Downsize?

Winter and the Future Moon

Monday gratefuls: Ruth and Jon skiing. Gabe peeling potatoes. Kate getting Murdoch upstairs. The picker at King Sooper. Having Sunday free of workout. Cleaning off my table. Organizing and preserving my paintings. Kate paying the bills. Ruth. Murdoch.

My paintings. Whoa. Like my novels and my blog. I’ve done, I don’t know, twenty/thirty paintings since I began. A few end up in the trash because I can’t bear to look at them. A few are standing out so I can look at them, review what I like about them, don’t like. The rest I put between buffered paper and/or cardboard sheets yesterday. Not sure what I’ll do with them. My novels exist in printed form in file boxes and in their revisions on my computer.

Two million words of Ancientrails rest on Kate’s old medical school desk, two thousand plus pages printed out with the wrong margins for binding. Sigh. Going to a bookbinder for an estimate and to be told how or if, if I decide to, I should layout the page for printing myself. Might give them a memory stick with all on it. Or, that might be too expensive. We’ll see.

Gabe stayed here yesterday while Ruth and Jon went to A-basin. I asked Gabe to tell me one interesting thing he’d done last week. I haven’t done much. I did see movies. Oh? Which ones? Lots of them on the Disney Channel.

Clever folks, Disney. They priced their channel, at $6.99 a month, so a kid with an allowance might choose to purchase their own subscription. Both Ruth and Gabe have a subscription.

Stirring inside. Declutter, simplify. Downsize. Example. When we moved, I kept every file I made for my docent work at the MIA. Why? Wanted to keep art as central to my life as it was when I was there. Tried several different things, none worked. And, having the files hasn’t helped either. Out they go. I also want to clean up the filing system (?) in the horizontal file which will mean throwing out yet more files.

The bigger, harder question? What about the books? Is it time to downsize my library? I’m considering it.

Doubt it will stop my book buying. That’s a lifelong habit started, I think, with those book lists from the Scholastic Reader (something like that). Sheets with books, descriptions, and modest prices. We could pay for them at school, then they would come at some other point. Sorta like e-commerce. Oh, how I looked forward to the arrival of those books. I read them quickly, too. I graduated to buying comics and paperbacks at the Newsstand downtown.

My first serious kick was all the James Bond books. I bought them one or two at a time with my paper route money. Lots of others, too. I was also reading books from the Carnegie library, too.

Got into the habit of buying books that interested me, books that followed other books I’d read. Buying books. College was hard in that I passed by the bookstore every day in the Student Union. If I went in, I’d always come out with a book or two.

Later, bookstores. Joseph had been in most of the good book stores in the Twin Cities before he hit first grade. And, finally, Amazon. Oh, right here in my own loft. On my computer. What a great deal.

Over 60+ years I’ve bought a lot of books. My interests have waxed and waned, but the books purchased during my enthusiasms remain. A few: Celtic mythology, fairy tales, Ovid’s Metamorphosis, magic, Jungian thought. An ur religion focused on the natural world, not scripture. Literature of all sorts. Plays. Theology. Poetry. U.S. history. the Civil War. Art. Lake Superior. Latin and the classics. Religion.

Getting rid of them feels like betraying my curiosity. I might finish that book on the Tarot. That commentary on the Inferno? Maybe next year? What about that ecological history of Lake Superior? The work on reconstructing, reimagining faith?

Still, it feels like time to begin paring down. Will take a while. And be hard.

For each of the tags listed here, I have a small or large collection of books.

Stick to it

Winter and the Full Future Moon shining through the lodgepole pines in the west

Friday gratefuls: for the Mussar group. for the Daf Yomi, now day seven. for the chance to do the Murdoch mitzvah. for the fresh new snow. for the 12 degree weather, what they call here, Stock Show weather. for Black Mountain who watches over me from above. for Shadow Mountain who supports me from below. for the crazy people who go out on Evergreen Lake for ice-fishing. May there always be crazy people.

Kepler to the vet yesterday. No, not bites and rips from Murdoch’s teeth. Rashes and hot spots. Antibiotics and an increased prednisone load for a week or so. Dr. Palmini has lost weight and buffed up. When I asked him if he would go to the Iditarod this year. The jury’s still out, he said. It’s a long time to be gone. But, it’s fun, isn’t it? Well, some of it, but when you get up at 3 am…? He goes as a volunteer vet for the sled dogs in the race. Lots of Iditarod memorabilia on the walls of his practice.

