’? I will write down your answer to this, and ask you again at the end of the year.

The story represents our own encounter with the mystery of life (often occurring in our late teen years). The meaning is veiled for us, what do you need to lift the veil.”

Mark’s question made me start because I’d just written this, only two or three days ago here on Ancientrails:

“Torah study is about loving attentiveness. It is a way of engaging the sacred world which we can know first from within our own person and which permeates that which we encounter throughout our lives…

God lit up for me. Ah, if I do Torah study, if I engage in loving attentiveness to my Self, my own Soul, and those of others and of the broader natural world, then I can find the knowledge which permeates all things, that very same shards of the sacred that shattered just after the tzimtzum to create our universe. That is God being available everywhere. This is far different from the Latinate imponderable of omnipresence, sort of an elf on the shelf deity lurking in every spot, finding you everywhere. And judging.

No. God is another word for the intimate linkage between and among all things, from the smallest gluon to the largest star. God is neither a superparent nor a cosmic Santa Claus writing down your behaviors in the book of deeds; God is a metaphor for the sacred knowledge which permeates the perceivable, and the unperceivable, world.” Ancientrails

I’m not trying to revive the word God here, nor am I trying to reinsert myself into the thought world which includes God. I’m on the same grail quest I started years ago in Alexandria First Methodist sitting beside the huge stained glass window of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Back then I read the Bible as history, not as mythology. Back then it mattered if there was a Jesus who prayed in that Garden that the burden of crucifixion be lifted.

I pushed those beliefs away long ago, passing through a moment, a long moment of second naivete with them, then moving into the world of the Great Wheel and the cyclical, spiraling time through which all life moves, in fact, all things. Over the last year or so my intense program of Jewish immersion has taken me another big step along this ancientrail, a true Grail quest began when, as a sixteen year old, I began to doubt the stories I’d heard growing up.

Frederick J. Waugh, The Knight of the Holy Grail, c. 1912

Frederick J. Waugh, The Knight of the Holy Grail, c. 1912

 

 

My true philosophical (qua religious) home, existentialism, found me in the aftermath of that doubting and my first encounter with philosophy at Wabash College. When I went into my Christian immersion, through seminary and in the Presbyterian years, my faith went mystical, seeing the divine as divinely personal, as a bright light shining within the darkness of my inner world, a light whose purpose was not to dispel the darkness, but to integrate, Taoist style, both of them.

Now, with Rabbi Jamie, I’m studying the kabbalah. Like Zen it insists on not seeing with eyes alone, but with the heart, with a poetic sensibility that understands religious language, I think all religious language, as metaphor, even and especially for the kabbalists, the written Torah.

The veil is a very important metaphor in kabbalistic thought. Like Mark observed above the kabbalists know there is a veil between us and the mystery of existence. The veil underscores the humility necessary for this work and without humility the quest will fail.

canterbury pilgrims

canterbury pilgrims

This idea is ultimately significant. Or not. We cannot penetrate the veil. Ever. Yet we all stand together on the other side of it. To see through the veil, to actually find the Grail, is not given to us, yet that place which we see through a glass darkly is the place where we stand right now. Yes, right now the Grail is in our hands, a cup from which we can drink at any moment.

This ancientrail, the quest for the Grail, the turning of the Great Wheel, the lifting of the burden of our crucifixion, flowing up and down with divine energy through the Tree of Life, is our life, is the life of this world, this cosmic pulsing brilliant reality. Yet we let so many things: work, fear, hope, pride blind us.

winter solstice3The Woolly Mammoths have been my companions, fellow pilgrims, on the way to Canterbury. Or, fellow Tibetan Buddhists inch worming their way around the sacred mountain, Meru. Or, my fellow Torah scholars, davening as we read the sacred texts. Or, fellow Lakotas, our skin pierced and tied to the world tree during the Sun Dance. Or, friends traveling through this life together until it ends.

“What personal tool/skill do I need to refine for my quest for the grail?” Out of far left field, I’m going to answer, “A Sumi brush, rice paper, an ink stone. And the courage to use them.”

 

 

Reimagining/Reconstructing

Winter                                                                           Moon of the Long Nights

Alan James Garner - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https commons.wikimedia.org

Alan James Garner  Own work, CC BY SA 3.0, https commons wikimedia org

Last night, third night in a row at Beth Evergreen, was the MVP, the mussar vaad practice group. Tuesday was the unveiling of the third stained glass window. Wednesday was the first class of the third in the first year kabbalah curriculum, the Mystical Hebrew Letters. On a personal, physical level this many evening sessions, which extend well beyond my usual 8 p.m. bedtime and then require a half hour ride home afterward, exhaust me. But on a psycho-spiritual level the nourishment I receive more than compensates.

As I wrote this last sentence, I looked up at Black Mountain and noticed a pink glow, a penumbra at its peak. A good symbol for the new understanding that is beginning to dawn on me.

In the mid-day mussar class, where we are near the end of the Messilat Yesharim, the path of the upright, by the 18th century kabbalist, Rabbi Moshe Luzzato, Jamie commented, “Remember, these are kabbalists. They include proof texts as an invitation to rethink them as metaphor, not to accept their literal meaning.” Jamie has said this before, in the kabbalist classes especially. “The Torah is a metaphor, not history.”

