We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

The Heat

Fall                                                                               Healing Moon

climate change vollmanThough I haven’t begun to read them yet, William Vollman’s two volume work: No Immediate Danger and No Good Alternative, the Carbon Ideologies paints a bleak picture. So does the IPCC‘s latest report. I also reported here, quite a while back, about a new movement called dark ecology that, like these three works, takes a dim view of our (that is, the world’s) willingness to execute the necessary carbon emissions restrictions.

Much as I hate to admit it, I believe these darker, more hopeless perspectives about the struggle against climate change might be right. If they are, we may be walking down a path that leads to an HG Wellian Time Machine world with the poor morlocks wandering the face of the earth (think the 99%) and the eloi burrowed into her mantle, using their great wealth and power to survive the heat and climatic chaos.

climate change eloi and morlocksIf we cannot slow down the rate of climate change (which is the most we can do, since so much climate change is already baked in), then we move to mitigation and adaptation. Geoengineering will become a buzz word as various strategies are tried. Climate refugees will become more and more disruptive across the world, especially those moving from coastal areas into interiors and onto higher ground. The already underway shifts in plant and animal eco-systems, climate refugees all, will bring them with different disease vectors, disruption to agriculture and sea life.

dark ecologyWe will not be known for Vietnam, civil rights, feminism, ruining health care, electing fascists to high office, but as the generation that allowed an earth compatible with human populations to slip away. Hard as it is to imagine the results of this inaction will be far, far more damaging than all the wars, holocausts and pogroms. How will we explain this to our grandchildren, to Ruth and Gabe in our instance? I understand the political and economic forces that have gotten us here, but explaining them will not alter the misery.

 

 

 

A Fool on the Hill

Fall                                                                                        Healing Moon

Ode and me

I will not be attending the Woolly Mammoth’s centennial retreat (just kidding, 31 0r 32, something like that). But Charlie Haislet has proposed the Parsifal legend, the Grail quest, as a theme in the paragraph below. I’m going to write my answer here.

Rosseti Percival

Rosseti Percival

Parsifal and the Grail quest – it still works for me but now I am at a different place in the story. I am not now just stepping into the woods in a dark place where no one has gone before. I am at the end not the beginning of that quest, I either found the Grail or I didn’t. How does that feel, what does that mean? And as Judy, our visiting memoirist says, we have lived that story, now is the time to tell it.

dante canto oneCharlie has conflated two important stories here. The first is the Arthurian story of the grail quest, seen by Jungian analyst Robert Johnson as the quintessential story of masculine development. Note, by the way, that both men and women have a masculine development story.

The second is Dante’s Inferno. Canto 1 begins, famously:

Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark, For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

In our forties or so, in midlife, we tend to find both Percival and Dante as exemplars for the path forward. We go out into life, now grown and in touch with our powers, but find ourselves lost. What was I supposed to be doing here, anyhow? Is medicine right? Is architecture? Engineering? Banking? The ministry?

At forty-two I answered this question, no. The ministry is no longer where I need or want to be. Perhaps I never belonged there in the first place. Kate, like a medieval patronness, came into my life and said, in essence, “If no is your answer, try something else.”

pape_de_abraham-a_hermit_writing_in_his_book

pape de abraham-a hermit writing in his book

Ironically, right at that moment I was writing my Doctor of Ministry thesis. As I worked on it, what I wrote kept coming out as fiction. Also ironically, the title of the story, the novel on which I’d written several thousand words, maybe 40 or so, was “Even the Gods Must Die.” Hmm. See a connection there?

In my Percival naivete I set out on my writing quest. I planned a certain amount of money I wanted to earn each year. About $40,000 if I recall correctly. Hah. In terms of writing itself, I have succeeded. I have written nine novels, thirty or forty short stories, and literally, by this time, millions of words here on Ancientrails.

In terms of publishing my work I’ve failed. Big time. Consistently. A big lump of zero. At first I submitted my work, but I allowed rejections to stoke my fear, rather than my persistence. (which is, I should add, odd, since persistence has otherwise been a strong suit) I stopped submitting. I even stopped writing at one point and spent a year reading the classics, starting with Dante’s Divine Comedy. All of it.