Back to HIIT workouts for cardio. Hi intensity interval training. A new one. Slow, 90 seconds. Fast as possible, 6mph for me, 30 seconds. Repeat four times then 3 minute cool down. I increased the number of intervals and the incline, from 1% to 2%, this week. Intervals are the best workout for cardio and they take a shorter time period that most cardio workouts.

Mussar. Got caught out nodding like I understood something that was said. Had to admit it, because the conversation expected me to say something about I’d already said. Everybody laughed when I told them. First time I can recall being caught in this oh, so usual gambit of not only me, but all folks hard of hearing. Gotta work on the ear wax thing. Seems to bother my hearing aid a lot.

The quality of the day, see Ruth Gendler’s The Book of Qualities, was perseverance. A lot of discussion, an amusing number of examples about math, not unusual in a group with literary inclinations. Perseverance is in my toolkit.

Mostly. I can write novels. Start and finish them. Not easy, often taking over a year. I did not persevere so well with marketing them, though. I enjoy, as I said a few posts back, long books, long movies, long tv series. I can start all of these and finish them. Think War and Peace, Dante’s Inferno, Spenser’s Fairie Queen, Faust, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. 10 Commandments, the Irishman, Gone with the Wind. And, Resurrection: Ertugrul. I’m finally in the fifth and last season. It only has 88 episodes.

I can make a commitment and stick to it for years, a lifetime. One of my youthful commitments was to keep reading difficult material. Stay political. College. Keep asking the fundamental questions and don’t shy away from difficult answers. Never work in a setting that compromises your values. Kate, now for over 30 years. The Woollies, about the same. Joseph, now going 39 years. Exercise, since my forties.

When I didn’t persevere, marketing and college German being the ones that come to mind, it was out of fear, I think. Fear is not a guide, it’s a caution, but I let myself get stuck in its glue at least those two times and I regret it. Anxiety grows along with fear and fear increases the anxiety. As I’m learning to be easier with myself, I’ll give myself an “I’m sorry to hear that, but you’re ok now.” bit of self-talk.

Rocking my inner boat

Winter and the Full Future Moon (98%)

Thursday gratefuls: for the Geek Squad guy who came to install our microwave. for his calling out an electrical problem. for Altitude Electric for coming next Monday. for the Geek Squad coming back next Saturday. for the first session in the Human Narrative, the Kabbalah class using Art Green’s book, Radical Judaism. for Zoom which allowed me to both here and there. Bi-location!

Kate and I have been doing sixty second hugs. As Paul Strickland mentioned in his review of a conference he and Sarah attended. What a great idea! We hug anyway, but often short ones. Sixty seconds encourages intimacy. More intimacy is welcome.

Also, we’re dancing with zero negativity. Same conference’s idea. For us, a real challenge. Not so much because we’re negative toward each other, but because both of us have minds that veer easily toward the critical, the analytical. And, we both know a lot so challenging each other’s conclusions comes with breathing. Still. I know where this concept heads and I would like to get there. So…

I describe myself as a neo-pagan by which I mean that my faith is located in this reality, not in some other, supernatural place. And that my faith reads revelation first from the ur sacred text, the book of Nature. This does not exclude other sacred texts as sources of wisdom, inspiration, even revelation, it places them second to seeing what you’re looking at. (Casey Reams) Or, being mindful. Or, deep listening. Or, respectful touching.

It also means that I’ve backed myself into an interesting corner, or, maybe, an interesting geodesic dome. If the cosmos itself reveals the sacred to those who see, the sacred underlies the whole cosmos. If the sacred underlies, is within, permeates the cosmos, then the Kabbalistic notion of divine light, ohr, waiting for us in everything begins to make sense to me.

If that makes sense to me, then the notion of an underlying unity also can come into focus. Is that unity the shekinah? That is, the feminine aspect of the divine said by the Kabbalists to constitute this material world? Not ready to go there yet, not sure I want to put a label on it. But, the idea of the shekinah does work for me at the level of analogy, metaphor.

Challenging. Rocking my inner boat. Yes.

Seven years, five months, 26 days to go

Winter and the Future Moon

Tuesday gratefuls: Kate removing my sutures. Shelly for a quick and relatively painless shot of Lupron. Ali Baba for great gyros, hummus. Those who built the mountain roads. Those who built and maintain the mountain power lines. Golden Solar for installing our solar panels.

