We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

The Spinning of the Wheel

Samain                                                                    Bare Aspen Moon

Tony's

Tony’s

The capon is in the house, 7.8 pounds of frozen, atesticular rooster glory. Kate and I went to Tony’s Market yesterday, Gertie and Rigel in the back. Tony’s is the sort of grocery store where the pounds fly off the shelves and around your waist even before you check out. It’s a gourmet shop, full of Devon custard in a can, various pickled vegetables, cases filled with ahi quality tuna, plump white scallops, seasoning rubbed filet mignon, frozen bearnaise, hollandaise, au poivre sauces made in house, expensive salami, and puff pastries created with only filo dough and powdered sugar. One of those ten minute super market sweeps from the 1960’s would yield a cart full of scrumptious and clock in well north of a thousand dollars. A good place for holiday shopping.

sephirothshiningonesI spent time before the trip to Tony’s working on my kabbalah presentation for December 6th.  This will take some doing since kabbalah is a quintessentially Jewish discipline and I want to focus, somehow, on the Great Wheel. According to the Tree of Life, the sephiroth (spheres) arranged as in this illustration reveal a path by which the sacred becomes actual and the actual becomes sacred. The bottom sephirot malkuth is the world which we experience daily, the place where all the power in this universe (there are many others), funnels out of the spiritual and into the ontological. It is also the realm of the shekinah, the feminine aspect of god. In kabbalistic terms malkuth is the place where the limits of things allow the pulsing, living energy of the other spheres to wink into existence.

great wheel3In one sense then the Great Wheel, focused as it is on this earth, can only be of malkuth, that is, of the sphere of the actual, the bottom circle below the hand of the kabbalist in the illustration. In another sense, since all sephiroth contain all others, what is of malkuth must also be of the others, the spiritual dna of the whole universe. So, if we take the Great Wheel as a metaphor for the creating, harvesting and ending of life, a cycle without end, then the Great Wheel is, too, a Tree of Life. That is, the inanimate becomes animate, the animate lives, then dies, returning its inanimate particulars to the universe which, through the power of ongoing creation, rearranges them in living form so the cycle can go on.

The Great Wheel has a half circle for the growing season and a half circle for the fallow season. It can be seen as half day and half night. It can also be seen as the cycle of the virgin goddess who, impregnated by the god, gives birth to the growing season as the Great Mother and then, during and after the harvest becomes the crone. The life cycle of each of us.

Not sure yet how I’m going to articulate this for the class. Still in the gestation period.

 

The Raw and The Cooked

Samain                                                                           Bare Aspen Moon

The Raw and The Cooked, French Edition

The Raw and The Cooked, French Edition

After a very busy week, a good busy with friends and Hebrew, kabbalah and time with Kate, yesterday was a rest day. Wrote, did my workout (which takes a while), napped, had a wonderful lamb supper cooked by Kate, who’s a wizard with meat. Watched some more of the Punisher on Netflix. On seeing that on the TV as she went to bed Kate said, “I don’t like your choice of programs.” “I know,” I said. Eating red meat and watching TV are hangovers from my Indiana acculturation, neither of which would I recommend to my children or grandchildren, but which I also thoroughly enjoy. No excuses.

Admitting to liking television in the crowds in which I tend to run is like admitting you enjoy belching or farting in public. Declassé. And it is, I suppose. My rationale (or, perhaps, as is often the case with rationales, my rationalization) is relaxation, in particular relaxation from a day usually spent in intellectual and physical activity. I love stories and TV, especially right now, is full of good storytellers who use visuals to enhance their storytelling. I’m sure there’s a sophisticated psychology explanation for this habit, but TV serves a purpose in my life. So there.

