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.

 

 

 

Bernie Madoff rather than Jesus in the their hearts

Spring                                                                              Rushing Waters Moon

read this article in the NYT. wrote in on comments.

This:

“Well. Retired Presbyterian, UU clergy here. It was a used donkey that Jesus rode on Palm Sunday. He turned the tables on the money lenders. In Luke he’s quoted as saying: “…The Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…” Biblical. You can question the Bible, but these folks tend to want you to abide by it. Often think it’s the literal word of God. If they’re right (and I don’t think so), they’re in trouble with their God. If they’re not right, it doesn’t matter and fleecing rather than shepherding is just another Amway scam run by someone with Bernie Madoff rather than Jesus in their heart.”

A hypothesis. The long, very long history of clergy sexual abuse.

Spring                                                                    Rushing Waters Moon

I wrote to the author of this Washington Post column, Pope Benedict shows how the Catholic church went so horribly off-courseHoly_Orders_Picture-cropped2.

Hello, Mr. Drehle,

I’m a retired Presbyterian clergy. I appreciated your comments about Benedict stepping out of the shadows. Problematic to say the least. And, what he said. About all this being the fault of liberals and the sexual revolutions. I mean, come on. Doesn’t pass the most cursory examination.

But. Here’s a matter that has bothered me since the beginning of this latest chapter. It’s my hypothesis that this kind of sexual abuse has existed since the beginning of the R.C. Probably apexed in the Middle Ages.

Sexual abuseWhy? What we know now about sexual abuse is that it often (usually) involves an authority figure and a subordinate. Sexual desire hasn’t waned in the last two thousand years, I’m sure of that. And the Catholic churches presumption of holy authority and that mediated through its bishops and their clergy trumps even the boss/employee relationship, the coach/athlete relationship, and the doctor/patient relationship.

I don’t have evidence for this, just the knowledge that the power dynamics were even worse for congregants from the time of the R.C.’s formation through at least the age of enlightenment.

I’m writing you to see if you know anyone else who’s come to a similar conclusion. And, if not, shouldn’t somebody be on this? If true, and I’m pretty sure it is, it would put the lie to any defense like Benedict’s.

TGIF

Spring                                                                             Rushing Waters Moon

Health south denver cardiology

South Denver Cardiology

Took Kate yesterday to her electro phys (pronounced, fizz) appointment. This one monitors her pacemaker. Unremarkable in terms of her health, really, since it hardly ever fires, but if necessary it’s there. What was interesting to me is the building. It looks like Valhalla for cardiologists. After that final operation, after that final payment on the Maui condo, after that last beat of their own hearts, cardiologists might gather in this Viking long house and feast on Sæhrímnir, the ever dying, ever resurrecting beast that feeds the fallen doctors of the heart. If such a final destination is anywhere, here near the Rockies seems appropriate. May they upcode in peace.

Max Bruckner (1836-1918), The Walhalla, backdrop for the scenic design of The Ring of the Nibelungs by Richard Wagner (1813-1883). Bayreuth, Richard-...

Max Bruckner (1836-1918), The Walhalla, backdrop for the scenic design of The Ring of the Nibelungs by Richard Wagner (1813-1883). Bayreuth, Richard-…

Afterward we went to Tony’s Market. I like Tony’s because you can spend a hundred dollars and still only have one bag to carry to the car. We’ve kicked our frequent eating out down two notches and do it at home now. We buy things at Tony’s like a tenderloin roast. Expensive? Yes. Compared to tenderloins at a steak house? Not at all. Tonight with asparagus, home cooked bread, boiled potatoes.

Kate’s much better. Her stamina has improved enough that we went to CBE last night for the Grateful Dead shabbat. Rabbi Jamie loves to perform and the CBE house band is better than good. Steve Posner on lead guitar rips it out. The harmonica player is wonderful. Drummer and bass ditto. Cheri Rubin, my friend Alan Rubin’s wife, an accomplished musician, plays the piano. She made a living in New Orleans before turning to reinsurance. Four singers, two men and two women, provided voice backup.

music dead bearsThis particular Grateful Dead shabbat, they occur occasionally, honored Leah, who recently left her position as synagogue administrator. She’s a Dead-head who sells tie dyed shirts and other craft items at Grateful Dead tribute concerts. She had a small shrine to the Dead over her desk. What was remarkable about this evening was that Leah’s leaving the job was not completely voluntary.

