We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Letting Go of the Old You

Lughnasa (last day)                                                Harvest (new) Moon

jewish-photo-calendar

Rosh Hashanah service last night. Lots of Days of Awe alumni showing up at the synagogue. These are long services during the High Holydays, this one running almost two hours. There are, however, a lot of songs, readings, standing and sitting, so the time passes quickly.

The mahzor (prayer book for high holidays), has several interesting components. It includes, for example, poetry by Mary Oliver, Rainer Marie Rilke, and Y. Yeuvenshko. The Mary Oliver poem ends with a favorite Woolly Mammoth quote from her work: What will you do with your one wild and precious life? Which is apropos of the High Holydays since this is a time in the Jewish calendar for repentance, teshuvah (returning), closing off the last year and coming clean and free into the new one.

The mahzor also explains the High Holydays as a principle event for Jews as a community of memory. This really struck me last night, especially when Rabbi Jamie quoted from the Shema, “Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.”

memory“That’s us,” he said, sweeping his hand around the room. Of course, it’s not me, but I took the point. Israel, those Jews in the sanctuary at Beth Evergreen and in Rosh Hashanah services around the world last night, and those Jews not in the services, too, is a community which celebrates its most important memories every Sabbath with a parsha reading, a segment of the Torah.

I feel privileged, and grateful, for the chance to live out my religious life at Beth Evergreen, within, but not of, this community of memory. Rabbi Jamie also said last night that the Jewish calendar focuses on helping each Jew become a better human. I get it and I’m following it, too. I am, after all, a human. What better way to start a new year than to focus on repentance for missing the mark of your best self in the last one? Then, figuring out, through mussar, for example, how to work a little harder on finding your best self in the upcoming one.

KaplanThis is reconstructionist Judaism, an explicitly non-supernatural religion that nonetheless adheres to the traditions and customs of Jewish civilization, including Torah study, sabbath observance, comforting mourners, repairing the world and doing acts of loving kindness.

Over the last week or so I’ve begun wondering if my reimagining faith project is really a reconstructing faith project? No, I don’t mean to use Judaism as a base, not at all, but it did occur to me that the methodology suggested by the idea of reconstruction might be stronger for my purposes than reimagining. Still thinking.

Awesome

Lughnasa                                                                                       Eclipse Moon

OzymandiasThe last night of the Eclipse Moon, a disastrous month for North America from the eclipse to its waning moment. The wildfires are still burning in the West from the state of Washington to California, in Oregon and Montana and Idaho. Harvey and Irma related disaster cleanup has only begun. The same in southern Mexico for the victims of the 8.1 earthquake. Jose is still pounding around in the Atlantic and Maria, now a category 5, has just shattered Dominica, Guadeloupe, and is headed for Martinique and Puerto Rico. It’s not the apocalypse, no, but for those whose homes and forests are on fire, under water, battered by wind or destroyed by the movement of the earth, it may as well be.

Awe is not confined to the benign, the amazing and wonderful. Each of these disasters, both in their gestalt and in their particulars, and as a collection of events, is awesome. They show the limits of human preparation, of human intervention. We are not, even with our nuclear weapons and our space station and our icebreakers, more than bystanders when these acts of earth strike us. We even have a name for them, force majeure, enshrined in insurance policies.

Nations and civilizations rise and fall, but earth, air, fire and water continue in their eternal way, or, at least as long as the earth herself lasts, to do what they want, when they want, where they want.

We are, in the end, Ozymandias, look on our works, ye Mighty, and despair.

L’shanah tovah!

Lughnasa                                                          Eclipse Moon

Samuel Palmer, The Harvest Moon (c 1833)

Samuel Palmer, The Harvest Moon (c 1833)

That old moon, the one that occulted our star, has two days left in its cycle. It will give way to the first moon of this new fall, this moon that oversaw the journeys of millions to watch it work in the daylight. It also presided over Hurricane’s Harvey, Irma, Jose and Katia, over the 8.1 earthquake in southern Mexico and the fiery end to many forests in the U.S. West. Earth, Air, Fire and Water. What will this next moon bring?

