Back to the Inner Glow

Summer and the Recovery Moon

And, summer. A warm week ahead. Of course. Mountain weather. Great sleeping.

My first weekend respite from the radiation is over. It’s off to Lone Tree and Anova around 11:10 or so. Have to get gas. Burn through a lot of the fossil fuel with an hour commute. But, it is in a nice car. Back on the Beano, only drinking tap water. No seltzer. Bubbles.

The Gleaners, Jean-Francois Millet

Sunday is my rest day from working out. I read. An essay on charity and justice in the Torah parshah for Kate and mine’s bagel table on September 14th. These suckers are long. In this instance Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19. It contains the most laws of any parshah in the Torah. The charity and justice essay is a reflection on the laws concerning gleaning.

Then, some art criticism in a book Hot, Cold, Heavy, Light. Peter Schjeldahl. This guy is a genius. Wonderful, short essays on contemporary artists and their work.

Finally, a couple of articles on what conservatives are up to intellectually right now. It seems Trump has unveiled cracks in a conservative consensus begun around the time of William Buckley: a corporate oriented focus on the economy, a robust military with a kickass foreign policy, and conservative social values. Simpler times, man. Simpler times.

A CBE friend brought over a blueberry lemon pound cake and a large plastic container of serious vanilla ice cream. She’s in cancer treatment right now, too. We talked for an hour or so until Jon, Ruth, and Gabe came up to take another run at the serious clog in our bathroom sink.

He knows a lot about houses and their inner workings. I don’t. With Ruth and Gabe’s help the three of them spent a lot of time in our crawl space first with a snake, then with Drano, then with the snake again. It was a stubborn clog, mostly hair, I think. They persevered and got it. Yeah!

I made mashed potatoes with cut up steak from yesterday’s left overs. Broccoli florets. Ice cream, as you might imagine, for dessert.

Getting a plumber up here to come by for such a small task is difficult. Only a few good ones up here and they spend most of their time on remodels and new construction. They work in small jobs when they can. Good thing Jon could help.

Ruth decided to stay all night so she can help us today. I hope she and Kate can get back to sewing.

The Mountains Are Calling

Summer and the Recovery Moon

Yamabushi monk

Not sure exactly what’s going on here. They mention Shugendo. It’s a fourteen hundred year old tradition that has esoteric Buddhism, Taoism, and Shinto roots. They refer to themselves as Yamabushi, those who prostrate themselves on the mountain.

Master Hashino

It seems like they’re dedicated to reducing the distance between humans and mother earth. Or, perhaps better, creating awareness of that already existing intimacy, now obfuscated by so much.

Fellow travelers with me, I think.

Green

Summer Solstice and the Recovery Moon

This morning

Black Mountain has a wispy cloud draping over its peak, moving slowly toward the northwest. The greens this summer, with so much water, are intense, Hawaiian. The lodgepoles are a deep dark green, the aspen groves a yellow green spotlighted by the sun. The grasses are lush, the dandelions abundant, cheery dots of yellow.

The white cloud dances with the blue sky, revealing it now, obscuring it. It’s another cool morning, 43. Perfect for sleep. The mountain streams continue to flow fast, white where they hit the rocks, still not full with the snow melt proceeding slowly. On the way to CBE yesterday Kate saw a cardboard sign, hand lettered, Slow: Fawns.

And, snow is in the forecast for this weekend. Yes, on the day of the summer solstice, weather5280 predicts snow that might hit us. Snow. The fire hazard signs are still on low, have been since March. Never this far into the summer. I’m grateful for the wet, for the dampening of wildfire probabilities. One less thing.

Patsy Cline

Day 5, fraction 5, of the 7000 cGy prescription. After today’s isotopic rain, only 30 to go. The weekends are off. Time for the body to rest, they say, though I imagine not running a seven day a week practice has something to do with it, too. Pandora so far: The Band, Baroque, Coltrane, Patsy Cline. Haven’t decided about today. Maybe Izzy.

No side effects so far. Early days for both the radiation and the Lupron. Feels like I have a job. Get in the car at a certain time each day, navigate four lane highways to Lone Tree. Same exit, same turns. Same office. But in this case I don’t have a job, I am the job.

The Beano seems to work, suppressing the gas which screws up the Cyber Knife’s navigation of the volume created by Dr. Gilroy. The Miralax helps as well. The calcium/d3 pills are horse pills, almost as long as a finger joint.

