We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Staying Open. Paying Attention.

Imbolc                                                                       New Life Moon

Got up late today, around 8:30 am so I’m writing this after noon. Feels a little weird since it’s usually dark outside when I work on Ancientrails.

South-ParkColorado-Fishing-MapKate and I went to Aspen Roots today. Jackie tints and cuts Kate’s hair, cuts mine and trims my beard. She’s a good lady. Learned today that she taught her son fly fishing. Her father worked for Eagle Claw and started taking her fishing when she was five. Can’t be too many sons who’ve been taught fly fishing by their moms. Right now he’s logging and had a nasty accident when the saw cut through his boot and into his foot. She hopes he’ll become a fishing guide.

Coloradans and the snow. There were flurries last night, some periods of heavier snow. So most folks stayed home from mussar vaad practice. MVP. Geez. I find myself saying this every once in a while up here: “If Minnesotans didn’t go out when it was snowy and cold, they’d never leave the house from November through March.” It’s definitely better to have Minnesota conditioning for Colorado winters though than, say, Florida or Texas. Both state contribute their share of new Coloradans.

Melon choly. Still ripening though not as pervasive. I’ve not felt this, as near as I can recall, since Minnesota. A certain heaviness, a certain I don’t really feel like getting out of bed. A gray veil.

Bee-guyMy best guess as to why now is a little odd. First year we were moving in, orienting ourselves. Prostate cancer, too. Second year Jon’s divorce, my knee replacement and then Kate’s first bout we identified with Sjogren’s. Since September though Jon moved into his new house. He’s calmed down, a lot. Sjogren’s and its effects, while not pleasant, are at least known and we have strategies to cope with them. After a year plus with the knee, after p.t. and now several different workouts, the knee has no pain and functions, for the most part, as it did before the bad arthritis set in.

So we’ve had since September to adjust to a Colorado which is no longer introducing us to new medical or familial dysfunction. We have friends and a small community now at Beth Evergreen. Rigel doesn’t have liver cancer. Joe and SeoAh are doing well. The grandkids ask to come up here. Things have calmed down, life has tilted toward the positive side of the scale.

Now what? That, I think, is the cause of the melancholy. What do I do now that I’m finally here in Colorado without serious distractions? Are elements of the Minnesota life germane here? Some are clearly not. The Sierra Club scene was disappointing. Sheepshead, too. The Denver museum scene is dull normal. Gardening and bee keeping seem too daunting here, at least for my current energy level and financial resources. (I’d garden in a decent greenhouse, but $$$$.)

agencyWhat is mountain life? Colorado life? Life in the arid West? For me. Sure there’s reading and writing and thinking. The Great Wheel. There’s family and Beth Evergreen. Good jazz. But how does it fit together? What’s the coherence? Where is the tao of this moment?

Apparently my psyche decided that the way to answer these questions is to slow me down. Push pause on the recent past. Let stuff bounce around a while, let different parts clang into each other. Such slowmo has often preceded life changes for me, sometimes after a period of guided reflection like the Ira Progoff Journal Workshops. Sometimes just after time passes. Staying open. Paying attention. Waiting.

Challenges

Winter                                                                     Imbolc Moon

Kep and Rigel

Kep and Rigel

No word yet on Rigel’s further tests, the ones focused on her GI tract. We do have her now on a diet exclusive of all proteins other than rabbit and those from milk products. She seems less needy, appears happier and to have gained a bit of weight, or, at least doesn’t look as emaciated as she did. These are all good signs and we’re hopeful, but still tentative. We go back to see Dr. Bayliss next Friday.

Cooking and sumi ink painting are my gardening equivalents here on Shadow Mountain. I realized not that long ago that I need some active, physical work in my life. This surprised me because I think of myself as an intellectual, a reader, a writer, sort of an in my head guy a lot of time. Which is of course true. Partially. I’m also an emotional guy with Kate and the dogs, family and friends. And, I also spent 20+ years as a serious horticulturist and beekeeper. Oh, right. Yeah.

kitchenI don’t miss the heavy lifting (the literal heavy lifting) for the most part, though part of my time at Beth Evergreen involves setting up for Adult Ed events and I do like moving chairs and tables, that sort of thing. Go figure. But I also need purposeful, intellect engaged physical activity. Different from exercise, which I also need. Cooking is physical and intellectual, also creative.

