We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Ohr

Midsommar                                                                      Moon of the Summer Solstice

ein sofKabbalah. Reread Genesis 1-2:3. Now, ask yourself a question that occurred to a long ago kabbalist. What is the light created on the first day of creation? We know it’s not the sun or the moon or the stars because they don’t blink on until the 4th day, 1:14-19. So what is the ohr (light) of verse 3. “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.”?

Kabbalists pay close attention to details like this. They poke and tease at them, using reason-it can’t be the sun-and playing with gematria. In this instance an equivalence is discovered between the 207 of ohr’s three Hebrew letters and raz, also 207. Raz means hidden. Aha! Rabbi Jamie would say. This ohr could be a hidden light. I’m not going to follow this thread much further because the argument quickly becomes nuanced and frankly still not altogether clear to me, but it moves quickly toward the many-worlds hypothesis of string theory and an early intuition of quantum mechanics. All this from some early medievalists.

Remaining open to new ideas can be frustrating, confusing, but as a quote I discovered a while back says, confusion is the sweat of the intellect. Right now I’m sweating a lot as we review the very basics of kabbalistic thought. I did buy a copy of the first volume of Daniel Matt’s translation of the Zohar, kabbalah’s bible. This is a brand new translation from the original Aramaic and one done by a preeminent scholar of Jewish mysticism. It’s both clear and very difficult.

Here’s an example. In his translation Matt quotes an early kabbalist who retranslates the first verse of Genesis to this: With beginning the ein sof (the infinite ohr-light or energy) created God. Now that’s unexpected.

bonfireIt’s a very bright group around the table: a historian, a Berkeley trained lawyer, an organizational consultant, a Hebrew scholar, a rabbi in training, a second lawyer, a teenager with a good grasp of theoretical physics, two retired hospital administrators. This makes the conversation sparky, inspirational.

Rabbi Jamie’s pedagogy is excellent. He asks questions, probes answers, supports new directions, invites us to retrace the pattern of thinking used by these early rabbinic radicals. It’s fun. Too, the kabbalistic project was exactly reimagining faith. It’s giving me a prod for how to go about the task in my own work.

 

 

 

Summer Solstice 2017

Midsommar                                                                          Moon of the Summer Solstice

cropped0017As our habitable space ship races along its track, its tilt gives us seasonal changes and four regular moments, two with roughly equal days and nights, the equinoxes, and two extremes: the solstices. The longest days of the year occur right now with the sun rising early and setting late ignoring Benjamin Franklin’s early to bed, early to rise. Six months from now, in the depths of midwinter, we will have the winter solstice where darkness prevails and long nights are the rule.

Those who love the seasons of the sun find the heat and light of midsommar ideal. Even in northerly latitudes shorts and sandals and t-shirts or sundresses or tank tops can be worn outside. We who move upward by 8800 feet from sea level for the cooling effect of altitude find a different kind of joy at the winter solstice. Either way solstice days and nights, their temperatures, are remarkable.

IMAG0346At midsommar in the temperate latitudes where farms dominate the landscape, the growing season, which began roughly around Beltane, is now well underway. Wheat, corn, barley, soybeans, sorghum, sunflowers have risen from seed and fed by rain or irrigation make whole landscapes green with the intense colors of full growth. Midsommar mother earth once again works hard to feed her children.

Extreme weather follows in the wake of these solar extremes with tornadoes, derechos, hail storms and flooding in the summer, bitter cold and driving snow in the winter. Especially around the summer solstice such weather can put crops at risk of flailing by hail, drowning from overflowing creeks and rivers, being ripped out of the soil by rapid vortices. The vast blue skies of midsommar can turn gray, then black, or brackish green. It’s the natural way of moving water from one spot to another.

There can be, too, the absence of this sort of weather, drought. When aridity takes over, when moisture moves elsewhere for a season or a decade or more, these wet weather extremes disappear. Crops wither, food dies.

fire ban croppedOur seasonal dance is not only, not even mostly, a metaphor, but is itself the rhythm of life. When its regularities falter, when either natural or artificial forces alter it, even a little, whole peoples, whole ecosystems experience stress, often death. We humans, as the Iroquois know, are ultimately fragile, our day to day lives dependent on the plant life and animal life around us. When they suffer, we begin to fail.

