Janus

Winter                                                                               Stent Moon

JanusAging brings with it an inevitable glance over the shoulder. Did I matter? If so, how? If not, why? Does it matter if I mattered? I suppose it would be possible to disappear into regrets or vanity or even anguish. But, why?

The past, though we can change its role in our life by reframing, paradigm shifting, or, best in my opinion, acceptance, ended a moment ago. No do overs.

Interestingly, the New Year brings the same glance over the shoulder. At or around January 1st we become Janus* faced, looking squarely at the past year and the one upcoming. He’s the Ganesh of Roman mythology, the one you want on your side as you change jobs, get married, have a child. Wonder about the year ahead. And, the one behind.

As we inch past 70, Janus becomes a god with whom we must contend, one we may worship, even without knowing. He is the archetype for being of two minds, for that part of us that feels pulled back or pushed forward out of the moment.

When tomorrow comes and resolutions start to form, if you do resolutions, they will be concrete expressions of Janus in you. What were things out of the past year I might change for the better? Or out of my whole past? Resolutions express a regret and a hope. Wish I’d been less angry, more loving. Eaten a healthier diet. Been more aware of my authentic yearnings. And followed them. Wish I’d fallen in love. Or gotten out of that damned relationship. As a heuristic, a motivator for positive change, letting Janus take over for a limited time makes sense.

Janus_Bifrons_by_Adolphe_Giraldon

With him in the forefront we can see what was, imagine what might have been, then look forward to how we might live differently. But he is a god and you can’t let him take control. If all your time is spent with Janus’ two-faced view, you will be constantly out of the now, always taking a step back or a step ahead. If you look longer with his past oriented visage, you will tend toward depression. If your gaze looks toward the future overly long, you will tend toward anxiety.

Perhaps a shrine or an altar to Janus could help with this. The Numa Janus shrine** had gates that could be opened or closed. Open, Rome was at war. Closed, Rome was at peace. A small shrine at home might have a door that could be open or closed. When open, you’re consulting the Janus moments in your life, staying open to the truth of the past and its importance for your future. When closed, you’re trying to remain in the present, not get pulled away to what was or ahead to what to might be.

On December 31st, the Days of Awe, and maybe your birthday or anniversary, open the gate of your own shrine. Sit with Janus for a while. Feel in your person the frisson between the face that sees yesterday and the face that sees tomorrow. Consider what that feeling means for your life, not as a route to depression or anxiety, but as a way of knowing how they link together, or better, how they might link together. Take yesterday’s lessons and let them inform life as it moves toward tomorrow. After that, close the gate and live now.

 

 

*…the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, and endings.” Wiki

**”Janus presided over the beginning and ending of conflict, and hence war and peace. The gates of a building in Rome named after him (not a temple, as it is often called, but an open enclosure with gates at each end) were opened in time of war, and closed to mark the arrival of peace (which did not happen very often)…Numa built the Ianus geminus (also Janus Bifrons, Janus Quirinus or Portae Belli), a passage ritually opened at times of war, and shut again when Roman arms rested.[49] It formed a walled enclosure with gates at each end, situated between the old Roman Forum and that of Julius Caesar, which had been consecrated by Numa Pompilius himself.”  op cit.

The Sacred Marriage

Winter                                                                            Stent Moon

ohrOn the drive over to Tony’s Market to pick up Christmas dinner I got to thinking about ohr, the shards of divine light kabbalists believe actually make up the known universe. When I bow to the divine light in you and you bow to the divine light in me, we say that makes sense in that framework. So there can be the ohr, the light of the divine blasted apart at the moment of creation; but, I thought, there’s also the more immediate light, that of the sun.

It’s correct in every important way to say our life spark comes from and looks back to the sun. Photosynthesis creates the food we eat, whether at its primary source in plants or in a secondary source like meat. So the divine light could also be solar, the power of the fusion engine that is our star.