Mussar Vaad Practice group, MVP, last night. Rich Levine led a wonderful session on simplicity. Kate and I went for the second time in a row. Still wears us out. Finished at 9:30 pm, way past both our bed times. Here’s an interesting statistic, of the 10 of us in the MVP group, two of us have active cancer right now and one is in remission from breast cancer. 30%.

The religion that is written and elaborated is not religion.

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

Tomorrow is the Summer Solstice. The day of the sun’s maximum presence for the year. On the solstices the day/night balance shifts. On the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year (though if you check the time tables the difference between June 21st and July 21st is only 13 minutes), the night begins to encroach, slowly.

Whatever guides my soul prefers the dark days, the fallow time. I celebrate on this holiday not the victory of the light, but the coming dominance of the night. I do like the bright blue days here in Colorado, not saying I don’t. Just that my soul gains more richness, more depth as darkness grows. Probably one of the reasons I felt so much at home in Minnesota, at the 45th latitude, half-way to the Northpole.

As a gardener, of course, I relished the light for the vegetables and fruits, for the flowers that fed our bees. The summer solstice signals the growing warmth and long days that nourish all plant life. It was also the time, though, that bugs grew more troublesome, when the humid weather encouraged fungus and mold, viral infections in the plants.

In Sweden, Scotland, and other Gaelic and Scandinavian countries the auld religion still calls to its people. Bonfires. Nudity. Parties through the night. Feasts. I like the idea of them. If there were one close by, I might go.

My relationship with neo-paganism is as fraught as my relationship with Christianity. Judaism, too, at the doctrinal level. There’s so much intellectualizing, writing of ideas, logic. I’ve come to believe that elaborating our feelings toward the natural world in a Wiccan or Asatru way, a neo-pagan syncretic way, is as damaging to the soul as the dogmas and laws of other religions.

In the language of Taoism, the one lens which seems to consciously push away dogma, I would say it this way: The religion that is written and elaborated is not religion. Barriers between our soul and its path.

Emerson has influenced me here and he was, in turn, influenced by Taoism. If you’ve read me for any length of time, you’ll have read these words more than once:

“Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. 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? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? The sun shines to-day also.” Emerson’s Introduction to his essay, Nature.

It is this sensibility that I celebrate as each of the Great Wheel holidays roll round. The sensibility that helps us become native to the various places where we live. The sensibility that finds the soul’s interaction with the seasons enough. The sensibility that drags down, pulls away the words to look directly at this universe into which we are born. The sensibility that does not fight the turning of the wheel, but sees the seasons of our lives as one with the changing seasons. This is my understand of wu wei, conforming our life to what is, not what might be.

What I encourage is the sun on your face. Your hands in the soil. Your feet on a hiking path. Your ears alive to the buzzing of bees, the bugle of the elk, the bark of the dog, the words of your friends. What I encourage is living your life as it comes, knowing that it leads to death, yes, but that until death you are alive.

Hug. Smile. Laugh. Cry. Plant. Harvest. Compost. Be grateful. That’s enough.

Bagel Table

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

Torah

As Kate feels better, we’re gradually getting back to CBE. We both went to mussar yesterday afternoon and Kate went to her board meeting last night.

We also agreed to lead the discussion for a bagel table. A bagel table is a Saturday morning discussion held in lieu of a service on Friday night. This one will be on September 14th, after radiation is done and the Lupron is in full swing.

Here’s the description:

Wonderful! Thank you SO much – what a huge help!
Basically, you prepare a discussion on the week’s reading (which for that week is Ki Teitzei / Deuteronomy 21:10 – 25:19). If there are enough people you can say kaddish, but you don’t have to. We will have bagels and goodies present for noshing; you may need to set them out but you won’t be responsible for buying anything.
I think that’s it! If you come up with a theme for the discussion before mid-August, I can put it in the Shofar, but that’s not necessary either. Overall it should be a pretty easy gig. Thank you so much for agreeing to lead it!

Get Your Hands Dirty

Just to show you I’m not only about death and cancer. Here’s a response I wrote to Bill Schmidt after reading this article, “Modernity, Faith, and Martin Buber,” from the New Yorker. He passed it along from his friend Nancy.

Bill, it took me a while, but I did get around to the Buber article yesterday. Interesting. I’d not read a synopsis like this before.

He was a contemporary of Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism and the only rabbi excommunicated by the Orthodox rabbinate in the U.S. My kinda guy.