Thanksgiving this week. I’ve got a Martha Stewart recipe for capon with pancetta and fig stuffing. Which, of course, requires finding a capon, a mystery meat, as I said yesterday, to Colorado butchers. Tony’s Market. I ordered one and I’m going to call them today just to make sure it’s really coming. I did try to find a capon on which to experiment, but the only one I could find was $63.00. Ouch. Thanksgiving will be the experiment.

capon2I really like cooking, used to do a lot more. It requires mindfulness and produces a meal for others to enjoy. Just popping up from my days of anthropology: The Raw and the Cooked, by Claude Leví-Strauss. In this book the French anthropologist talks about the binary of raw food to cooked, prepared food, seeing the development of cooking as fundamental for the human species, a key movement leading toward civilization. (I’m not going to go into it here, too complex, but if you’re interested in dialectical thinking, the raw-cooked distinction is an example of binary opposition, a distinctively French version of dialectical thought which underlies Leví-Strauss’s idea of structuralism, a short introduction to it is here.)

My point in this last paragraph is that cooking is central to being human; so, engaging in it, at any level, links us directly to the story of human evolution. In that way we can look at Thanksgiving, or any big holiday meal, as linking a key step in our change from merely animal to animal with culture, to another key step, the abstraction of particular days, the elevation of particular moments in time, into holidays. The other night I realized that for dogs all days are the same no Tuesdays or passovers or superbowls, no Guy Fawkes or Mexican independence days, rather sequences of day and night, with food and friends, human contact.

EmersonWe’re not like dogs in that fundamental sense. As Emerson observed, “The days are gods.” Another binary opposition is the sacred and the profane, like the holy and the secular, ordinary time and sacred time. We imbue, out of our speculative capacity, the passing of time with certain significance. The day we were born. The yahrzeit notion in Judaism, celebrating the anniversary of a death. A day to celebrate the birth of a god, or to remember a long ago war against colonial masters. We identify certain days, a vast and vastly different number of them, as new year’s day, the beginning of another cycle marked by the return of our planet to a remembered spot on its journey.

20161229_161617_001When we merge our speculative fantasies with the chemistry of changing raw food into a beautiful cooked meal, we can have extraordinary times. The natural poetics of wonder join the very earthy act of feeding ourselves to create special memories. Very often on those days we gather with our family, a unit that itself memorializes the most basic human purpose of all, procreation of the species. We don’t tend to think of these most elemental components, but they are there and are sine qua non’s of holidays.

So, cook, pray, celebrate. Laugh. With those you love. If you care to, take a moment to consider these amazing things, too. That we know how to transform a neutered rooster into something delicious, something that will undergo the true transubstantiation, the changing of soil chemicals, the bodies of animals and plants into a human body. That we have the idea of Thanksgiving, or the idea of Hanukkah, or the idea of Labor Day and mark out a chunk of the earth’s orbit as special for those ideas. That we choose to gather on them with our small unit of humanity’s long, long ancientrail of development and critical change and doing so honor all of these elementals.

 

 

 

The Time Has Come. Again. And will come once more.

Samain                                                                    Joe and Seoah Moon

Walrus-Carpenter, John Tenniel

Walrus-Carpenter, John Tenniel

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

 

And so it is, every time Tom and Bill and I find ourselves on the shore of the ocean surrounded by oysters, or on Guanella Pass or in the strange Buckhorn Exchange, holder of Denver’s liquor license number one.

It is, I suppose, possible to think of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass as excellent examples of life’s true way, one governed by chance and the exigencies visited on us. Or, another way of explaining it, other than chance, might be, the universe speaking to us. Could be synchronicity, could be a kabbalah experience, could be the photographer/novelist at the artist’s co-op in Georgetown.

20160813_161919Skiing is an example. Jon’s love of skiing, learned in the flatlands of Minnesota, with bumps just big enough to gain some momentum, occasioned, much later in his life, a move to Colorado. Joseph came here, too, to live in Breckenridge. Jon met Jen. Ruth and Gabe. Years of traveling from Minnesota to Colorado. Then, our own move to Colorado. Now here we are, near the Guanella Pass, near Georgetown with a friend who lives there. So Tom and Bill could come visit and we could meet the photographer and former petroleum engineer, Ellen Nelson. We could, too, as Tom said, reenter the conversation that defines our lives.