In a small community this could have been cause for bitterness or dissension. Instead folks got up and told Leah how much they appreciated her. Rabbi Jamie altered the words to a Dead song, changing the name of the woman in the song to Leah. She came up and sang with the two women in the backup group. It was delightful, charming, and altogether unlikely (in my experience of leave takings in churches that weren’t voluntary.). And, Leah responded by saying that she looked forward to getting back into the congregation, volunteering. Pretty damn amazing.

Death, and given the date, Taxes

Spring                                                                        Rushing Waters Moon

This time the snow storm underperformed. Maybe 3 inches. Good news, really, since it means Colorado Pulmonary Intensivists won’t close and we’ll finally get to have a delayed visit there, pick up Kate’s ct reading and discuss her j-tube surgery.

fearGot my own thing going on, too. Second PSA showed a slight uptick from a month ago, from .12 to .13. As Kate said, probably in the lab’s margin of error. Still, it is cancer we’re talking about here. Any increase over .1 sends some sort of signal, just how serious a one I don’t know. Going in to see the urologist as soon as I can get an appointment.

Not the best judge of my anxiety about this. When I sent the note to Dr. Eigner, the surgeon who removed my prostate, I said my psa had gone up to 1.2. That’s a huge difference from .12. I misplaced the decimal point. Not at my calm best on that e-mail.

As I hear myself thinking, my self talk is like this. I need more information. I don’t know enough to  know whether this is bad or just something we’ll need to watch. Or, both. But wait. It’s cancer. You know, CANCER. I don’t want to have a sell-by date given to me, or worse an expiration date. This body no good after 13 years. Oh, come on. We all die. And, you’ve even referred to your eventual cause of death as your friend.

Yamantaka

Yamantaka

Death is not an enemy. It’s an inevitability. Yes, it takes my breath away when my inner conversation veers towards my absence, my annihilation. Sometimes. Other times, I take it in, embrace it. I take from the Tibetan Buddhists that being calm at the moment of your death is a spiritual goal. It is for me and that also means being calm about death since it always approaches, is never further away than your next breath.

We begin and we end. This much we know with certainty. If life, that time between a sleep and a sleep as the Mexica say, is filled with apprehension about the end, then this brief mayfly moment will be wasted. That’s why Yamantaka encourages us to consider our death in as realistic as a fashion as we can. See our dead body. Imagine it in a coffin. Feel the last breath leaving your body. Imagine the world without you.

Not sure about the notion of an afterlife. Reincarnation? The Buddhists think so. Heaven or hell? Very unlikely since I know the literary sources for both of them. Absorption back into the 10,000 things? Makes the most sense, but sense is an artifact of this life and in particular an artifact of human reason. All the data we have comes from our singular experience in this body, in this lifetime. We have no prebirth memories (I find past-life regressions difficult to believe. Which does not mean untrue.). We have no post-death returns save for those who have experienced death and been revived in some way. Even those experiences are brief and inevitably the product of a difficult moment.

death Osiris-nepraWhat about Jesus? There again, I know the literary sources. The earliest gospel, Mark, probably did not include a resurrection narrative. The dying and rising god is a motif of certain Middle Eastern belief systems, the story of Osiris for example.

Would we all like to have a definitive report back from beyond the pale? Not sure. What if it contradicts our hopes, our beliefs?

Here’s the nub of it. I know and love life. But it is, I admit, all I know for certain, except that it also ends. I’m not eager to trade a known good for an unknown. Most aren’t, I suppose. When a mortality signal like a possible return (or more like a reemergence) of cancer comes, part of me responds with fear, with anxiety. Another part of me responds with acceptance of my death.Which is, in any case, not  yet.