I’m challenging myself, trying to do things I’ve not been comfortable with. Don’t laugh, but I made pan gravy last night after pan frying some nice pork chops. I’d not done that before. Seemed, I don’t know, too delicate or fussy for my skills. Easy peasy. I also did the pork chops. It’s pretty easy to heat pork out of its flavor and tenderness zone, not as easy to cook it so it’s moist and tender. Got it last night!

zenThe sumi painting I’ve not yet fully engaged, still collecting materials, setting up my work space, learning techniques, but I intend to stay at it as long as it takes to get some proficiency. Precise or artistic hand work has never been my thing, but I’m going to change that, at least to some degree.

I have two areas I want to investigate. The first is the Zen calligraphy typified by circles and crescents, done mindfully with brush and paint as a meditation. The second is Hebrew calligraphy, drawing the letters as art. This last one interests me because I’m learning (well, sort of) the language itself and, more interesting for this work, I’m also learning the history of the individual letters, their symbology and their story. Their shapes are intriguing and I think focusing on making individual letters in the same style as Zen calligraphy may open them up to me in a new way. We’ll see.

This guy needs his hands in, something or other. Right now, the stove and the ink brush will do.

Celebrating the Obverse

Winter                                                              Moon of the Long Nights

sol-invictusThe solstices mark swings to and from extremes, from the longest day to the longest night, there, and as with Bilbo, back again. Darkness and light are never steady in their presence. The earth always shifts in relation to the sun, gradually lengthening the days, then the nights.

Most folks celebrate the Winter Solstice for its moment of change toward increasing light. Sol Invictus, the Roman sun god, added a martial spirit. The ancients feared that the nights would continue to grow in length, and act as a shroud thrown over the earth marking an end to growing seasons, to warmth, to life. It’s no wonder that relief at the return of the sun, revealed by small increases in the length of the day, caused holidays to be born around this subtle astronomical change.

There are also bonfires and songs and drinking and sex on the Summer Solstice. The sun manifests itself as light giver, light bringer, with the longest days. The growing season is well underway then, the miracle of life that the sun’s increasing light creates is the very relief anticipated on the Winter Solstice. Fear and the vanquishing of fear. Sol Invictus, the conquering sun.

Yet even in ancient times there had to be a few outliers like myself. We don’t begrudge the return of the sun, nor deny all the miracles that its return makes possible, that would be silly; but, for some psychic reason, perhaps not clear even to us, we reverse the common sensibility and find succor in the gradual lengthening of the nights that begins at the Summer Solstice and reaches its maximum on the night of the Winter Solstice.

We know that the cold and the darkness, the fallow time whose genesis each year happens on the longest day, is also necessary, also worthy of honor. It is earth’s sabbath, a time for all the generative powers to rest, to regather themselves, to ready themselves for the next florescence. I suspect somehow in our psyches we honor slight dips into depression or melancholy, knowing that in those times we regroup, rest the eager forward creative parts of our souls and the gradual lengthening of the darkness outside mirrors that.

winter solstice4In these long nights the cold often brings clear, cloudless skies. The wonderful Van Gogh quote that I posted a few days ago underscores a virtue of darkness, one we can experience waking or asleep. Dreaming takes us out of the rigors of day to day life and puts us in the realm where ideas and hopes gather. So, the lengthening of the nights increases our opportunity to experience dream time. Whether you believe in Jung’s collective unconscious or not-I do, the rich resources of dreaming are available to us with greater ease when the nights are long and the cold makes sleeping a joy.