FisherKingPt1Perhaps, in fact I think almost certainly, publishing was my Fisher King wound. Note, not the Grail, but the wound that could be healed by Percival’s question, the question of a fool, “Whom does the Grail serve?” Of course, that begs the question of the nature of the Grail itself. Johnson says that the question heals the Fisher King’s wound because its answer, “You My Lord, the Grail King.” reveals masculine development’s purpose: to serve a cause larger than your Self.

Dante’s quest leads him down into the darkest parts of himself, the layers of hell we each carry in our souls, up through the realm of Purgatory where those hells fall away, purged by coming closer to God, until the Self’s full glory is realized, like Percival, in submission to the Godhead.

Would I prefer to have sold novels and short stories, made money from my writing? Of course. And, at last, I’m in the process of a year long goal to achieve 100 rejections. I’m up to 10 right now. The strange part is that when I achieve publication, and I believe (hope) I will, it will mean little. I’ve already done the writing, I’ve lived the writing life for almost 30 years now and have done so with no encouragement from the business side.

1514204356436So who or what was the thing larger than myself that I have served in the meantime? I have several answers. The first one, love. Kate. Our marriage. The second one, family. Our family and its extensions, principally through Jon and Joseph, but including our nuclear families. The third, religion, small r religion. A life pushed forward by deep questions, ones of meaning and purpose. The fourth, justice. Seeking in the political realm an answer to the dilemmas of poverty, racism, and capitalism. The fifth, mother earth. Seeking in the political and personal realms a close tie to life as it is, life in its plural forms and the inanimate that carries us through space, provides for our needs, the sun and mother earth in particular.

There is another, too, different from the rest. Art. Painting, sculpture, drawing, prints, music, dance, theater. Always there. From the Wagner operas I bought on 331/3 l.p.s and listened to in my room at 419 N. Canal in Alexandria to the time as a docent at the MIA and through many plays and concerts. Literature. Around the time I bought the Wagner operas with my paper route money, I read War and Peace. So many books, poems. Over so many years. And my own writing, my attempt to add to our cultural deposit.

Did I drink from the cup drained at the Last Supper, the last celebration of Passover by that band of Jews in first century Palestine? Yes, I believe I did. Did it change me? Not in the usual theological sense. But, in the psychological sense, it affirmed my journey, my pilgrimage. Not as someone else, not as someone others hoped I’d be, not as a someone even I hoped I might be, but as mySelf, this one unique, irreplaceable guy, both unimportant and ultimately important. Like each Woolly, like each family member, like each tree and snake, like each planet and moon and star.

 

 

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Fall                                                                              Healing Moon

Hard freeze. 23 this morning with some snow, mostly ice. A neighbor reported on Next Door Shadow Mountain that Shadow Mountain, 285 and even 470 were icy and in thick fog. Bad driving. But, poor conditions for a wildfire. That’s something.

Ode's portrait. At Blue Sky Abbey, some years ago

Ode’s portrait. At Blue Sky Abbey, some years ago

Feeling a bit down this morning. Nothing 12 days of Kate’s hospitalization + general exhaustion doesn’t explain. We’ve both been thinking about death. She told me yesterday if things go south that her friend (and mine) Jamie Bernstein can take care of all her sewing stuff. I handled that poorly. “I don’t want to hear that. That’s not what you want is it?” “No,” she said. But she had breached that barrier and I pushed it away, out of my own fear, I suppose. Gonna rectify that today.

I’ve slept in our bed now for 12 nights without her there. She’s gone from the house and her absence is palpable, a thing in itself. She’s not on the bench in the morning. Not in her chair in the evening. Her sewing machine is back from the repair folks, but sits still in its rolling container. No hugs. No I love you’s before leaving and on return. Nothing can, in fact, be something.

Thoughts of a permanent absence, death, come easily in this situation. I don’t shove them away, I don’t embrace them. I acknowledge them as the mind running scenarios, what ifs, based on current reality. I also imagine her return, negotiating the steps, setting up the bedroom and the downstairs for her. All part of the I don’t like surprises part of the mind. A survival tool that can seem cold, unfeeling. It’s not. Just stuff that needs consideration, not rejecting.

