We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

The Holiseason Zone

Samain                                                                          Bare Aspen Moon

Getting ready to cook

Getting ready to cook

You have entered the holiseason zone. Of course, it’s well underway since it begins now with Rosh Hashanah, but Thanksgiving, with its grocery shopping, tablescaping, bedroom preparing and gathering of family is a key moment, the holiday that marks the start of a remarkable run: Advent, Posada, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Saturnalia, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s. Wow. The metaphysical crackling in the air gets intense with lights and ideas and gods and astronomical night. It’s my favorite time of the year.

The Thanksgiving project for me is a golden capon with pancetta and fig stuffing. A lot of oranges are involved, too. The challenge of finding a capon found its match in finding fresh figs. A nice man at Whole Foods explained that northern hemisphere figs are available in the summer and southern hemisphere figs just before Christmas. Oops, not in time for Thanksgiving. Then, a Thanksgiving miracle! Kate found them at King Sooper after I’d called specialty stores like Whole Foods, Sprouts, Natural Grocers and gotten nada. Yeah.

thanksgiving-farm-harvest-postcardThe whole gathering in of items for pecan pies, Ruth made ours last night, and yams and green beans and potatoes is a simulacrum of growing it all, or hunting and gathering for the feast. And, yes, our finding a retailer with figs and capons is no match, but it did add uncertainty and joy in discovery.

A mountain Thanksgiving is like others, but with a lot more altitude.

 

The Spinning of the Wheel

Samain                                                                    Bare Aspen Moon

Tony's

Tony’s

The capon is in the house, 7.8 pounds of frozen, atesticular rooster glory. Kate and I went to Tony’s Market yesterday, Gertie and Rigel in the back. Tony’s is the sort of grocery store where the pounds fly off the shelves and around your waist even before you check out. It’s a gourmet shop, full of Devon custard in a can, various pickled vegetables, cases filled with ahi quality tuna, plump white scallops, seasoning rubbed filet mignon, frozen bearnaise, hollandaise, au poivre sauces made in house, expensive salami, and puff pastries created with only filo dough and powdered sugar. One of those ten minute super market sweeps from the 1960’s would yield a cart full of scrumptious and clock in well north of a thousand dollars. A good place for holiday shopping.

sephirothshiningonesI spent time before the trip to Tony’s working on my kabbalah presentation for December 6th.  This will take some doing since kabbalah is a quintessentially Jewish discipline and I want to focus, somehow, on the Great Wheel. According to the Tree of Life, the sephiroth (spheres) arranged as in this illustration reveal a path by which the sacred becomes actual and the actual becomes sacred. The bottom sephirot malkuth is the world which we experience daily, the place where all the power in this universe (there are many others), funnels out of the spiritual and into the ontological. It is also the realm of the shekinah, the feminine aspect of god. In kabbalistic terms malkuth is the place where the limits of things allow the pulsing, living energy of the other spheres to wink into existence.

great wheel3In one sense then the Great Wheel, focused as it is on this earth, can only be of malkuth, that is, of the sphere of the actual, the bottom circle below the hand of the kabbalist in the illustration. In another sense, since all sephiroth contain all others, what is of malkuth must also be of the others, the spiritual dna of the whole universe. So, if we take the Great Wheel as a metaphor for the creating, harvesting and ending of life, a cycle without end, then the Great Wheel is, too, a Tree of Life. That is, the inanimate becomes animate, the animate lives, then dies, returning its inanimate particulars to the universe which, through the power of ongoing creation, rearranges them in living form so the cycle can go on.

The Great Wheel has a half circle for the growing season and a half circle for the fallow season. It can be seen as half day and half night. It can also be seen as the cycle of the virgin goddess who, impregnated by the god, gives birth to the growing season as the Great Mother and then, during and after the harvest becomes the crone. The life cycle of each of us.

Not sure yet how I’m going to articulate this for the class. Still in the gestation period.