It was, too, many years ago when I pushed the notion of transcendence out of my spirituality in favor of immanence, incarnation over a god in the sky. My focus moved to down and in, not up and out. Our inner world is a mystery, a place of fecundity, but also a place often occulted by the demands of the day. When we shift our focus to the night, to the half of the year when darkness grows, we can use that external change as a trigger to lean inside, to find the divine within. If we can make this discovery, the god that we are, we can stiff arm the notion that revelation stopped thousands of years ago.

each birth, always

each birth, always

Every moment of our existence is a revelation, the path of a god, the most fundamental ancientrail of all. No, we are not omnipotent, that’s an illusion created by the idea of transcendence, the need to find validation outside of our own soul. This is the true polytheism, the one that folds its hands, says namaste, bows to that of god in everyone, in every animal, in every plant and stone and star.

When you reach out in love to another person, to a dog, to a crocus blooming in the snow, you bring the finger held out by the white haired floating god in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling. That moment of creation is always, ongoing, a joint effort between and among us all, human and inhuman, animate and inanimate, the cosmic dance of Shiva brought into this mundane world. He or She is not out there, waiting to be called by prayer, but in here, waiting to be called by the quiet, by the joy, by the persistence held in the soul container that is you.

 

Metaphor? Of course.

Fall                                                                               Harvest Moon

kabbalah8The tree of life, the tree of immortality guarded by the angel with the flaming sword; the tree itself still growing in paradise, concealed by language, by our senses, by the everydayness of our lives; the path back to the garden often forgotten, the exile from paradise a separation so profound that we no longer know the location of the trail head and even harder, we no longer have a desire to search for it.

Metaphor? Of course. But in these three words lie a trap for the unwary, a trap in which I allowed myself to get caught and held, a mindhold trap. My life seems like a sine wave of grasping, then losing the significance of metaphors.

When young, I felt the mystery behind the communion wafers and the grape juice at Alexandria First Methodist. At the tenebrae service, when we extinguished the little candles with their paper drip guards and the sanctuary went dark, I thrilled to the change from ordinary experience, sensed the power rolling over us as the memory of crucifixion and death came hurtling through the centuries to land in our small Indiana town, in the very spot where I sat.

The sunrise services held on Easter morning lit up my whole inside. The power of the tenebrae had been defeated and life did go on forever, death only a mistake, an illusion, misunderstood as a cruelty when in fact it was a gateway. I suppose on those days, repeated over many years, I had a glimpse of the path back to the garden.

My mother’s death, I think, shattered this instinctive faith. Those feelings occasioned by grape juice soaked squares of bread, darkness and the rising of the sun, were a true path and one I lost when the brutal reality of grief smeared the way.

But the memory of that way remained. So I moved up from the instinctive triad of netzach-hod-yesod, forced by fear and loss to skip the next triad chesed-gevurah-tiferet and go to the one easiest for me to access, hochmah-binah-daat. I know these hebrew words may mean nothing at all to you, I’m still at the base of a steep learning curve with them myself, but they do appear on the illustration above so you can see where they are on the tree of life.

In simple, but not simplistic terms, the triads are netzach-hod-yesod, the realm of instinctual behavior, chesed-gevurah-tiferet, the realm of emotions and hochmah-binah-daat, the realm of the intellect. Movement in the tree of life goes from the keter to malchut and back from malchut up to keter, so there is no real top or bottom, only different spots in an ongoing process of creation.

kabbalahBut here’s the trap. Metaphor, of course! I studied philosophy, religion, anthropology in college. Then, after a few years stuck in unenlightened instinctual behavior-the storied sex, drugs and rock and roll of the sixties and seventies-I moved to seminary. The trap tightened. I learned about the church, scripture old and new, ethics, church history. It was exhilarating, all this knowledge. I soaked it up. I remained though stuck in the intellectual triad, pushing back and forth between the polarity of intuitive wisdom, hochmah, and analytical thought, binah, often not going on to daat, or understanding. I learned, but did not integrate into my soul.

There was a time, after seminary, after ordination, as I groped my way around in the work of ministry, that I found the path again. It was in mystical traditions like the Jesus Prayer, or the use of lectio divina, contemplative prayer. I had spiritual directors who guided my prayer life and I meditated often, daily for years, went on private retreats for days at a time. In those years I found my way back to the netzach-hod-yesod triad, traveling again on the instinctual path formed so long ago.