There is, too, for me, the chance experience of Kate, all those many years ago, when she went to Temple Israel in Minneapolis and felt immediately at home, tears streaming down her face. Without that moment we wouldn’t have sought out, just on a whim, two classes on King David being held on a cold night in nearby Evergreen. That was two years ago to the day tomorrow. We found Congregation Beth Evergreen. Now we’re there among friends, contributing and growing more deeply involved. And my pilgrimage across the landscape of life, which began in Oklahoma in the Red River Valley, now continues with a strong Jewish inflection in the mountains of Colorado.

 “Every Man Knew” was commissioned from artist David Conklin by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

“Every Man Knew” was commissioned from artist David Conklin by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

None of this was part of a plan. Yes, plans can help us in certain parts of our lives, but if we fool ourselves into believing that the planful side of us guides the most important parts of our lives then we miss the larger, more significant streams on which we drift. Kate sews. So she has met the women of Bailey Patchworkers and the Needleworkers. I love Kate, so I’ve met the folks at Beth Evergreen and taken another right hand turn on my pilgrimage. Bill and Tom and I met through chance in a group of men called Woolly Mammoths. How weird is that? Yet here we are, together now in the Rockies, thirty years later.

Somehow we have to stay open, to not ratchet down the hatches of our mind. This is counter-intuitive as the heavy storms of life wash over our bows, threatening to sink us. In fact we often need to sink, to go under the surface of our life, to allow the stormy waters of a new life to rush over us, fill us, even drown our old life; so that we can pop back to the surface, water streaming, eager for the changed world that now exists up there.

JackLondonwhitefang1It is no wonder that many folks can’t do this. It’s just too scary. But I can tell you, from the vantage point of 70 years, that the intentional has very rarely taken me where I thought it would. Studying hard in high school? Yes, I followed that thread off to college, but college waters quickly swamped my little vessel, pushing me under. I drowned many times in the ensuing years. Philosophy overcame my fragile barque. Then, opposition to the Vietnam War. Alcohol, met in my freshman year, held me under from 1966 to 1976. A long time love of Jack London’s novels, especially Call of the Wild and White Fang, awakened in me a desire to see lands where pine trees and lakes, wolves and moose were. After a move to Wisconsin pursuing those lands, the ocean of Christianity once again swallowed me. Which led me to Minnesota. And, eventually, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, where, after a divorce, I would meet Kate, who cried in the Temple and whose son, Jon, now mine, too, loved to ski. Which led, in its own, very unplanned way, to this home on Shadow Mountain. So many other instances.

 

 

 

There Is No End of History

Samain                                                                           Joe and SeoAh Moon

The moon is a waning crescent. Orion has moved from a position due south of us, when he first rose this year, to a position to the westsouthwest, just beyond Black Mountain toward Evergreen.

Sky, near infrared

Sky, near infrared

This reminds me that planet means wanderer in the original Greek. “Greek astronomers employed the term asteres planetai (ἀστέρες πλανῆται), “wandering stars”,[1][2] to describe those starlike lights in the heavens that moved over the course of the year, in contrast to the asteres aplaneis (ἀστέρες ἀπλανεῖς), the “fixed stars“, which stayed motionless relative to one another.” wiki We know now that even the fixed stars are not fixed, but are in motion relative to each other. Each galaxy moves in relation to the others, our whole solar system is in motion, too.

There is no fixed point. Continents drift, the earth itself wobbles, the moon’s orbit is decaying. In fact, there is no evidence that any of the things contained in the vastness of the universe are permanent. Black holes swallow stars. The eventual-in this case eventual covers a really, really long period-fate of all things, according to the Big Bang theory and its correlate, the expanding universe, is a big cooling, followed by many black holes which suck in and destroy everything. The black holes themselves dissolve due to Hawking radiation. And no thing is left. At least in our universe. Probably. Today’s best understanding suggests something like this as the ultimate end. Of the other, potential universes, the multiverses of string theory, I don’t know.