 

The Raw and The Cooked

Samain                                                                           Bare Aspen Moon

The Raw and The Cooked, French Edition

The Raw and The Cooked, French Edition

After a very busy week, a good busy with friends and Hebrew, kabbalah and time with Kate, yesterday was a rest day. Wrote, did my workout (which takes a while), napped, had a wonderful lamb supper cooked by Kate, who’s a wizard with meat. Watched some more of the Punisher on Netflix. On seeing that on the TV as she went to bed Kate said, “I don’t like your choice of programs.” “I know,” I said. Eating red meat and watching TV are hangovers from my Indiana acculturation, neither of which would I recommend to my children or grandchildren, but which I also thoroughly enjoy. No excuses.

Admitting to liking television in the crowds in which I tend to run is like admitting you enjoy belching or farting in public. Declassé. And it is, I suppose. My rationale (or, perhaps, as is often the case with rationales, my rationalization) is relaxation, in particular relaxation from a day usually spent in intellectual and physical activity. I love stories and TV, especially right now, is full of good storytellers who use visuals to enhance their storytelling. I’m sure there’s a sophisticated psychology explanation for this habit, but TV serves a purpose in my life. So there.

Thanksgiving this week. I’ve got a Martha Stewart recipe for capon with pancetta and fig stuffing. Which, of course, requires finding a capon, a mystery meat, as I said yesterday, to Colorado butchers. Tony’s Market. I ordered one and I’m going to call them today just to make sure it’s really coming. I did try to find a capon on which to experiment, but the only one I could find was $63.00. Ouch. Thanksgiving will be the experiment.

capon2I really like cooking, used to do a lot more. It requires mindfulness and produces a meal for others to enjoy. Just popping up from my days of anthropology: The Raw and the Cooked, by Claude Leví-Strauss. In this book the French anthropologist talks about the binary of raw food to cooked, prepared food, seeing the development of cooking as fundamental for the human species, a key movement leading toward civilization. (I’m not going to go into it here, too complex, but if you’re interested in dialectical thinking, the raw-cooked distinction is an example of binary opposition, a distinctively French version of dialectical thought which underlies Leví-Strauss’s idea of structuralism, a short introduction to it is here.)

My point in this last paragraph is that cooking is central to being human; so, engaging in it, at any level, links us directly to the story of human evolution. In that way we can look at Thanksgiving, or any big holiday meal, as linking a key step in our change from merely animal to animal with culture, to another key step, the abstraction of particular days, the elevation of particular moments in time, into holidays. The other night I realized that for dogs all days are the same no Tuesdays or passovers or superbowls, no Guy Fawkes or Mexican independence days, rather sequences of day and night, with food and friends, human contact.

EmersonWe’re not like dogs in that fundamental sense. As Emerson observed, “The days are gods.” Another binary opposition is the sacred and the profane, like the holy and the secular, ordinary time and sacred time. We imbue, out of our speculative capacity, the passing of time with certain significance. The day we were born. The yahrzeit notion in Judaism, celebrating the anniversary of a death. A day to celebrate the birth of a god, or to remember a long ago war against colonial masters. We identify certain days, a vast and vastly different number of them, as new year’s day, the beginning of another cycle marked by the return of our planet to a remembered spot on its journey.

20161229_161617_001When we merge our speculative fantasies with the chemistry of changing raw food into a beautiful cooked meal, we can have extraordinary times. The natural poetics of wonder join the very earthy act of feeding ourselves to create special memories. Very often on those days we gather with our family, a unit that itself memorializes the most basic human purpose of all, procreation of the species. We don’t tend to think of these most elemental components, but they are there and are sine qua non’s of holidays.