The trap sprung another time, though, as I got better at my ministry, more able to apply organizational development paradigms to congregational life, more able to pull the levers of political power for the good of various purposes: affordable housing, unemployment policy, economic development for poor neighborhoods, fighting off corporate takeovers of those same poor neighborhoods, more able to navigate the internal politics of Presbytery life. I became stuck in malchut, the material world which we experience everyday. So stuck that eventually I could see nothing else and the path disappeared again.

interior_dante_divinecomedy_inf_01_002My heart knew I had gotten lost, in exile once again. In Dante’s words in Canto 1 of the Divine Comedy:

In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself, in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost.

It is a hard thing to speak of, how wild, harsh and impenetrable that wood was, so that thinking of it recreates the fear. It is scarcely less bitter than death…

I cannot rightly say how I entered it. I was so full of sleep, at that point where I abandoned the true way.”

This time I knew I had to extricate myself from the subtle trap, get out of the thought world that had me lost in the dark wood, the direct way lost. It was a wild, harsh, seemingly impenetrable forest.

It was clear that for me the Christian faith had gotten muddled up with ambition, immersion in the world of power. And, most problematic of all, it had become part of the metaphor trap. The metaphor had gone stale, had become a barrier instead of a koan. Not the fault of the faith itself, but of my journey within it.

IMAG0650croppedAt the time of its crumbling another path had begun to open for me. Fiction writing emerged when, ironically, I began writing my Doctor of Ministry thesis. Instead of working on it I ended up with 30,000 plus words of what would become my first novel, Even The Gods Must Die. Irony in the title, too, I suppose.

In the train of that shift came a decision to look into my Celtic heritage as a source for my fiction. While researching Celtic religion for the fantasy novels I wanted to write, I discovered the Great Wheel.

It grounded me. So to speak. My spiritual life became tactile, bound up in soil amendments, bulbs, corms, seeds, spades and hoes, fruit trees, raspberries and bees. And, of course, dogs. Always dogs.

Meeting Kate enabled me to move gracefully out of the ministry and into a pagan worldview. I was back in the netzach-hod-yesod triad, but now firmly attached to malchut, the queendom of this world.

Writing fiction found me exploring the chesed-gevurah-tiferet triad, having to reach into my heart for believable characters, story lines. Over the course of those years, the years since leaving the Christian ministry and now, I began to gradually integrate the triads, at least the three: intellectual, emotional and instinctual. The combination of family life, the Andover years, writing, and working as a docent at the MIA began to slowly weave them into my soul.

2010 01 19_3454Even so, I sat behind the barrier, the flaming sword, the metaphor trap. Beth Evergreen and Rabbi Jamie Arnold have started me on a journey back to where I began, immersed in the dark. Seeking for the light, yes, but happy now in the  darkness, too. The Winter Solstice long ago became my favorite holiday of the year.

When I left Christianity and took up my earth-bound spirit, I shut off access to the fourth triad, the one subsumed under keter: faith-joy/pleasure-will, and its source of energy, the ein sof, the infinite One, perhaps god in small letters. Today, as I write this, I’m more pagan than I’ve ever been, more embracing of the body, the mountains, the stars, the elk and the mountain lion, than any words from any source.

2011 03 06_3396But. At Beth Evergreen I have begun to feel my way back into the fourth triad, the mystery I first encountered on the hard wooden pews in Alexandria, the one pulsing behind the metaphors of tenebrae, of crucifixion, of resurrection,  and now of Torah, of language, of a “religious” life. I knew it once, in the depth of my naive young boy’s soul. Now, I may find it again, rooted in the old man he’s become.