So this midsommar I’m reflecting on the changes, the dramatic shifts to new high temperatures, more violent weather, less reliable rain. What the Great Wheel once brought to us as a season for nurturing crops and livestock may now become the season when crops and livestock struggle to survive. That means we will have to adapt, somehow. Adapt and reduce carbon emissions.

midsummer1The meaning of the Great Wheel, it’s rhythms, remains the same, a faithful cycling through earth’s changes as it plunges through dark space on its round. Their implications though, thanks to climate change, may shift, will shift in response to new temperature, moisture regimes. The summer solstice may be the moment each year when we begin, again, to realize the enormity of those shifts. It might be that the summer solstice will require new rituals, ones focused on gathering our power to both adapt to those shifts and alleviate the human actions ratcheting up the risks.

Gematria

Beltane                                                              Moon of the Summer Solstice

gematria chart

Wandered into strange territory last night at Beth Evergreen. Gematria. Each Hebrew letter has a corresponding number. The chart shows the correspondences. Kabbalists, especially, use these numbers to determine the numerical value of words. After calculating a word’s value, it can be used to compare that word to another with the same value.  This comparison is another method of peeking under the garment of the torah.

An example comes from the story in the garden of Eden. The snake is the usual suspect in an ancient story of how humanity lost its way. But. In Hebrew the numerical value for the word snake and the word messiah are identical. Early Kabbalists used this correspondence to suggest that the meaning of eating from the tree of knowledge was very different from the usual interpretation, that in fact it was the first step in humanity’s liberation.

Rabbi Jamie had asked us to do some reading on gematria, discover some things on our own. When he asked us what we’d learned, I said, “This whole idea seems strained, strange.” Not being one to mince words, as some of you know. A history professor in the class agreed with me that her reading had produced the same thought. Others were intrigued.zodiac

Staying open, of course, is the only way new learning can occur, so I attended to the ideas in spite of my skepticism. As the evening progressed, I began to find the idea a bit less odd. The kabbalists use gematria as a tool, a tool similar to the Zen koan. At first its results may not make sense,; but, that’s the point, the frisson between the snake and the messiah which opens a new mode of thought about the story. It also undermines any tendency to take the torah literally, an essential first step toward searching for the primordial torah.

Garden of Eden, Lucas Cranach the Elder

Garden of Eden, Lucas Cranach the Elder

So although I find the method strained and strange, I still do, I believe I understand at least part of its purpose. That’s enough for now. I’ll learn more as we go forward.

Home Schooling

Beltane                                                                      Moon of the Summer Solstice

2011 03 06_3396The shift to Reimagining has happened faster than I thought it would. My mind is like Kepler, our only dog who likes toys. He has a whole box of toys and he goes into it, noses around, finds the one he likes (why that one? no idea.), takes it out and carries it over to a place he’s decided is his toy stash area. I have several ideas that I’ve been playing with for years, e.g. becoming native to this place, emergence, tactile spirituality. In ways I don’t understand my mind goes over to the box of these ideas, hunts around, selects one and puts it front and center for maybe a second, maybe longer. Sometimes I pick up and play with one for awhile.

Right now just prior to sleep seems like a cue to start digging in the toy box. Last night it was an idea I had long ago, back when I started moving away from Christianity and toward a pagan perspective. I got to wondering about origins, about where certain things came from.

VadnaisIn the shower one day I began to wonder where our water came from. At the time Kate and I lived on Edgcumbe Avenue in St. Paul so the question really was, where did St. Paul get its water? I had no idea. Turns out St. Paul public works pumps water out of the Mississippi and into a chain of lakes including Pleasant Lake and Sucker Lake just across the Anoka County border in Ramsey County north of St. Paul.

At that point I began meditating in the shower (what can I say?), following the water flowing over me back to its source in the Mississippi, then back up river all the way to Itasca State Park and the headwaters there in Lake Itasca. Sometimes I would include the watershed, imagining rivers and streams emptying into the Mississippi on its way south toward the Centerville pumping station. Rainfall, snow and ice melt contribute, too.

LakeIt78Though I haven’t done it, it would be possible to track back much further to the arrival of water on earth. This is a very interesting topic which I raise only to demonstrate the potential in this kind of thinking.