More and more I see the divine sun in sacred marriage with the holy goddess, mother earth. It is through the constant and intimate play between these two that all life emerges. In this sense then the celebration of the incarnation observed tomorrow can be seen as a holiday created to honor us as children of the sun and the earth. Of course, not just us, but all of the animate creations here.

We differ from the rest of the animate world, as far we know, primarily in our capacity to know our creators, the creature knowing the creator, or, said another way, the creators looking on themselves through their creation.

sacredIt is this dance, the days of the dancing star, that we are thrown into this world to execute. Sure, you could take this and conclude a scientistic flat-earth humanism, minus the divinity, but it seems to me you end up in the same place with a reductionistic refusal to see the simcha, the joy, of life as part of, not separate from. It is the bondedness we have with our star and our planet which is divinity, we are part of a dialectic between power and fertile elements, a fruit, in fact, of its creative tension.

Sure, you could also take this perspective and place a whole pantheon in and around it. Aurora. Shiva. Mithras. Yahweh. Even baby Jesus. But I believe it is this pair, this vital union of star and planet that both makes us and teaches us about our sacred relationship to the whole universe through the example of their intimacy. I see no need to add more deities though I don’t think it hurts. Not exactly. As long as we keep our hearts on the source, we can names its elements as we wish. That creative and destructive nature both sun and earth have. Sure, Shiva. The still point, the apparent stability of the earth below, the mountain above, the ocean spread out. Vishnu. The sun appearing as the earth turns on its axis. Aurora. The dangerous interplay among humans and among humans and the rest of the creation. Yahweh. Your presence as a manifestation of this sacred marriage? Jesus.

I come back now to the Great Wheel, that cyclical turning of mother earth around her sol, how it reflects our lives as they grow and change. It is the great scripture in which we can read of our gods, know their moods, and how we can celebrate their deep meaning in our lives. Blessed be.

Sol Invictus

Winter                                                                                 Stent Moon

Sol Invictus by Jake Baddeley

Sol Invictus by Jake Baddeley

The long night began to fall as I drove home from Swedish Hospital. It was only 4:30 or so, but the darkness had already come calling. It is not over yet, still dark here on Shadow Mountain. Black Mountain, out the window, is visible through a very gradual lightening of the sky.

The Winter Solstice marks the deepest immersion we mid-latitude folks have in the night and that’s the reason I love it, embracing the long slow slide into short days. It also marks another important moment, the victory of the light. Like the Summer Solstice which marks the shortest night, but also the point where darkness begins its gradual, yet inevitable return, so the Winter Solstice marks the point when light becomes the victor, again gradually, yet inevitably headed toward Summer.

In this case, not usual for me, but apt right now, I’m celebrating both the long nights and the return of the light. I want Kate’s long journey into misery to have seen it’s demise over the long Solstice night. I want the gradual return of light and lightness to her being and her becoming. I want to see, over the next six months, as light progresses toward Beltane and the start of the growing season, Kate’s health and weight follow a similar path.

Whatever lessons this illness had to teach were learned long ago. It’s time now to move forward. Appropriately, as I write this sentence the sky behind Black Mountain has gone from dark gray to a slightly rosy hue. May Kate’s recovery be the same.

Winter

Winter                                                                          Stent Moon

Christmas, 2014

Christmas, 2014

4 years ago today we moved to Colorado. Yes, we moved in on the Winter Solstice, my favorite holiday of the whole year. It was snowy and cold, well below zero. We thought, oh, this is familiar. Seemed just like what we’d left. And, for four years now it has never been that cold again. Strange.

