We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Mabon, 2018

Mabon                                                                      Harvest Moon

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

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

As I type the heading here, I can look up and see the aspen groves near the peak of Black Mountain. Like golden islands in a dark green ocean. Part of the ever changing beauty of the Rocky Mountains.

Mabon is the second harvest holiday and comes on the autumnal equinox. (The rising sun has just hit the aspen grove, now it looks like molten gold.) If you lived in a subsistence farming economy, as most humans did in Europe only a few centuries ago, then what happened on and around this holiday would have meant the difference between life and death in the fallow months ahead. No wonder the market days were so important, so filled with ritual and fun.

mabon-greeting-cardWhat did you plant in the first and second phases of your life that’s coming to fruition right now? Tom. Bill. Mark. Paul. Will you dance around a bonfire? Alan. What will sustain you in the fallow months when work in the fields is done? The loves and passions of your earlier life might do it. Might not. Is there a new field, one that can be worked with the experience and skills available to you? What will you harvest in the third phase of your life?

This harvest holiday I’ve been nostalgic about combines and corn pickers, hay balers and grain trucks, the tall elevators waiting for grain, the train cars waiting to move it. That was my flatlander past. What is the new harvest, the one lived among mountains, streams, mule deer and elk?

mabon8

“The Harvest Moon” by Samuel Palmer

Turns out it has some resonance with crops I’ve planted before. Kate. Family. Friends. Writing. Reading. Religion. Art. Music. Dogs. Closeness to the non-human natural world. But, there are also new crops, most new varieties of old ones, new strains. Judaism. The montane ecosystem. Beth Evergreen friends. Noticeable aging. Submitting work, a true harvest. Making art, sumi-e, playing with colors. This pack of dogs: Gertie, Rigel, Kepler. A married Joseph and SeoAh. A divorced Jon. The grandkids.

Someday, soon or late, the reaper will come for me, harvesting another of this strange fruit, humankind. Each day, think of it, that reaper gathers in a new harvest of souls. And how little we know of that harvest. Do our deaths nourish the universe as our harvests in life have nurtured others? Perhaps.

May you have a pleasant and bountiful Mabon season. Harvest home is near. Enjoy it.

 

 

Expats

Lughnasa                                                                     Harvest Moon

arabia

arabia

Being an expatriate is unfamiliar territory to most citizens of all nations on earth. Though we were a nomadic species in our early development, political changes have tended to wed people to a place and its boundaries. Globally. Even here in the often depicted as unusually mobile U.S. it turns out folks don’t leave home all that much*. [The big exception here, of course, being forced migration whether for economic or security reasons.]

Yet, some do. Both my brother Mark and my sister Mary have lived the bulk of their adult lives abroad. Mary lived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for several years, then moved a good while back to Singapore, where she has remained. Mark lived a long time in Bangkok, spent time in Phnom Penh, and several years, including this upcoming one, in Saudi Arabia. He has circled the globe many times, as has Mary. Both have traveled extensively from their homes abroad. Mark once took the Trans-Siberian Railway from Vladivostok to Moscow.

452158While Mark’s visa application (always a hitch in the get along)  for his upcoming work in Saudi Arabia  undergoes review by the Saudi embassy, he and I communicate by e-mail. He’s currently living in Amarillo, Texas. I sent him a note that said the expat life has many oddities. He replied with the below which I found fascinating:

“Indeed, it does. I find it rather well exemplified in Martin Sheen’s opening performance in “Apocalypse Now.”  He is rather drunk, in then Saigon. He starts thinking of his ex-wife. He gets really wired, and starts smashing the mirror in the hotel. Martin, “When I was there, I wanted to be here. When I was here, I wanted to be there.” He then really smashes the mirror, and passes out. All the time, a fan is whirling above him. Coppola captured, I feel, the expat dilemma superbly.”

*”Internal migration has fallen noticeably since the 1980s, reversing increases from earlier in the century. The decline in migration has been widespread across demographic and socioeconomic groups, as well as for moves of all distances…Despite its downward trend, migration within the US remains higher than that within most other developed countries.” NBER

 

Deep in the soul

Lughnasa                                                                 Harvest Moon

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

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

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

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

Akedah

Lughnasa                                                                  Harvest Moon

Torah being read at a Bar Mitzvah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Blues

Lughnasa                                                                      Harvest Moon

Melancholy 1532 Lucas Cranach the Elder

Melancholy 1532 Lucas Cranach the Elder

The blues follow me right now, the season of the coming darkness reflecting itself in a slight spiral downward, not too far, but enough to shadow my feelings, make me want to duck and cover. I’d forgotten, as we will about pain, that though the gradual darkening of the days excites me, motivates me, it can also pull me toward the drain.