Fourth day of Daf Yomi. Only seven years, 5 months and 26 days to go. I’ve always liked long books, long movies, long tv series. Daf Yomi has a similar resonance though its length puts it in a class all by itself. Well, wait. Not quite. Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the great Chinese classic novel, is well over 2,000 pages, too. It’s not, however, as dense and clever as the Talmud. It took a long while to read, but not years. Months.

Reading the Talmud, as a first-timer, is a challenging and intriguing experience. It swerves from topic to topic, sometimes in apparently unrelated ways, but seems to come back to a particular issue.

Let me give you an example. The major question since the first page has been when to recite the Shema: Hear o Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. (longer, but this is the essential verse.) The affirmation of monotheism is bedrock for Jewish faith and practice.

Reciting the Shema during the night, when to do it, has taken up the first four Talmudic pages. The questions are many. When is it night? When is it midnight? When is it morning? How do we know the three (or, maybe four) watches of the night? In a time before precise clocks these were urgent questions if reciting these prayers was critically important. And, their recitation was critically important.

In the discussion about how we know when it’s midnight, one rabbi answers that David got up at midnight to pray and study Torah. How did he know it was midnight? He hung his lyre by his bed and when the north wind blew on the lyre its sounds marked midnight. On the question.

But then the question becomes one of David’s piety. Raised, I suppose, by the fact that he got up at midnight to pray and study. Several paragraphs go back and forth on the question of his piety, then we return to the central issue, how do know when to recite the night time Shema?

This may sound dry, even Jesuitical (eh, Bill?), but it’s actually lively, full of stories and a certain kind of logic chopping that I’m familiar with from philosophy. In short, I’m liking it.

Better than a Lupron shot in the butt. Which I also got yesterday.

But wait. I can hear one of the Rabbi’s say, the Lupron shot was to save your life, how is reading the Talmud better than saving your life? Because its significance goes beyond life to matters of the soul.

This is tricky for me since my belief system shuttles away from particular traditions, but I recognize the questions and love the playfulness with which they are addressed. Reading Talmud for me, like reading Torah or the New Testament is a lesson in metaphor, analogy, not in prescriptions. More on this later, too.

Cancer on my mind

Winter and the Future Moon

Monday gratefuls: Those who discovered and manufacture lupron. The makers of the Cyberknife and those involved in radiation therapy. Dr. Gilroy, Pattie, Camela, Nicky, all those who took care of me then. Dr. Eigner. Anna Willis. Shelley, the lupron lady from Georgia. And a second time on the clear PSA.

Yes, cancer is on my mind this morning. At eleven I have my third lupron injection. Not sure about half-lives, but this will kick me back up into therapeutic range. Which means, a chance of mood swings and scattered hot flashes followed by continuing sarcopenia. Inner weather influenced by true chemtrails.

With the recent PSA I’m more sanguine, that much more willing to put up with the side effects. If I have another clear one in March, that will be my last lupron injection, setting me up for the critical PSA in June. It should tell the tale of the radiation. Did it burn out the fire that had kindled?

No, cancer is not all consuming. Most of the time I don’t think about it though it’s always lurking in the background, skulking like a thug in a dark alley.

In other medical news my bandages are off and Kate takes out my stitches today. A week ago this evening. We have become that much more vigilant. Doors closed, intercom calls to check on Kep’s location before moving Murdoch.

Kate felt good enough last night that she wanted to go out to eat. She felt cooped up in the house. A good sign. She has the psychic reserve to realize a need to get out. We went to Brook’s Tavern. Sort of tired of it, but it’s close.

There was some poignancy, realizing how little we get out together now. Also a realization that eating out has lost a lot of its luster. Too much of a production and the food’s not as good as I can make at home. IMHO. At least at Brook’s.

Resurrection: Ertugrul. Wow. This is a really long commitment. I’m on episode 84 of season 4. There is a season 5, too. Which I’ll watch. I’m a completist here. Why would I do this?

Fascination. Religion is so much at the core of this show: Islam, the good religion of the Turks. Christianity, a bad religion when it consists of Crusaders and Knights Templar, tolerable when its villagers, merchants, craftspeople. Paganism for the Mongols, portrayed as crude, barbaric, bloody, mystical. Definitely bad. Representing the polytheists who assaulted Mohamed in Mecca, I think.