Space expansionSo what? Death, or at least extinction, is characteristic not only of life, but of the thing in itself, the ding an sich that Kant named the reality beyond our sensory mediation. I suppose this means Ragnarok is the true theological observation about even deity. Nirvana and moksha both promise release from the cycle of death and rebirth. Hmmm. Metaphysically not possible in this universe since the time frames assumed here are infinite. Even heaven. Obliterated. Wings, halos, heavenly choirs. Chilled out in the end.

This leaves us with the compression of time that our human lifespan grants us or forces upon us, depending on your viewpoint. And, it means that all religious speculation is, finally, not about life after death, for we know how that story finishes up, but about living this one life, or these serial lives. Reincarnation is not ruled out by the big bang. Just that it will not, cannot, go on forever.

thrownIt also takes me to Heidegger’s notion of thrownness, that at birth we are deposited into a specific place, with particular parents, in a community in a nation on a continent, in a unique time period, of which we can experience at most 100 years or so, 100 revolutions around the sun. This we know is ours, barring a Trumpian/Kimian nuclear catastrophe or the eruption of one of the world’s super volcanoes or the sudden emergence of a life ending meteor. This life. This brief flash of brilliance that is you.

How shall we live in this, the moment of our existence? This is the question. Many religious and ethical and political and economic systems have arisen as answers. None of them have proved universal, none of them have proved lasting, even in the relatively short historical period. When we peek up over the rim of our fundamental assumptions, we see an anarchic reality, shifting, transforming, its shape guided in part by chance, in part by consciousness.

The world’s religions, in any time, including now, have often suggested that they can peek over that same rim and see order. That they have texts, revelations (the peek), which offer guidance about life as it should conform to that order. Except they conflict. Except we know the physical evidence they see is not ordered at all, at least not in the moral/ethical way they claim, but is, instead, in motion toward dissolution.

taoismTaoism makes the most sense to me in terms of how to live with this understanding. We flow with it, we live on the journey that presents itself to us. Grabbing any tool, political or economic or religious or ethical, and reasoning deductively about what must be is going to result in error, often huge error, at enormous cost in lives.

This is not an argument against religion, or economics, or politics though it may sound like that. It is an argument for humility, for acceptance of our limits, against the hubris of metaphysical certainty. In this view then the teachings of any faith, the hopes of any style of government, the transactional world of any economics, should (and I use this word advisedly) be weighed against their results in the daily life of people and the world that supports them. Bad results equal bad faith, bad governance, bad economy. Good results equal good faith, good governance, good economy. But nothing more than this because even good faith and good governance and good economy has limits. There is no end of history. There is only an ultimate end to everything.

 

Holiseason Well Underway

Samain                                                                        Joe and SeoAh Moon

caponDrove to Wheat Ridge yesterday to Edward’s Meats. Hunting for capon. Capons are surprisingly difficult to find here; even more surprisingly, the first two butchers we asked for one gave us a blank look. Huh? What’s that? Butchers. Geez. Tony’s Market in Littleton, a very upscale butcher and speciality grocery store, did not have any but had an order coming in for Thanksgiving. I ordered one.

But I wanted to experiment with a cooking method before we put that one in the oven for Thanksgiving. That’s why I went to Edward’s. And, yes, they had a capon. $63.00. Sticker shock on my part. In spite of my desire to experiment with the pancetta and fig dressing and a way to create a golden, moist bird for the table, I left with a package of Edward’s all beef wieners and some cheese  curds.

Guess we’ll experiment on a big chicken, non-caponized.