As readers of this blog know, it’s been an eventful four years. We both hope that events will stop whipping by like Randy Johnson heaters. A nice, calm boring 2019 would be a good thing. Let us catch our breath before Johnson switches to curve balls. If not. Well. It’s been growth inducing. Still. I’m ready to stop growing for a bit.

urukIn ancient Uruk residents opened all city gates, lit bonfires and sang hymns timed to the rising and the setting of certain stars in the sky. This all night vigil honored many Sumerian deities, but most of all Anu, king of the gods, and special protector of the city. In the Congo the Mbuti hunters clap, sing, and dance around a fire at night, the Molimo Ceremony. This is not only a solstice observation, but for significant events. If there has been a death, they sing to the forest: “If darkness is, and the darkness is of the forest, then the darkness must be good.” from the Lapham Quarterly, Winter 2019

Today, four years after the move, Kate gets a stent placed in her superior mesenteric artery, hopefully ending the reign of terror instigated by its stenosis. The placement, done by catheter inserted into her femoral artery, is not without risks. The probe can dissect the artery (open it), letting blood flow out, possibly causing death. The probe can dislodge plaque (causing the stenosis) causing a stroke. A thrombosis can form at the stent placement site, a blood clot that also cause a stroke or bleeding. We both agree that the risks are worth the chance to return her to a normal diet and life.

The guys who’s doing it, Dr. Mulden, has the praises of all those who work with him and know him well. Dr. Kooy, whom we saw at the interventional radiologists, said if anyone in his family, wife or kids or parents, needed a stent placement, he would choose Mulden. May his hands be steady, his eye clear, and his knowledge adequate to the task.

winter solstice 10Then Kate can heal over the longest night of the year. Fecund darkness, calm and quiet night, holy night, sacred night. A 98% full moon. With all the energy of a still waxing moon, one very near fullness, she will receive the best energy this long night can offer. If you have a moment once the darkness falls, feel your way into it, perhaps in the moonlight, and remember Kate.

It will be the most significant solstice for me in a long time, perhaps ever. Candles and silence. A walk outside, here on Shadow Mountain, to view the moon. I will remember the darkness, the emptiness which precedes our birth and the darkness, the emptiness which follows our death. Life grows from the night and flourishes under the sun. We need light and dark, cold and warm, life and death. Blessed be.

Hopeful

Samain                                                                          Stent Moon

Kate, also, Nov. 29th

Kate, Nov. 29th

Kate’s once again on the 8th floor at Swedish, the general surgery floor. This, I imagine, in case she needs another bowel resection due to this most recent bleed. God, I hope not, but… I’m going in in an hour or so to see her, find out what we now know. Her hemoglobin level has been around 10.4 and she had had no new bleeds since the first one as of last night. Both good news. I hope we will get that stent in today or at the latest tomorrow.

I’m distracted and stressed, yes, but not dysfunctional. Ate a good dinner, slept well, put a little paint on my newest work. Fed the dogs, that sort of thing. Not dispirited. Hopeful. That the stent will go in well and solve her nausea and stomach cramping. That she’ll finally be able to gain some weight. Those two things would be wonderful holiday presents.

winter solstice3Tomorrow is the winter solstice. I haven’t gotten yet to the six new rituals I found in Lapham’s, but I will either later today or tomorrow. The dark, the long night, to me symbolizes healing, fecundity, a depth experience for the Self, a soulful journey. It’s what I need right now, a time out of time, time with the ancientrail that winds in and down, following the shamans toward the center of the earth, the center of the soul.

 

 

 

 

The Flame Narrative

Samain                                                                                Stent Moon

20181211_115152Bought this ceramic container a few years back, probably during a Woolly Mammoth retreat at Valhelga, the Helgeson’s family retreat on a lake close to Collegeville, home of St. John’s Monastery. It reminds me of the modest clay cylinders that held the Dead Sea Scrolls and I loved the brown to black glaze, the whoosh.

On the St. John’s campus, Richard Bresnahan fires up the huge Johanna Kiln every fall with the help of students and volunteers who come to feed it wood 24 hours a day while the firing continues. Richard, who hosted us Mammoths several times at his pottery studio on the north side of the large St. John’s campus, introduced me to the idea of flame narrative.