Feelings float close to the surface, sometimes, like yesterday evening at the entrance ramp lights, boiling over. A BMW driver, top down, ran the red light ahead of me and merged. It was hot and so was I. I acted inappropriately, out of proportion. Full testosterone, no filter. No excuses. Out of line, over the line.

Salvador Dalí Uranium and Atomica Melancholica Idyll (1945)

Salvador Dalí Uranium and Atomica Melancholica Idyll (1945)

Reflecting. April of 2015, three months after our move to Colorado, prostate cancer. Surgery. Recovery. May of 2016. Jon invites me to a Mexican restaurant and tells me he and Jen are getting a divorce. A few weeks later he’s in trouble. From that summer until the next October, 2017, Jon lived with us while processing an ugly and contentious divorce. During that time I had a knee replacement, December 1, 2016, and Kate’s Sjogren’s began to manifest. Kate’s health has gradually worsened over the last year and a half. In some ways a continuous series of stressors since that exam in April, 2015.

On the upside we have had the beauty of the mountains, deepening relationships with Jon and our grandkids, Congregation Beth Evergreen and especially mussar, Joe and SeoAh’s wedding and the integration of her into our family. With the exception of Vega’s death our dogs have been mostly healthy and the house has sheltered us, given us a place to call home.

AheadIf you asked me today about our move, I’d say it was one of the best things we ever did. Funny, huh? That’s because, in spite of the stress, we were able to be here for Jon and the grandkids. That’s because, in spite of the health challenges (horrible, but accurate cliche), our lives have gone on and at our ages health issues are no surprise.

Good friends, new and old, silver and gold, have buoyed me up, made me know that I’m not alone, not struggling in a barren patch of cold ocean, but on land and part of a community. Without you this time might just have been unbearable. You know who you are. And thank you. You are all in my heart.

As always, writing helps put a little distance, a shim underneath the door of my soul that lets in the light. Even though the strength of darkness is profound, without the fallow times there is no later growth, I don’t want the door to close, to leave me in that melancholy which makes life a molasses too turbid to negotiate.

On that cheery note, I’ll close for today. Things to do. Places to go.

 

 

I have been myself

Lughnasa                                                                           Harvest Moon

Friday was a domestic day with laundry and groceries, a workout. Saturday was one of those days when I couldn’t get traction, took two naps, felt tired all day. In the afternoon, after an email from friend Mark Odegard featuring a sumi-e youtube video, a friend of his showcasing some of his work, I told Mark I was going upstairs and pick up my favorite large brush. I did.

20180915_162623 20180915_162727

Somehow draining my self of current concerns, holding the brush, and then in one stroke laying ink down on paper helped me, gave me the sense that the day was no longer chaotic.

A familiar fall feeling had begun to make to itself known. Melancholy. Sleep had not been good for a couple of nights. We’d had a busy week, tiring. The religious school class was emotionally draining. And, we’re heading into the time period, now 54 years ago, when my mom had her stroke and died. I was also feeling my side of Kate’s predicament, the uncertainty, the frustration.

But. Gone after my session with the sumi-e. Art therapy?

IndividuationGot that old debil feeling in this mix. You know. What I have done with my life? Here I am 71 years old, with much less time. Much less time to do whatever it is that floats like a dark cloud out of reach. Too little discipline. Too much fear. Too little desire. Too much distraction. Oh, look, a new book! A movie. TV. Yet this has been my life. Always. Work hard, rest, work hard again, rest.

Things have happened in my life. Housing has gotten built. Greedy corporations turned back. New businesses started. Unemployed folks got jobs and paychecks. Immigrants got enough cash for a green card application. Books have gotten written, stories, too. Gardens have flourished, bees kept, an orchard maintained. Two boys raised into men. A steady, soul supporting love. Friends for life made and retained. New friends made, too. Religion has passed through me like a fire, burning down old values, letting me peek into the world beyond, challenging my ethics and pushing me to be better. Perhaps, no, not perhaps, certainly, this is enough for one life.

Yamantaka

Yamantaka

So why does what have I done with my life arise then? It’s not fear of death. Yamantaka and I resolved this. It seems to emerge when other matters press too hard against my soul, deform it. Then, I’ll look at someone else, like DaVinci or Richard Love or Herman Hesse or Rilke. Look at what they did. Look at what I’ve done. Oh.

Might keep Rabbi Zusya on my computer for a while, just to remember. Rabbi Zusya, when he was an old man, said, “In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?’

I have been and am being Charlie.

 

No Problem!

Lughnasa                                                                  Harvest Moon

be thereHappy medical people. “Everything looks good. We didn’t find any problems!” Sounds good, right? Well, we’ve reached the odd juncture with Kate where these are not the exclamations we want to hear. We want to hear, “Ah, so this is what causes the nausea.” Yesterday’s endoscopy was yet another “positive” result. So frustrating. Another test in the near future, looking for something in the liver, gallbladder area.

