We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

The Fourth Time Around

Midsommar                                                                   Most Heat Moon

ricoeur2This evening is the last of the introductory kabbalah classes. We’ll be discussing miracles again and hearing student presentations. Making it personal still seems like the right path for mine, how kabbalah has affected a decades long journey, a pilgrimage toward the world into which I’ve been thrown.

Paul Ricoeur, a French philosopher with a focus on hermeneutics, wrote about second naiveté*. It is a powerful idea. Ricoeur encourages any whose faith has been ravaged by the wildfires of Enlightenment reason to return to it again, a second time, and this time see “scripture and religious concepts as symbols, (i.e. metaphorical constructs) that we now interpret “in the full responsibility of autonomous thought.” (SE, p. 350)” (see below)

Kabbalah may be my third or fourth naiveté, a journey occasioned by a long ago commitment to religions inflected with Western cues, reasoning that the deepest knowing comes from within the way our inner world has been shaped by culture. I made this commitment over against the Hare Krishna, faux Zen, travel somewhere far away for a guru fervor of the 60’s. I faltered a bit in this commitment with my plunge into Taoism, which remains important to me, but in the main I’ve tried to search within the religious sensibilities of the West, especially the Judaeo-Christian flavors.

ricoeurHere’s a nice paragraph: “While the hermeneutic strategies to “open up the text” that Ricoeur presents are not simple or childlike, they’re only the first step in engaging with the ideas. If you understand “the meek shall inherit the earth” as a radical idea, what do you do with that? How do you apply it? How do you let it change you? Following Gadamer, we’re supposed to put ourselves at risk, allowing the possibility that the text could be life-changing.” The Partially Examined Life

I’m letting kabbalah change my empiricist worldview, again (third or fourth time) opening up to the world beyond mortal ken. How will this change me going forward? I imagine meditation and prayer will follow. Perhaps more regular worship, though with a much altered understanding of what that experience is about and what it is for. It will certainly lead me to further exploration of the kabbalah and, as a direct result, a deeper immersion in torah study, perhaps the Talmud, too. So, further into the Jewish worldview of the Reconstructionists.

gnosticismThe biggest change will be in how I sense the world around me. I will no longer be so reductive, imagining that even if there is an unseen world, that’s all it is, unseen. Perhaps this is how the reenchantment process works, seeing the living, intricately woven cosmos as manifest everywhere, visibly and invisibly. My pagan sensibility remains. I’m not sure that adding God language to the mix adds anything important.

Seeing all religious language, all religious ritual, all religious writing as metaphor is a radical shift in perception; and, it’s one I’ve been ready to make for a long time though I didn’t realize it. I’ll let you know how the presentation goes.

*Paul Ricoeur’s (from this summary)

Paul Ricoeur was more of a philosopher, but his work also crossed over into religion. His ideas on religion do relate to spiritual development, although Ricoeur did not use that exact term. Most of Ricoeur’s writings about religion dealt with the way a person would interpret scripture. But what they also definitely have bearing on religious belief as well.

Paul Ricoeur and the First Naïveté Though he mentioned the first naïveté only in passing, and as it relates to what happens after it, we can deduce that the first naïveté refers to the interpretation of scripture (or religious belief) where everything is taken at face value. This is the same as saying that the person in the first naïveté believes everything about his religion literally. This “first naïveté” is also the equivalent of the Faithful level of spiritual development, as described on this site.

Paul Ricoeur and the Critical Distance According to Ricoeur, the rational forces brought to our civilization through modernity have made it difficult to accept religion or scripture in the “first naïveté” sense. Once subjected to rational inspection, the literal meanings of religion really do not hold up. Once a person allows himself to take a step back from religious belief, and examine it critically, he really cannot believe the simple, naïve, concepts his religion teaches at face value. This “critical distance” is the equivalent of the Rational level of spiritual development, as described on this site.