In a kiln like the Johanna, wood-fired, the flame and the heat travel from the firebox at the front up through the dragon like body, hence the name dragon kilns. As the heat and the flame move through and up the various chambers, they pass over the bisque shapes of hundreds of tea-pots, tea cups, storage containers, plates, anything that can be made from clay.

Burned into this container is the narrative of the flame’s passage on that fall day when it sat inside the Johanna Kiln and the dragon’s breath made its way past the wooden platform on which it sat. Literally baked in to the surface of this beautiful pot.

Johanna Kiln Steve Basile photo

Johanna Kiln Steve Basile photo

It’s my choice of a final resting place. I hope whoever cares for my cremains will put them in it and either keep them somewhere, bury them, put them in a mausoleum, or seal the top with wax and cast the whole into the nearest moving water like the Tibetan monks do to their mandalas. I’m fine with any decision.

Not sure why but over the last couple of days the flame narrative idea and my death have been on my mind. They merged. After our deaths, the memory of our life, whatever it is, is like the flame narrative on the ceramics that come out of the Johanna Kiln. The fiery tongue of the dragon breathes life into us, gives us motive energy for our brief sojourn as organized, sentient star dust. As that fire moves through the gigantic kiln of our years, it burns the story of our journey into the universe, never to be gone, never to be repeated. Then, as Beowulf says, “Heaven swallows the smoke.”

 

 

A Profound Week

Samain                                                                     Thanksgiving Moon

Bit of winter. 9 degrees here on Shadow Mountain this morning. No snow and little snow for us in the forecast. Though. Across the divide they’re getting good snow. Our snowpack is 119% of normal and way ahead of last year. Important data for so many people.

Friday and Saturday were more or less rest days. The week through Thursday night found me pretty damned tired. Worth it though. Gabe threw himself in my arms after his concert. Ruth leaned in for a hug as I left Swigert headed for home. Jon seems to have gained some important insight about himself and the reality of his situation. Kate learned the cause of her months long struggle with nausea and abdominal pain, weight loss. Enough for one week. Thanksgiving moon, indeed.

20181123_154009I’ve not been idle. Using some small, 5×7, canvases I’ve begun to use oil paints. My first effort is here. Doesn’t pop like I hoped it would. I have three more of these small canvases painted with an undercoat. One yellow, one sap green, and one violet. Trying color field painting. Mark Rothko is my favorite abstract painter, so I thought I’d see what I could make using him as my inspiration.

This is venturing into really unknown territory since I know little about oil paints, about oil paint brushes, how to make colors do what I want, canvas. Since I began messing around with sumi-e a while back, I’ve found myself wanting to extend myself, get way outside my comfort zone. A key motivation for me in all this is regaining some tactile work, hand work. When I was a gardener, a bee keeper, a domestic lumber jack, I got lots of opportunity to use my hands, to interact with the physical world. Since moving to the mountains, not so much after the fire mitigation work.

20181202_070637After 12 years as a guide and docent at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, art became an integral part of my life; yet, I’ve struggled to keep art in my life since moving to Colorado. The museums here are not compelling and driving down the hill takes time. Reading about art, looking at it online or in books has not given me the satisfaction I’ve searched for. Painting myself, which necessitates a look into art materials, theory, and careful looking at artists whose work I’d like to use as inspiration, may. I’m not there yet, but I’m having a hell of a lot of fun.

In addition to trying color field painting, I’m going to use the sumi-e ink and brushes to create bespoke Hebrew letters, astrology glyphs, and alchemical symbols. My work in the second kabbalah class, on the mystery and magic of Hebrew, prompted this. I found working with the symbols and letters directly gave me a way into understanding them. I’m also going to create mandalas.

I’ve also continued my reading about astrology. I continue to vacillate between the long time skeptic and the interested novice. Some of the writing is childish, even moronic. That puts me off. Then, though, there’s Tarnas and the Inner Sky by Steven Forrest. Archetypes, too, by Jung and Hillman. A new book on Jung and Astrology. Still trying to figure out my birth chart, how to read it, understand it. Lots to investigate here.