Martin Buber


I would put Buber, Dewey, Kaplan, and Emerson together. They all questioned received wisdom, hankered to get below the surface of thought to find the substrata. Dewey (and William James) as a pragmatist might be the outlier here, but the pragmatists were a unique American contribution to Western philosophy and as such took issue with the philosophical tradition they had been given from European thinkers. Buber, of course, is the only one of the three that is not an American, but he took Jewish thought in a direction I think is very congenial with Kaplan.

In a quick search I couldn’t find any evidence that Kaplan used Buber’s work, but their mutual insistence on a human centered approach to religion, perhaps even in Buber a human/pagan approach: “When something does emerge from among things, something living, and becomes a being for me… It is for me nothing but You!” and on Judaism’s culture, as opposed to dogma, makes them simpatico. “Buber exhorted his listeners…not to abandon their Judaism but to reinvent it.” Reconstruct it.

This is congruent, too, with Emerson who wanted a book of revelation to us, not the dry bones of revelation to them. Emerson I know had a lot of Taoist influence, don’t know about Buber.

Mordecai Kaplan

We might find a distinctly American twist on religious sensibility by looking at all of these thinkers, even though Buber was German. I’d say my project about reimagining or reinventing faith is in this tradition. That tradition seems to say, take nothing from books as true. Test their ideas against reality, test them against reality at its deepest in your Self and at its broadest in the world beyond the Self. Be ready for the sacred to surprise you in the petals of a flower, the flow of an avalanche, the innocence of a puppy. Find the divine within your Self and bow to the divine within the other, be it rock, animal, fungus, or human.

The gooseberries and me

In my work I’ve found the soil, the power of plants, perfect examples. When we consider our reliance on the first six inches of top soil, on the mystery of photosynthesis, on the divine miracle that is life whether green or furry or pink or barked, then, we don’t need to go to Luke or the Torah. My scripture and its most profound secrets exist in the wonder of rootlets reaching into the dark for the nutrients held for them in living soil.

Jettison Some Shame

Beltane                                                                          Cancer Moon

plowRead yesterday in the group. Iam asked me afterwards if I was a professional writer. Well, I write novels. But, I’ve not sold any so I don’t know if I’m a professional. Drina, who works for a website connected with the founders of Findhorn, said I was a “bright light.” Not sure what that meant, but it was a compliment. Nice to get feedback.

The intensive journal is a plow for the psyche. It turns over the soil, reaching well below the surface, often down into what Progoff called our well. Up pops things hidden, things repressed and suppressed. I worked yesterday with my one year at Wabash. I’ve always been proud of going to Wabash, ashamed of going to Ball State. Yes, even now 50 years later, still ashamed. Enough of that. Shame is not a big part of my inner world, but in this case it’s stuck around.

What I realized yesterday was that I went to Wabash because I believed in a liberal arts education, in studying what was important to me, not what was useful for a career. Its brick buildings, main quad, great library, and 150 year old traditions gave that sort of education a physical manifestation. It was liberal arts. When I transferred to Ball State, primarily a teacher’s college that got big and became a university, I kept up with the liberal arts. I continued my philosophy major from Wabash, picked up an Anthropology major and almost enough credits for a minor in African Studies. I got my liberal arts education. And am still getting it, yet today.

the_foolWe wrote spiritual steppingstones, what experiences in our life have led us to our current spirituality. Those of you who know me know that it’s been a long journey. An ongoing one, too. I would characterize my current spirituality as a tablespoon Taoist, two tablespoons existentialist, a teaspoon Christian, a teaspoon and a half Reconstructionist Jew, and a half cup of paganism (of the earth, the sun, the starting of the universe, aware of it and finding it enough). Mix together and bake until dead. Then, we’ll see.

We also wrote about ultimate concerns, those things which excite us, motivate us, about which we have passion. I had several: the Great Work, Economic Justice, Writing, Painting, Reimagining Faith, Horticulture. Each of these continue in my life, some more prominently than others, but they are the core. Economic justice work proceeded them all. Writing came next. Then, horticulture at Andover. The Great Work. Reimagining Faith. And, most recently oil painting.

The third day of creation

The third day of creation

We’ll work with these today and tomorrow in this last of the three segments, Life Integration. My experience with these workshops is that it’s often days, weeks later that the fruits of the work begin to manifest. I already know I’m going to revise Superior Wolf, separating out the two story lines I merged in it and giving them their own books. I’m going to focus as much as I need to on getting well, on the scan results and potential treatment options. And, obviously, continue taking care of Kate as long as she needs it. Beyond those things, tbd.

It’s been more exhausting than I imagined it would be, commuting. I’m tired, but glad I’m doing this, weariness a small cost.