I’m still feeling a sense of exhaustion from Saturday night, not unusual I guess. Seventy after all. The burns I got on my right hand making the sugar cream pies last Tuesday are still healing. Again, seventy year old skin. This exhaustion feels ok, part of the third phase.

Went to bed last night in a mild funk, exhaustion will do that, allow negative moods to take hold, grip me. They’re like infections, sudden and pervasive; but usually, if I can find their source, a triggering event, then I can quiet the infection, let it dissipate. It takes brutal self-honesty.

Abandon all attachment to the results of action and attain supreme peaceYesterday I traced the funk back to an e-mail I sent out late Saturday night thanking all the main participants in the Evergreen Forum. Two folks responded quickly, thanking me, too, and I realized, as I searched for the source of the mood, that I wanted more of those and when they didn’t come, I wondered why not? It was that wondering that created the bad mood. In others words I had poisoned my own well, then drunk from it. Well, I realized, that’s silly. Take the compliments, move on. So, I did.

Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday evening, erev Rosh Hashanah. This is a pensive time in the Jewish calendar. As the old year ends, Tishrei 1 (Sept. 21st) ushers in the Jewish year 5778. Rosh Hashanah, according to Chabad.org, means head of the year and celebrates the birthday of the universe and in that process, the day of the creation of Adam and Eve.

After it there are then 10 days to complete a cycle of seeking forgiveness from others so God can be approached on Yom Kippur for forgiveness. At the end of Yom Kippur the book of life is sealed for 5777 and written in the book will be all those sins for which forgiveness has not been received.

Happy-Rosh-Hashanah-Shofar

This is a wonderful way because it encourages an annual cleaning of the slate, then beginning a new year ready to live fully, unburdened by baggage from the year before. Whether or not you accept the metaphysics, the practice itself is healthy.

Prayer

Lughnasa                                                              Eclipse Moon

The Sacred Wood, Arnold Bocklin, 1882

The Sacred Wood, Arnold Bocklin, 1882

The first Evergreen Forum has happened. Rabbi Jamie Arnold, Imam Mohammad Noorzai, Rev. Dr. Judy Morley, and Pastor Peter Hiett spoke about prayer to forty or so folks at Beth Evergreen. It was a lively evening with great food provided by my oneg Queen, Kate, setup and other help provided by members of the adult ed committee: Tara, Marilyn, Sally and Anshel. A couple of other Beth Evergreeners pitched in, too.

One thing, a happenstance in a way, stood out for me. We had the grandkids, Ruth and Gabe, with us. Mohammad brought his son and granddaughter, Lila. Lila, Ruth and Gabe played while the adults talked about prayer. A major aspect of the adult event was to increase interfaith understanding and comity. The kids did it naturally, punctuating the evening with occasional shrill cries of delight, crossing the Jewish/Muslim barrier with no problem at all. Might be a lesson here.

jackfruit_instructions2Kate was nervous about her food, but it was received well, its disappearance a testimony to its yumminess. Especially the jack fruit. Kate found it at King Sooper this week. She bought a 20 pound one, then she and Ruth performed a fruitectomy on it to retrieve the sweet yellow flesh. This southeast Asian fruit is unfamiliar to most North Americans, but I had it for the first time when preparing to board a water taxi on the Chao Phraya in Bangkok. If you haven’t had it, really good.

Today is a rest day. Tomorrow, back at it.

 

 

Exhaled from the abyss

Lughnasa                                                                    Eclipse Moon

Say awe. My focus phrase for this month’s middot: yirah, or awe. (middot=character trait)

CamusAlbert Camus. One of my favorite theologians. It occurred to me that the abyss Camus mentions may be what gets crossed when we experience awe. Somehow we let the absurd in, or the mute world gives us a shout.