Lughnasa 2017

Lughnasa                                                                              Kate’s Moon

Welcome to the season of the first harvests. Coincidentally, on the Jewish calendar, today is Tisha B’Av  the 9th of Av, a fast day that commemorates the destruction of the first temple by the Romans in 70 CE.

demeterThe proselytizing Roman Catholics gathered in Lughnasa and turned it into Lammas, a sabbat name used often in Wiccan circles, but in fact part of a persistent and largely successful attempt by the Catholic church to eliminate the old Celtic faith. Parishioners baked loaves of bread (lammas means loaf mass) from the first harvested grains and brought them to mass.

The Celtic cross-quarter holiday (comes between a solstice and an equinox or an equinox and a solstice) of Lughnasa marks the beginning of the harvest season. The harvest, on the Great Wheel, has three holidays: Lughnasa, Mabon (fall equinox) and the start of the Celtic new year, Samain, another cross-quarter holiday celebrated on October 31st. In other words from today through October 31st the ancient Celts reaped the results of the growing season, which began on May 1st at Beltane. Beltane and Samain are the original holidays of the early Celts, one marking the start of the growing season, the other its end. Samain means Summer’s End.

fiddledIMAG0591A glorious time of year when the crops were good, Lughnasa also kicked off a long succession of market days, actually weeks, when celebrations were common. The tradition of Lughnasa market days with their heaps of produce from gardens and fields came to the United States with the Celts who immigrated here, many into the Appalachian mountains where their culture fed folk music and crafts into the new country. Their Lughnasa celebrations, then known as fairs, are the genesis of county and state fairs.

Living in the mountains as I now do, the dominant agricultural/horticultural emphasis of the Great Wheel comes into sharp relief, no harvest here, except some hay from mountain meadows, and a few farmer’s markets with desultory goods. Yet. In places with little to no agriculture the results of the harvest season are even more important, though occurring far away. No food, no life.

20170730_150912Kate has a garden remnant doing surprisingly well. She got this plant from a project at Beth Evergreen and had me transplant it. We will have a bit of Lughnasa sometime soon, if the fruits on it ripen. If they don’t, we plan to have fried green tomatoes. Kudos to Kate for accomplishing a difficult feat at 8,800 feet, growing tomatoes. She’s my Demeter.

We’re laying in stores for the long fallow season ahead. Kate made peach honey yesterday from Western Slope peaches we purchased on a cool, rainy Saturday from the Knights of Columbus. They would have happily assisted the Romans in destroying the first Temple. The contradictions of life.

 

 

End of Week

Midsommar                                                              Kate’s Moon

So the right-sized, but too big air conditioner has been rehome Depoted. Another life lesson, though a minor one. Not sure what’s next in cooling for the loft and bedroom. Also have begun looking at robotic vacuums. Might be good for us.

sundance-01After returning the air conditioner we went to Sundance Gardens to shop for lilac bushes and plants for our rock garden. Very helpful young woman, but no call back yet on the lilacs. The main folks were in Denver buying plants. All this in Evergreen.

Lunch at one of our favorite spots: Saigon Landing.

Nap. Late afternoon workout since the air conditioner/garden errands occupied the mornings. Then, grandkids. I made Maid-Right, loose-meat, Iowa type hamburger. We had curly fries, peas, and cut up fruit. Ruth loved her t-shirt: I read. That’s what I do. I know things.

labyrinthJon’s nearly finished with the benches. Kate will make cushions for them. These benches will increase our storage for pots and pans, infrequently used kitchen appliance as well as providing built in seating for the dining room table. The wood Jon used for the exterior faces is cedar and smells wonderful.

Kate and I head over to Beth Evergreen this morning for an embodied Shabbat service. Rabbi Jamie is on vacation.

 

Wherever you go, there you change.

Midsommar                                                             New (Kate’s) Moon

travelIf you’re an alcoholic like I am, you learn early in treatment that the geographical escape won’t work. Wherever you go, there you are is the saying. It’s true that the addictive part of my personality follows me from place to place as well as through time. Even so, this move to Colorado has awakened me to an unexpected benefit of leaving a place, especially ones invested with a lot of meaning.