I find it very interesting to watch the writer’s portrayal of Islam, how it effects daily life, political life, inner life. I don’t have much experience of Muslims living their lives. A bit, but nothing like the insight available in these shows. The history may be somewhat fanciful, the characters sometimes stereotypical (though there’s a lesson in stereotypes, too), but Islam is treated respectfully and fully.

More on all this when I read Season 5, the end. Sometime in the not too distant future. In shallah.

Death and Resurrection

Winter and the Future Moon

Saturday gratefuls: The snow, coming down hard. The temperature, 17. All 8,800 feet above sea level. Two weeks of consistent workouts, 5 days, 3 resistance, two with high intensity training. Ruth’s being here. (she’s sleeping with Rigel and Murdoch right now.) The Hanukah meal last night. Hanukah. Whoever conceived and executed Resurrection: Ertugrul. The internet.

Been thinking a bit about resurrection. Not as in Resurrection: Ertugrul, which is about resurrection of the Seljuk state, but in the New Testament mythology. Birth, life, death, resurrection. Christmas, Ministry, Black Friday, Easter. The Great Wheel. Spring, growing season, fallow season, spring. Osiris. Orpheus.

Death is being overcome every spring. Life emerges, blooms and prospers, then withers and dies. A period in the grave. Spring. Resurrection is not only, not even primarily, about coming back from death. Resurrection is a point in the cycle of our strange experience as organized and awake elements and molecules.

Saw an analogy the other day. Twins in the womb. Talking to each other about whether there was life after delivery. How could there be, one said. What else is all this for, said the other. Do you believe in the mother? Yes, she’s all around us. I can’t see her, so I don’t believe in her. How would we get food after delivery? How would we breathe? I don’t know, but I believe we’ll do both.

We know, too, the story of the caterpillar, the chrysalis, and the butterfly.

Might resurrection itself be an analog of these ideas? Could be. Easier for me to comprehend is the death of a relationship, the period of mourning, then a new one, different from the first, but as good or better. The death of a dream. Having to sell the farm, a period of mourning, then a new career, different, but satisfying, too. The death of a certain belief system. Say, Christianity. A period of confusion and mourning. Then, a new way of understanding. The way things are. Consciousness and cycles. This comes; that goes.

A Minnesota life. Well lived and full. Dies. A period of mourning and confusion. A Colorado life. Different, but satisfying, too. The gardens of Andover. The rocks of Shadow Mountain. The lakes of Minnesota. The mountains of Colorado. The Woolly Mammoths. Congregation Beth Evergreen.

Are there other resurrections? Of course. Is there a resurrection like that of Jesus? Unknown. I choose to celebrate the resurrections that I know, rather than the ones I do not. The purple garden that emerged in the spring. The raspberries on the new canes. Those apples growing larger from the leafed out tree. This marriage with Kate, a notable resurrection of intimacy in both our lives.

What is dying? What are you mourning? What resurrection awaits?

Hallelujah!

Winter and the Gratitude Moon’s 3% crescent

Christmas eve gratefuls: Hanukah. Kate’s increased stamina. The mind of Rich Levine. The lights on our drive to Evergreen. Murdoch the happy. Cold weather. Newspapers, the few that are left. Journalists like my Dad. Impeachment. These days of wonder and awe.

A word about the mythic. Long ago, in a faraway time, there was a teacher, a Jewish teacher who wandered Palestine with his followers. His followers loved him and when he died, they loved him so much that they resurrected him in their stories.

Somebody asked one of the followers, where was he born? Nobody had given it much thought. His three years with them had been filled with exciting moments, but no one had thought to ask. Well, the follower said.

You know the story he told. Of a woman, a young woman, maybe a teen, pregnant out of wedlock, and her husband, Joseph. Joseph apparently married her after he knew she was with child. They go on the road. Homeless? Not sure.

But they end up in this town, Bethlehem. No rooms for them there, so the young woman gives birth on the straw of an animal shelter, placing the newborn baby in a feeding trough, a manger.

There were stars in the sky, she said. And, angels. Singing. Visitors from faraway, mages of Persia. There were, too, donkeys and sheep, maybe a lamb.