When Kate bought four caramel apples just in case we had trick or treaters (we didn’t, as has been the case all the years we’ve been here), she kicked off holiseason. Hunting for recipes for thanksgiving, and capons, puts deeper into the season. We had Jon clear his stuff out of the guest room and kid’s room by November 1st so we could get the guest room ready by Thanksgiving for Annie, Kate’s sister, and for Joe and SeoAh, who plan to be here over Christmas. More prep.

festivals

We’ve also spent some time putting up lights. Kate strung rope lights on the loft deck and the stairway leading up. I strung some outdoor retro bulbs on the front of the house and another string arrives tomorrow. Needed a few more for the right effect. Though holiday decorating tailed off for us a while ago, these areligious lights are our contribution for the festivals of light.

This is my favorite time of year. The weather grows cold, snow comes. The land and its plant life rests. The many holidays that punctuate this very difficult time for temperate latitudes in times past bring families and friends, whole communities, together. Gifts are given, songs sung, wassailing is common. No matter the commercial spin of these months. That’s just humanity trying to conceal the struggle for depth, for powerful connection with the unseen.

20171109_170458Finding our way in the hiddenness, in the dark wood of Dante’s Divine Comedy, consumes our lives right up until our death. Most of the time we use the day-to-day as cover, pretending that going to work, cooking, paying the bills, watching television, going to the movies is all there is. But we know it’s not. Death serves as the big revealer, the sacred text this earth has given to all life. Life is temporary, a place, as the Mexica say, between a sleep and a sleep. The holidays give us a chance to glimpse the hidden, to see behind the veil that separates the ordinary from the wonder which suffuses it. Yes, that chance exists every day, in all parts of our ordinary lives, but our capitulation to the mundane, seemingly necessary for our sanity, makes it very hard.

diwali-660_110313050526That’s why on Samain we celebrate the thinning of the veil between the worlds. That’s why on Thanksgiving we give ourselves over to gratitude and to family. That’s why Diwali, Hanukkah, and Christmas have us lighting up our homes, our streets, our businesses. That’s why we sing brave songs, remember the birth of a god in human form, the wonder of a light that wouldn’t go out, light the small earthen diyas filled with oil that represent enlightenment driving out ignorance, the wick, the human soul, burning up the oil, hate and ignorance. We could us a few diya’s lit here in the U.S. right now. More than a few.

Holiseason gives us a chance to pull open the curtain on the Holy of Holies and see inside. I hope you find an opportunity to witness, even if for only a moment, the true majesty of this cosmos in which we are embedded.

 

Moose

Samain                                                                    Joe and SeoAh Moon

Moose, Superior National Forest, Minnesota, USA

Moose, Superior National Forest, Minnesota, USA

The Moose.  Been awhile since I’ve written about my totem animal. I didn’t gain the moose in a sweat lodge or a vision quest. Nor did a psychic or friend suggest it.

Nope. Got to thinking about myself a long while ago. Introverted, wandering the forests by myself, not easily cowed, even by predators. Usually alone. And the moose came to mind.

May not be pretty, but they stand tall and act with vigor. I know no one picks a field mouse as their totem animal and that self-selection is sort of frowned upon; but, moose just seemed to fit.

Up here they live not far away, wandering the Arapaho and Pike National Forests. In fact, a male showed up in the meadow at the base of Shadow Mountain just over a month ago. Their only foe, the wolf, is no longer present here, so their numbers have gone up after a recent re-introduction by Colorado Natural Resources. The moose in Minnesota are in trouble, thanks mainly to global warming. The winters are no longer cold enough to consistently kill off the ticks that plague them. Not sure why that isn’t true here in Colorado.

I guess what appealed to me about the moose is its solitary nature, its home turf in the wilderness, its majesty. Moose are one of the iconic animals of the north along with wolves and loons and ravens. Out here in the Rockies they join the buffalo and the wild horse, the grizzly bear, the mountain lion, the elk. I see myself as a man of the north and now, too, of the west, but especially the mountains, so we share a home range, two of them in fact.