Charon and Psyche, John Roddam Spencer Stanhope. 1883

Charon and Psyche, John Roddam Spencer Stanhope. 1883

The older I get I realize carrying contradictory states is the norm, at least for me. It’s like pneumonia. I learned this February that you can have both viral and bacterial pneumonia, in fact, you can have different strains of both. At the same time. We’re more complex, less simple than our reductive thinking processes can usually entertain.

One thing I find odd is being given thirteen years to live (a possible prognosis if this is a reemergence), makes me more anxious than not having such a number. Which is silly from a rational perspective. All that’s being taken away, all he said, is the fantasy of immortality. Without such a prognosis I could continue to live, well, ongoingly. Which of course we know not to be true. Anyhow at 72 I’m already two years into the bonus range beyond three score and ten.

Consistency, Emerson said, is the hobgoblin of small minds. On the matter of death and cancer I’m not a small mind.

A Beloved Community

Spring                                                                              Rushing Waters Moon

Maxwell Creek is full and running. Another bomb cyclone is on its way to the plains and the Front Range, blizzard warnings are up for lower elevations. We’re in a 6-10 inch forecast area. Right now the clouds are below 8,000 feet, meaning Black Mountain is behind a thick fog as I write this. Temperatures will drop fast. Yes, a mountain spring.

Buddy Tom Crane is on his way home to Minnesota after a week plus on Maui. The same storm will welcome him and Roxann with weather similar to what we’ve got coming. Uff dah.

Tara and Marilyn, CBE

Tara and Marilyn, CBE

An interesting evening at Beth Evergreen. Dan, next president of the board, invited Kate and me to come to a session with each of the two candidates for synagogue executive director. We couldn’t go last Thursday since that was Ruth’s 13th, but I made it for this one. Kate stayed home. She’s saving herself. For Friday night’s Grateful Dead sabbath that honors the outgoing exec, Leah, whom we both really liked.

There were about 20 of us. Some had been members since 1979 when CBE was just a twinkle in a havurah’s eyes. Havurah is Hebrew for fellowship and CBE started as a small group of Jews, mountain Jews living in and around Evergreen. Some of us were more recent members. Kate, myself, and Sheri joined in 2016 or so. The rest, including my buddy Alan, had been members for varying lengths of time, though most joined in the 1990’s.

The idea was for us to meet the candidate, this woman is from Bethesda, Maryland, hear her talk about herself a bit, then introduce ourselves and say what CBE means to us. Here’s what was interesting. With no irony or sarcasm at all folks around the table referred to CBE as family, as place where people felt comfortable, where we loved each other. All adults, all older with a couple of exceptions. It was a powerful evening for that reason. I’m not used to adults sitting around describing their love for folks that are not blood relatives, but that’s what happened.

Chicken Soup cookoff, my entry #7

Chicken Soup cookoff, my entry #7

When it came my turn, I referred to CBE as the beloved community that all Christian churches aspire to. A brief article on caregivers in the Denver Post had pointed to some of the problems they experience. I’ve not experienced any of them except stress. The reason, I said last night, is that we were called and offered help constantly. Kate and I have backup and we know it. We’re relatively new members, yet we’re treated like we’ve been around a long time. That’s a characteristic, a cultural norm, of CBE, and it’s rare.

All this is an important reason for us to stay where we are in spite of oxygen related issues. We can get more oxygen up here, but finding another beloved community elsewhere? Unlikely. Today, for example, I have lunch with Alan. Easy from here.

Kate and Seoahs mother, April 10, 2016

Kate and Seoah’s mother, April 10, 2016

Tomorrow Kate has a pulmonology appointment. Unless they close again for the snow. This appointment is with a nurse practitioner since Dr. Gupta is away. Probably on Maui eating next to Tom and Roxann at Mama’s Fish House. Kate wants to get the radiologists reading of the high resolution c.t. she had last week. We’re also looking for an assessment of her fitness for surgery. The J-tube. Don’t know whether a nurse practitioner can give one or not.