What had happened? Some said a god, the great god of the Jews, had decided to live in human form. Some said, no, how could that be? The birth was, though, special. In some way. It had to be, didn’t it? Look at who he became.

What we know now is this. The sacred and the holy were manifest. In that animal stall. In the birth. In the woman and in the visitors. They knew, they saw. The divine spark.

Somehow the wonder, the secret of that Christmas story is the revelation of namaste. The god in each of them met the god in that newborn. And they knew that the spark was there. They saw it.

Now the old, old truth of the divine within us had a story. About how it was, again, revealed. This time in a barn out back, in humble circumstance. Why? Because the revelation of the god within us is a humble story, not a grand narrative, a tale to be told over and over.

Told over and over because it is so profound that many refuse to believe it. It has nothing to do with lights and presents and carols. No, it has to do with the awareness that each child born deserves angels and mages and shepherds. It has to do with the truth we block with our bigotry, our violence, our indifference, our casual disregard for the wonder within even our own selves. We each carry not only the sacred spark, but are the actual manifestation of the sacred.

The universe, in each of us, has an observer of itself, by itself. Our birth, mine and yours, continues the amazing story of life in all its glory and messiness. We are part of the unfolding, the becoming. Each. One. Of. Us. That’s what we celebrate tonight and tomorrow.

Hallelujah!

p.s. from long time friend, Bill Schmidt

Yes, the universe is part of the story.  Here’s a bit of a Christmas carol that expresses the universe’s participation:

Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy!

Long one. About god. or, God. or, Gods. or, nope.

Samain and the Gratitude Moon

Saturday gratefuls: Tony’s Market. And, for all the animal lives represented there. For the wonder of our gastro-intestinal system, all the various foods it will process. A Jewish prayer of gratitude includes those openings in our body that open and close. “Blessed… who has formed man with wisdom and created within him many openings and hollow spaces. It is obvious and known before Your Seat of Honor, that if even one of them would be opened, or one of them would be sealed, it would be impossible [to survive and] to stand before You.”

On that note. While watching and watching and watching and, still watching, Resurrection: Ertugrul, (I’m on episode 250 or so), an Allah saturated drama, and while keeping my inner lens clear in the house of Judah, I’ve begun to think again about God.

Nope. Still gone from my belief system in any form, yet with both Judaism and Islam prominent in my life right now, I’m wondering what I saw in the idea to begin with.

The notion of divine beings, either one or many, monotheism or polytheism, has occurred over and over again, in culture after culture. The early Mongols and Turks, for example, followed Tengrism: “Tengrists view their existence as sustained by the eternal blue sky (Tengri), the fertile mother-earth spirit (Eje) and a ruler regarded as the holy spirit of the sky. Heaven, earth, spirits of nature and ancestors provide for every need and protect all humans. By living an upright, respectful life, a human will keep his world in balance and perfect his personal Wind Horse, or spirit.” Wiki

My introduction to this human need for something beyond us came in the form of United Methodism, a branch of the Protestant reform movement over against Roman Catholicism. The Christians, of course, got their monotheism from the Jews and both were subjected to the firmest flattery, imitation, when Mohamed discovered Allah and the Q’uran.

Since I was in 1950’s America, in small town 1950’s America, in Midwestern 1950’s small town America, and since I was below the age of reason, I fell in with Yahweh, or El, or Elohim, or Hashem, or Adonai. And, because this was the Christian version, his son. Confusingly, too, like the Tengrists, there was a holy spirit: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Holy Ghost. Wow.

As I recall, God was sort of the back up band for Jesus in Methodist belief. Sure, he (and He was a he) was the metaphysical underwriter for all things Christian, but belief focused on his boy, his frontman, Jesus. When I prayed, though, my prayers went to an amorphous, cloud of unknowing sort of God, perhaps one more like Brahma than anything else. Distant, important, yet soothing. That there would be such a, what?, being, process, wonder, that would listen to me was, well, wow.

But the question I’m wrestling with here is what need to that fulfill for me? Why go once a week, often as many as three times a week, to a funny looking building, and learn songs, texts, folktales (like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, for example)? What was I getting out of it? My parents? That guy in the robe up front?