Last night I recalled this early meditation on water and began to consider what it would be like to homeschool ourselves on the other inputs that come into our apartments, condominiums or single family homes, i.e. electricity, gas, broadband, telephone service (yes, some of us still have landlines). In other words what modes of generation produce the electricity in your home? Where are those power stations located? You might even ask yourself, what is electricity anyhow?

Contemporary life, especially since the early 1900’s, has distanced us further and further from the vast variety of things necessary to keep us alive. Do you know, for example, where the power comes into your house? Or the water? Most of us treat electricity, gas, and water as if they just show up in our taps, our outlets, our furnaces. This is understandable, it doesn’t seem important. As long as they show up reliably, we don’t consider them.

vintage-refrigerator-adOpen the refrigerator. Where did the food come from? How about the carpet on your floor? The roofing material. Concrete. Paint. How about the car in your garage? Where was it built? What sort of materials go into making it? Where do they come from?

Each and every article of clothing, toothbrush, plate, door knob, seat covering, bicycle tire is a rearrangement of elements secured from somewhere by mining or forestry or chemical engineering. We twenty-first century Americans, even those living in poverty, rely on a vast web of resources, each of which had to be gathered, transported, processed and delivered to our home. While this allows us to live in comfort unknown to most people on earth, even the very wealthy, throughout history, it also literally blinds us to the complex web of activity and materials that make it possible.

One way of reimagining faith is to open ourselves to the way that web of activity actually functions to help us live. Holy water. Holy gas. Holy wool. Holy garlic. Holy stone. Holy sewage. If we take to time to notice, to attend to the wood beneath our feet, the plaster over our heads, the water in our glass, the food on our plate we can begin to reinsert ourselves in that complex web, to be an active part of it, not a dumb recipient.

ElectricityThe incredible complexity of this web has put a thick wall between our daily lives and the earthiness of all that is around us. We start the car, shift into drive and head out to work or the store or on vacation dulled to the effort expended on the gasoline that fuels it, the rubber in the tires, the precious metals and the not-so precious metals in the body and frame and engine. I’m not talking right now about a car’s implication in climate change, or economic injustice, or urban planning. I’m focusing on getting to know how it came to be, what of our world made it possible.

landWhy? Because focusing on these things, deconstructing our things, begins to break the spell of modernism. Modernism offers us in the developed world a world prepackaged for our needs, organized so that we don’t have to till the field anymore, or hitch up the horse, or drop a bucket down a well. In so doing it waves the wand of mystification over our senses, blinding us to the mines, the aquifers, the oil fields, the vegetable fields, the landfills, the seeds and chemicals required to sustain us. This enchantment is the first barrier to a reimagined faith, to placing ourselves once again in the world.

It must go.

 

 

Enchanting, My Dear

Beltane                                                                       Moon of the Summer Solstice

first draftWith the first draft of Superior Wolf finished I’m taking this week to do various tasks up in the loft that I’ve deferred. Gonna hang some art, rearrange some (by categories like Latin American, contemporary, Asian) and bring order to some of my disorganized book shelves. I want to get some outside work in, too, maybe get back to limbing and do some stump cutting, check out nurseries for lilac bushes.

After taking advantage of the weekend to do the hike at Staunton, some slower treadmill work in the afternoon, then two sessions on Sunday, both on the treadmill, one faster, one slower, I got to 11,000 plus steps on Saturday as I said and 9,745 on Sunday. I believe once I go back to my personal trainer, in six weeks or so, I’ll be able to hit the 10,000 target regularly and get my resistance work done, too. Feels like I’m moving past the knee surgery, not fully past it yet, but well on the road.

forest and soulEven so, reimagining is beginning to exert a centripetal force on my thinking, book purchasing, day to day. For example, last night as I went to sleep a cool breeze blew in from the north across my bare arms and shoulder. It was the night itself caressing me. I went from there to the sun’s warm caresses on a late spring day. The embrace of the ocean or a lake or a stream. The support given to our daily walking by the surface of mother earth. The uplift we experience on Shadow Mountain, 8,800 feet above sea level. These are tactile realities, often felt (0r their equivalent).

