We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Reconstruct. Remember.

Beltane                                                                    Sumi-e Moon

UNESCO and European Union undertake to reconstruct the cultural heritage of Timbuktu

UNESCO and European Union undertake to reconstruct the cultural heritage of Timbuktu

Had an insight the other day about Beth Evergreen. The reason I like it there, feel comfortable there, is that I’m a reconstructionist at heart. Not a Jew, but a reconstructionist.

If I’d known about the concept when I started my reimagining project, I’d have called it reconstructing faith. Now, I do and I think of it that way. Reimagining and reenchanting are still part of this journey for me, but reconstructionist thought captures me in a particular way.

reconstruct scrollHere’s the key idea, from Mordecai Kaplan: the past gets a vote, but not a veto. That is, when considering tradition, in Kaplan’s case of course Jewish tradition, the tradition itself informs the present, but we are not required to obey it. Instead we can change it, or negate it, or choose to accept, for now, its lesson.

This is a powerful idea, especially when considering religious thought, which too often wants us to turn our backs on the present, get out a prayer rug, put our butt in the air toward the future and stretch out our hands in submission to the past.

LiveWhich brings me to another realization I had this week. Just like environmental action is not about saving the planet, the planet will be fine, it’s about saving humanity’s spot on the planet; the idea of living in the moment is not about living in the moment, it’s about remembering we can do no other thing than live in the moment.

In other words, this moment is all we have and all we will ever have. There is no way to be in the past or in the future, not even for a bit. We only live in the present. Living in the moment is not a choice, it’s a necessity by the laws of physics. What is important is realizing that, remembering it. Which goes back, come to think of it, to sharpening doubt.

ichigo-ichie_6The past is gone, the future is not yet. Always. We can be sure, confident, only of this instance, for the next may not come. To be aware of the moment is to be aware of both the tenuousness of life, and its vitality, which also occurs only in the moment. To know this, really know it in our bones, means we must have faith that the next moment will arrive, because it is not given. Not only is it not given, it will, someday, not arrive for us. That’s where faith comes in, living in spite of that knowledge, living as if the next moment is on its way.

 

Waiting for the darkness

Beltane                                                                             Sumi-e Moon

Got an e-mail from Mario Odegard. “…over Loveland pass to Dillon, WOWww mind blowing.” The mountains have that way about them. He was on his way to visit a friend in Frisco.

Summer2Probably not many folks count down to the Summer Solstice, but I do. It marks my favorite turning point in the year, the point when the dark begins to overtake the light. Yes, it’s the day of maximum daylight, but that’s just the point, maximum. After the summer solstice, nighttime begins a slow, gradual increase until my favorite holiday of the year, the Winter Solstice.

This may sound sinister, but it doesn’t feel like that to me. I’ve long been struck by the fecundity of darkness: the top six inches of the soil, the womb, dreams, the silence. In my world darkness is a place of growth and inspiration, a place where insistent vision can rest while other senses, some of them unknown, can take over the load.

winter solstice4Summer and the light has its charms and its importance, too, of course. A warm summer evening. The growing season. The ability to see with clarity. The sun is a true god without whose beneficence we would all die. Worthy of our devotion. And, btw, our faith. So I get it, you sun worshipers. My inner compass swings in a different, an obverse direction.

 

Beginner’s Mind

Beltane                                                                               Sumi-e Moon

20180315_080258Odd things. First, a small group of folks at Beth Evergreen, mostly qabbalah students like myself, report seeing me as an artist. A visual artist. This is based on my last two presentations, the first being Hebrew letters with quotes relating to their deeper meanings and the second, last Wednesday, that used the sumi-e zen practice of enso creation. Now I’m far from a visual artist, I have two very good ones in my immediate family, Jeremiah Miller and Jon Olson, but to be seen even modestly in their company is a real treat.

repair2Second. Damned mower wouldn’t start. As I said earlier. Put in fresh gas. No joy. Hmmm. You Tube. You Tube, that Chinese patron saint of the do it yourselfer. Looked up mower won’t start. Found a video of a guy. One with a small wrench who showed how to take apart the carburetor, poke wire into various holes and then, voila, vrrooom. Didn’t look too hard.

