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

Jewish and Christian Modes of Biblical Interpretation

Samain and the Fallow Moon

Went to the bagel table yesterday morning. Torah study with Rabbi Jamie. Always fun and deep. Added bonus. I got to see how he does it. It’s been awhile and I wanted to learn from his approach before Alan and I do our bagel table on November 23rd.

I told Jamie afterward, this is so different from how I was taught. And, it is. My training came from the higher criticism movement which began in 19th century Germany. It came into being over against lower criticism which used the Bible as its source of scholarship for interpretation.

If you’re familiar with the idea of proof texting, that is, using a verse or two out of context to buttress a theological argument, then you know how lower criticism proceeds. It was, in many ways, similar to the scholarship style of the medieval scholastics. The scholastics used other written texts to “prove” their arguments, rather than looking for evidence outside others thoughts.

When Francis Bacon introduced the ideas that lead to the scientific method, he changed the world of scholarship forever. Historians had to look at documents and artifacts from the time periods they were studying rather than taking Herodotus, or Tacitus, or the Bible literally at their words. Scientists looked to nature and experimentation rather than Ptolemy or alchemy. Of course the old texts were useful still, just not in the way they had been.

Higher criticism followed in that vein. No longer was the Bible seen as the inspired word of God to be revered and understood as written. That attitude is not too different from the so-called “originalist” camp in interpretation of the Constitution.

The same methods, critical methods, used by literary scholars and scientists were brought to bear on scripture. The howls of blasphemy and apostasy started then and in some conservative theological circles have never softened.

Here are the questions of higher criticism. What did the text likely mean to the author? Here’s a heretical idea. Multiple authors for not only books of the bible but even multiple authors within books. Example: the documentary hypothesis for Genesis. JEDP. The Yahwist. The Elohist. (two names for God) The Deutronomic historian. The Priestly writers. The two stories of the creation of humans, which differ significantly, are the products of two different authors.

Redaction criticism took seriously this literary criticism, but noted that somebody had to put all of those fragments together in their current form. The redactors or editors. What does it mean that the redactors of Genesis chose to put both stories in with no commentary about why?

Tradition criticism looks for evidence of rituals, cultural understandings that show how texts evolved from oral tradition into written text. Other schools of criticism look at the manuscripts of biblical books, which one is the most ancient, the closest to the source texts, and the reception that various texts have received, both within the Bible and outside it.

All of this work comes under the heading of exegesis: “a systematic process by which a person arrives at a reasonable and coherent sense of the meaning and message of a biblical passage.” Theopedia (I like this definition, but not the site.) In my training the exegetical work preceded and informed the hermeneutical task, taking that meaning and message into the contemporary context, most commonly in a sermon.

I didn’t understand until yesterday the reason Rabbi Jamie’s Torah study is so different from my training. The Christian exegete looks for the meaning, the message of a biblical passage, then propounds it. The way Rabbi Jamie does Torah study is at one and the same time more conservative and more radical than higher criticism.

It is more conservative in that it relies on the Talmud, the Midrash, the history of rabbinic interpretation of both the texts themselves and what lies within the gaps. What was Abraham like before he appears in Genesis, already seventy-five years old? Why did Sarah die after Abraham took Isaac off for sacrifice? In that sense it’s reliance on the text as written is more like lower criticism. There’s a lot of proof-texting in the Talmud.

It’s more radical in that insists on multiple interpretations of the same text, allowing, to misuse Mao, a hundred meanings to bloom. This is the crux of the difference between my training and Rabbi Jamie’s method. As the definition of exegesis implies, biblical interpreters used higher critical methods to discover the text’s meaning and therefore its message for today. The meaning. Of course there were different conclusions using the same data, just as in the Midrash, but there lurked in the background always that there was one true meaning if only it could be found.

In the Jewish tradition Rabbi Jamie follows there is no one meaning. In fact several meanings can be uncovered through the imaginative application of many unusual tools. Like gematria. The numerology of Hebrew letters. Like imagining God asking Moses to inform Aaron of his imminent death. When you add in kabbalistic interpretations, the Torah becomes a polyvalent text. Not one you can do anything you want with, but not one you can say anything definitive about either.