No question faith was precious to many, many people I knew. If, however, as I now believe, there is no metaphysical underwriter, no need for a frontman, what purpose does believing there is one have? I’m no neo-atheist wondering about everybody’s imaginary friend and how they could be so duped, that’s arrogant and naive at the same time. It’s obvious that faith fulfills an important psychic role for many, though that faith gets directed toward Odin, or Hecate, or Yahweh, or the sky-father and the earth-mother, toward the Great Spirit, or the plethora of Hindu avatars.

The notion of faith, of giving up psychic freedom to an external influence, one to be either propitiated or submitted to, or both, and the attendant notion of following a path of sorts, an ancientrail if you will, laid out by stories from an oral tradition, or immediately ossified in so-call sacred scriptures, is so common as to almost be a universal in human life. I say almost only because I’m not familiar with all cultures. My suspicion is that it is at least a possibility in all cultures and lives.

In one sense faith means that, somehow, the psychic resources you can muster on your own are inadequate. But, inadequate for what? For developing a Self? For being sure of the world? For understanding how to treat other humans? Or, the natural world? For a sense of safety and security? For personal validation?

Whatever the reasons, and they are pluriform, the answers get called into question by global reality. Is it Brahma or Yahweh? Allah or the Tao? Is it sky-father or Thor? Each of these entities claim total subjection of the believer. It may feel less heavy than that most of the time, but when metaphysical push comes to shove, often around death and the afterlife, the Hindu couldn’t imagine relying on Yahweh. Or, a Muslim relying on the Tengrist’s Sky-Father.

But, when you have a totalizing claim, whether monotheist or polytheist, it cannot be breached by another totalizing claim. Otherwise, how could it have the meaning ascribed? And, since there are many totalizing claims, somebody’s wrong. Without question. Let’s call this the bedrock algorithm for questioning religion. If your faith claims are true, then mine aren’t.

Reconstructionist Judaism has hit on a clever response to this algorithm. We’re going to back off the universal claims, but own the unique culture the Jewish answers created. There’s a strong and tribal tradition that dates back thousands of years. It’s one way of living within this human existence, but very far from the only way.

Reconstructionist’s, for example, eschew the notion of the Chosen People, for exactly the reasons I’m proposing here. Many, probably most, set to the side the metaphysical claims, but listen carefully to ritual, to “sacred” text and its multiple interpretations, to the history of the Jewish people, to the current lived reality.

This is a different solution than the U.U.’s. The U.U.’s have the same algorithmic questions, but toward all faiths. U.U.’s have a curriculum which gives away their fundamental stance: Creating your own theology.

Which is, of course, different from the atheist or agnostic, the pagan or the simply don’t care at all. But, and I’ll stop here for today, if faith is such an important component of human life, what happens when it gets watered down or dismissed entirely. What if you can’t create your own theology?

Midrash Aggadah

Samain and the Fallow Moon

Made it into Evergreen going slow. Some timid Coloradans ahead. Black Mountain Drive/Brook Forest was icy, but Jeffco public works had put down a lot of sand, enough to make it safe to drive normal speeds.

To the Dandelion. A nice little breakfast place, quiet. Not as tasty as the Wildflower, which is in the touristy part of Evergreen, but the Wildflower is small and the dining area noisy. The Dandelion makes the usual suspects when it comes to breakfast and does them well, but with little imagination.

We discussed Chayei Sarah and how to approach it. I gave Alan a commentary by Zornberg’s mentor (whose name I can’t recall and Alan has her book). Forgot that commentaries are really behind the scenes props for clergy. They’re not secret, but few lay folk ever look at them. They usually require some background knowledge and they get technical pretty fast. Alan, who is a bright guy, admitted that he swam upstream while reading it.

We agreed to go with Zornberg’s approach first (see the post The Abyss Stares Back) and if we run out of conversation, Alan will hop in with what he’s learned. Gonna do a bit on exegesis and hermeneutics from the Christian perspective to introduce the Talmudic approach, midrash aggadah*. Midrash aggadah have a playful quality, making leaps, filling in gaps in the Torah narrative, and displaying a rigorous internal logic while suggesting many different ways of looking at a text.