So, cook, pray, celebrate. Laugh. With those you love. If you care to, take a moment to consider these amazing things, too. That we know how to transform a neutered rooster into something delicious, something that will undergo the true transubstantiation, the changing of soil chemicals, the bodies of animals and plants into a human body. That we have the idea of Thanksgiving, or the idea of Hanukkah, or the idea of Labor Day and mark out a chunk of the earth’s orbit as special for those ideas. That we choose to gather on them with our small unit of humanity’s long, long ancientrail of development and critical change and doing so honor all of these elementals.

 

 

 

There Is No End of History

Samain                                                                           Joe and SeoAh Moon

The moon is a waning crescent. Orion has moved from a position due south of us, when he first rose this year, to a position to the westsouthwest, just beyond Black Mountain toward Evergreen.

Sky, near infrared

Sky, near infrared

This reminds me that planet means wanderer in the original Greek. “Greek astronomers employed the term asteres planetai (ἀστέρες πλανῆται), “wandering stars”,[1][2] to describe those starlike lights in the heavens that moved over the course of the year, in contrast to the asteres aplaneis (ἀστέρες ἀπλανεῖς), the “fixed stars“, which stayed motionless relative to one another.” wiki We know now that even the fixed stars are not fixed, but are in motion relative to each other. Each galaxy moves in relation to the others, our whole solar system is in motion, too.

There is no fixed point. Continents drift, the earth itself wobbles, the moon’s orbit is decaying. In fact, there is no evidence that any of the things contained in the vastness of the universe are permanent. Black holes swallow stars. The eventual-in this case eventual covers a really, really long period-fate of all things, according to the Big Bang theory and its correlate, the expanding universe, is a big cooling, followed by many black holes which suck in and destroy everything. The black holes themselves dissolve due to Hawking radiation. And no thing is left. At least in our universe. Probably. Today’s best understanding suggests something like this as the ultimate end. Of the other, potential universes, the multiverses of string theory, I don’t know.

Space expansionSo what? Death, or at least extinction, is characteristic not only of life, but of the thing in itself, the ding an sich that Kant named the reality beyond our sensory mediation. I suppose this means Ragnarok is the true theological observation about even deity. Nirvana and moksha both promise release from the cycle of death and rebirth. Hmmm. Metaphysically not possible in this universe since the time frames assumed here are infinite. Even heaven. Obliterated. Wings, halos, heavenly choirs. Chilled out in the end.

This leaves us with the compression of time that our human lifespan grants us or forces upon us, depending on your viewpoint. And, it means that all religious speculation is, finally, not about life after death, for we know how that story finishes up, but about living this one life, or these serial lives. Reincarnation is not ruled out by the big bang. Just that it will not, cannot, go on forever.

thrownIt also takes me to Heidegger’s notion of thrownness, that at birth we are deposited into a specific place, with particular parents, in a community in a nation on a continent, in a unique time period, of which we can experience at most 100 years or so, 100 revolutions around the sun. This we know is ours, barring a Trumpian/Kimian nuclear catastrophe or the eruption of one of the world’s super volcanoes or the sudden emergence of a life ending meteor. This life. This brief flash of brilliance that is you.

How shall we live in this, the moment of our existence? This is the question. Many religious and ethical and political and economic systems have arisen as answers. None of them have proved universal, none of them have proved lasting, even in the relatively short historical period. When we peek up over the rim of our fundamental assumptions, we see an anarchic reality, shifting, transforming, its shape guided in part by chance, in part by consciousness.

The world’s religions, in any time, including now, have often suggested that they can peek over that same rim and see order. That they have texts, revelations (the peek), which offer guidance about life as it should conform to that order. Except they conflict. Except we know the physical evidence they see is not ordered at all, at least not in the moral/ethical way they claim, but is, instead, in motion toward dissolution.

taoismTaoism makes the most sense to me in terms of how to live with this understanding. We flow with it, we live on the journey that presents itself to us. Grabbing any tool, political or economic or religious or ethical, and reasoning deductively about what must be is going to result in error, often huge error, at enormous cost in lives.