Paul Ricoeur and the Second Naïveté After the critical distance phase, Ricoeur suggested, there is a way to engage faith in what he called a “second naïveté” way. “Beyond the desert(Rational stage) of criticism, we wish to be called again.” (SE, p. 349) In this second naïveté, scripture and religious concepts are seen as symbols, (i.e. metaphorical constructs) that we now interpret “in the full responsibility of autonomous thought.” (SE, p. 350) This means we accept that the myths we held as truth in the first naïveté (or Faithful stage) are in fact myths, but having passed through the critical distance (or Rational stage,) we begin to reengage these concepts at a different level. We no longer accept them at face value, as presented by religious authorities, but rather interpret them for ourselves, in the light of having assumed personal responsibility for our beliefs. We choose move toward our own interpretation that recognizes these concepts as symbols of something greater than that which the words or teachings imply in their literal sense. This “second naïveté is roughly equivalent to the Mystic stage of spiritual development as referred to on this site.

Dogged, Sirius

Midsommar                                                                     Most Heat Moon

 Santa Maria Assunta, Torcello. Revelation 20:15: "And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire."

Santa Maria Assunta, Torcello. Revelation 20:15: “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”

The dog days. Maybe not yet as hot as this mosaic portrays, certainly not here on Shadow Mountain, though Tucson and Phoenix… Friend Tom Crane sent me a link to this Updraft post about the dog days. I miss having an erudite blog like Updraft keeping me alert about weather. Weather5280 is the closest I’ve found. It’s good on weather, but it doesn’t go off into sidebars like explaining the days after the heliacal rising of Sirius. Heliacal? What’s that you might ask? Turns out heliacal is the first appearance of a star after a long absence. The dog days begin with the return of the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius. Or, at least they used to.

The Romans believed that the dog days were so hot that they made dog’s rabid. Sirius is the major star in the constellation, Canis Major, the Great Dog, but the Romans didn’t originate linking the rising of Sirius with heat. That belongs to the Greeks. They named the star “Seirios, Greek for “sparking” (referring to its near-constant twinkling), “fiery,” or “scorching,”” According to this page on Sky and Telescope, the Greeks believed its -1.46 magnitude intensified the already hot days of a Mediterranean summer.

Neither the Greeks nor the Romans, however, were the first ancient civilization to highlight the dog star. The Egyptians began the New Year when Sirius returned to the night sky because it corresponded with the flooding of the Nile, a seasonal nourishing of the fields that made Egyptian civilization flourish. Their calendar though, because it lacked the leap year, gradually moved the month of the new year further and further from Sirius’s heliacal rise.

This lead to a discovery of the Sothic year, 1461 years of ancient Egypt’s 365 day year or 1460 of the Julian sidereal year which adds leap years. A Sothic year follows the gradual movement of the New Year until it once again occurs when the Nile floods, synching up with Sirius’s heliacal moment.

sirius

In spite of my long established affection for Orion, or perhaps because of it, I’ve never focused on Sirius. That’s a bit surprising since Canis Major is Orion’s hunting dog and Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky. I’ll be looking for it as rises this year here on Shadow Mountain, probably August 10th.

sirius22

When I see it, I’ll think of this from the Sky and Telescope article because it reflects my own wistfulness for a reenchanted world:

“While the first sighting of Sirius may not signify anything as momentous as the annual flooding of the Nile, seeing it tenderly twinkling at dawn can take us back in time to when it was commonplace for people to use stars to mark important events in their lives. How far we’ve strayed.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Incandescence. Not transcendence?

Midsommar                                                                    Most Heat Moon

2011 03 06_3396After leaving the ministry, a gradual process of demythologization and disenchantment took over. In retrospect it’s not hard to see why. A primary motivator of the shift away from Christianity and toward a more pagan worldview came because transcendence bothered me. Transcendence takes us up and out of our bodies, or least out and away from our bodies.

A more important idea, at least for these times, seemed to be incarnation, a going in and down, rather than out and up. Incarnation takes us toward mother earth, toward our blood and bones. It does not pretend there’s an escape hatch from this earthly realm. This is our home, where we live, how we are.

Over time a godless world emerged. This was a world without a scrim, a world in which what you saw was what was. And that seemed enough. The Great Wheel provided a sacred lens through which to see seasonal change and the dramatic results those seasonal changes had on daily and yearly life. This focus on the here and now also informed, in a positive and self-reinforcing way, the Great Work. Building a sustainable presence for humankind on this earth requires, first of all, a sensibility attuned to the earth herself.

grounded_circleThen, at some point-the reimagining faith project signals that point-the flat-earth humanism of this pagan orientation no longer felt like enough. Could the warmth and the depth available to those in the ancient religious traditions somehow be suffused into this empiricist, anti-metaphysical worldview? Could, in other words, a feeling of religious awe and wonder emerge out of our relationship with the web of life and the cosmic experiment we know as the universe?