Today is Joe and SeoAh’s 3rd anniversary. This picture is one of my favorites of the wedding. A Norwegian in Korea.

Their marriage has been a blessing for Kate and me. SeoAh has helped out in the last 6 months, coming twice, once for a bit more than month in December/January. As a dad, I’m glad Joe has a partner. As a father-in-law, I’m glad he chose SeoAh. She’s a sweetheart.

 

Legendary

Spring                                                                      Recovery Moon

IMG_0612

Tom Crane sent me this street poet’s work, found on Maui. I wrote him back after reading it and said we could go for an epic third phase. I meant legendary, but epic appeared anyhow. He wrote back, said he’d like that, too, but didn’t know how. I agreed. Beginner’s Mind, eh? We’d have to redefine epic, Tom replied. Yes.

And, we don’t want to get stuck in the success trap. That trap can consume the second phase, career and family, but it can be set aside in the third. So the question could be, what would a legendary third phase look like? Better than epic. Epic has that Hollywood feel, doesn’t it? Let’s forget I transmuted legendary into epic and go back to the poem.

Sadhu

Sadhu

What does an open spirit look like in the third phase? What risks might we take if we had one? What risks are particular to the third phase? To get an idea of where this might go, I looked up the Hindu sadhu. A sadhu intentionally creates a fourth phase of life.* Of course in a Minnesota winter like the last one the Jain option of wearing nothing would require modification unless the sadhu phase was to be short.

I wonder if other cultures have similar ideas? Don’t know. What I do take from the sadhu is that they have an open spirit, moving toward moksa means getting free from samsara, the worldly enmeshment that the second phase presses upon us with such vigor.

Part of a legendary third phase might involve letting go, leaving the old desires of life, shaped by education, work, and family behind. But, if they’re left behind we might be left wondering, what else is there? Those desires are the ones that motivated us, got us up in the morning, out the door coffee in hand, ready to do. The old finish line model of retirement pretended that this was as easy as buying a set of Pings, selling the house in Kenwood, and moving to a Del Webb village to drive, chip and putt. Or, head out to Margaritaville, collect umbrellas in the sand next to your beach chair. Doesn’t sound like a sadhu approach, does it?

Song dynasty

Song dynasty

Another image, similar to the sadhu, was the Chinese scholar who would retire from the bureaucratic life, paradigmatic of the second phase in that culture, and move into the mountains to write poetry and live amongst wildlife and forests. This is a Taoist vision, one that took over from the Confucian when either work was over or changes in the political life forced a scholar out of the court. I like this one a little better than the sadhu because I like clothes.

Wu wei: “a state of being in which our actions are…effortlessly in alignment with the ebb and flow of the elemental cycles of the natural world” is the Taoist principle these mountain hermits follow. And, a sound one, though as I’ve written before, I’m also a “take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them” sort of guy. This may be the key attitude that prevents me from fully letting go of success, of my set of Pings, that beach chair.

I’m not talking here about monastics or hermits who take to those lives, as Thomas Merton did, in the midst of their second phase. These are escapist lives, profound in their way of course, but ones that set aside the second phase much earlier. What I want to consider is the legendary third phase possible after the more traditional transition from work and raising a family.

Look forward to any ideas you might have. This preliminary look suggests some things to me. Let go. Seek spiritual liberation. Attune life to the seasons, to the natural world. Live in some seclusion from the old, second phase world.

 

 

“The sādhu is solely dedicated to achieving mokṣa (liberation), the fourth and final aśrama (stage of life), through meditation and contemplation of Brahman. Sādhus often wear simple clothing, such saffron-coloured clothing in Hinduism, white or nothing in Jainism, symbolising their sannyāsa (renunciation of worldly possessions).” wiki

 

Ruach. Breath. Wind. Spirit.

Spring                                                                  Recovery Moon

breath ruachHead. Mostly clear. Lungs. Mostly clear. I’m beginning to feel the illness bidding me goodbye. So long, it was good to know ya. Nah, it wasn’t. And don’t come back, please.