Took the mower out, put it on the deck so I could reach the carburetor easily, found a wrench, took off the cap, got out my wire, poked the holes in the thingy four or five times and put the cap back on. Oh, I forgot. I did the video one better. He said you had to drain the tank or gas would flow out. I’d just changed the gas and don’t like siphoning. Yuck. Gas not taste good. Thought of surgical clamps. Got a vise grip, tightened it down on the fuel line and Bob’s your uncle, no drip!

fix itBest of all, when I yanked the starter cord after closing the carburetor back up, the mower started. To those of you with a mechanical gene this no doubt sounds trivial, probably very trivial, but to me. Wow. I fixed it myself.

I mention both of these because they relate to each other. I like to challenge myself, see if I can do something I previously thought I couldn’t do. Exercise was one such challenge, now over 30 years ago. Still at it. So was Latin. No good at language. So? I’ll give it a try anyhow. Then in my recent melancholic phase I realized I needed more touch, more tactile experience in my day. That led to the sumi-e work and prompted me to see the non-starting lawn mower as an opportunity.

beginners mindI’m not an athlete, not a Latin scholar, not a very good visual artist and definitely not much of a mechanic, but I have an amateur’s capacity. Trying these things makes my heart sing, keeps life vital. I suppose, going back to yesterday’s post, you could say I have faith in myself. Not faith that I can do anything I try, that’s just silly, but faith that if I try I can learn something new, maybe introduce something important to my life.

Who knows, maybe someday I will be a visual artist. Nah. Probably not. But, you never know.

 

 

Sharpening Doubt

Beltane                                                                                   Sumi-e Moon

Note Durango arrow near the bottom of the map

Note Durango arrow near the bottom of the map

Good friend Mario (his traveling name) coming today. I’ll pick him up at DIA and take him to Boulder where he’s going to stay for a few days before Tom and Paul arrive on Thursday. Then we’re off to visit the 416 fire, see how it’s doing 13 miles north of Durango. Well, not really, but we do have reservations in Durango and the 416, still only 10% contained as of yesterday, is a monster, a megafire to use Boulder journalist Michael Kodas’s phrase. We’ve had to rearrange our itinerary already with the Durango/Silverton RR shut down due to the 416.

Sharpening doubt has become an excellent practice. The 416 is a good example.  When we plan, even as little as a month or so in advance, mother earth can shrug, say, well, it was a good idea. Or, pollen season. We take breathing as automatic until we can’t. My last couple of weeks of misery reminds me that breathing, that every few seconds miracle of exchanging used co2 for o2, the outside coming in and the inside going out, has its limits. And, of course, that is a reminder of its ultimate limit, cessation. We live as if. We live as if our plans are solid, our breathing will continue; but, in fact there are doubts about both, contingencies, real ones.

doubtHow does this make for an excellent practice? Doesn’t it really just increase anxiety? You might think so, but no, at least not for me. What it does for me is highlight the value, the necessity, of faith. How so? Faith is a choice to live in the face of doubt, faith is an act of courage that says, in spite of doubt, or because of doubt, I choose to get up in the morning. I choose life. Trivial? Hardly. Just ask Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, Robin Williams. Faith, not faith in a supernatural guarantor, but faith that for this moment the contingencies of life will not extinguish me, not overcome me, is a necessary virtue, in many ways, the sine qua non of virtues.

Living the unconscious, unexamined life, paying the bills, mowing the lawn, taking your meds, watching TV or movies, setting aside the reality, the truth that tomorrow is never certain, that even this moment could be fraught may seem easier, but in fact it’s a state of denial. What’s the problem with that? Two things at least. The first is that when one of those contingencies forces you against the wall, presses on you, it will come as a surprise, a betrayal, a monster. The second, and the one I’m working on with sharpening doubt, is it dulls vital living.

I want to know, to remember, to live in spite of the real dangers, not imaginary ones. Breathing can, will stop. That birthday party may not happen. This might be the day that a megafire rushes up the Brook Forest valley and consumes our home. Could be that as a result of the Korean summit meeting, instead of peace, nuclear missiles will fly. Could be that a guy like Trump will get elected as president.

downloadI want to know that my choice to come up here this morning to write is an act of small courage, an act of faith that my breathing will not stop, not right now, that I will not fall down the stairs and break my neck, that what I write has some importance in spite of little evidence. Think, for example, of Stephen Hawking. The contingencies of life, the abyss, opened its maw for him early. Instead of cowering before it, he did not allow those contingencies to define him, instead he chose to live as if what he could do in spite of those contingencies, in spite of the moment to moment dangers to his existence, was important. True faith. The courage to become who you are in the face of dangers, toils and troubles. That’s faith.