Yamantanka

Yamantanka

Yamantaka teaches us that considering our own death in an unblinking way can cure our fear of it. I both believe that and believe I have reached that point in my own soul. I suppose there’s an analog here about Kate’s death. Hers is as inevitable as mine. And, considering it doesn’t make it more or less likely. It simply means that I’ve accepted an assured reality though the timing is, as always, unknown.

OK. That’s out in the open. Not an obsession. What’s happening occasionally.

Another hard part right now is odd. On Friday we’ll be at two weeks since Kate went into the E.R. Am I supposed to collect myself, get back in the groove, accept this bifurcated existence, her in medical care, me at home? I definitely have to spend time tomorrow sorting through the bills and starting to pay them. Something she does.

I’ve been cooking, doing laundry, keeping the house picked up, feeding the dogs, playing with them, driving in to see Kate, trying to keep up with the medical information. But, I’ve set aside working out. Gonna pick that back up today or tomorrow. I’ve set aside teaching in the religious school, attending mussar or the adult ed committee. I canceled the first Jewish Studies Sunday Sampler.

Vanitas by Jan Sanders van Hemessen

Vanitas by Jan Sanders van Hemessen

I’m struggling with what’s a normal response in an abnormal situation. Is it ok to just focus on the domestic, on Kate and on home? Or, do I rob myself of the emotional support I’d get from being back in the mix at CBE? What about the things I’ve agreed to do?

Or, am I too soon in thinking about any of this? How will I know? A sort of strange twilight right now, matters shrunk down to the nub, life at its most basic with questions of health, the future, even death in every moment.

Let me finish with this. I am not depressed. Even my slight down feeling I mentioned earlier has lifted somewhat as I’ve written myself into my current reality, leaving it all out there, not hiding. This is my life and unless my health changes it will be my life until clarity declares itself either toward Kate’s recovery or a continued decline, perhaps even death.

uncertaintyEnd note. I realized as I wrote that last paragraph that a key sticking point right now is uncertainty. Will Kate’s various medical issues resolve? That is, will she get well enough to leave for rehab? If so, when? If she’s in rehab, how long? How much care will she need when she comes home? I’m not wracked by any of these questions, but they illustrate the fundamental issues in play right now, with no clarity about any of them available. That’s what makes knowing how I might react so difficult right now.

 

 

Follow the WaterCourse Way

Fall                                                                              New (Healing) Moon

Kate in the E.R., September 28th

Kate in the E.R., September 28th

Kate’s improved a lot. Bleeding stopped. Pain mostly gone. She’s getting some nutrition though a nasal tube and has eaten a bit. But, the nausea returned with eating. Damn. That’s so fucking disappointing. And, she’s been in bed so long that she may have to go to a rehab center after all. Not what either of us want, but if she’s too weak, then that’s what we’ll do.

After a visit to Kate last night, Jon, Ruth, Gabe, Annie and I went to G.B. Fish and Chips on Broadway, a Ruth and Gabe favorite. Family’s bond in many ways, but attending to a sick or injured member of the family is a strong one. And, it doesn’t stop with visits and care for the patient, but happens, too, in these after visit moments. G.B.’s motto is “In Cod We Trust.” Works for me.

Spent time yesterday in cyberspace, about an hour, with Paul in Maine, Bill and Mark in Minnesota, and, briefly, Tom in Santa Fe. Kate was an important part of our conversation since these guys have known her, and me, for 30 years.

taoismThere was some talk of how Zen my approach to all this has been. Thought about that. Really, wu wei. Often translated, inaccurately, as inaction. It’s a Taoist idea better expressed by Alan Watt’s book title, The Watercourse Way. Taoism and Buddhism in China created Chan Buddhism, the immediate influence on what Japanese Buddhist monks came to call Zen. Wu wei is a critical idea in that mix.

Going with the flow is not far off in understanding it, a direct link with the Watercourse Way notion. Essentially it means not trying to bend situations or force them in ways they won’t naturally go. Said positively it means following situations as they progress, trying to move with them, stay present. It does not mean there is no intervention, rather wu wei acknowledges the givenness of so much of what we encounter. Perhaps judo is a good example, where using the strength of the opponent against them is a main idea.