Kate continues to show steady, if incremental, gains. She smiles more, laughs more. Until, that is, she opened the letter from Swedish Hospital advising us that our balance with them was $25,000. Oooff. Our insurance provider has not, for some reason, paid them. I get to chase that down today. Being sick in America. If the illness doesn’t get you, the debt collector will.

If we didn’t have resources, didn’t have enough education and chutzpah to front the insurance company about this, we might end up stuck with the bill. Kate’s experience since September has been long, invasive, and expensive. Without insurance we’d be eating away at our IRA. I don’t think this should be too hard to clear up; but the ominous nature of a letter like that creates an unpleasant frisson. To say the least.

I’m debating going to see my doc about o2 sats. They’re below normal, though not in a dangerous range. The high 80’s a good deal of the time. Normal is above 95, though above 90 nobody worries. Since we’ve gotten here, my sats have been around 90 most of the time. As Tom pointed out, we’ve lost 75% of our available oxygen just by being at 8,800 feet. That would make a normal reading 93 if I’m doing my math and physiology right.

breath in outI really don’t want to confuse Kate’s journey right now, especially since we see the same doc, so I may wait a bit, be sure the flight of respiratory illness I sampled over the last two months has actually ended. In time I would like to know if anything in my lungs compromises my breathing. It’s certainly possible. I smoked for 13 years. Not proud of it, but I did. I also worked in a couple of high particulate matter jobs in my younger days, cutting rags at a paper mill and moving completed asbestos ceiling tiles to pallets. And, Dad had severe asthma, using an inhaler virtually his whole life.

Ruach. The Hebrew word for breath, wind, and for spirit. The Greek word is pneuma. God breathed ruach into the lungs of Adam and he lived. Since the traditional test for death was holding a mirror or a hand up to the nostrils, no moisture on the mirror, no felt breath, it’s not a stretch to equate breath and breathing with life. No breath, no life. Many traditions, especially Hindu and Buddhist, have breathing related practices. So do the Sufi as my friend Debra Cope has taught me.

breath dive reflexWhat impedes breathing, impedes life itself. Impedes the spirit of all life that dwells within us. Like health breathing is unremarkable to most of us until its ease experiences an interruption. Water boarding, or extreme interrogation (not torture as our CIA likes to say), is horrific because it emulates drowning. Our body has reflexes built in, the diving reflex, for example, that protect us in the case of sudden immersion in water. This means that our DNA carries a history of dangers to our breathing.

The pulmonologist treats matters related to breathing. But the pulmonologist, no matter how skilled and learned, deals with the physical challenges to breathing, not the spiritual implications. No, that is up to us and our own way of understanding the body/mind/spirit links.

Breath jacob-wrestling-with-the-angelA breathing issue is not, then, solely the province of pulmonology. It is also the province of theology broadly understood. Theology, for me, is the way you identify, organize, and deal with matters of ultimate importance. Life itself is, of course, a matter of ultimate importance to an individual; therefore, life and how it is for us at any particular point is a directly theological matter. Breath, the spirit of life that fills our lungs, provides our cells with oxygen so that they can carry out the physiological functions that are life in the body, is also of ultimate importance.

Here’s a website devoted to breath meditation.* Note in the second sentence that prana, a Sanskrit word, means both breath and life. No breath. No life.

My journey right now forces me to investigate my breathing at both a physiological and a theological level. It’s all o.k., too. None of us get leave this ancientrail alive. Something takes our breath away. That something shows the fragile nature of even the most master of the universe sort of person. Right now I’m going to attend to my breathing, my o2 sats, the spirit and life they make possible within me. An ancientrail of the third phase, no doubt.

 

*Breath is the universal factor of life. We are born the first time we inspire, and we die the last time we expire. Breath is life itself. In Sanskrit the same word–prana–means both breath and life.