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Samain                                                      Joe and SeoAh Moon

38d9f3b4e2e64361ce68ca237f270a42The pilgrim notion, layered over my pagan orientation, has begun to take hold. It makes so much sense, not sure why I didn’t latch onto it until now. Since I was young, I’ve questioned, well, almost everything. In the year after college, that would be 1970, I visited a psychiatrist, don’t recall why. He gave me an MMPI. Diagnosis? Philosophical neurosis. Odd, eh? 47 years of self-exploration later, I’d say the MMPI really meant, permanent pilgrim.

Some of us can find a spot on the path, say, Buddhism, Christianity, Transcendentalism, Islam, Judaism, settle in and deepen our journey within a tradition. Some of us abjure the path, say it leads nowhere, dulls our mind and clouding our senses. Others, and I know a surprising number who fit this, define themselves over against a tradition, choosing to be Not Catholic, Not Jewish, Not conservative Christian. I have a friend, let’s call him Frank, whose identity as an anti-Catholic colors all of his interactions.

There are some of us though who, for one reason or another, slip out from the covered path of our childhood tradition to walk in the rain. I began to question Christianity late, in early high school, but I remained under its covered walkway until my freshman year of college. Once the intellectual roof of that tradition got blown off I discovered I liked the rain. And, that the weather on the uncovered path changed, could be sunny as well as stormy.

Canterbury_Cathedral_Cloisters,_Kent,_UK_-_Diliff.jpg

Canterbury Cathedral Cloisters, Kent, UK. Diliff

I found my back to the Christian path not long after my diagnosis of philosophical neurosis. In fact, I’m recalling now that the psychiatrist thought returning to my childhood faith might help me with my “condition.” And, you know, I think it did. In an obtuse way. When I entered seminary, I didn’t know about Paul Ricoeur’s concept of second naivete. But I lived it.

Returning to the inner world of the gospels, to the flow of the Christian tradition over time, to the close study of both testaments, to contemplative and meditative spirituality reminded me that the way of the pilgrim was real. It was not an afterthought, but a way of its own. Yes, I could and did learn about how to approach sacred texts and learn from them. Yes, I could and did learn from those who loved the covered walkways of Christianity’s various paths. Yes, I could and did learn the awesome (and I mean this word in all its nuances) responsibility of caring for the faith life of others. But I came to understand, not long after the beginning of my ministry, that all of these were tools, not ends in themselves. At least for me.

Meridian Gate, Forbidden City, West Wing

Meridian Gate,
Forbidden City, West Wing

Though the world of the scholastics was putatively over in the late middle ages, in fact it continues to this day in all those traditions that rely on sacred texts as their raison d’etre. Why? Because any time your learning comes from the words of others, be they ancient or contemporary, you have put a barrier between yourself and the sorts of truths that religions espouse. These words can be evocative, can be inspirational, can be vivifying for the spirit. They can be poetic, dramatic, regulatory, awe inspiring, yet they are always the perceptions of others, written in words that conceal as much, more, than they reveal.

Some of us, most of us, want to remain under a covered walkway whether that walkway is a particular faith tradition or the covered walkway of atheism, permanent skepticism. Either way, the sky is hidden and the path winds along in a direction, headed toward a destination defined by itself. This is soothing and can allow for a genuine in depth exploration of that path.

peregrinationes-in-terram-sanctam-enA few of us, for reasons probably unclear to us, find a covered walkway claustrophobic, confining. Even if we give ourselves over to such a path for a while we always find a spur that leads out under the open sky. I have walked under the open sky most of my life, with a fifteen year hiatus on the covered path of the Reformed tradition of Christianity. Since 1990 or so, really earlier, but this is the clear demarcation, I wandered out from under the protection of that path and have not looked back.

Right now I’m trekking alongside the Jewish path, its Reconstructionist lane. Mussar, kabbalah, even Hebrew itself, have much to teach. The culture, the civilization created by Jews over the millennia, is rich and cultivates responsible, caring persons. I’m grateful for the opportunity to explore its learnings in a wonderful community.