Not sure I’m expressing this well. Let’s try this. The opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s denial. Denial truncates life, makes its secondary aspects appear primary. The job. The car. The apartment. School. This is where a religious metaphor is useful. We can make idols of our career, our marriage, our children, our home, even our fears. That is, we can make them, in H. Richard Niebhur’s term, our centers of value. We do that when they are the focii around which we make our decisions, guide our lives. They become, in every functional sense, our gods, determining our choices.

curriculumofthesoulv2But life will not be fooled. That job will end. A marriage can falter. The children can move away, disappear. Our home can burn down or be lost to the mortgage brokers. What happens to your life when it has its own personal Ragnarok? Can you survive the death of the gods? The answer is yes only if you have known all along that they are what is secondary, that they are not gods at all, demi-gods at best, maybe dryads or nymphs, maybe not divine at all.

What is divine, what is sacred is this strange mystery, this life. And it is fragile. Yet it is in its fragility, the precariousness of it, that the juice, the vibrancy lies. We can choose to become who we are as if that fragility does not matter, cannot force us into denial, cannot make us put our faith in temporary things, and, they’re all temporary. The true idolatry is to take the temporary as if it has permanence. The job defines me. This marriage will last. Our home is safe. No. The only permanence lies in choosing in this moment to live in spite of. To live as if the temporariness, the impermanence that defines life will not manifest right now, while knowing all along that impermanence is the truth, that it will have its way with our life, now or later.

 

 

 

 

Ensos and Hot Dogs

Beltane                                                                         Sumi-e Moon

C.C.

Under the sumi-e moon I introduced this ancient art form to the qabbalah class. It was a sight. I forgot to take the aprons from home and asked Tara if Beth Evergreen had aprons. She found some. All but one were bright red aprons with Hebrew Nationals (a hot dog) in prominent blue letters.

That meant that in this class focused on our relationship to time, utilizing insights from the medieval world of Jewish mysticism, a pagan skeptic led an activity rooted in Zen Buddhism, which itself has roots in Chinese Chan Buddhism. This is the beauty of Beth Evergreen and Reconstructionist Judaism. And Rabbi Jamie’s approach to qabbalah. It allows for both a broad and deep mixing of tradition(s), yet focuses on bringing the insights gained from them into daily life.

20180607_203218

Rabbi Jamie, Debra, Alan

In this spirit I introduced the practice of drawing the enso, not only as a profound symbol from the world of Taoist inflected Buddhism, but as a potential daily practice, one that insists on the present, that insists on marrying the body and the mind and achieving that marriage not by intention so much as by letting go of intent, the brush work an extension of the lev, the heart-mind.

It was fun and soulful.

Remember the Shark

Beltane                                                                           Sumi-e Moon

  • I know how well you have succeeded in making your earthly life so rich and varied, that you no longer stand in need of an eternity. Having made a universe for yourselves, you are above the need of thinking of the universe that made you.
  • On every subject, however small and unimportant, you would most willingly be taught by those who have devoted to it their lives and their powers. … How then does it come about that, in matters of religion alone, you hold every thing the more dubious when it comes from those who are experts?
    • Friedrich Schleiermacher, On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers, 1799

AbrahamSacrificesIsaacIcon_smFaith. The middah of the month for Beth Evergreen. Emunah. Last night at MVP, the mussar vaad practice group, we talked about emunah. Rabbi Jamie and Marilyn said that in the early days of mussar classes at Beth Evergreen, some time ago, the middah that caused the most consternation was this one.

I can see why. Faith is a word often used, but little understood. Faith is also a word often abused both by religion’s adherents and by religion’s cultured despisers. (Friedrich Schleiermacher) Faith is a sine qua non inside any mega-church in America. Either you have faith or you don’t. Black and white. It was true for me as a clergyman in the Presbyterian church. When I could no longer claim with authenticity that I had faith in God (whatever conception of God I was using at the time), I could no longer serve in that role.

Religion’s cultured despisers, a term coined by Friedrich Schleiermacher in 1799 in his book of the same name, often use faith as a straw concept with which to flog the irrational religious. Faith makes people blind. Faith makes people malleable to cult leaders. Faith makes people believe in a magical world. Faith blots out a person’s capacity to see the world as it is.

universe has your backOne of us in the group last night said, “The universe is for me.” I have other friends who believe the universe is a place of abundance, or, as author Gabrielle Bernstein titled her book, “The Universe has my back.” I don’t buy it. This abundant universe will kill you. It will kill you. This is not a matter of faith, but of oft repeated experience. The universe offers up all we need to live, then takes it all away.