“For Camus … [our] astonishment [at life] results from our confrontation with a world that refuses to surrender meaning. It occurs when our need for meaning shatters against the indifference, immovable and absolute, of the world. As a result, absurdity is not an autonomous state; it does not exist in the world, but is instead exhaled from the abyss that divides us from a mute world. ‘This world in itself is not reasonable, that is all that can be said. But what is absurd is the confrontation of this irrational and wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart. The absurd depends as much on man as on the world. For the moment it is all that links them together.’ …” 

Here’s another way of thinking about awe from Alan Morinis, a mussar guru:

“Awe is the feeling of being overwhelmed by a reality greater than yourself and greater than what you encounter in ordinary life. A curtain is drawn back and the little human is overtaken by a trembling awareness that life is astounding in its reality, vastness, complexity, order, surprise. Experiences of awe awaken a spiritual awareness.”

yggdrasil

yggdrasil

Immanuel Kant used the phrase ding an sich, the thing-in-itself, to name that from which our senses separate us. We experience the ding an sich, the mute world of Camus, only through our senses, through our sensory experience of certain qualities, qualia, that the thing-in-itself presents. We do not, in other words, experience that which has the qualities, but only its qualia and then only those within the very limited range of qualia accessible to our senses.

The ding an sich, the abyss, a reality greater than yourself all name a something beyond ordinary experience. There are many ways of articulating the gap between us and the ding an sich, the things in themselves.

Here’s one I like.  Bifrost is the rainbow bridge of Norse mythology. As in this illustration, bifrost connects Asgard, the realm of the Aesir (Odin, Thor, Freya), and midgard, or middle earth, the realm of humans. Awe could be a brief moment when we stand not on midgard but on the rainbow bridge, able to catch a glimpse of the realm beyond us.

Or, we might consider the Hindu concept of maya. Among other meanings maya is a “magic show, an illusion where things appear to be present but are not what they seem”” wikipedia

heimdallWhat all of these ideas suggest, I think, is that a gap exists between an individual and the really real. An important religious question is what is beyond that gap, or what constitutes the gap, or what is the significance of the hidden for our spiritual lives.

I don’t know how to answer that question. Camus’ notion of the absurd makes sense to me. If that’s not an oxymoron. What I do know, for sure, is that the only tool we have for answering it is our experience. Awe may help us. It may allow us a momentary peek into the abyss, or place us on bifrost, or pierce the veil of maya.

What has awed you this day? This week? This year? In this life?

Falling

Lughnasa                                                                     Eclipse Moon

- Nancy Drew, “Morris Louis, 1959″, (96 x 92) acrylic, flock and glitter on canvas, 2002 (This piece was created as an homage to Morris Louis, influenced by his work from 1959) Dana McClure

– Nancy Drew, “Morris Louis, 1959″, (96 x 92) acrylic, flock and glitter on canvas, 2002 (This piece was created as an homage to Morris Louis, influenced by his work from 1959) Dana McClure

The eclipse moon, still in the sky, now three weeks after blotting out the sun at midday, has become a crescent. I just looked up the moon calendar and noticed that the new moon falls on the two days prior to the fall equinox. The beginning of fall on the Great Wheel comes, this year, with the new energy of a rising and waxing moon.

Golden spears have begun to show up among the lodgepole pines on Black Mountain. Fall here announces itself with a subtle show of a single color, gold amongst green. As fall progresses, the subtlety disappears in wide swaths of yellow gold splashed across the mountains as a colorfield artist (Morris Louis, for example) might. Mountains become three dimensional canvases, temporary installations, a visual treat announcing the coming of the white season.

The angle of the sun has changed, it’s lower in the sky now, spreading its considerable energy over wider and wider areas, lowering the amount of warmth we receive over the course of a day. The trees and the birds and the bears and the elk and the mountain lions know this. The elk rut has begun and there are reports of bugling elk with large harems of twenty five cows coming in from many locations. A photograph and video collection on a local facebook group showed two bull moose with their velvet recently scraped off, clacking their wide racks against each other in a marshy area about twenty miles from here.

The Mt. Evans’ road has been closed for two weeks now, not to open again until after Memorial Day, 2018. OpenSnow, a website for skiers, announced the first snow of the season in the Cascades, noting that it should help fight the wildfires burning now in the northwest.