Right now I’m appreciating the Jewish tradition of biblical interpretation. It’s more open-ended, more down to earth often, more immediately applicable to daily life. I also appreciate higher criticism, an approach that has now gone well beyond biblical texts into texts of any kind. Can be used, for example, in challenging the “originalists” on the Supreme Court.

On November 23rd, when Alan and I do Chayei Sarah: Genesis 23:1-Genesis 25:18, I’m going to try to stay in the Jewish traditional lane. Will not be easy for me because I don’t have the encyclopedic knowledge of Hebrew and the Midrash that Jamie does. Zornberg’s commentary on the parsha in her book on Genesis, The Beginning of Desire, is giving me a lot of help. There are other resources. We’ll see how much time I have to use them.

Hózhó

Samain and the Fallow Moon

A fellow MIA docent posted a Navajo rug and it had this explanation of hózhó:

Hózhǫ́ is a foundational concept in the Navajo world, encompassing ideas of beauty, harmony, balance, order, grace, health, and happiness. It is a state of being, thinking, and acting. Navajo artists embody hózhǫ́ as they weave, and textiles are imbued with and become works of hózhǫ́.

Not a human being. No. A human becoming. Becoming with hózhó, with knowing ichi-go ichi-ge as the rich moment, with an ikigai of life as it is, not as we might want or wish it, but as it is, hózhó always. No matter what.

With wabi-sabi as a preferred way of seeing the world. Tarnished often, broken, yes. But even so a Velveteen Rabbit place. Repaired with gold where the cracks are. Walking this ancientrail of becoming which never ends. Walk along with me, friend.

Reading Zornberg on Genesis (see below), The Beginning of Desire. She found this title in a poem fragment from Wallace Stevens, his Notes Toward A Supreme Fiction:

“And not to have is the beginning of desire.
To have what is not is its ancient cycle.
It is desire at the end of winter…

It knows that what it has is what is not
And throws it away like a thing of another time…”

Sat down this morning to read Zornberg, but I printed out this poem, 23 pages long, yesterday. Thought I’d check where her fragment fit in the whole. Wallace Stevens is a giant to me though I know only a few of his poems. He hits me in a place I do not recall exists until I read him.

Anyhow an hour later I looked up. Read the whole thing. Yowzer. Let me repeat that. Yowzer.

A few lines:

The death of one god is the death of all.

Phoebus was a name for something that never could be named.

…the future casts and throws his stars around the floor

There was a myth before the myth began, Venerable and articulate and complete

The bear, the ponderous cinnamon, snarls in his mountain At summer thunder…

Stevens kept throwing in beautiful lines filled with the horror of nothingness and whether the Supreme Fiction can counter it. I’ve got to read it several more times. But, wow. This poem is something. It’s apparently considered his master work and I can see why.

Reading it reminded me that reading poetry, ancient texts, philosophy has a sustenance all its own. A castle of temporary meanings lodged in stony rooms, waiting for a visitor. Part of life now. Not what’s next. But, now.

Hózhó in this once in a lifetime moment and the next one, a wabi-sabi vision sufficient for ikigai.

Zornberg and Denes

Samain and the Fallow Moon

Brother Mark made a good observation. When remembering “my dead” yesterday, I did not include any dogs. He recalls, for example, “Vega’s woof.” I wrote him back and said, yes: Celt, Sorsha, Scott, Morgana, Tully, Tira, Orion, Tor. The Wolfhounds. Buck, Iris, Emma, Bridgit, Kona, Hilo. The Whippets. Vega. The coyote hound/IW mix.

My favorite version of the afterlife is that moment when all the dogs you’ve ever loved come up to greet you. If that could be so, I’d find eternity bearable.

Continuing to meditate, up to eleven minutes now toward a goal of twenty. And, read. First things.

This morning I read from The Human Argument, a collection of the writings of Agnes Denes. If you say, who? I understand. I’d never heard of her either until an article about her art in the Washington Post this week. This woman’s work is a stunner, combining science, mathematics, ecology, and art. I’m still not able to post pictures here (working on it), but you can see some of her work at the two links here. An important artist, IMO, but one I’d missed completely. Even the Walker has only one work by her and it’s a book. The MIA? Nothing.