In spite of the various outside turbulence, or, perhaps because of it, these new areas of learning have helped keep me sane, eager. I’ll be at them for a while yet.

 

I like this guy

Samain                                                               Thanksgiving Moon

5002011 09 10_1164Happy to have some good news to report about Jon. Went to his court date yesterday. His inner attitude seems to be shifting away from anger about the divorce (understandable, but not helpful) toward getting on with his life, accepting the constraints of the restraining order (unreasonable, but legally enforceable, as he just discovered). He wants to get his art in a gallery or up for sale. This is big because it’s a key part of his identity that lay fallow during the twelve years of his marriage. He needs positive reinforcement and he’s had more than his share of negatives over the last few years.

artistHe’s a very talented, smart guy who can handle all the work necessary to remodel his home, replace an axle in his car, ski a great line down an A-basin bowl, teach elementary age kids how to express themselves. I hope he can organize his life so these thing line up, move him forward, and make him feel good about himself.

Kate had a nausea free day yesterday. She took the ativan and that seemed to help. A day without nausea is like a day with sunshine. It makes her feel good and makes me feel good. May it continue.

breathe thich-nhat-hanh-calligraphyI’m feeling a bit stressed, a lot going on. Religious school tonight. I’m taking pizza makings and teaching a unit on holidays, especially winter holidays. The kids will reimagine, reconstruct a new winter holiday. Tomorrow morning Kate has two imaging studies, looking for zebras. Tomorrow evening is Gabe’s winter concert in Stapleton. A sequelae of the hearing yesterday is that Jon can’t, for the moment, attend. The old protection order carved out an exception to the 100 yards rule for events with the kids, things like parent-teacher conferences, concerts, doctor visits, but the law is a blunt instrument.  Yesterday by default it eliminated those exceptions. Jon wants me to go to represent our side of the family. Important for Gabe. I’ll go.

Stressed, yes, but not anxious. Still. Amazing myself right now. Following the water course way, going with the many changes, leveraging their energy, keeping my feet while wading in a fast flowing river. Not trying to dam it up, divert it, slow it. Finding the chi, aligning mine, taking each day on its own. Most of the time, and this is the part that amazes me, little of this is conscious. Means I’ve integrated something at a soul level, some amalgam of mindfulness, wu wei, and love of life.

tao laoGot reinforced shortly after the move out here when I had to deal with prostate cancer. That shook me. I worked hard to keep myself upright and maybe, in the process, began to consolidate a lot of learning. A major part of that consolidation came from the support I got from family and friends. Oh. Life can be good, even when it’s bad. Weird. Since the move, it’s been one damned thing after another, or it feels that way right now. Those things forced a going deep, being honest, being grateful a lot. Now, four years later, our move anniversary is the Winter Solstice, my Colorado Self, the one born in the alembic of all those insults, has asserted itself.

And I like this guy. This mountain man, man of the West, embedded in family and friends and Congregation Beth Evergreen. Doing ok. Thanks to all of you and some random acts of life.

 

Blow Hards

Samain                                                                           Thanksgiving Moon

Winds. Over 40 mph. Some gusts up to 50. Blew open our front door yesterday. Gertie got out. We’ve had loose dogs only a couple of times in the last four years. This was the first time up here without one of us seeing it. After a few frantic minutes Kate saw her over at the neighbors. I ran over there and had to physically pull her out of the neighbor’s overturned trash can. Her version of Thanksgiving dinner. “Oh, thank you for tipping over the big trash can so I can find food  in it!”

The catered meal was just what the doctor ordered. (Ha.) With the exception of the whole, hey, the oven’s not working thing, it was the right choice for this Thanksgiving. Now I’m looking at the crown roast of lamb or a tenderloin roast for a winter solstice meal. It’s cheaper than a good restaurant, the quantities are larger, and Tony’s does a great job. Left overs!