This turning of the Great Wheel brings with it, at least for me, renewed energy, an eagerness to engage the world fully. Heat saps me, makes me want to put on one of those funny hats that has room for two beer cans fitted to plastic hoses for constant cooling sips, sit down, and wait until, well, now.

I’m grateful for this seasonal change, though the growing season has its definite charms, too. It’s just that the temperatures important for plant growth are not so pleasing to me. And, BTW, Kate has pulled off a mountain gardening trick. She has several tomatoes ripening in our single 5 gallon plastic bucket container garden. My Demeter.

Embarrassed

Lughnasa                                                           Eclipse Moon

mussar chartThe mind and heart, so wonderful, so necessary, so amazing, but also so fragile. Take mine for instance. Yesterday was a full day, beginning, as my days do, around 4:45 am. I got the dogs fed, ancientrails written, Jennie’s 750 words written and went downstairs to eat breakfast and make two sugar cream pies.

I met Rabbi Jamie for lunch in Evergreen, drove back to Shadow Mountain and took Kate to Bailey for her Patchworker’s gathering. Stopped by Happy Camper on the way back home. A 30 minute rest, then back to Evergreen for a meeting about the first ever Evergreen Forum.

Here’s the tricky part for me, the tricky part for moving more fully into the space of Beth Evergreen. My responsibility for the meeting was to get the four panelists there. I reminded them all in an e-mail a week plus ago, but only Rabbi Jamie and Rev. Dr. Judy Morley of the Science of Mind church showed up. I was embarrassed. Of course, they’re adults and had plenty of prior notice; still, I felt I failed at part of my task. Not a great feeling. The planning went fine though and we got the work done.

However. This meeting preceded a second meeting, Mussar Vaad Practice leadership, of which I am also a part. (MVP, get it?) At this one I’m part of a group of six taking responsibility for continuing the integration of mussar’s character development work into congregational life. This was the meeting for which I baked the pie.

During this meeting, I fell into a dispirited place. Dispirited is such an interesting and evocative word. Exactly right here. My spirit, my ability to engage as me, waned during the course of the time. Why? Well, MVP intends to lead by deepening our own personal practice of mussar. Part of that practice involves focusing for a month on a particular character trait, last month’s was self-awareness, this month’s is awe.

The practice involves using a focus phrase, mine was be aware, to keep our attention focused on how we are with that particular trait over the month. I said I’d journal my awareness. Others made lists twice a day of how they made choices, another put a note on their car dashboard asking, Where I am going, why, Where I am going, how, and another turned off the radio in their car and used that time to focus, while yet another checked in on how they were eclipsing themselves, hiding their true feelings behind socially expected behavior.

At check in we said how it had gone over the month. Most of the folks had very fruitful months with some behavior changes I would describe as significant. When it came my turn to check in, I couldn’t remember any of the things about which I’d journaled and I admitted that the journaling didn’t last long. As my Woolly friends who read this will know, I love assignments and am diligent about fulfilling them. Comes from all those years as a student. Except I hadn’t this time. Again, I felt embarrassed.

Too, this meeting went until 8:30 p.m. I’m in bed at 8:00 p.m. since I get up at 4:45 or 5:00 to feed the dogs and start my day. I’m not sure, but I think as my mind begins to move toward sleep, at least at this age, my emotional resilience goes down, especially when I’m out.

The end result of this was that I came home feeling like a failure. Too big a word? Not really. The good news here is that I recognize the context for this feeling, why it came over me and that it was contextual, not core. I told Kate I’d feel better after some rest. And I did.

Being older means having gone through this cycle before and being self-aware (hah, ironic, eh, in light of last month’s character trait?) enough to know the feeling will pass. This is so important, though it may not be obvious. If I allow my embarrassment to mutate into shame, then it could well weaken the bonds I’ve begun to develop at Beth Evergreen.