Followed that with some more reading from Zornberg. Damn, this woman is so smart. And clever. The Beginning of Desire is a commentary on Genesis and its organized by parsha, the long readings required each week to get through the whole Torah in a year. The first parsha is named Bereshit since parshas take their name from the first word or phrase in the text. Bereshit is also the Hebrew name for the first book of the Bible, what I have known up till now as Genesis. Easily the best commentary I’ve ever read.

Here’s a quote from the introduction in which she talks about her method: “The aim of interpretation is, I suggest, not merely to domesticate, to familiarize an ancient book: it is also, and perhaps more importantly, to “make strangeness in certain respects stranger.”” She allows no definitive interpretation, rather she seeks a polyvalent conversation between reader and text, a dynamic reading that learns from the text and the life of the reader in dialectical tension.

Wondering now if staying immersed in Zornberg, in the world of ancient literature, the Greeks and Romans, too, might be the way forward for me. I certainly love it. Get excited.

The Narrow Room

Samain and the Fallow Moon

Two important things. 1. I get now, in a gut way, that the Tao that can be named is not the Tao. 2. In the fallow time the harvest moves toward death and decay.

Been considering the text of Chayei Sarah again. Reading some interesting Jewish commentaries and sermons preached by various rabbis on the parsha. Immersion in biblical literature turns all my inner lights on. Woke, I guess.

Also had an interesting e-mail conversation with Rich Levine about Emerson’s notion of a religion of direct revelation to us, not the dry bones of theirs. He said he found revelation in the experience of joy. I had said much the same about awe. When I wrote him back, I introduced a thought. Could it be that access to the sacred, the divine, the world next to this one can come only through feelings? If so, could it be that words written about it might be barriers rather than illuminators?

In that exchange it hit me, the Tao that can be written is not the Tao. Oh, yeah. The name of God that can be written is not God. The stories about God and those who follow Her are neither sacred, nor divine in themselves. They may evoke an experience of the sacred, but they are not it.

The fallow time moves toward death and decay. These diseases that Kate and I have, the ones you will have, augur the fallow time for our bodies. They propose death, not as imminent necessarily, but as inescapable. And I hear them

The COPD is not an enemy, but a marker along the trail of mortality. So is prostate cancer. Interstitial lung disease. Sjogren’s syndrome. These sign posts show the way, the path toward a universal destination of the body.

Learning to live with these signals is a life long process. If we learn how to admit them into our awareness as signals rather than foes, then we can nod, say yes, I see.

No, this does not mean that we say, oh, I see, well then measure up my narrow room. (see Bryant’s poem below) This does not mean that we cease treatments that can prolong our life. Though it could mean that if you want it to. It simply means that we live with a clarity about the end.

Bring Out Your Dead

Samain and the Fallow Moon

The Feast day of All Souls. The Christian version of Samain. Diluted from the original with its tension between the dead/faery realm and the living world. In the Christian version All Souls are those faithful now departed from this plane. It attempts to place a limit, a passport on those dead we know. Only the faithful.

Not so the ancient Celts. They knew both faithful and unfaithful (in whatever way that term might have meaning to them) can return, impact our this wordly lives. Tomorrow on dia de los muertos the Mexicans and Latin Americans remind us again of the Celtic knowing: they, the dead, are here. Those who loved us and those who wished us harm. Those who were indifferent to us and those who desired us. Both. All. Not just those with acknowledged acceptance of creed and savior.

The Chinese festival of hungry ghosts is the inverse of the Christian All Souls, imagining a time when certain dead who’ve committed evil return with an appetite for bad deeds. It is celebrated in the 7th lunar month of the Chinese and Vietnamese calendars.

Contrary to what seems true, all of these celebrations imply, the dead do not leave us. Rather, they remain puissant, able to impact our lives for good and for ill. We know this whether we agree with the metaphysics of the various celebrations or not. That parent who loved you. The one who treated you with contempt. That aunt who sent you books. The friend who knew you well. They do not leave you. And they return at certain times, reminding you you were loved, or held in contempt, or known.

How are your dead remembered, puissant in your life? Do you ever set aside time to visit with them, to let them enter your life consciously? Even the frightening ones, the ones who disturbed and disturb your life need attention. Otherwise they work in the shadows of your life.