I lived in Minnesota over 40 years, moving to New Brighton in 1971 for seminary. I also lived in Alexandria, Indiana until I was 18, so two long stays in particular places. In the instance of Alexandria, I was there for all of my childhood. In Minnesota I became an adult, a husband and father, a minister and a writer.

Here’s the benefit. (which is also a source of grief) The reinforcements for memories and their feelings, the embeddedness of social roles sustained by seeing friends and family, even enemies, the sense of a self’s continuity that accrues in a place long inhabited, all these get adumbrated. There is no longer a drive near Sargent Avenue to go play sheepshead. Raeone and I moved to Sargent shortly before we got divorced. Neither docent friends nor the Woolly Mammoths show up on my calendar anymore with rare exceptions. No route takes me past the Hazelden outpatient treatment center that changed my life so dramatically.

2011 05 09_0852While it’s true, in the wherever you go there you are sense, that these memories and social roles, the feeling of a continuous self that lived outside Nevis, in Irvine Park, worked at the God Box on Franklin Avenue remain, they are no longer a thick web in which I move and live and have my being, they no longer reinforce themselves on a daily, minute by minute basis. And so their impact fades.

On the other hand, in Colorado, there were many fewer memories and those almost all related to Jon, Jen and the grandkids. When we came here, we had never driven on Highway 285, never lived in the mountains, never attended a synagogue together. We hadn’t experienced altitude on a continuous basis, hadn’t seen the aspen go gold in the fall, had the solar snow shovel clear our driveway.

jewish-photo-calendarThis is obvious, yes, but its effect is not. This unexperienced territory leaves open the possibility of new aspects of the self emerging triggered by new relationships, new roles, new physical anchors for memories. Evergreen, for example, now plays a central part in our weekly life. We go over there for Beth Evergreen. We go there to eat. Jon and the grandkids are going there to play in the lake this morning.

Deer Creek Canyon now has a deep association with mortality for me since it was the path I drove home after my prostate cancer diagnosis. Its rocky sides taught me that my illness was a miniscule part of a mountain’s lifetime and that comforted me.

This new place, this Colorado, is a third phase home. Like Alexandria for childhood and Minnesota for adulthood, Colorado will shape the last phase of life. Already it has offered an ancient faith tradition’s insights about that journey. Already it has offered a magnificent, a beautiful setting for our final years. Already it has placed us firmly in the life of Jon, Ruth and Gabe as we’ve helped them all navigate through the wilderness of loss. These are what get reinforced for us by the drives we take, the shopping we do, the medical care we receive, the places we eat family meals. And we’re changing, as people, as we experience all these things.

Well over fifty years ago Harrison Street in Alexandria ceased to be my main street. The Madison County fair was no longer an annual event. Mom was no longer alive. Of course, those years of paper routes, classrooms, playing in the streets have shaped who I am today, but I am no longer a child just as I am longer the adult focused on family and career that I was in Minnesota.

Wherever you go, there you change.

A New Frame

Midsommar                                                                      Most Heat Moon

ein sofNext week we all give 5-8 minute presentations in our kabbalah class. The ostensible purpose is for us to have the chance to “learn as teachers.” It will be more than that for me. At first I thought I would work up something about tikkun olam, repairing the world, or, as the early kabbalists preferred, repairing God. The notion fits nicely within my political activism (now shelved)/reimagining faith work. But that would have been the more traditional student as presenter, a small talk focused on the content of what I’ve begun to learn.

Instead I’ve decided to go for it, to use the post below, Earthquake, as a starting point. I want to discuss my changing inner world, the push kabbalah has given me, adding its long standing contrarian position to my own.

Here’s how I imagine it might go right now.

Religion itself and sacred texts in particular as metaphors.

transcendence_ver5Kabbalah has reinforced and challenged a move I made many years ago away from the metaphysics of the Judaeo-Christian tradition as I understood it. I can summarize that move as a reaction against transcendence and its role in buttressing patriarchy. Transcendence moved me up and out of my body, up and out of my Self into a different a place, a place other than where I was, a better place, a place dominated by God. It didn’t really matter what image of God, what understanding of God you put in that sentence because it was the denial of the here and now, the embodiedness of us, that bothered me. The notion that transcendence puts us in a better place, a place only accessible outside of our bodies made us lesser creatures, doomed to spend most of our time in a less spiritual state. In the long tradition of a male imaged God it made that gender dominate because it was God that occupied the better place, the more spiritual place, the place, if we were lucky or faithful enough, that we might achieve permanently after death.