Shame at not being able to fulfill my obligations could make me much more reticent in future meetings and in general with the people involved. It could push me away from Beth Evergreen. But that only happens if I see the embarrassment (my reaction) as being produced by the other’s shaming me. If I understand and own the reaction as my own, and as a reaction to circumstance, not as a character flaw, then I can continue in community.

A tough but good learning.

 

 

Engaged

Lughnasa                                                             Eclipse Moon

The waning Eclipse Moon stands high in the southern sky this morning above Orion’s head and shoulders. The brightness of even a half moon obscures many stars, a good reminder that light does not always reveal. It can hide things, too.

sugar cream pieToday is a busy one. Once I’ve finished my writing, ancientrails and Jennie’s Dead’s 750 words, I’m going to make two sugar cream pies. One is for home, the other for the mussar leadership group that meets tonight. Sugar cream pies are a distinct cultural marker for the Hoosier state, but more than that, they’re really delicious. Why I don’t make them often.

At noon Rabbi Jamie and I are going to eat at Sushi Win, a sushi joint, excellent, in Evergreen. We’re going to discuss the Evergreen Forum, in particular the meeting with the four participants at 4:00 p.m. this afternoon. We have to decide on format, setup, a questionnaire. The topic, prayer and worship in each person’s tradition, is already chosen.

kaddish the first line from Bleichrode prayer book 1923

Judaism, evangelical Christianity, science of mind and Islam will present this coming Saturday night. This will be the first of what we plan to be quarterly events. I’m excited about it, a little nervous, since it’s my idea, but Beth Evergreen is a collaborative place and many others have helped move the concept to this point. Next up will be a Buddhist, a Sikh, a Hindu and a Native American. That will be December 5th. A visiting scholar will present in the first quarter of 2017 on Reconstructionist Judaism’s thinking on these topics.

After lunch with Rabbi Jamie I’m going back to Shadow Mountain. Kate needs to get to the library in Bailey for her patchworkers group which meets there. I’ll take the opportunity to to go over to The Happy Camper and pick up some edibles.

Back home for a nap, then over to Beth Evergreen for the meeting at 4:00. Following this is the mussar leadership group at 6:30. Home around 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. A very full day.

End Times?

Lughnasa                                                                 Eclipse Moon

Earth's CirculationEnd times. Remember Harvey? The really big hurricane that hit Houston. Last week. Nope, neither do I. I’ve only got eyes for Irma now. Tracking her path north, a bitch goddess of mother nature’s fearsome pantheon: hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, torrential rains, drought, wildfire, volcanic eruption, tsunami, avalanche is an exercise in awe. So big. She’s so big. So powerful. So demanding and unyielding.

Wider by double than the state of Florida, Irma will make landfall in the Keys as a Category 5, the highest number in the Saffir-Simpson scale. Its winds are higher even than the criteria for Category 5, but as an article explaining why there would never be a Category 6 hurricane said, “Once you reach catastrophic, there’s no more damage more intensive winds and rains can do.”

The Ellis side of my family is basically in Texas and Oklahoma. We have relatives in the Houston area. Joseph and SeoAh are in Macon, Georgia. The cone of Irma’s path north has Macon in the center. Of course, she will have diminished in strength considerably by the time she reaches mid-Georgia, but high winds and torrential rains are definitely coming to Robbins AFB and Macon.

Totality

Totality

On August 21st we went to Idaho to observe eclipse totality. I wrote then that these events may be a key to humility, that our assumptions about the way things are may be fundamentally wrong. The sun does not go dark on a cloudless day. The sun. Oh, wait. It just did. No wonder an eclipse could strike real fear in our ancestors. That fear is similar to the one experienced, but in slow motion, at the Winter Solstice.

The night has overtaken the day. The earth is cold. Will it ever warm again? Will we ever have a spring? This question of the sun’s return, whether light and hope can emerge from the dark, is a sort of abstraction, a conclusion or a fear based on the sun’s apparent disappearance. It makes us philosophical, scientific.