It doesn’t sound very Manifest Destiny, make the world free for democracy. We Americans, especially white male Americans, have this fantasy that we can bend the world to our will. Taoism is a direct counter to this, a way of revealing the fantasy nature of such impulses.

taoism wu weiInstead with wu wei I try to follow the path of the chi, where vital energy is flowing. If Kate needs medical care now, I take her to the emergency room. If she needs diagnostic procedures or interventionary procedures, I learn what I can about them to help make decisions, to help both of us understand the implications. I interact with and try to make all of this happen as easily and effectively as possible. I’m not trying to force her medical care in a direction in which I think it should go.

A good example right now is the rehab facility decision. I want her to come home. She wants to come home. We could be obstinate, try to bend the physicians to our will, but would that serve Kate? No. We need to know what they believe is best for her healing and to act on that as quickly and fully as we can.

I don’t know whether I’m saying this clearly, and much of it is retrospective, not conscious at the time, but an attitude cultivated over many, many years. Part of the inner posture is also a product of existentialism. That is, take the world as it comes, as it is, not as you might wish it be. See clearly. Listen well. Only then can we make decisions that are human, not dogmatic or blinkered by personal bias.

tao ma linWhat I can observe from this last week plus is that these attitudes, these ways of approaching Kate and mine’s current reality, has allowed me to sleep, not despair, not become anxious. In turn it means I’ve been able to show up in each instance where I was needed. To show up to what is actually going on, not what I wish was going on or what I think should be going on. Much, much simpler to follow the chi.

71 years have taught me somethings. This way of being, this wu wei, this following the chi has proved itself in the battle between my wilfulness and a difficult situation. And I’m grateful for that.

 

Let the day’s troubles be sufficient

Fall                                                                  Harvest Moon

This morning

This morning

A cool 32 degrees this morning. Some snow overnight, wintry mix. Anything to put moisture into these forests. Gray sky. Headed toward Samain. Harvest season slowing, the fallow time with bare deciduous trees is on its way. It is now, said Rudolf Steiner, that is the springtime of the soul.

Annie’s here. Glad she could come, help with her big sis. She got in yesterday morning.

Kate has been through so much since a week ago yesterday. The many tests, procedures, lines snaking in and out of her bed, her body. So much. And though the crisis seems to be over, a long recovery period will follow. The big hope we both have is that all this may have finally knocked back her persistent nausea. She needs to eat and eat routinely, not just when her stomach will allow it. As my great-aunt Mary used to say, “We need to put some meat on those bones.”

Shadow Mountain Drive, yesterday

Shadow Mountain Drive, yesterday

I’ll say a word again for living in the moment. It has been so helpful to me, to my own spiritual health, to stay with the worries of this day, knowing that tomorrow will bring worries of its own. That way, each day matters for its own reasons, its own occurrences, not clouded by fears or even hopes. As the paragraph above suggests, I’m allowing a little hopefulness to creep in, but I am not fooled. Whatever hope I have for tomorrow will only exist if we take action today.

And, a word for the dogs. Yes, they’ve called me home from the hospital, just as Kate has called me back to the hospital from home. Seems like a burden, having to take all four lives into account. But, no. The very act of caring for the dogs is immediate, in the moment. Their appreciation is, too. The house, with Kate’s absence, could have a hollow resonance, but it doesn’t, not with Gertie eyeballing the macaroni and cheese in the kitchen, Rigel jumping eagerly onto her couch after a long day outside, and Kep’s tail waving like a happy flag when I go to bed.  Taking other lives into account is what makes us human and I’m blessed to have each of these lives nearby.

Today: grocery store, yet more gas, business meeting stuff. Tomorrow: move the grandkid’s tv into our bedroom, consider some other logistics for Kate’s homecoming.

 

 

The Laramide Consolation

Fall                                                                          Harvest Moon

Shadow Mtn. Drive, about a mile from home. Black Mtn ahead

Shadow Mtn. Drive, about a mile from home. Black Mtn ahead

Reminded yet again of the evanescence of our human life span. As I’ve driven 285 down the hill into Englewood and back up again, some days two and three times in the last week (today is a week from Kate’s trip to the E.R.), I’ve become aware of the mountains in a new way. Always I pay attention to them, rocky outcroppings of gneiss and marble, sandstone, carved by small, powerful streams and covered with lodgepole pine, ponderosa, aspen, shrubby oak. The exposed layering, sometimes all aslant, sometimes straight up and down, and in at least one very beautiful, curious instance, curved like wooden planks bent for canoe hulls, lies open like a literal book of the ages.