Here’s a summary of a famous example, Abraham Smashing the Idols:

Abram tried to convince his father, Terach, of the folly of idol worship. One day, when Abram was left alone to mind the store, he took a hammer and smashed all of the idols except the largest one. He placed the hammer in the hand of the largest idol. When his father returned and asked what happened, Abram said, “The idols got into a fight, and the big one smashed all the other ones.” His father said, “Don’t be ridiculous. These idols have no life or power. They can’t do anything.” Abram replied, “Then why do you worship them?” Judaism 101

* Midrash falls into two categories.When the subject is law and religious practice ( ), it is called midrash halacha. Midrash aggadah, on the other hand, interprets biblical narrative, exploring questions of ethics or theology, or creating homilies and parables based on the text. (Aggadah means”telling”; any midrash which is not halakhic falls into this category.)

Our First Shiva Minyan

Samain and the Fallow Moon

Seven p.m. last night. Already well dark. We drove to the Staples parking lot, about 10 minutes away, and picked up Marilyn Saltzman. She got in, put Jamie and Steve’s address in her phone so she could navigate, and we drove toward Bailey on 285, turning on Richmond Hill Road, up toward Lion’s Head.

Driving in the mountains at night has a claustrophic feel, the dark closes around you, the headlights illuminate some of the road, but the curves and the dropoffs make the light useful only right in front of you. A sense of isolation creeps up, too. Without those headlights? A bit like driving in a whiteout. A blackout.

Coming home on familiar roads at night. That’s ok. We do it a lot from Evergreen and Denver and we know the roads. Jamie and Steve’s house though is hard to find in the daylight.

Marilyn navigated well. We arrived to what we thought would be a packed house, but nope. Their long driveway, asphalt, had only a few cars, all parked close to the house.

Jamie and Steve met us at the door. Steve’s brother, Arthur, died a month or so ago. Steve was unshaven, as is Orthodox custom, and he wore a Bronx sweatshirt in honor of Arthur. The shiva minyan* marks the end of mourning when mourners begin to reenter the world. A minyan, as you may know, is at least ten Jews, men only in former days, who together can say communal prayers.

Neither Kate nor I had ever been to a shiva. I expected it to be somber, but when Steve and Jamie showed us into their spacious kitchen, people were chatting in small groups, laughing, talking with friends. A fruitbowl, platters of brownies, nuts, small cupcakes, a raw vegetable plate with dip sat on the island. Marilyn had said usually folks bring food, but there had been no request in the announcement. Yet here was the food anyhow.

This is a big, big house. It has a formal dining room between the kitchen and the living room. We’ve been there for fourth of July parties and their deck, which extends from beyond the kitchen to the end of the living room outside, stretches easily fifty feet and overlooks Pikes Peak in the distance, behind a range of mountains. The living room has a two-story rock fireplace with exposed beam rafters. Big.

When we came in, Jamie asked me what Kate was doing out so late. She was partly serious. Jamie is Kate’s close friend, a quilter in the Bailey Patchworkers and a member of the Needleworkers, too. She’s taken Kate to some of her appointments, brought food, been a mensch.

Judy saw me and grabbed Leslie. We did a group hug. Judy has ovarian cancer, stage 4, and Leslie recently had a second return of her breast cancer. We knew what it meant.

“We’re waiting on the Rabbi,” somebody said. Rabbi Jamie showed up not long after. We went into the living room. Prayer books for a house of mourning, maroon paperbacks, got passed around. The minyan allows the Rabbi to lead the kaddish, or prayers for mourners. They come at the end of the evening service and he lead an abbreviated version of that service.

A lot of singing, mostly in Hebrew. Moments of private prayers. Some standing, some bowing. During the service Rabbi Jamie, in his way, spoke a bit about the tradition behind various parts of the service. His relaxed manner, his shirttail was out, and he sat on the raised stones in front of the fireplace, made the atmosphere serious, but not somber, respectful, but not formal. A difficult feat. He did it easily.

Steve and Jamie told stories about Arthur, about the kind of man he was. Steve’s niece read parts of the service. She read a poem, I don’t recall by whom. Poems in English showed up often in the service, including a favorite of mine, The Peace of Wild Things, by Wendell Berry.

We finished and went back into the kitchen, grabbed our paperplates, and, the Yiddish for it, noshed. I’ve included this short quote because it says what I felt. How I wish Methodism had had this sort of sensitivity to mourners. Our family might have turned out very differently.

The shiva minyan–because it occurs in the home, because it is composed of friends and fellow congregants–does more than remind the mourner of membership in a larger community. It creates that community–precisely where it is most needed. By physically entering the isolation of the mourner, the shiva minyan dispels it.” Rabbi Bradley Artson, My Jewish Learning