This is not an argument against religion, or economics, or politics though it may sound like that. It is an argument for humility, for acceptance of our limits, against the hubris of metaphysical certainty. In this view then the teachings of any faith, the hopes of any style of government, the transactional world of any economics, should (and I use this word advisedly) be weighed against their results in the daily life of people and the world that supports them. Bad results equal bad faith, bad governance, bad economy. Good results equal good faith, good governance, good economy. But nothing more than this because even good faith and good governance and good economy has limits. There is no end of history. There is only an ultimate end to everything.

 

Language of the Dumb

Samain                                                                      Joe and SeoAh Moon

moon-to-the-moonWhen Kate and I came home from the Gary Hart presentation on Sunday night, the moon, nearly full, rode low on the horizon, huge and white, half covered by scudding clouds. It then played with us like a bubble dancer, grabbing this cumulus and that one to cover itself, showing more then less of the old man on its face. After the horizon was no longer visible the moon shone through the lodgepole pines of the Arapaho National Forest, illuminating this home to wild critters as we climbed the mountains on our way to Black Mountain Drive.

The everyday and everynight beauty of these mountains still makes my heart sing, now almost three full years into this move. Yesterday coming up Shadow Mountain Drive, it came to me that I was learning the rhythms here, driving with more confidence because it was daytime and the deer, the elk normally show up at dawn and dusk. At that exact moment, as this thought came to me, a movement on the shoulder caught my eye. A fox. A healthy red-orange fox with a huge bushy tail had started out to cross the road, noticed me coming and paused. The mountains had spoken.

1509361960968The language, the speech of the inanimate and the dumb, is all around us, sending us clear messages. Dogs are an obvious example. The longer you live with dogs, especially multiple dogs, the more their language becomes clear. The lean, the movement toward a door, the excited dance, the playful bow, the bark of warning, the one of joy. Friend Bill Schmidt, a farmer as well a nuclear engineer and cyber mage, has told me of dairy cattle and their affections.

As a gardener, the soil communicated with me through the health or dis-ease of the plants Kate and I grew. If the leaves were less than a deep green, I suspected missing soil nutrients and worked to correct them. The plants themselves told me when they were too dry with droopy leaves, when they needed pruning with too many branches or stalks, when they were ready to yield their work for the season.

On a more mystical level three mule deer visited me on the Samain afternoon when I first came to this house. We stood, eye to eye, for several minutes as they told me they lived here, were my neighbors, that we would be together after that moment, that we were welcome. They came not for feed or attention, but as emissaries, messengers, angels of the mountain and the forest.

The sky tells us what weather comes, then delivers it to us, helping us gauge the nature of our changing climate. In this same way people we meet communicate to us through body language, a hunched shoulder, a slight turn away, eyes that light on some aspect of a room. All around us language, everywhere communication. If only we see.

The Pilgrim. The Fool. Me.

Samain                                                                       Joe and SeoAh Moon

the fool, card 0 in the Tarot

the fool, card 0 in the Tarot

Pilgrim. After reading Rumi’s poem (see post below) and reflecting on the idea of being a pagan, especially the baggage the word carries, I decided to replace pagan as a descriptor of my current religious locale with pilgrim.

Better anyhow. Pagan underlines my deep love of the world beyond my doorstep, especially the woods and forests, streams and lakes, mule deer and elk, fox and mountain lion and bear, blue sky and high clouds, snow storms and rain. And that remains an indelible part of my pilgrimage.

But it does not reveal the long and winding road, the inner path, the several sites and rest spots I’ve visited on the Way. This pilgrimage of mine has been lifelong. Along the way I’ve visited religions, philosophies, drugs, politics, countries, sacred sites. I’ve stopped a while with different people, women and men. My journey has been confounded by labyrinths and mazes, yet I’ve always found my way back out of them. This fool’s path will continue until the day my breath stops. And, who know? Maybe beyond?

the foolMy image for the pilgrim spirit I am is the Fool, card 0 in any tarot deck. The fool is the beginning of the journey which underlies the tarot deck as a whole. He represents new beginnings, naivete, setting out. For me, he represents beginner’s mind, the childlike (but far from childish) wonder that I hope will always be with me. My pilgrimage, now in its 70th year, began twice: the first time I learned to walk and, after polio, the second time I learned to walk.