 

 

Baptized in the Underground Stream

Beltane                                                                     Cancer Moon

20190506_131302Lots of Catholic kitsch in the Mother Cabrini giftshop. I mean, lots. In fact, that’s almost all they have. St. Expeditius here is my favorite, especially his arms.This is a refrigerator magnet and there are others. Including St. Gregory the Wonder Worker invoked in desperate situations.

But, there’s more, so much more. I may pick up an action figure of St. Michael since I find Michaelmas an important holiday. The springtime of the soul, September 29th.

Mother Cabrini action figures, too, some of them very well made. Crucifixes. Prayer cards for particular ills and problems. Mugs with www.anamazingparish on them. Mother Cabrini shrine mugs. Medallions. Jewelry. Lots.

Wandered through the gift shop on the way into the refectory. Good food. Fish, rice, vegetables and a wonderful cherry pie.

The first segment of the workshop is over. It’s called Life Context. The Progoff process plows up the unconscious, kicks up into consciousness both bits from your own unconscious and from what Progoff calls the underground stream. Progoff studied under Jung and the Jungian collective unconscious seems to have influenced him in a profound way.

Another exercise, I mentioned steppingstones yesterday, is inner wisdom dialogue. Progoff wondered, after his time in the army during WWII and the holocaust, what would happen if all the sacred texts disappeared. We would, he decided, write others. After all, we wrote the first ones and that knowledge has to be out there still. Or, better, in here.

Each intensive journal, Progoff believed, is a sacred scripture, a bible of the writer’s own creation. Why? Because it draws on the same source as the Koran, the Torah, the New Testament, the Tao Te Ching, the Diamond Sutra-the underground stream. This is a radical claim, but comports well with, say, Buber, the mystics, Emerson.

The inner wisdom dialogue predicates the underground stream. Each of us made our own list of as many wisdom figures as we could. These wisdom figures can be living or dead, mythological or literary, organic or inorganic. Among mine were Lao Tse, Emerson, Herman Hesse, Shadow Mountain, and the tree I used to visit at the Boot Lake Scientific and Natural Area. It abutted the Carlos Avery Wildlife Reserve in Anoka County.

After entering into a twilight state, a way of getting below the intellect to tap into the unconscious and the underground stream, I wrote my dialogue. I spoke with my tree. It’s a back and forth, leading wherever it goes. The pen follows the deeper you, not the rational mind. At least if the exercise is working well. Mine did.

That tree, with a curved, forked trunk, got passed by when the lumberjacks came because it was not straight enough for lumber; a tall white pine, it grows on an earthen island between two marshy areas. Boot Lake is largely marsh. I scattered Tully’s ashes, some of them, there. I snowshoed to this tree in the winter, walked to in the spring, summer, and fall. I often sat with my back up against its trunk, nestled between two thick roots.

It spoke to me of rootedness, of choosing your place, of reaching deep for what you need, of climbing high for the energy from above. I asked my tree about cancer and it answered. Trust your arborist. Follow through on your treatments. The tree knew of its kindred who have died due to the pine bark beetle. We know illness and death, the tree said.

We also did dialogues with persons important to us, our body, and our creative work.

Today we start the Depth Dimension segment.

 

Long. Strange.

Spring                                                                      Rushing Waters Moon

whatWe hit month 7 since Kate’s bleed yesterday. (To quote the Grateful Dead.) Procedures and imaging. Trips to the emergency room. Trips to doctors. The gradual shift in roles at home. Things have gotten clearer, some solutions have appeared, but nothing certain right now.

I remember saying to Rabbi Jamie in October, “Three weeks! It’s been three weeks. I know a lot of people have it worse, but three weeks…” Kate had been at Swedish for two weeks and Brookdale for one at that point.

As we enter the eighth month of Kate’s ordeal, I believe we’ve found a useful rhythm, a way to be together as this all winds its way toward whatever conclusion can be had. We know who does what. We’ve made some gains towards healing her illnesses. There’s a community of folks, wide spread, from Saudi Arabia to the western burbs of Minneapolis, to Singapore who care about her, about us both. The dogs, fortunately, have been healthy the whole time. A whole winter has come and gone.

The Celts originally had two seasons. The fallow season that began on October 31st, Samain, and the growing season which begins on Beltane, or May 1st. Here’s to a hope that the growing season, which starts in two days, can release its magic for Kate’s continuing improvement.