Storms like Harvey and Irma are blunter instruments. They come screaming at us from the world ocean, hurricanes in the Atlantic, typhoons in the Pacific. There is no question about their intent, about their results. Devastation and havoc follow in their wake. Some will wonder why. It is our nature to ask these questions, but our answers too often obscure rather than reveal. Take, for example, Rush Limbaugh who thinks reporting on Irma and Harvey is a plot to convince us about climate change. Or, a pastor who believes the hurricanes are a direct response to homosexuality.

Wild Hunt, Caceria Salvaje

Wild Hunt, Caceria Salvaje

No. These are answers that reveal our fears, take our own Rorschachian temperature, but the why is not about us. The why is the delicate, yet sometimes fragile balance of temperature and humidity added to a whirling planet’s churned up atmosphere. Hurricanes like Irma are goddesses in the oldest sense of the word, creatures of nature beyond our ken and propitiation. We cannot pray to them and expect changed results for their ways are not our ways.

We are, in their presence, revealed as weak and defenseless animals whose only recourse is to flee. Look at the news footage of evacuation traffic out of Florida. Look at the devastation of our burrows and other shelters built on Caribbean islands. Look at Houston in the aftermath of Harvey.

The divinities of this earth are not human, not anthropomorphic and not separated from us by a sacred veil or a hidden world. They are very much of the earth. And they are neither evil nor good. To paraphrase Matthew 5:45, …she (mother earth) makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

So, no. These are not the end times. These violent storms are part of our planet’s readjusting of water and heat, seeking a balance between the frigid polar atmosphere and the heated tropics. Oh, yes, we have meddled with that balance, throwing more heat into the equation. We have increased the fury and power of these earthly beings and in that sense we have brought a kind of judgment on ourselves, delivered by the impersonal forces we do not and can not control.

As for me, I’m in awe. We move out of the way of Irma as the mule deer and elk of the mountains flee human presence. On the days of hurricanes the mountains are a good place to be. When the wildfires come? Not so much.

Elemental

Lughnasa                                                          Eclipse Moon

Indian Paint Brush

Indian Paint Brush

That was the idea I was reaching for in the post below about the West. Wildfire. Precious Water. Mountains and high plains. Blue sky and fancy clouds. Of course versions of these are everywhere, yes, but here they’re in your face, unavoidable and unmissable companions of daily, even hourly life. Not the wildfire, you say? Live in tornado alley? On a hurricane prone coast? In an earthquake zone? You’re always aware.

Earth, air, fire and water. Not a 70s disco band, but the notes of a changing composition of seasonal change. Right now we’re in the transitional movement between the allegro of the growing season to the andante of harvest, the celebration of senescence. Human activity does become more frenetic during the harvest, a sort of false allegro, but only because the plant world knows winter is coming. You can hear those bass notes as seeds form and disperse, plant stalks brown and wither, green fields become tan or golden.

20170814_172230Up here in the mountains the occasional aspen has begun to turn. The grasses in the mountain meadows have lost their intense green. The angle of the sun has already lessened, casting deeper shadows. Orion is visible in the dark, clear night sky. Moose, elk and deer bucks have begun to drop the velvet on their antlers, preparing for the quickening of the rut. The bears become more brazen as their need for calories, more calories, before hibernation makes them feel an urgency.

Somewhere around us in the Arapaho National Forest, up in the Mt. Evans Wilderness Area, over in Staunton State Park, the fox and the marmot and the fisher and the pika, the Abert squirrel and the red squirrel can feel their coats beginning to thicken. The mountain lions know the seasonal changes in their prey and change their hunting patterns.

lughnasa1The orchestra of life plays this symphony all year as it responds to the conductors spring, summer, fall and winter, each with their own favorite tempo. The elemental nature of the West makes the composition here often raw, sometimes going as far as dissonance during the chinooks, or a dry summer month, during a blizzard, yet it is usually majestic with soaring blue notes and the babbling background music of mountain streams and bugling elk.

Just sit back and enjoy the show.

September 2017
M T W T F S S
« Aug    
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
252627282930  

Breadcrumbs

Trails