All that lives, breathes–even plants and the bacteria that make bread rise. The process of breath is identical in all, consisting of inhalation and exhalation. It is the most immaterial factor of our existence, being a link-manifestation of the mind/spirit that dwells in all. For this reason, the breath is the natural and logical basis for meditation, the attempt to “enter into life.” The breath is the key to the cultivation of pure consciousness.

The Velveteen Rabbit aspect of human identity

Spring                                                                            Recovery Moon

Bat and Moon, 1930s Takahashi Bihō. MIA

Bat and Moon, 1930s
Takahashi Bihō. MIA

The Recovery moon illuminates Black Mountain this morning. The ski runs carved out on the mountain are white strips reflecting back moon shine. A light breeze moves the lodgepoles and a thin dusting of snow covers the solar panels. Early spring in the Rockies.

Kate made a salad last night. We bumped into each other in our galley kitchen for the first time in months. She also tossed her friendship quilt from the Bailey Patchworkers into the washing machine. She’s beginning to emerge from a long time in the chrysalis of illness. Wow.

Since the recovery moon seems to find us both on the uptick, my doctor’s nurse called with lab results, actually a second call due to confusion there occasioned by a weeks long problem with their computer systems. The first call came when I was still pretty sick and I didn’t pay close attention. This time I did. My PSA has moved up from .o1 to .012. Doesn’t seem like much, but when your prostate’s gone, it’s supposed to stay at .1, which is effectively .0. A recurrence is defined, for those of us who had our prostate’s removed, when the PSA hits .2. Concerning, but not yet a problem. Further testing required.

Rabbi Jamie called last night, wondering how we were. We were both steady and frequent attenders of things at CBE up until Kate’s bleed on September 28th. I continued until my own illness which began in early February. Since then, I’ve only been back for the chicken soup cook-off. Our sudden disappearance from the synagogue’s life caused him to say last time he talked with Kate that the schul isn’t the same without us. Kate was on the board and I was teaching religious school. We both attended mussar on Thursdays. We went to services less frequently, but showed up at education and special events, too. We’ve woven ourselves into the fabric that is CBE.

Chapter House from Notre-Dame-de-Pontaut,12th century French MMA

Chapter House from Notre-Dame-de-Pontaut,12th century French MMA

Community, like friendships, is reciprocal. You put your left foot in, then your right foot, then you shake it all about. With others doing the same thing. Over time we get to know each other, see each other, acknowledge each other. The line between thee and me is both more and less than we usually think. It’s more in that we don’t know our own selves well, our own depths eluding even the most introspective and life examining of us. How could others see into that, then? It’s less in that our perception of ourselves is constantly poked and prodded by interactions with others. In fact, much of our personhood gains definition as we sit down to coffee with someone, engage in critical thought, listen to music, sing with them. In community, in friendships, in family we become who we are.

At CBE, as with the Woolly’s, the docents, the political folks I’ve worked with, and our family, who I am has been in dialectical tension with both individuals and the collective. I’ve had to consider how Frank Broderick’s anti-Catholicism fits into my mostly positive assessment of religious life. I’ve offered ideas at CBE and had them put into action, changing myself and others in the process. As I got to know my fellow docents, I observed how they related to the art, to the art history we learned, to the museum visitors we guided on tours. And, how I was as a docent shaped itself in response.

Woolly Mammoths instructed in glass blowing

Woolly Mammoths instructed in glass blowing

In the instance of the Presbyterian ministry the two millennia plus history of Christianity was a body of thought and actions within which I had to find my particular place just like the thousands of year old history of art demanded I find a personal patch of ground on which to stand in relation to it. Both interactions shaped me and I, in turn, in small, individual ways reshaped both Christianity and the history of art. Not making a big, hubristic claim here, just observing that the dialectical tension affects both parties though not in equal ways.

This is, I suppose, the Velveteen Rabbit part of human identity formation. We rub ourselves up against people, animals, things and in the process we become real. And, we serve that same role for others. It’s an awesome responsibility. How do I, in my interactions, encourage the best in others? Or, do I? But that’s a question for another day.