The new part of my experience is this, motion and upheaval. Mountains are stolid, perhaps they define stolid in a way most earthly features do not. They stay there, the same each day, Black Mountain’s peak still in the same place as it has been since we moved here four years ago. But there is that spot, just before Hwy 470, where 285 slices between the hogbacks*, then the mountains are gone, receding in the mirror as I drive on east at the very end of the Midwest, the last hurrah of the great plains.

hogbackIt is there, right there. Between 80 and 85 million years ago the Laramide orogeny found tectonic plates crushing against each other in that slowest of slow dances, continental formation and reformation. The result here at the hogbacks and all along the long collection of peaks and valleys we know as the Rocky Mountains shoved formerly settled layers of the earth’s crust into the air, up from the subsurface. The power and violence of the orogeny ripples past me, past all of us on 285, especially at the cut just before it dips under 470.

Apparently immobile now, the hogbacks steeply upthrust layers show the direction of its unearthing, no longer laid down below an ancient ocean’s floor, but blinking slowly like a lithic lizard gazing at the unexpected sun. I have no trouble seeing it slowly emerge, pushed up, up, up as forces way beyond human imagining tore it out of its dark home. 80 million years ago.

And here we are, tiny creatures in small metal containers passing back and forth through it, living our 70 or 80 or 90 years, then disappearing from existence. Let’s say 80 years for ease of calculation. At 80 million years ago that’s 1,000,000 human lifetimes. I would have to live and die 1,000,000 times to know the earth like those hogbacks.

shiva nata raja, Shiva Lord of the Dance

shiva nata raja, Shiva Lord of the Dance

Four years ago I wrote about the consolation of Deer Creek Canyon during my episode of prostate cancer. It was a similar feeling and I’m calling this the Laramide Consolation. Our days are precious, our lives unique, our presence in the universe irreplaceable. Just like the hogbacks. We, all features of cosmic evolution, wink in and out of existence, even the Laramide Orogeny being a mayfly moment compared to the creation of our planet and its creation a blink compared to the creation of the solar system and so on back in infinite regress until that thunderous blaze of first light.

The consolation here, at least for me, is to know that our life and death expresses what the Hindus call Shiva, the ongoing destructive and creative forces that underlie all. Death is not, in other words, a cruel punctuation, but a delicate force that refreshes and renews. Our consciousness of it, of course, colors our experience but in no way changes its necessity and its pervasiveness. There will never, never be anything like true immortality, nor, if we are sane creatures, should we reach for it.

*In geology and geomorphology, a hogback or hog’s back is a long, narrow ridge or a series of hills with a narrow crest and steep slopes of nearly equal inclination on both flanks.

 

Palletable

Fall                                                                      Harvest Moon

A full day without nausea yesterday. A glimmer of what can yet be. Kate in Kate mode. Maybe a little slower, but still off to Trader Joe’s for figs, getting stuff done around the house. Good to see.

mind the gap

mind the gap

We have a problem. The space between the house and the garage. Fine during late spring, summer and fall. Not so fine when snow falls. The ground becomes icy and uneven making it problematic for Kate who has peripheral neuropathy in her feet. Various bids have just seemed too high for a deck extension.

Kate had an idea. Use wooden pallets to make a sort of floating, temporary extension. If it works, it’s cheap and we can remove it in when the snow stops, return it the next winter. Seems worth a shot. Lucky break. Beth Evergreen got new chairs for the sanctuary and a shed in which to store the overflow chairs. Result: six pallets that would be broken up for firewood.

I told Leah I’d get rid of them for her. Jon agreed to come up last weekend with his trailer (0ne we gave him a good while back). He got as far as El Rancho at the intersection of Hwy 74 and I-70. Something bad happened to his engine. As a result, I ended up taking him back to Aurora. Result: trouble for him, no pallets for us.