Torah being read at a Bar Mitzvah

Torah being read at a Bar Mitzvah

A bit later, he asked, “What is Torah study?” This was a topic we covered over a year ago when beginning Luzzato’s work. Torah study is not about content. It is not, in other words, limited to scholarship about Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Torah study is a method and it involves paying close attention to the person next to you, to the sunrise over Black Mountain, to the cry of a sparrow, to the way a lodgepole pine sloughs off snow, to the needs of the dog sleeping beside your chair. to the nature of fire crackling in the fireplace. Torah study is about loving attentiveness. It is a way of engaging the sacred world which we can know first from within our own person and which permeates that which we encounter throughout our lives.

And, again, aha! The sun, the sacred sun with its life-giving light, just lit up Black Mountain and showed me a sign, a way of illustrating a literally dawning awareness. The wind, the finger of the sacred blows as the ruach, the breath of spirit, the breath of life and moves the lodgepole pines in our front yard. The pines themselves erupt out of the stony Shadow Mountain ground, able to express life in a soil mostly barren of the rich nutrients available in the farmlands of the American Midwest.

Marily, Tara, the Burning Bush

Marilyn, Tara, the Burning Bush

I find this means I can read the word God in a new way. Shortly after Jamie commented on Torah study, we read a sentence in Messilat Yesharim that included the English word omnipresence, as in God’s omnipresence. I asked Jamie what Hebrew lay behind this translation. He looked it up, “Hmm. Something like, permeated knowledge.”

God lit up for me. Ah, if I do Torah study, if I engage in loving attentiveness to my Self, my own Soul, and those of others and of the broader natural world, then I can find the knowledge which permeates all things, that very same shards of the sacred that shattered just after the tzimtzum to create our universe. That is God being available everywhere. This is far different from the Latinate imponderable of omnipresence, sort of an elf on the shelf deity lurking in every spot, finding you everywhere. And judging.

hist_univNo. God is another word for the intimate linkage between and among all things, from the smallest gluon to the largest star. God is neither a superparent nor a cosmic Santa Claus writing down your behaviors in the book of deeds; God is a metaphor for the sacred knowledge which permeates the perceivable, and the unperceivable, world.

Our deeds are, of course, written in the very real book of our life, so they have consequences, not only on our life as whole, but as they impact others and that same world which we all inhabit. You could also see God’s judgment as the manifestation of those consequences, in their positive and negative natures, not as a divine finger shaking or outright punishing, but as ripples from one instance of the sacred to the another.

 

Seek? Yes. Claim to have found? No.

Winter                                                                  Moon of the Long Nights

It is not the seeking after God that divides but the claim to have found God and to have discovered the only proper way of obeying God and communing with God. M.M.K., Reconstructionist Prayer Book, page 125

each birth, always

each birth, always

Been thinking about religion. Again. Still. Always. Considering it from a different perspective this last week. I’ve said other times that I believe religion is the philosophy and poetry of the common person, a way to understand deep questions like: Why are we here? What is our purpose? What’s good behavior? Bad? Who am I? Who are we?

Religions are a language a group of people can use to have conversations about these questions, a set of ideas and concepts, history and tradition which give weight to possible answers. We are here to repair the world, to bear the burden of the other. A Jewish response to some of the questions. We are here to love one another as we love ourselves. One Christian answer. We are here to detach ourselves from the world, to float free of attachment and eventually find nirvana. One Buddhist answer. We are here to submit to the will of Allah. We are here as part of the natural world and best served when we align ourselves with it. We will head toward heaven or bardo or the endless wheel of reincarnation or the return of our elements from whence they came.

winter solstice4Inside the particular Jewish or Presbyterian or Unitarian or New Thought or Tibetan Buddhist or Hindu or Muslim community to which we belong we use this language and create a sense of belonging. As we use the language, part of which is ritual and dress, part of which is expected behaviors, we create a semi-permeable membrane, often not very permeable at all, for outsiders. To cross into our community they have to penetrate the language, learn the customs, adjust themselves to the patterns. The membrane works both ways, obscuring our vision as we look out from within our particular tradition. We see a world shaped by and often determined by the assumptions of ours.

This membrane tends to make dialogue across it difficult, sometimes impossible. My point here is that in the world there are many, many of these membrane covered communities. The very thing which makes them rich and wonderful to their participants makes them difficult to understand for outsiders. And, they can’t all have all the answers. Common sense says so.

Birth of Lord Krishna

Birth of Lord Krishna

Many of the new atheists (Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens) have taken these sort of observations and come out with ideological guns blazing, considering themselves in a High Noon battle with the forces of ignorance. I disagree.

Last night at Beth Evergreen, during the Shabbat service, I read through various pieces of commentary in the Reconstructionist Prayer Book. Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of the Reconstructionist Movement and a religious humanist, appears as M.M.K. In a derash, or homiletical interpretation of the Aleynu, the closing prayers for a service, Kaplan’s initials appear below this quote:

It is not the seeking after God that divides but the claim to have found God and to have discovered the only proper way of obeying God and communing with God. M.M.K., Reconstructionist Prayer Book, page 125

I think MMK and I could have been buddies.

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