Samain 2019

The Wheel has turned full round again. Back now at Summer’s End, Samain. In very ancient times the Celts only had two seasons: Samain and Beltane. The fallow season and the growing season. Beltane on May 1st marked the start of the agricultural year and Samain its end. Later they added Imbolc and Lughnasa when celebration of equinoxes and solstices became more common. Imbolc, February 1st lies between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox while Lughnasa, August 1, is between the Summer Solstice and the Fall Equinox.

The Celts did not begin their year at Beltane, but at Samain, the start of the fallow season. Today. Happy New Year to all of you. Especially to those of you whose heart, like mine, beats to the rhythm of Mother Earth’s changes. And, I would add, to Father Sun’s constancy during her changes.

Rosh Hashanah begins the human new year for Jews as the growing season comes to an end. Michaelmas, September 29th, the feast day of the Archangel Michael, is Rudolf Steiner’s springtime of the soul. It’s not as strange as it may at first sound to begin the New Year in the fall after gathering in the crops.

This was the season in pre-modern times when the flurry of growing, gathering, fishing, hunting that marked the warmer months slowed down or ended. Families would have more time together in their homes. Visiting each other was easier. Time would stretch out as the night’s lengthened, making outdoor work difficult, if not impossible.

This is the season of the bard, the storyteller, the folk musician and it begins with the thinning of the veil between this world and the other world. Harvest and slaughter have the paradoxical affect of sustaining life by taking life, necessary, but often sad. Our need for the lives of plants and other animals reveals the fragile interdependence of our compact with life.

The veil thins. Those of the faery realm and the realm of the dead are close as the growing season ends. The Mexican and Latin American day of the dead and the Christian all souls day point to the same intuition, that somehow life and its afterwards are closest to each other now.

I’m recalling Gertrude and Curtis Ellis. Grandpa Charlie Keaton and Grandma Mabel. Uncle Riley, Aunt Barbara, Aunt Marjorie, Aunt Roberta. Lisa. Ikey. Aunt Ruth. Uncle Rheford and his wife. Uncle Charles. Grandma Jennie. Grandpa Elmo. And so many, many others extending back in time to England, Wales, Ireland. Before that as wanderers up out of Africa, those without whose lives I would not have had my own. Nor you yours.

There are, too, friends and their loved ones. The members of my high school class who have died. Regina, wife of Bill.

The Romantics say it best for me. Here’s the first few lines of Thantopsis by William Cullen Bryant:

     To him who in the love of Nature holds   
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks   
A various language; for his gayer hours   
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile   
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides   
Into his darker musings, with a mild   
And healing sympathy, that steals away   
Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts   
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight   
Over thy spirit, and sad images   
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,   
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,   
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;—   
Go forth, under the open sky, and list   
To Nature’s teachings, while from all around—
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air—
Comes a still voice—
                                       Yet a few days, and thee   
The all-beholding sun shall see no more   
In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,   
Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears,   
Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist   
Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim   
Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again…

Holiseason

Fall and the Sukkot Moon

Today is the last day of Sukkot. A notice went out for volunteers to come in and take down the Sukkah. Rabbi Jamie slept in the sukkah a couple of nights ago, putting his sleeping bag on the picnic table inside it. He’s an outdoor guy, loves camping, mountain biking, and skiing.

The last day of Sukkot is Simchat Torah. You’ve probably seen pictures of this holiday where the Torah scroll is unwound and folks hold it up in the sanctuary, then dance. It’s a fun, celebratory holiday, putting a punctuation mark on the holiday month of Tishrei and rewinding the scroll to Bereshit.

The parsha for this sabbath is Bereshit. The beginning. The Hebrew name for the book Christians call Genesis. This first parsha is the beginning of Genesis and also begins the reading of the five books of the Torah through another Jewish year.

The month ends on October 29. Rosh Hodesh, the new moon, starts every Jewish lunar month and is a minor holiday of its own. This will be the month of Heshvan.

This year Samain will be under a new moon. As Tishrei begins the Jewish new year on Rosh Hashanah, so Samain begins the Celtic new year. In the Celtic new year the emphasis is on the fallow season upcoming as Samain literally means summer’s end, the end of the growing season. It’s the last harvest festival.

November 1st is the festival of all Souls in the Christian liturgical calendar and the next day, November 2nd, is dia de muertos, the day of the dead.