Going in and down became my primary metaphor for the spiritual life; spirituality became an inner journey, not a transcendent one. The body was not like a temple; it was a quite literal temple, a place, the place, where a journey toward understanding and meaning found its locus. It was natural, therefore, to leave Christianity and especially the Christian ministry, as this focus took hold of my pilgrimage.

images (6)This inner turn is what pagan means for me. It put spirituality more in the mode the Judaeo-Christian tradition terms incarnation, put a thumb on the scale for the notion of imago dei, rather than the three-story universe. Gardening and bee-keeping became ultimate spiritual practices. They made real, as real as can be, the whole immersion of this body in the web of life. Tomatoes, beets, leeks, garlic, raspberries, plums, apples, currants, beans, comb honey and liquid honey grew on our land, nurtured by our hands, then entered our bodies to actually, really become us. The true transubstantiation.

The Great Wheel, the Celtic sacred calendar that follows the web of life as earth’s orbit changes our seasons, became my liturgical calendar. Observing the wheeling of the stars above our turning earth was the closest I got to transcendence.

Kabbalah has reinforced this move. By suggesting the radical, very radical, notion that even such sacred texts as the Torah are metaphorical, a garment for the soul of souls, for example, it makes each metaphor used more important. The metaphysical becomes metaphorical. Or, perhaps it always was. So, metaphors matter.

You have come to the shore. There are no instructions. —Denise Levertov

You have come to the shore. There are no instructions. —Denise Levertov

Kabbalah challenges this move. By acknowledging transcendence as a metaphor, it allows us to soften its patriarchal implications, to seek, if you will allow this phrase, a deeper meaning. I can imagine an understanding of transcendence that poses a horizontal rather than a vertical metaphor. Transcendence, understood this way, could embed us in community, place us in the web of life. A hug could become a transcendent moment, the touching of another, one outside our inner world. So could this class be a time when our inner worlds intersect, when our body language and our spoken language give us brief entre to the world of another. Even the example I used of the garden and bee-keeping can also be seen as transcendent, a way the outer becomes inner.

Transcendence was not the only theological problem I had with the Judaeo-Christian tradition, I’m using it here as an example, a key example, but only that. I won’t go further into those today with one exception.

P1030762When I moved away from transcendence, I moved toward this world. This world of sensation and my inner world became the whole, I sheared off the metaphysical almost as cleanly as my logical positivist philosophy had done, though for quite different reasons. No metaphysics, no God. No metaphysics, no transcendence. I switched to an ontology informed only by my senses or by the extended reach of our limited human senses occasioned by science. That meant this world, at both the micro and macro levels was the only world.

Kabbalah has forced me to reconsider this drastic pulling back. It suggests a link between the hidden codes revealed by science and mathematics and the metaphorical nature of language. What language reveals, it also hides.  The language of the Torah unveils; but, it also conceals. Not done with this, not even by a long shot of Zeno’s arrow.

An Earthquake

Midsommar                                                                 Most Heat Moon

Kabbalistic_creatorKabbalah. It’s trying to pry off the empiricist covering I’ve put on my world. I say trying because I’m a skeptic at heart, a doubter, a critic, an analyst yet also, and just as deeply, a poet, a lover of myth and fantasy, a dreamer.

Last night’s conversation at Beth Evergreen was on miracles. As is my wont, I looked up miracle in the OED. The first definition, considered most important and most normative,  says a miracle is an event that defies nature and is therefore the act of God or another supernatural being. Its root though is the Latin miraculum which simply defines miracle as something amazing, wondrous. The Hebrew word for miracle, nes, means banner, flag, trial, test, as well as miracle.