After we went to one of Kate’s happy places, Appleby’s. A light lunch. 93 degrees yesterday down the hill. A fine July day. Except for it being the middle of September.

Back home I fed the dogs, changed shirts and drove on to mussar at Beth Evergreen. The topic was gossip. Jewish sages compared public embarrassment to murder. Seems extreme to me. Gossip is saying anything about someone that’s not there. Anything. Again, seems extreme to me. If I recall correctly from my long ago anthropology days, gossip is, like joking, boundary setting behavior. It’s one of the ways social cultures create and enforce norms. The sages, in this case, may be more scrupulous than usual. In the opinion of many of us, too scrupulous. Not a rant in favor of gossip. Just an attempt to soften the edges of the argument.

gossipIt seems to me that the more important issue with gossip is judgment. When gossip spreads a negative judgment about another, another who is not present to contest the judgment, then it becomes serious and harmful. The old cliche says it well, “If you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything.” I did show up late to the class, so I missed the early part of the discussion.

Rabbi Jamie has translated several psalms into a more contemporary, more in your face style. At some point here I’m going to share some of his work alongside other translations.

Brother Mark is inching toward the sands of Araby once again. I say inching because the visa process takes as long as it takes, even for those who’ve worked in the Kingdom before. When the visa processing completes, he will once again climb aboard a jet plane headed for what he calls SA. Good luck, Mark.

 

Maybe a New Show?

Lughnasa                                                              Harvest Moon

A Robert Indiana sculpture: Ahava, Hebrew for love

A Robert Indiana sculpture: Ahava, Hebrew for love

At Tu B’av, a minor holiday, now a celebration of love in Israel and dubbed by its restorers as Jewish Valentine’s Day, unmarried women would come together, all dressed in white, dance, and hope to find a partner. Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match.

We celebrated Tu B’av on August 15th at Beth Evergreen and Kate won a silent auction for a backstage experience at a local production of Funny Girl. We went last night. It’s tech week for Funny Girl and our friend Alan Rubin is a player.

I had nearly enough theater credits for a minor and acted quite a bit in high school, college and seminary. After that, nada, but Kate and I were regulars at the Guthrie. When I was in high school and middle school, our parents took us several years in a row to Stratford, Ontario, to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. A passion, really, but one that has slowly faded.

TheatreJust before getting up this morning a strange, but somehow obvious thought occurred to me. While on the backstage tour we visited the dresser, an energetic guy who made or altered 490 costumes for the women in this performance. !. We saw the multiple props, a day bed, a drinks trolley, several doors with wheels, a set of steps for musical numbers, a kitchen table, a dressing table. Downstairs we saw the storage areas for costumes and prop making materials. We spoke with the dresser, the stage manager, the director, the actors, several of them, the lighting and sound people. All, to a person, warm and friendly.

We watched the rehearsal through until intermission at 9:30, then these old folks began to tire and went home.

Theatre2Here’s the thought. Going backstage, seeing all the accoutrements for staging a play, especially going into the basement area, made me think of id, ego and superego. Of the masks and personas we wear. Of our brain as backstage, where we store props, costume changes, makeup, where we put together the elements of the show that is our lives. The show itself, and its superego, the director, is the life others see, the one we present as we strut and fret our hour upon the stage, then are heard no more.

Let me extend (overextend) the metaphor in one more significant way. All these various elements costumes, props, actors, the stage itself alter themselves for each new script. In other words it is the nature of the theater to be plastic, to use familiar elements for telling unfamiliar stories.

As our life goes on, we often get stuck in Groundhog Day times when we simply repeat the same script over and over. We don’t hear the audience, we don’t see the repetitiveness, are not aware that we’ve been mounting the same play again and again.

Here’s the takeaway for me. Examine the script. Become aware of the lines you’re delivering, the plot you’re pushing forward. Is it still the one you want? Is there another play you can put together with the props, the roles you’ve already played, the stage to which you’re committed? Could be. We can put on new productions, use familiar elements for unfamiliar stories. Might even be fun.

Ancientrails Looks Back: 9/11

Lughnasa                                                                        Harvest Moon

09 11 10_Joseph_0256-1Yes. I remember. Too well. At home in Andover, catching the news. Watching in disbelief as things that never happen happened. Passenger jets flying too low, not stopping, hitting, exploding. A feeling of personal violation and awful grief.

This was no moon landing, more like the Cuban Missile Crisis or the assassination of JFK, something too terrible to watch, yet too fascinating to stop. Would there be more? What did this mean? Who? Why? God, all those people falling. All those firefighters, police, EMT’s in the dust and smoke, as my Jesuit friends said of a comrade in Hiroshima, “…running toward the bomb.”