Try again. Texted Mike Vanhee, the guy who built our fence under some pressure. We needed it done between closing and winter. We closed on Samain and getting the post holes dug before the ground froze was the issue. He got it finished. Whew. He also said he could get the pallets. They come this morning. Next up. How to make it work. Stay tuned to this innovative home project channel.

Amarillo to S.A.

Amarillo to S.A.

Brother Mark’s visa has cleared. He’ll be leaving the friendly confines of Amarillo, Texas for the mostly empty Arab peninsula soon. English is a commodity still in demand around the world, giving employment and travel opportunities to thousands of expats like Mark and Mary.

Rigel. Sigh. Two expensive dog beds have gone under her tooth and claw. Internal matter never supposed to see day light spread all over the sewing room floor. Two! On to plan C or D. Probably back to blankets, using the gutted dog bed as a sort of frame. Dogs, eh?

Today in religious school the 6th and 7th graders present three objects that express who they are now. Next week: three that represent who they want to become. Also implementing some of Tara’s ideas on classroom management. Again, as so often for me at CBE, steep learning curve.

marty-robbins-a-white-sport-coat-and-a-pink-carnation-1957-78-sTomorrow Kate and I present a mussar session on compassion, rachamim, in the sukkah, weather permitting. We’re passing out pink carnations, according to the language of flowers a symbol of compassion, and having finger food made from some of the seven sacred species: figs, dates, pomegranates for example. We’re using the same material for a session with the Mussar Vaad Practice group on Oct. 4th. A twofer.

When that’s finished, I have to make sure the tech side of the Jewish Studies Sampler Sundays is sound. And, watch the two first lectures to develop discussion questions. That’s Oct. 7th.

Oh

Lughnasa                                                             Harvest Moon

Black Mountain, yesterday. From Shadow Mtn. Drive

Black Mountain, yesterday. From Shadow Mtn. Drive

Tomorrow we peek over the transom toward the fallow season. Six more weeks of harvest,  the heart of the harvest season is now, then Samain, summer’s end. Up here the temperature cooled off overnight and we’re at 35 degrees right now, getting close to a first frost. There’s even a small hint of snow for next Wednesday. As I wrote earlier, Pike’s Peak and the much closer Mt. Rosalie had snow last week. Happy with the change.

Deb Brown, my personal trainer at On the Move Fitness, really made me feel good yesterday. “You move better than most of the 30 & 40 year olds I see. And, you’re strong.” She was sincere and I was touched. I told her about the odd finding I got from the 23&me folks; I have the same genetic muscle profile as elite power athletes. “Well, you’re capitalizing on it.” “My wife said, ‘What happened?” “Tell to her to ask you that again when you’re 108!” We laughed. Left me smiling.

book of lifeThe book of life closed on Wednesday. It was a fast day, unusual in Judaism which finds asceticism puzzling, but on this day, once a year, there is a fast for the whole of Yom Kippur*. That’s from evening to evening. The point is to make us tune into our bodies, to remember that the body carries our soul, and to make the final push for teshuvah, return to the holy soul our body carries.

OK. I’ll admit I surprised myself, right here, with this keyboard. It happens, but not often like this. I wrote “make us tune in to our bodies.” Oh. It may be, as Bill Schmidt suggested obliquely earlier this month, that this Jewish experience runs deeper than I’m admitting.

*“The purpose of fasting is to bring one to repent, and true repentance brings about a change in actions. However, repenting without fasting is not enough,” Jewish educator Aliza Bulow explains on Aish.com.

Although there are medical exceptions to fasting, the Yom Kippur tradition dates back to biblical times, according to Chabad.org. When the Jewish people were wandering in the desert for 40 years after enslavement in Egypt, they worshiped a golden calf — which is contradictory to the religion’s monotheistic tenets — and Moses went to Mt. Sinai to ask for God’s forgiveness. Moses came down from the mountain after God forgave (them) him, and that day became known as Yom Kippur. The tradition of Yom Kippur continued when the Jews reached the land of Israel — Jews gathered in the first two temples until they were destroyed — and persisted again when they were ultimately exiled and dispersed across the globe.Time

 

Deep in the soul

Lughnasa                                                                 Harvest Moon

yomkippurToday is Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, the day when God seals the book of life for another year. May you be inscribed in the book of life (for the coming year) is a greeting we will hear today. It completes the ten days of awe that began back on September 9th, Rosh Hashanah, New Year’s day and by rabbinic logic the 6th day of creation, the New Year for humans.