Must be possible since, with the trappings of culturally specific myths and legends, all religions are an attempt to explain why we’re here, where we’re going and what we need to do on the journey. The journey takes place within in the web of life and the grand experiment of cosmological evolution.

BlakeTranscendence still seems suspect. Reimagining though has to take account of it in some way. Here’s one idea. The mystical experience, a well documented and not at all rare phenomenon, often carries the descriptor transcendent. I had one and I want to challenge that idea. In mine, which occurred in 1967 on the quad at Ball State University, I did feel a sudden and inexplicable connection to the universe, all of it. Threads of light and power emanated in a pulsing glory carrying with them a physical sensation of oneness.

You might focus on the threads moving out from the center and psychically travel with them in some sort of astral projection, maybe that would be transcendence, but I don’t think so. The critical point for me is that all this connecting and interconnecting occurred within me. Yes, the sensation was of cosmic linkage, and, yes, I believe it was cosmic connection, but it didn’t feel as if I left my body at any point. I entered fully into my inner world, a world that already had these interconnections, always had them, and in that moment I could see them, at least for a sudden, blazing instance. This is maybe incandescence, perhaps the feeling often referred to as transcendence.

Still working on this one.

 

A Tree. A Year.

Midsommar                                                                               Most Heat Moon

A God in Exile, Needing Repair

Midsommar                                                              Most Heat Moon

ein sofKabbalah was a trip through contractions, shattering, shards and healing. In the cosmology of Isaac Luria the ohr, the divine energy that was once all there was, wanted an other, yet it was all that there was. The ohr contracted, leaving room for something else. It created a vessel for the other, then poured divine energy into it, but the vessel proved too weak and shattered, scattering shards with ohr, divine light, trapped within them. Those shards, each filled with ohr, are the elemental stuff of the universe, forming the stuff which we experience as reality.

The purpose of humanity is to serve as a bridge between matter and God. (I don’t quite understand this yet.) We find the divine light in the shards of the universe we encounter and help them (again, I don’t know how.) emerge from their hiddenness. This is known as tikkun olam, now often translated as repairing the world, but in Luria’s time it meant repairing God, that is, finding the pieces left over from cosmic beginnings and rejoining them with the ohr. I like this idea of repairing God. Hmm. Re-pairing the hidden ohr with its maker.

Camus one-cannot-be-happy-in-exile-or-in-oblivion-one-cannot-always-be-a-stranger-i-want-to-albert-camus-123-46-22Yet again, I didn’t follow this one completely, but the Lurianic God is a God in exile, separated from the shards. So when the Jews go into exile, they do so as one with their estranged God. The purpose of the Jews is to remind humanity of this estrangement and that we all have a role to play in overcoming it.

Kabbalah finds us wading into deep waters, shifting perceptions, changing minds. A worthwhile enterprise, especially at 70. Glad to be part of it.

 

With the Wrong People In It

Midsommar                                                                       Most Heat Moon

imagesJuly is the hottest month, on average, on Shadow Mountain, hence the Most Heat Moon. Yet, this morning the temperature is 38 degrees. Admittedly we’re still in June, but June is hardly the heart of fall. I’m loving the cooler weather, but I feel for the folks experiencing record heat, especially those with inadequate cooling options.

Can you imagine being in a senior citizen high rise with a poorly functioning air conditioner? Or, in an apartment in L.A. or Chicago or New York or Dallas or Atlanta with only fans to keep you cool? In neighborhoods where crime makes you keep your windows closed for safety reasons. Now, take away health insurance, even inadequate health insurance. Hell is city living for the poor in Trump America, only with the wrong people in it.

 

 

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.

Midsommar Eve

Beltane                                                                     Moon of the Summer Solstice

midsommarThis is the last day of Beltane, the Celtic season marking the start of the growing season. Tomorrow is the Summer Solstice and in the way of the Celts, actually mid-summer. I plan to start calling the season midsommar, after its Swedish spelling since the Scandinavians do this season right: bonfires, family gatherings, great food, lots of naked dancing. Out here in the moisture starved West and up here on fuel rich Shadow Mountain, there’ll be no bonfires. Just too dangerous, but we’ll be with the Swedes in spirit tomorrow.

 

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