That little guy still puts one foot forward, then the other, wanting to see what’s next. What’s beyond the curve in the road? What’s behind the mountain? What’s hidden by language? What does Judaism have to teach us? What’s the love in a young girl’s heart?

If you see me on the road, stop and let’s talk awhile.

Happy New Year!

Samain                                                                              Joe and SeoAh Moon

Happy New Year! Again this year. Another on the rolling circuit of New Year’s that we humans have chosen to celebrate. Rosh Hashanah, for example, was in September. The Asian New Year, the spring festival, comes in February, usually. There is, too, the dropping of the ball on Times Square. January 1st. Maybe Happy New Years?

Samhain2

 

Yes And No

Fall                                                               Joe and SeoAh Moon

ein sof

ein sof

Kabbalah. Spinning, spiraling, dancing. A curiously long lived wrecking crew barely known even to the tribe that gave it birth. Long lived because its roots may well be in an oral tradition forbidden to be written down, an oral tradition that extends centuries before the destruction of the second temple in 70 c.e. There is no way to know if that’s true. It surfaces in written literature during the middle ages, around the 1200’s in Spain.  Like the mishnah before it, the impetus for writing kabbalistic thought down was a fear that the knowledge would be lost due to persecution, the dispersal and/or death of the rabbis who carried the knowledge.

As a wrecking crew this line of thought systematically dismantles whatever it is you think you know, about life, about the cosmos, and scripture. Let me give you an example of this last. When Abraham takes his son Isaac to altar as a sacrifice, the story is not about Abraham and Isaac, but about two key energy channels coursing through all the worlds that are: Yes and No, Faith and Will. So. Faith takes Will as a sacrifice, at what it thinks is the command of the ein sof, the infinite one behind and within all. This is yes saying yes without regard for consequences. The angel, the messenger, says No, Faith, no affirmation is worth the sacrifice of choice. There are limits in the world. Take this ram as a substitute and preserve your ability to choose wisely. At least this is my version using what I know now.

fools-journey-kabbalah

fools journey kabbalah

Rabbi Jamie says that when a kabbalist reads the Torah, and I imagine the megillah and the Psalms and the prophets and other sacred books, they do not see stories about individuals but stories about the key metaphors for understanding existence. This is a truly radical inversion of the religious story that seems to be told in the Tanakh.

In fact, here’s one more step beyond even this radical notion that we discussed last night. Anshel asked Rabbi Jamie if God cannot sit or stand, how can God say? Talk. A question gleaned from his reading of the Psalms. The kabbalists, the Rabbi said, would invert the metaphor. Humans, he said, are the metaphor, not God. In other words we have used our own body as a way of understanding the ein sof, the infinite in and behind all.

Holidays-3-paganism-18189677-470-432So, I asked, can we say God is made in the image of man? Yes. We can say exactly that. This makes wonderful sense to me. As limited creatures, bound to a body, grounded, living a life that will end in death, we struggle to see, to peel back the layers of the world we know and find what makes it so. As we do, we utilize what is available to us, our bodies, our knowledge of life and death, our consciousness, our relationships with others, with animals, with the animate and inanimate.

As a pagan, I try to do this, try to work backwards from the world I see to the world I cannot. This is what I call revelation. The Great Wheel is the sephirot writ in the language of plants. It is, of course, a metaphor, too, one offering the book of nature as a Way. This correlation between paganism and kabbalah is rich for me right now. More as it develops.

 

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.