We’re heading into the heart of Holiseason with Thanksgiving just finished. Hanukkah starts next Sunday, December 2nd, as does the Advent season for Christians. It runs until Christmas Eve. Hanukkah ends on December 10th.

I’ve been developing a lesson plan for the religious school on winter holidays. We’ll discuss what holidays are and what holidays they already know. I have four handouts: a Jewish holiday calendar in the round, a representation of the zodiac that shows its equivalency to the Great Wheel, a Great Wheel showing the Celtic holidays and their seasons, and a blank wheel of the year. What winter holidays do you know? Are there any common features among them? If you wanted to develop a winter holiday of your own, say one for Congregation Beth Evergreen (not Hanukkah) what would it look like? What would make it a holiday? A winter holiday? Should we propose it to the congregation as a CBE winter holiday?

I also studied Week 2 of the introduction to the Talmud. Today I’m going to watch the first lecture on “Between Cross and Crescent: Judaism from Mohamed to Spinoza” and the first lecture of the Coursera Online offering:  “The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political History.” It’s another Jewish Studies Sampler Sunday on Dec. 2nd.

The Day After

Samain                                                                     Thanksgiving Moon

holiday black-friday-vintage2Black Friday. Should be a dark observance like so-called Good Friday. But, no. It’s a flood the needy capitalists with your money by pretending to save money on deals that still allow them make even more  money sorta day. I mean, geez, I guess it is a dark observance after all. Yeah. Black Friday.

Anyhow today’s transparent Saturday. On this day we pretend we need our money more than the president of Best Buy or Target or Walmart or Mar-a-Lago. Yes, it’s don’t spend it, save it Saturday. Enjoy.

Black Friday does catch a nuance about holidays though. When, after the build up, the preparations, the all morning cooking or present wrapping or driving to grandma’s, the big day finally arrives, and ends. Just like that. Imagine buying a paper turkey today to hang on your front door. Ewww. Right? The day after the holiday is its shadow. In the instance of Black Friday it shifts all those thank-you’s said round the table to the board rooms of hand-wringing, slightly leering, folks discussing profit margins and the effectiveness of neuroscience based social media advertising. No, that’s not a nightmare, it’s real.

Holidays are key inflection points in a year. They encourage us, remind us to go deep, to re-member, to re-joice, to re-construct, even re-imagine historical or mythological or religious or tribal events that hold deep significance. In some instances, like Pesach, Easter, Hungry Ghost, Yom Kippur, Eid, they commemorate matters so important, so resonant that we call them Holy. On Holy Days we often take the rituals out of the hands of the priests, the rabbis, the elders and plunge into them on our own. Yes, that means that the rituals can be trivialized, but more often it means that we for a time, a day, a short season, reorient our daily life toward such fundamental notions as thanksgiving, liberation, resurrection, ancestral influence, atonement, sacrifice.

We rise from the tomb. Break out of captivity. Care for the memories of our dead. Do penance and reorient, return to our best selves. Celebrate a month of fasting and giving.

The let down, then. A return to, as the Catholics call it, ordinary time. Waking as from a dream. Taking these huge ideas and stuffing back them into the shirts and pants and shoes of daily life. Like the air going out of a tire. The gift-giving is over. Boxing Day remains.

I suppose you could choose to fill that moment when the ideal and the real merge again with numbing. Really, I know you can. Liquor. Gorging. TV. Shopping sprees. Arguments.

What if, though, we chose to take those days after Christmas, after New Years, after dia de los muertos, and spent some time, maybe 15 minutes, maybe an hour, maybe all day, to meditate, reflect, to intentionally incorporate the idea of Beltane into our life, searching for those places where we can nurture the seedlings. Or  how our commitment to family might be strengthened. Can we find a spot in our days for atonement and return to our best selves? What if we said no to Black Friday and instead decided on a practice that would encourage gratitude. Holy Days give us the chance to course correct, to remember that our lives are anything but ordinary, that they are brief, but luminous. They can teach us if we let them.