When I was in the Unitarian-Universalist movement, I found it, appositely, too eclectic, too rootless. It was like a garden with so many different flowers that there was no beauty, just many, many different blooms. To me. For the right person, it can be a pilgrim path, too, or even a covered walkway, but for me it lead in too many directions at once.

pilgrimThere were monks in the ancient Celtic Christian church, the blend of the auld faith of the Celts and Christianity that preceded Catholicism in the Celtic lands, that defined their spiritual practice as peregrinatio, wandering around. They went from village to village staying in huts. They had no permanent homes, no monastery. Like the staret featured in the Russian spiritual classic The Way of the Pilgrim, they were, in a real sense, homeless. Both Taoism and Hinduism have wandering adherents, too. Buddhist monks traveled the Silk Road.

I consider myself in their tradition, unattached to a religious institution, yet a follower of a mystical way, one that can express itself in the language of many, perhaps any, tradition, while remaining outside in the rain.

 

Soul Curriculum

Samain                                                                     Joe and SeoAh Moon

big-ben-clockface-super-teaseFed the dogs at 4 a.m. today. Didn’t mean to, but the ever interesting saving of daylight rendered it so. We’ve stopped saving daytime as of 2 a.m. this morning, so I’m up an hour “earlier.” I will say no more. Longtime readers of this blog know my feelings. I’m glad we’re back to standard time.

The Joe and SeoAh moon is high in the south, over Black Mountain, hanging above and to the right of Orion’s still visible left shoulder (his left). That’s one reason I’m glad to be up this early. I can see the dark sky and the wonders that it holds.

soul trait profileMussar works with the idea of a soul curriculum. This old Jewish system of character development, as I’ve said here before, works with middah, or character traits, for example: awareness (watchfulness, accounting for the soul), gratitude, joy, humility, loving kindness, honor, truth, awe. (for one full list see). A soul curriculum encourages the practitioner to find those traits which are already strengths and to build on those while identifying the traits that are less well developed for more work. (an example, not mine)

In my case awe, truth and awareness are traits I count as strengths. That doesn’t mean they’re automatic or always available to me, just that they’re in my quiver. One of the things I find useful about mussar is that it doesn’t assume, or even anticipate a sudden, self-help like jump to perfection if only you follow these steps. In fact it emphasizes the incremental nature of this work, the difficulties all of us face in it, and a certain tolerance for our tendency to go off track in our efforts.

curriculumofthesoulv2On my soul curriculum right now are joy, simcha, and gratitude, hakar hatov. There are and will be others as the months, weeks and days of this new year roll round, but right now I’m searching for those places in my day where I can say thank you and those instances where I experience joy. By having them on my curriculum I mean I’m actively working with them, using a focus phrase: Thanks and Yes! in this case. I’ll write about them here because that’s a way of reinforcing and integrating them in my life.

A brief word about theology. Mussar works with or without a belief in God, or at least, the traditional belief. All of the traits have  relevance in a secular view of the world. As a pilgrim, I’m learning about them because they’re helpful to my daily life and I really like the people engaged in this work. It’s also a common language for Kate and me as we negotiate our daily lives.

A pilgrim sees what is on the path and engages it, often without question, knowing that the path winds on beyond this place. Right now mussar and kabbalah are on my path just as Christianity, existentialism, and paganism have been on it, too. The pilgrim does not lose what he’s been taught. It all goes into the journey, enriching it, making it deeper, better.

Still on the ancientrail.

The Pilgrim. The Fool. Me.

Samain                                                                       Joe and SeoAh Moon

the fool, card 0 in the Tarot

the fool, card 0 in the Tarot

Pilgrim. After reading Rumi’s poem (see post below) and reflecting on the idea of being a pagan, especially the baggage the word carries, I decided to replace pagan as a descriptor of my current religious locale with pilgrim.

Better anyhow. Pagan underlines my deep love of the world beyond my doorstep, especially the woods and forests, streams and lakes, mule deer and elk, fox and mountain lion and bear, blue sky and high clouds, snow storms and rain. And that remains an indelible part of my pilgrimage.