I don’t believe the universe gives a damn. The problem for me is placing a value judgment on the actions of this vast context into which, thank you Heidegger, we were thrown. I don’t believe the universe is out to get me; nor do I believe it has my back. I’m a part of that universe and I can choose to live into my part, follow the tao as it manifests in my life, or I can resist it and struggle, but in either case the universe will keep on evolving and changing. Maybe what I’m saying here is that I’m not willing to shift the religious notion of God’s agency to the universe, no matter how construed.

If the universe is, as I believe it is, neutral to us and our lives, or, said another way, if we are no more privileged than any other part of the world, the cosmos, then what can faith mean? What is there in which to have faith?

nightdiving_titleTurns out quite a lot. Another of us last night told a story of night diving. A favorite activity of hers. She said she turns off her diving light and floats in the night dark ocean. While she’s in the dark, she imagines a shark behind her. The shark may kill her in the next moment, but until that moment she is keenly alive. This is, for me, a perfect metaphor for faith. Each day the shark is behind us. A car accident. A heart attack. A lightening bolt. A terminal diagnosis. Yet each day we float in the dark, suspended between this moment in which we live and the next one in which we are dead. And we rejoice in that moment. There is faith.

SharkThis is the existentialist abyss of which Nietzsche famously said, “If you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you.” Living on in spite of its direct glare, that’s faith. This sort of faith requires no confidence in the good or ill will of the universe, it requires what Paul Tillich called the courage to be. I would challenge that formulation a bit by altering it to the courage to become, but the point is the same.

Here’s the interesting twist. Doubt and faith are partners. As a quote Rabbi Jamie offered last night says, they live in the same apartment building. Here’s the big learning I got last night. Doubt is the true sine qua non for faith. And to the extent that we have doubt, I would identify doubt with awareness of the shark, we have faith. There is, and this is the aha for me, a frisson between doubt and faith that makes life vital.

sacred tensionSo. My practice for this month involves, in Rabbi Jamie’s phrase, sharpening my doubt. I will remember the shark as often as I can. I will recognize the contingent nature of every action I take, of every aspect of my life. And live into those contingencies, act as if the shark will let me be right now. As if the uncertainty of driving, of interacting with others, of our dog’s lives will not manifest right now. That’s faith. Action in the face of contingency. Action in the face of uncertainty. Action in the face of doubt.

I want to sharpen doubt because I want to taste what it feels like to live into doubt, to choose life over death, to have the courage to become. If I only use the automatic responses, make money, achieve fame, watch television, play with my phone, immerse myself in the needs of another, or several others, then I blunt the bravery, the courage it takes to live. I do not want a life that’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage. I do not want a life that is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. (Macbeth, Act 5, scene 5)

I want a life that flourishes not in spite of the uncertainties, the contingencies that are all to real, but because of them.

 

One meeting, one moment

Beltane                                                                                    Sumi-e Moon

ichigo-ichie_6

enso-zen-circleMy presentation on time falls under the sumi-e moon and I plan to use sumi-e. I’m taking my brushes, ink, ink stones, red ink pad, Kraft paper, and rice paper. As well as my hourglasses. I will do Shakespeare’s soliloquy from Macbeth as a counter point. Each person will first practice an enso on the Kraft paper, then do one on rice paper.

icho.go.ichi.e3What is an enso? The word means circle in Japanese. In Zen it has a much more expansive meaning.* Zen is, of course, Chan Buddhism, a curious blend of Taoism and Buddhism created in China. Monks from Japan went to China to learn about Chan and brought it back to Japan. They also brought back the practice of drinking tea, which initially was a stimulant to help with long meditation sessions. It later transmogrified into the Japanese tea ceremony with its beautiful idea of ichi go ichi e, or once in a lifetime.

*”In the sixth century a text named the Shinhinmei refers to the way of Zen as a circle of vast space, lacking nothing and holding nothing in excess. At first glance the ancient ensō symbol appears to be nothing more than a miss-shaped circle but its symbolism refers to the beginning and end of all things, the circle of life and the connectedness of existence. It can symbolize emptiness or fullness, presence or absence. All things might be contained within, or, conversely, excluded by its boundaries. It can symbolize infinity, the “no-thing”, the perfect meditative state, and Satori or enlightenment.  It can even symbolize the moon, which is itself a symbol of enlightenment—as in the Zen saying, “Do not mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself.” In other words, do not mistake doctrines, teachings or explanations, which are intended to guide one toward enlightenment, for enlightenment itself. Ensō can also represent the moon’s reflection on water, thereby symbolizing the futility of searching for enlightenment outside oneself.”  Modern Zen

Surfing. Now. Always.