Now, imagine that we stop, take a moment and feel them, as I now feel the attraction gravity affords me while sitting here, writing this. It keeps me grounded, able to stay in place.

febheadNext, eliminate the metaphorical. If we do that, we can immediately jump into a holy moment, a moment when the bonds that tie us to grandmother earth are not figurative, but real. The breeze on my bare arms and shoulders is her embrace. The sun on my face, penetrating my body, is him in direct relationship with me, reaching across 93 million miles, warming me. The ocean or the lake or the pond or the stream cools me, refreshes me, hydrates me, acts of chesed, loving-kindness, from the universe in which we live and move and have our being.

This kind of reframing, reenchanting, helps us reimagine faith, a faith that does not require texts or institutions, just the opening of ourselves to the mystery and magic that are our literal birthright.

 

 

Bound

Beltane                                                                     Moon of the Summer Solstice

Second hike at Staunton. Chose the Mason Creek Trail. It goes up, then up and finally it turns into switchbacks, going up. Huff and puff, not at Hogwarts but here in the Front Range. The Mason Creek Trail will provide a consistent challenge, plus it has meadows, waterfalls (see video) and large rock formations.

methodology-sight-size-827x399While hiking and thinking about Reimagining, I realized I’m taking an atelier approach to it. Ateliers train would be artists in the classical mode, using lots of drawing, life models and work with perspective. They’re considered conservative in today’s art world, a sort of throwback to the artist/apprentice studio that dominated art education for so many centuries.

In my case I studied Christianity and the Christian ministry in a seminary, United Theological Seminary, and earned the world’s most outrageous degree, Master of Divinity. In the late 1980’s I took a doctorate at McCormick Seminary in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. The Presbyterian ministry occupied me for 15 years and afterward I dabbled in the Unitarian-Universalist ministry. Now I’m in my second year of Jewish immersion, not a convert, but a close student of this ancient tradition.

bound to the earthYet what I really want to do is rethink what faith is, why we go to the places that we go to for spiritual nourishment and whether there might be a real faith, an approach to the religious life, that emerges naturally from the world in which we live and carry on our daily lives. That is, one without a charismatic founder or an ethnic base, a faith which would help us see the holy ordinary, that would expose the ligatures that bind us to this planet, to the plants and animals and minerals and atmosphere, expose them and help us see them as the loving embrace that they are, not only as limits to our lives.

 

After

Beltane                                                                              Moon of the Summer Solstice

resilience-Disaster-risk-reduction-Climate-Change-Adaptation-guide-englishAnother short trough of time where work here will focus on moving, rearranging, hanging.

Decompressing after finishing a long project starts now.  The joy of holding the weight of the manuscript in my hand as I passed it to Kate, always my first reader, pleases me in a deep way. Superior Wolf is the first work I’ve finished in Colorado, on Shadow Mountain, yet its bones are deeply Minnesotan.

The inspiration for Superior Wolf came from the last native packs of timber wolves in the USA, those in the Arrowhead region of northern Minnesota. It merged along the way with the Latin work I’d been doing, translating Ovid, which included the story of Lycaon, the king of Arcadia. Minnesota and Ovid, the core of this novel.

There is, too, the usual regret that I couldn’t have done better, written more poetically, created more tension, brought the characters to life more convincingly. These regrets are, strangely, the fuel that will carry me into my next novel, probably Jennie’s Dead. Perhaps it will be the one where my language sings and the plot cannot be put down, where the characters take over the work.

disenchantmentBut not yet. The next period of time belongs to another very long term project, reimagining faith. There is that bookshelf filled with works on emergence, of pagan thought, on holiness and sacred time, on the Great Wheel, on the enlightenment, on nature and wilderness. There are file folders to be collected from their various resting places and computer files, too. Printouts to be made of writing already done. Long walks to be taken, using shinrin-yoku to further this work. Drives to be taken in the Rocky Mountains, over to South Park, down to Durango, up again to the Neversummer Wilderness. The Rockies will influence reimagining in ways I don’t yet understand.

Reimagining is already underway, has been for awhile. The first task is to collect all that work I’ve done, so what comes next will be clear. Maybe in a week or two. First though I want to wander around some, move some books, hang some art.