Behind the Texts

Fall                                                                            Harvest Moon

20-the-map-is-not-the-territoryThree nights in a row at Beth Evergreen. Challenging for this early to bed, early to rise guy. Though. Kabbalah fascinated me. I’m beginning to feel my way into the occult, again. The hidden wonders. This time around I may be able to actually hold at arm’s length the cultural vehicles and not resist the message because of the messengers. That is, kabbalah, in particular, has a poetic, evocative, confounding approach that speaks to my sense of absurdity. And, my in but not of relationship to Judaism also allows me a critical distance that I find very helpful.

At the mussar vaad practice group last night we had a discussion about the character trait kavod: honor, respect, dignity. It focuses on realizing the worth of each individual, of self and other, the god-in-me bows to the god-in-you.

There is a distinctively Jewish way of taking up this idea. For instance, a story in the Talmud has rabbi’s discussing whether a man on his way to hear the megillah, scripture written on a scroll (megile) but not part of the Torah, the story of Esther read at Purim being the usual example, must stop to bury a corpse he finds on the road. Yes, the rabbi’s conclude, he must bury the body rather than go hear the reading of the miracle of Esther. Why? Because of the honor due to any person, even their corpse. That transmits the message about kavod in way that’s hard to ignore. Teaching stories are a significant part of Jewish civilization.

BlakeThis story works for me. The imagery is something I can relate to because I’m human. Honor is so important and so often gotten wrong. Think, for example, about the instance of DJT honoring America First; just as Kim Jong Un honors himself and North Korea first. Or the gang member who feels dissed, disrespected, dishonored. A sense of kavod would have prevented the shooting in Las Vegas, the holocaust. It would prevent child abuse and domestic violence. Harming another whose dignity and respect is as worthy as your own is just not possible.

How we honor ourselves and, in turn, honor others is, therefore, a critical issue for our daily lives, our communal lives, our global lives. The kabbalistic conversation about Paradise hidden behind the wilderness of language allowed me, in a way I can’t explain, to peel away words and constructs and feel my way into the place where all pulses and throbs and lives and knows neither time nor space. The words for god, gods, goddesses point to this place, but like Hotei pointing at the moon, they are just fingers, not the moon itself.

Long ago, during the height of the sixties, many of my friends and compatriots were turning to Buddhism, to Hinduism, think Hare Krishnas and Zen. You might think, with my Asian bent, that they appealed to me immediately. No. I wanted, I said to myself, to go where they were going, but with Western cues, ones that were already woven into the fabric of my cultural inheritance. I was studying anthropology at the time and keenly aware of the way culture subtlety shapes our reality-the wilderness of language being no small part of it.

Abraham

Abraham

That’s how I ended up in Seminary. Eventually. And there were moments during sem, moments later during my time in the Christian ministry, when certain Christian traditions pulled me in in a manner similar to kabbalah: the Jesus prayer, lectio divina, contemplative prayer, retreats. The mystical side. As kabbalah is an important mystical tradition in Judaism. I got sidetracked, and yes I believe it was a side track, though, by my political commitments, by my nurture the institution commitments, by my always soft, but extant, commitment to the textual underpinnings of Christianity.

The quasi-Scholastic nature of the religions of the book, and most religions are, in one way or another, religions of the book: buddhist sutras, the tao te ching, the vedas, the koran, the bible, the tanakh, however, pushed me away, as it did Emerson. I want a religion, like him, of a revelation to us, not the dry bones of theirs. So I chose to read the book of nature, to step outside the textual traditions and the wilderness of their dogma, their stories. I’m still out there.

But. With the help of Beth Evergreen and the spirit of reconstructionist thought I’m once again able to be fed by those same texts without immersing myself in their interpretive world, at least not in a, I’d better get this or I’m lost (in the sense of geographically lost, not the metaphysical idea of salvation) sense. This is freeing for me, and Beth Evergreen has made it possible. I can take those cues from our Judaeo-Christian cultural inheritance and hear their powerful messages without becoming entangled in them, enmeshed.

As Leonard Cohen might say, Hallelujah.

November 2017
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