The whole sweep of the days of awe reach deep into the soul; the month of Elul prepared us for the chesbon ha-nefesh, accounting of the soul, that culminates today on the metaphorical turning of a page in the book of our life, closing off the last year and opening a blank one, ready for a renewed person, returned (teshuvah) to the original, unique, best we are.

Of course there is no need for the ten days of awe to do what the Jesuits would call examen and I’m sure there is no book on a divine table that determines whether I will live or die in the upcoming year. I am equally sure that schmuz gathers on the soul like creosote gathers on a fireplace chimney or plaque in an artery. From long life experience I know there is no holy chimney sweep I can hire to clean me out, no heart bypass operation for the soul. The examined life requires an inner examiner. The high holidays are a communal reminder to do serious inner work and to give that work outer expression through worship and apology. I’m grateful for the prompt, aware of its necessity not because I believe I’m a deeply damaged person in need of unconditional forgiveness, but because I know I’m an ordinary human with the tendency to shift away from my best person.

1000Kate and Charlie in EdenKate and I had a sweet moment, a grace filled moment, when I sat down with her and asked her forgiveness for the times I’ve wounded her in the last year, for the times I’d been short, thoughtless. Sure, we could do this at any time, but these holidays encourage it. We rested our heads together, aware of the reality that we’re just two folks traveling our journey, doing the best we can. “I’ve not always been at my best.” “Neither have I.”

Akedah

Lughnasa                                                                  Harvest Moon

Torah being read at a Bar Mitzvah

Off I went to seminary in 1971, knowing Minnesota not at all and the world of academic Christianity almost as little. When classes began that fall, there were full day and half day classes. Core curriculum subjects like church history, theology, ethics, and biblical study were full day. I don’t recall right now what subjects were half day classes, I think homiletics, liturgy, practical theology.

What surprised me was my fascination with biblical study, studies in the Old Testament (as we called the writings of the Jews) and the New. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been preparing for a mussar session on rachamim, compassion or mercy as a character virtue. In my preparation I’ve sought out particular Torah passages that typify or describe rachamim. I’ve found myself drawn again into this antique mythic world, one where humans and the holy shared day-to-day experience, a world Emerson called, “the revelation to them.” And I’m loving it again. All over again. Maybe more.

09 11 10_Joseph_0256Emerson wanted a revelation to us, “not the dry bones of revelation to them.” I agree. But how do we know revelation? What is it? Take for example the difficult, painful story Jewish commentators call the akedah, the binding, the binding of Isaac. It’s the sort of scene from which I would avert my eyes were it to play out before me. (Or, I would call child protective services.)

akedayYet, let me put it in personal context, the binding of Joseph. I’ve encountered this very dilemma as my son, the son of my heart whose small hand I held, whom I carried on my shoulders, took himself to his own Mt. Moriah, the USAF, willing to carry the wood for his own sacrifice on his back, much as I had carried him. How could I countenance this self-sacrifice? I couldn’t. Only a father who loves his son could entertain such a decision and so I can see the awful choice facing Abraham. A higher duty called him, a responsibility that he felt, a responsibility that cut into his own flesh.

Joseph has not yet been required to mount the altar, to lie down on the wood he carried and feel its flame lick round his feet, his torso, his hands. I am very glad. Perhaps there will be a ram caught in the bushes for him, too.

foolThere are in these stories archetypal truths. There are in these stories a record of how the ancient mind heard the inner voice, how powerfully their imaginations worked, a record of how careful attention to the soul could reveal a way to make the pilgrimage from beginning to end. I do not believe they were written with a holy goose quill, nor by a secret transmission through a sheet, then transcribed on tablets of gold. I do believe they belong with the Greek myths as some of our best sources for understanding this fool’s journey we call our life.

It feels like time for me to follow Paul Ricoeur into my second naivete with these texts, to spend much more time this next year in the study, following the parsha as they advance through the Jewish liturgical year, reading especially the works of Avivah Zornberg as commentary on them. Writing about them, listening to them, probing them for clues for how to see a revelation to us. These texts do call me. It is time I paid attention. Again.

 

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