Rigel and Kep

Rigel and Kep

Rigel continues her odd habit of eating a bit, then going to the back door, which is mostly glass, and looking outside. She stays there 30 seconds, maybe a minute, turns around, comes back and continues eating. Kep, or Kep the Inhaler as Kate has dubbed him (she just finished a book that had Vlad the Impaler as a key character), finishes first, always. Gertie is pretty fast, too, but not as vacuum like as the Kep. She’s blind in one eye, it has the cloudiness of Odin’s, missing a canine, and has a bum left knee but she wags her tail, runs up the stairs to the loft, and can still catch a treat thrown directly to her. Dogs understand wu wei, perhaps Lao Tze learned it from a dog.

Kate’s coronation begins today. She gets the prep work done for four crowns. Sjogren’s, which dries out the mouth, reduces saliva, the natural mechanism that fights tooth decay. Since 1994, we’ve been on our own well, too, so no fluoride. And guess what? We’ve maxed out our dental insurance. Sigh. Whenever I’ve gone in for a crown, I’ve had an old hymn as an ear worm, “Crown him with many crowns.”

gunSynagogue shootings. Mosque shootings. Church shootings. I’ve not read of any Hindu temple shootings, but if they’ve not happened, it seems inevitable.  A Southern Baptist clergy said, “…no one should be gunned down in worship.” NYT  Well, No one should be gunned down. Not in school. Not at worship. Not in a McDonalds. Not at a mall. Not a college. The gun is a curse on our culture and the NRA is its pimp.

When will we take on the NRA, the terrorist organization responsible for more American deaths than Al Qaeda, ISIS and all terrorist attacks worldwide since 1995? According to the National Consortium for the study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, 3,685 Americans have died from terrorist attacks worldwide between 1995 and 2016, with 2,908 occurring on 9/11. In 2017, 39,773 Americans died in gun violence. NYT. That’s right, 10 times the number of deaths in only one year! No wonder the world shakes its head. We are, in many ways, our own worst enemy.

 

 

 

A Difference Maker for My Heart

Spring                                                                              Rushing Waters Moon

20190420_173752Back to mussar yesterday. First time in quite a while. It was a gift, as was the minyan for Debra Copes’ mother’s memorial the night before.

Odd though, in both instances. I find myself an insider and an outsider. There is no question that Beth Evergreen accepts both Kate and me. I’m of the community, not a Gentile pagan interloper. Yet when the prayers are said and the knee bending and bowing begins, I feel like an outsider. I don’t know the words, nor do I fully understand why we’re bending and bowing. I try to follow the person next to me, but I feel awkward and a bit inauthentic. Also, I don’t wear the kippah during services. Again, it doesn’t seem authentic for me since I’m not of the tribe.

When Alan Rubin and I went to lunch on Wednesday, for example, I ordered a reuben, a pannini. When Alan ordered a salad, I said, “Oh, on your diet, eh?” “Well, yes, but also we can’t eat bread during Passover.” Oh? Oops. Passover, it turns out, is 8 days and eating leavened anything during this time is out. Yet they trust me enough to teach in the religious school.

high holy daysBeing away for a while makes me more aware of these moments. Yet Debra wanted me at her mother’s minyan. She did a universal worship service which consists of lighting candles for Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and a general candle for other witnesses to the divine. Rabbi Jamie said, at a meeting a couple of weeks ago, “This ex-Presbyterian understands Reconstruction better than anybody else around this table.” Around the table were key leaders of the synagogue.

Yesterday I offered what was for me a mussar interpretation of a table of virtues set out by Renee Brown, a favorite author of many in the congregation. Yes, to generosity. But, also, yes to retaining sufficient resources for yourself and your family. Yes, to freedom, but also yes to submission, to recognizing those times when serving others is more important. Yes, to accountability, but also yes to breaking the rules, to recognizing that not all instances of being held to account (even by ourselves) are equal or worthy.

20180316_191858The Jewish approach to death, too. Sitting shiva with someone after a death. Having those in mourning stand and be acknowledged during the mourner’s kaddish at every worship service. Celebrating each year the yahrzeit, the year anniversary of a loved ones death. Calling together a minyan as Debra did for honoring her mother. Those who knew it, repeated the mourner’s kaddish from memory. A vital and key part of maintaining community, acknowledging that the dead live on, not gone, just absent.

When I told Alan about my new reality with the axumin scan and oncologists, he said, “You know you’ve got the whole congregation behind you?” He meant it. Wow. Makes me feel like crying. Because I’ve always chosen an outsiders role, I’ve rarely known complete acceptance in a group; but, I feel it at CBE like I felt it in the Woollies. Profound. A difference maker for my heart.