Rabbi Jamie, and kabbalah, pushes us to broaden our definition of miracle, or perhaps, deepen it. What is a miracle? Several budding kabbalists offered answers. The human body, animal bodies. Anshel, who has an identical twin, says their relationship is a miracle, “I can feel her pain. And she lives in Florida. We pick out identical birthday cards.” I said life, the ineffable animation of the inanimate.

plate_tectonicsRabbi Akiva says that nothing in nature is less miraculous than the rarest exception. This means, for example, that the water in the Red Sea (or, Reed Sea) is as miraculous as its parting. Or, for that matter, the Hebrew slaves pouring across it are, too.

It’s hard for me to articulate how this changes me. There’s a stubborn I will not be moved part of my psyche (I know. You know this already.) that keeps me from changing my perspective without a lot of thought. Good and bad. Makes me resolute in the face of adversity, but also mulish in terms of new ways of thinking. Reason can take me up to the wall, but will not push me past it. So I entertain a lot of new ideas happily, but absorb few of them There has to be an emotional component, a combination of reason and feeling.

The emotional/psychological element involved here is big.  And, it’s not only about an attitude toward miracles, nor even toward kabbalah itself, but about an inner tectonic plate, one that needs subducting but that I have not been able to move for decades. This core substrata of my Self supports a continent and that continent is my productivity, purposefulness, agency. Messing around with it scares me.

caveIt is anxiety. I believe it infested my life in two early stages. The first was polio, a young boy’s physical experience of our human finitude. It happened once; it could happen again. The second was the death of my mother when I was 17. It happened once, to Mom. It will happen to me and could happen quickly.

Now, I believe anxiety has its purpose. It makes us attend to matters that might harm us in some way and it encourages us to resolve them by poking us psychically until we do. A good thing, in my opinion. Yet, when everything or many things seem harmful-like life itself-then anxiety becomes crippling, closing down joy, play, eagerness, and yes, the miraculous, too.

I can feel that plate beginning to grind its way under more positive parts of my inner world, kabbalah is one of the forces impelling it. So is, oddly, Kate’s health issues and my own, coupled with increasing age.

Seems contradictory, right, at least these last two? Yes, but here’s how that works. Both polio and my mother’s death have left me with a sense of impending catastrophe, not immediate, not right now, but…soon. And, of course, that’s both wrong and right. The sense of finitude that both put into bold face type on my inner sign board is real. I will die, there will be some final illness even more destructive to me than polio. That’s the right part.

timeThe wrong part is that it doesn’t matter. I don’t have to worry about it, fear it, be anxious about it. It is. Or, rather, will be. Maybe in the next ten minutes, maybe in the next ten years, maybe longer. I know this by reason, have known it for a long, long time, but I have not been able to displace the irrational fear in spite of that knowledge. That’s why I say reason can take me up to the wall, but not past it.

The shuddering that’s affecting my innerworld, a sort of psychic earthquake, is accepting the finitude, leaning into mortality, even embracing it. The wall that keeps this from happening is built of tangled vines. Will I work? Will I care about my projects? Will I just relax, sink into the hammock and never roll out of it? Cutting a gate through this wall to whatever lies on the other side feels like indulging myself, separating myself from the motivator/motivation that keeps me moving forward. That’s the resistance that anxiety has constructed in my soul.

the-secret-garden-kewYet, increasingly I find myself wanting a way through this. I can sense, and here kabbalah is playing a critical alchemical role, a different world, a better world now hidden from me. I can peek through the vines at times, can see the secret garden beyond. It’s this wall that holds up the substrata, keeps it from being ground other parts of my Self. This wall has its roots sunk deep into this tectonic plate, is a barrier to its movement. But I can feel the vines withering, their complicity in the substrata’s effect on my psyche weakening.

What lies on the other side? I really don’t know. That’s sort of the point, but it feels like a healthier, happier place. Perhaps soon I’ll find out.

 

 

Summer Solstice 2017

Midsommar                                                                          Moon of the Summer Solstice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 2018
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