Diwali, celebrated on October 27th this year, is a Hindu celebration of the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, hope over despair, and knowledge over ignorance. It’s a new moon holiday, too. Hindu new moons come in the middle of the calendar month.

Before my time at CBE, I started Holiseason on September 29th, Michaelmas. Now I start it with Rosh Hashanah. It runs until Epiphany, January 6th. Enjoy this holiseason when so many cultures have feasts, days of prayer and offerings, good times. We need these days which exist outside of ordinary time and remind us of the sacred nature of the reality we inhabit every day.

A small c convert

Fall and the Sukkot Moon

I had a dream awhile back. Don’t remember much, but I do remember being around the table at CBE. Rabbi Jamie was there, I don’t recall who else. At some point, I said, “I’m a convert.” And, I suppose it’s true enough in some ways.

Definitely a convert to CBE. Both Kate and I are members. She, who is a convert, with her Jewish identity and me, a pagan “suckled in a creed outworn.” to quote Wordsworth in “The World Is Too Much With Us.”*

This community is diverse in its way: Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist flavors of Judaism show up in conversation and have persons who either identify with them or used to. There are transgender folk and there must be some gay folks. One or two people of color, rare for the Evergreen/Conifer area. Politically conservative, liberal, and radical. I’ve not met a libertarian, but I imagine there are some of those, too. A lot of former East Coasters, but a number of native Coloradans. Some come from Evergreen, Conifer, but many live in Denver or its burbs. A few from Israel, others who’ve lived in other countries for some period of time.

Nearly all though are at least well enough off to own a car, a home. I don’t know the average educational attainment, but it’s high. Might even tip over into the post-graduate level. Almost all are white. Almost all are Jewish. I’m the only outlier who is a member, as far as I know.

CBE reflects an old immigrant motif in America where folk of similar religion and, often, of country of origin, gather in a religious community. Polish Catholics. Shinto Japanese. Muslims from many countries. Irish Catholics. Puritans. Buddhists from many Asian lands. Up here in the Front Range there aren’t many options if you’re Jewish. You come to CBE or go into Denver which has a large Jewish community. (There is one other small Jewish congregation up here.)

But the dream notion of conversion goes deeper than just the community for me. I’m a convert to the reconstructionist way of approaching religious questions. That is, if it’s working, keep it. If it’s not, change it.

In my pagan turn, which came many years ago when I started researching Celtic lore, I have found most of what passes for pagan these days just plain silly. Much of it comes from rehashing, in not very careful ways, 19th century Victorian fantasies, or grabbing parts of other auld faiths, like Nordic mythology. See Asatru, for example. Some of it tries to revive the Olympic deities in various ways. There’s even a clever Satanist twist which has claimed Lucifer’s rebellion as a model for standing against the established order.

At CBE I’ve found a series of parallels with my own (possibly silly to you) approach to paganism. Jews use a lunar calendar, for example, and much of their liturgical year has its grounding in agricultural practices. In fact tomorrow at CBE a Sukkot ritual will celebrate the harvest, out doors, in a structure that by tradition is open to the sky. There is a ritual for each new moon, not often observed, but it’s there.

There is also in Judaism a distinctive body positive attitude that encourages good eating, good sex, good self care. Asceticism is not Jewish. One of the aspects of Judaism, related to this, is a candor about death, a way of including mourners in the community through sitting shiva, care of the body immediately following death, and including mourners in every worship service.

With the horrible turmoil after my mother’s death I find this approach soothing. Wish we’d had it then. This is, btw, the 55th anniversary of her death this month, her yahrzeit.

In the kabbalah, which I have studied a bit, there’s a universalism that comes from believing that every bit of the universe has a shard of divinity, of ohr the divine light. I can move from this understanding to an animist position very easily.

Here again I’m a convert to CBE. I don’t have to give up or alter any of my beliefs to be a full member. In fact I lead adult education, taught middle-schoolers, and participate as an “out” pagan in all parts of CBE’s life.

Jewish tradition and Jewish civilization has much that is humane, justice oriented, thoughtful. It is, like many faiths, a repository of human wisdom, of poetry, of answers to the big questions. I’m learning a lot at CBE and am glad for the particularity of its Jewish life. So, yes, I’m a convert. A small c convert.

* The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. – Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn. 1802