But it does not reveal the long and winding road, the inner path, the several sites and rest spots I’ve visited on the Way. This pilgrimage of mine has been lifelong. Along the way I’ve visited religions, philosophies, drugs, politics, countries, sacred sites. I’ve stopped a while with different people, women and men. My journey has been confounded by labyrinths and mazes, yet I’ve always found my way back out of them. This fool’s path will continue until the day my breath stops. And, who know? Maybe beyond?

the foolMy image for the pilgrim spirit I am is the Fool, card 0 in any tarot deck. The fool is the beginning of the journey which underlies the tarot deck as a whole. He represents new beginnings, naivete, setting out. For me, he represents beginner’s mind, the childlike (but far from childish) wonder that I hope will always be with me. My pilgrimage, now in its 70th year, began twice: the first time I learned to walk and, after polio, the second time I learned to walk.

That little guy still puts one foot forward, then the other, wanting to see what’s next. What’s beyond the curve in the road? What’s behind the mountain? What’s hidden by language? What does Judaism have to teach us? What’s the love in a young girl’s heart?

If you see me on the road, stop and let’s talk awhile.

Thanks

Samain                                                              Joe and SeoAh Moon

mysticsHakarat hatov, Hebrew for gratitude, literally means recognizing the good. My friend Bill Schmidt often quotes Meister Eckhart, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” In the 1980s I had a Jesuit nun as a spiritual director. She suggested I keep a gratitude journal because, she said, gratitude is the root of all spirituality.

As the Hebrew suggests though, there is a step just before gratitude, recognizing the good. We can live a life full of bitter disappointment amidst a bounty that would make others cry for joy. One Hasidic author I read said, “For example, a person has a drive to make ten million dollars and (regrettably) achieves it. Now he wants twenty…he nullified the value of the ten million in his mind.” Getting to Know Your Soul, Bilavi Mishkan Evneh.

20171016_070053Or consider our home here in Conifer. We have running water, indoor plumbing, a boiler, a gas stove, a microwave, a refrigerator. We have food in the refrigerator. We have a car in the garage. Three different perspectives on this seemingly so what list: 1. a person living in a refugee camp. 2. a person living in a favela in Rio 3. a homeless person in Denver or right here in Conifer. Not so so what now, is it?

But. We could look up the mountain, see the mini-palaces some folks have built up there and say, “We would be truly happy if only we could live there.” Or, when we see the occasional Maserati or Lamborghini or Ferrari on the mountain roads, which we do, we could say, “How much better life would be if only I had one of those.” This would be nullifying the ten million dollars.

“Rebbe Nachman of Breslov writes, “Gratitude rejoices with her sister joy, and is always ready to light a candle and have a party. Gratitude doesn’t much like the old cronies of boredom, despair and taking life for granted.””  Alan Morinis, Jewishpathways

gratitudeHow much better for our souls to recognize the love Kate and I share, the dogs that grace our lives, the material blessings we have, and they are blessings in the most theological sense of that term, as the good surrounding us, supporting us, allowing us to feel joy.

Enough is a close cousin of gratitude. When we recognize the good we have and that it is enough, then we can be joyful. Happy? I don’t know. Up to you. But joyful and satisfied, yes.

gratitude thank youI am grateful right now for the sound of Gertie sleeping, the miracle that is this computer on which I write, the electricity that powers it, that I woke up this morning, again, that Kate woke up, too. I’m grateful that the air is cool outside and that we have heat inside. I’m grateful l had fruit and vegetables and protein for breakfast. I’m grateful I had the chance to help Jon load the trailer last night. I’m grateful for the time with Joe and SeoAh and for the chance to participate in finding Murdoch. I’m grateful to live on a mountain, in the mountains, with Black Mountain always out my study window. And this list could go on, and on, and on.

So. My prayer, “Thanks.”

November 2017
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