A young college sophomore was in his dorm or on campus or working, somewhere. He heard the news. Heard a call. A call to a life devoted to this country, one who had given him, in his mind, so much. Years later he would direct bombers over Libya, make plans to protect South Korea against the North, control fighters and bombers over Afghanistan, Iraq. Attend weapons school. Ten years plus and still a warrior, created by Osama bin Laden.

9.11The world, the blood. The thousands dead then, multiple more thousands of dead now, people still dying. Terrorism, asymmetric warfare, has succeeded. They have tested us, found us willing to do exactly what they need. Punish them, disproportionately. Easy recruiting. Soldiers for the caliphate. Break free of the capitalist West, hamstring the great Satan. And, gain glory from Allah.

It was, I think, the invasion of Iraq that made the terrorist’s argument for them. Afghanistan, no. Bin Laden was there. The Taliban sheltered him. We had a right to go after him, after those that aided him. But, Iraq? An unnecessary war, like Vietnam. In this case a war that convinced thousands of disenfranchised youth in the Middle East that death in jihad was more desirable than death by the thousand cuts of poverty and dysfunctional societies.

9.112Will this end? Yes. Even the Hundred Years war ended. The Thirty Years war, too. If climate change doesn’t take us all down first, at some point exhaustion will set in here and over there in the Middle East. Or, maybe a reformed Islam will take root, push out the extremists who read which texts they choose and ignore the rest.

This war, what some call the Forever War, has defined a generation. Sadly. We have learned no good lessons. No home truths. We have experienced and inflicted pain, gotten no where. Might be that climate change will eventually be the enemy that binds us all together. Wishful thinking? Probably.

Anyhow, I remember. Too well.

 

 

Sweet

Lughnasa                                                                  Harvest Moon

1514204356436Tomorrow, in our second religious school class, this one unscripted by Moving Traditions, we’re going to do a get to know each other exercise. Your life in 5 objects. Taking my cue from the American History in 101 Objects display at the Smithsonian, I’ll start with my own five objects: a newspaper, a globe, artemis honey and apples, great wheel, family picture.

I’ll ask the kids to bring their objects, 7th graders next class and 6th graders the next. My hope is that as they look back over their life they will begin to reflect on childhood, their childhood and childhood in general. The dominant theme of this year is the huge transition underway for them from childhood to adolescence.

This will also help me get to the know the kids better since they’re all unfamiliar to me beyond names right now. Looking forward to it since the barrier between never having done this and being a rank amateur has been breached. I’m now a novice learning how to help others learn. I can work with that.

20180910_101739Kate and I went in early yesterday morning to help prepare the board’s luncheon for those attending the Rosh Hashanah service. I peeled laser cut lox off salmon fillets while Kate put schmeer on tiny bagels. The lox went on the bagels. Lois and Fran were making egg salad bagels. We set up water, lemonade, coffee stations, put out trays of cookies, dressed round tables with flowers, cutup fruit and vegetables. A platter with sliced apples and honey is traditional for Rosh Hashanah, dipping an apple in honey is symbolic of a wish for a sweet new year.

The service is long, over two and a half hours, so folks are hungry when it’s over. Kate and I got there about 8:50 to help with the prep. That lasted well past the service’s 9:30 start. The prayers and chants, Jamie’s sermon, were all in the background as we worked in the social hall. When we finished, most of us went into the sanctuary. Folks get up and move around, go to the bathrooms, even chat during the service itself. It is, in that sense, more casual than most Sunday morning Christian services.

all dressed up with some place to go

all dressed up with some place to go

Bill Schmidt said something on our zoom session a couple of Sunday’s ago that keeps coming up. You may be more Jewish than you’re willing to admit, something like that. He could be right. I’m in this sort of hokey-pokey relationship to the tribe, one foot in and one foot out, then I shake it all about. I believe he made this comment when I said something like I’m becoming a Jew by osmosis.

We’ll see. I tell myself that I don’t want to join another religion, I’m happy with the earth/solar-centered focus of my own spirituality. And, I am. Further, I got sucked into Christianity by its unexpected (to me) intellectual depth, the beauty of its history. I can feel the same lure every time I encounter new things about Judaism, which is constant. My mind is so open that I can confuse excitement about learning new things with a personal commitment. The difference here, I suppose, is that I’m staying around, getting more deeply involved, not only because of the odd amalgam of tradition and anti-supernaturalism that is reconstructionist thought, but mostly because of the people.

Not sure where all this ends, but for now, I’m excited about my involvement at Beth Evergreen, happy to have new friends, and committed to this congregation. Beyond that? Not clear. Maybe there is no beyond that.

 

 

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