Beltane                                                                           Sumi-e Moon

surfOK. Been down in the theological weeds for a couple of days here. One of the reasons I love Beth Evergreen. Regular chances to go deep, swim in the ocean of this fast, temporary experience. Life. Bits and pieces of a new way of looking at faith continue to float up from the sea vents of the soul, still nurturing life after all these billions of years.

In spite of my hyperlogical bent I don’t seem to have the systemic thinking gene, at least not for an extended enough time to produce something coherent. I’m more like a net trawling the trenches, picking up this thought, that idea, odd chunks of history, tradition, transformative moments.

Gonna ride the wave today, pulsing along, crest held high.

Yesterday Ted of All Trades came. He installed some track lighting where our old fan used to be, moved the fan over the dining room table and installed two fans in the loft, for a total of three. It gets hot up here and an air conditioner adequate for the room size won’t fit in the window. Lost two rows of track lighting, gained air circulation.

fwlogoStarting a hunt for a new vehicle. One of us might be gone, say on a red flag day like today, when a fire rushes through leaving the home front without a vehicle to carry the dogs and our small emergency file box. We’ve done well, very well, with only one vehicle, renting when needed, but we’re in a more vulnerable situation here. Buy one, keep the old one. Not cheap though. Probably a Toyota SUV. Something hybrid. Another Rav4 or a Highlander, maybe.

Also, checking out trips to Israel. We’d like to go, maybe next year. Kate for her Jewish identity and me to see a land I’ve studied so much from afar.

 

On Time

Beltane                                                                      Sumi-e Moon

out-out-brief-candle“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”  Macbeth, Act 5, scene 5

 

And, then, time. Last qabbalah class on time yesterday evening. Next week presentations. I have to come up with something and I got nothin’. Might go with an hourglass. It’s a nice physical symbol since in it time seems to run out, then be restored with an easy flip. Hourglasses, on their sides, are also shaped like the infinity image. So, there’s measured time, yet measured time that can be reversed, and eternal time, running on past the end of earthly time. Might go with Shakespeare.

time-managementWe’ve been pulling at the strands of various ideas about time, from measured time to eternal time to shabbat moments and the radical obvious, time is only ever the present. The past and the future have no reality, no agency, save in the present.

Rabbi Jamie asked an interesting question last night. Why do any of this? What’s the point? He leans toward the practical, unwilling to dwell only in the abstract. Learning has to count. As readers of this blog know by now, I’m more on the dwelling in the abstract end of the pool, so I appreciate his pulling me back into this life with questions like this.

Look insideThe answer he gave to his own question, with which I agree, was this. I’m not quoting. We do it to hold our notion of self more lightly, to give the ego a rest from its orientation to survival, to making it in the world. At the soul level, the most basic level of our human existence, we all connect. Think the collective unconscious, the divine spark, in the image of the sacred. In effect qabbalah posits an Oversoul, or better, an under or inner soul, the quality of which is the same for all humans.

I mentioned the irony that we spend our time developing a firm sense of self, striving for authenticity and compassion, only, at the end of life to give it up. Yes, we all agreed, that’s a good reason for holding the self lightly. We have to let it go. The soul, if there is such a thing, and I’m not ready to say there isn’t, that links us all to all, does not need the self.

The image, from Rabbi Rami Shapiro, that makes this clearest for me was that of waves on the ocean. Our life is a wave on the ocean. It rises out of the ocean, exists and moves on its own, and at its end, sinks back into the ocean. Never was it anything other than ocean.

A Revelation. Say what?

Beltane                                                                                       Sumi-e Moon

AbrahamSacrificesIsaacIcon_smBeen thinking about revelation. In a way I’m not sure is new, but I don’t recall seeing it anywhere. So, we have all these sacred scriptures. What makes them sacred? The claim is their autographic nature, written in some mysterious way by the hand of a god or gods. I’m going to bracket the claim of divine authorship and ask not about the content of the tales, at least not the content usually involved in exegesis and hermeneutics, but about the way revelation shows up in them.