As the World Burns

Beltane                                                                  Moon of the Summer Solstice

images (2)While the world burns, at least the Trump world, kabbalah suggests a bigger world, more worlds, right next to this one. There is, as Rabbi Jamie said, a bigger picture. I learned a similar lesson from Deer Creek Canyon during my cancer season two years ago. These Rocky Mountains, still toddlers as mountains go, were and will be present when we are not. In their lifetime humanity will likely have come and gone.

It’s tempting to use this perspective-and I believe it’s real, I want to emphasize that-to diminish the swirl of issues like climate change, decent health insurance, jobs that no longer pay a living wage. In time they will be finished, one way or another. We were neither present during the Rockies orogeny, nor will we be present when they become as smooth as the Appalachians. Just so, you may say.

38d9f3b4e2e64361ce68ca237f270a42Yet. We do not live either in the deep geological past nor in the distant geological future, we live now. Our lives, our mayfly lives from the vantage point of geological time, come into existence and blink out, so we necessarily look at the moment, the brief seventy to one hundred year moment into which, as Heidegger said, we are thrown.

This is all we know of life, this moment. In it our whole awareness comes into existence, matures, then winks out. From that mayfly perspective then climate change, decent health insurance and a living wage are not insignificant. Albert Camus spoke of the great river which carries us toward the ocean of all souls. Ram Dass reminds us we’re all just walking each other home. And Lord Keynes famously said in the long run we’ll all be dead.

Time_Clock-620x587Somehow we have to realize that though our lives are small compared to the immensity of the universe and the imponderable nature of time, they are everything while we have them. As for me, I find all this comforting. Putting my efforts in the larger perspective gives me peace, putting them in the immediacy of my life gives me energy. We will not complete the task, no, we will not. But we are not free to give it up either.

 

 

That Other Project

Beltane                                                                     Moon of the Summer Solstice

120305_Writer-comparison_small-23497_200x200Back at Superior Wolf. After a month or so of focusing on other things, chiefly that presentation for the mussar class, I’m writing again. The end of the first draft for this novel is near. Once I get it done I’m going to print it out and give it to Kate, then I’m going to move away from it for a while, perhaps three/four months, while I try to push Reimagining Faith further along.

I’d like to get a book length draft of Reimagining done this year or at least get one well started. My sense is that it requires a concentrated effort, not one done with other writing projects. I need to spend time in research and writing on it alone. I do best when I can focus on a single project for hours at a time.

fireShiva_smallYes, mussar and kabbalah require a lot of reading, too, but that’s its own concentrated effort, not competitive with Reimagining. In fact I find the mussar and kabbalah work reinforcing for Reimagining, especially in a Reconstructionist environment. There’s a lot of energy and permission for rethinking fundamentals at Beth Evergreen.

Kabbalah may require a return to my Hebrew studies of over forty years ago. I learned functional Hebrew, enough to look up words and evaluate translations, but never had the goal of understanding grammar or building much of a vocabulary. I certainly never had the intent of using it for worship. A major component of kabbalah is gematria, a sort of numerology that focus on numerical values of Hebrew letters and words. To understand this aspect of kabbalah I’ll need to increase my Hebrew proficiency.

Not sure right now where Latin fits into all this. I’ve fallen away from it, but at the same time I miss it. Need to ponder this one for awhile.

 

 

Life in the Rockies

Beltane                                                                        Moon of the Summer Solstice

zoharpageHeavy rain yesterday afternoon, felt like being back in the humid East. Black Mountain is no longer white; it’s green with its lodgepole and aspen looking healthy. It’s gone from white haired old man to green man. Good to see. Cub Creek, Maxwell Creek, Bear Creek and Blue Creek are all full. The snowpack is well above average. A much better scenario for this summer. Thankful.

I’m relieved at Kate’s news, again. She’s had a rough time since the second week of my surgery and I hope the ENT doc has her on a path to eating with no pain. This is seven months of up and down health. Tough for her.

Second kabbalah class tonight at Beth Evergreen. I’m beyond fascinated. This Jewish mystical tradition seems to synch up with the way my mind and spirit work. I haven’t been this excited since I began to move toward paganism many years ago. The three main threads in my spiritual life have been, for a long time now, existentialism, paganism and Taoism. Looks like I may be adding a fourth.

 

June 2017
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