I came to this idea at a mussar class last week when we were discussing Abraham (Avram) as an example of emunah, or grace/faith. Emerson came to mind, his words about having a revelation to us and not the dry bones of theirs. We were discussing Abraham as a model of emunah. What we’re trying to do, I said, is learn from Abraham’s story why he trusted God. We’re trying to learn through the veil of thousands of years and through the words written about Avram. Words, for most of us, in translation. Words we know passed through many different redactors. We want to know how Avram experienced revelation otherwise why would we find the stories sacred?

Abraham_Serving_the_Three_Angels Rembrandt_

Abraham_Serving_the_Three_Angels Rembrandt_

God appears to Abram. God comes to him in a vision. God speaks to him. God comes to Abram in sleep, in darkness and dread: “As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram; and lo, a dread and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram…”  Gen. 15:12-13a, RSV Abram asks God how he will know that what he says is true.

It came to me then that the fundamental question of Biblical, Vedic, or Koranic texts is an epistemological one, not first a metaphysical one or a hermeneutical one. That is, how does revelation show up? How do we know it when we see it? How might we realize Emerson’s plea for a revelation to us, not the dry bones of theirs? What is the nature of revelation? How can we experience it now, not rely on an ancient game of telephone?

Well, one way might be to use the sacred texts not as either mythology or divine communication through their content, but as clues to the nature of revelation itself. How, in other words, did the sacred texts represent the experience of revelation? What was it like? How did it become confirmed as revelation? At least to those reported to have experienced it directly?

Please note that I’m not making an assumption here about the source of revelation or its truth claims as evidence of divine communication. I’m asking the question, what has revelation looked like? How has the experience of revelation been identified? What are its marks? Can we seek it? Might we find it if we did?

Abraham's Counsel to Sarai (watercolor c. 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

Abraham’s Counsel to Sarai (watercolor c. 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

Going back to Abram. Let’s use him not as an example of faith or of covenant or of divine nation-building, but as an example of one who experiences direct revelation. What is it like? How does he know (the epistemological question) that he has experienced revelation? The writers of the story, or the editors of the oral tradition when it was written down, or the embellishers and editors of the story as it passed both through oral transmission and different textual editions, use particular verbs: Avram heard, saw (a vision, an appearance), dreamed, felt (darkness and dread), was delivered (defeat of enemies).

Following Avram’s story we might say that revelation comes through language, through emotions, through dreams, through particular actions to him. Not very distinctive in its medium, then, at least not distinctive from usual human experience. So what is it about a communication or an interpretation of an action that identifies it as special, different, sacred?

rev.4-blankMy first suspicion is that it is much like the nativity story, and perhaps the crucifixion and resurrection narratives, too, ex post facto events created to explain the origins and influence of remarkable individuals. Who would receive communications from beyond this reality? Individuals who’ve already been established as significant, powerful, influential. Like that guy Abraham, warlord, father of many children, father of our nation. How did he get where he is? He heard the still small voice. He understood things others of us missed. He was in touch with, what? Something many of us ignored, perhaps.

But, let’s say for the sake of this investigation that it’s not only this reading backwards into an important person’s life, well after the fact; but, that revelation is just that. Revelatory. Forget of what for now. Why are some dreams revelatory? Why are some appearances revelatory? Why are some inner voices revelatory?

Full title: The Agony in the Garden Artist: Andrea Mantegna Date made: about 1458-60 Source: http://www.nationalgalleryimages.co.uk/ Contact: picture.library@nationalgallery.co.uk Copyright © The National Gallery, London

Full title: The Agony in the Garden
Artist: Andrea Mantegna
Date made: about 1458-60
Source: http://www.nationalgalleryimages.co.uk/
Contact: picture.library@nationalgallery.co.uk
Copyright © The National Gallery, London

I’m not sure we can penetrate this. We have the after story. After the garden. After the promise to Avram. After Sarah’s miraculous births. After the Garden of Gethsemane. After the journey by night to the Temple Mount. After the birth of Krishna. Yet how can we know the inner experience of personages from thousands of years in the past? We barely understand our own inner experience. And if we can’t answer the epistemological question, how did Avram know what he claimed to know about God, then we can’t decide the value of his claims. Aside from their value as myth and legend.

Perhaps then Emerson’s quest for a religion of revelation to us rather than the dry bones of theirs is fruitless. Perhaps. I would say and will stop here for now, that the only way we can understand the nature of revelation is to search for its marks in our own lives. We will not find answers in ancient texts because the layers, the barriers to knowing the mind of another becomes insurmountable in them. What has been revealed to you? What was its source? How do you know?

 

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