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Lughnasa                                                             Harvest Moon

Black Mountain, yesterday. From Shadow Mtn. Drive

Black Mountain, yesterday. From Shadow Mtn. Drive

Tomorrow we peek over the transom toward the fallow season. Six more weeks of harvest,  the heart of the harvest season is now, then Samain, summer’s end. Up here the temperature cooled off overnight and we’re at 35 degrees right now, getting close to a first frost. There’s even a small hint of snow for next Wednesday. As I wrote earlier, Pike’s Peak and the much closer Mt. Rosalie had snow last week. Happy with the change.

Deb Brown, my personal trainer at On the Move Fitness, really made me feel good yesterday. “You move better than most of the 30 & 40 year olds I see. And, you’re strong.” She was sincere and I was touched. I told her about the odd finding I got from the 23&me folks; I have the same genetic muscle profile as elite power athletes. “Well, you’re capitalizing on it.” “My wife said, ‘What happened?” “Tell to her to ask you that again when you’re 108!” We laughed. Left me smiling.

book of lifeThe book of life closed on Wednesday. It was a fast day, unusual in Judaism which finds asceticism puzzling, but on this day, once a year, there is a fast for the whole of Yom Kippur*. That’s from evening to evening. The point is to make us tune into our bodies, to remember that the body carries our soul, and to make the final push for teshuvah, return to the holy soul our body carries.

OK. I’ll admit I surprised myself, right here, with this keyboard. It happens, but not often like this. I wrote “make us tune in to our bodies.” Oh. It may be, as Bill Schmidt suggested obliquely earlier this month, that this Jewish experience runs deeper than I’m admitting.

*“The purpose of fasting is to bring one to repent, and true repentance brings about a change in actions. However, repenting without fasting is not enough,” Jewish educator Aliza Bulow explains on Aish.com.

Although there are medical exceptions to fasting, the Yom Kippur tradition dates back to biblical times, according to Chabad.org. When the Jewish people were wandering in the desert for 40 years after enslavement in Egypt, they worshiped a golden calf — which is contradictory to the religion’s monotheistic tenets — and Moses went to Mt. Sinai to ask for God’s forgiveness. Moses came down from the mountain after God forgave (them) him, and that day became known as Yom Kippur. The tradition of Yom Kippur continued when the Jews reached the land of Israel — Jews gathered in the first two temples until they were destroyed — and persisted again when they were ultimately exiled and dispersed across the globe.Time

 

Eternal Return

Lughnasa                                                                Harvest Moon

mabonLughnasa and the Harvest Moon. We are in the season of reaping what has been sown. From the first of August or so until Samain on October 31st gathering in is the main theme on the Great Wheel. The fall equinox, Mabon, is near. September 22nd. It comes with the Harvest Moon, that fluke of planetary dynamics that has lit up farm fields at just the right moment for as long humans have been farming.

No longer a Midwesterner, I don’t see the combines in the long rectangles of wheat, the corn pickers going through the tall stands of sturdy green, the hay balers saving alfalfa and timothy for feed. There are no ads here for hay rides through the apple orchards, no pick your own gardens for late season fruits. That sort of agriculture depends on rain and once past the 100th parallel, oops now the 105th as the arid West creeps eastward across the Great Plains, average rainfall becomes less, often much less than 20 inches a year.

Here fall and Mabon announce themselves in the gold of the aspen, jewel like groves set among larger stands of forever green lodgepole pine. Along the mountain streams Maxwell, Cub, Bear some dogwood flashes bright red. Low lying marshy areas turn a green gold and the cattail spikes stand proudly. Too, the mule deer and elk begin to come down from their summer fields, following food. There will be, in a week or two, the elk rut, with that strangled sound the bull elks make, a bugle. There will also be many more tourists here this week and next. The come for the jewels on the mountain sides, scenes I can see from my study window.

great wheel3The Great Wheel turns, but its turning is the original local expressing a universal. Here the golden aspen in the Midwest the great harvest machines lumbering through fields. In the Midwest stunning colors here a dichromatic palette. How the harvest season manifests depends on weather and here in the Rockies altitude. Pikes Peak and Mt. Rosalie near Bailey, for instance, have already had their first snow, passing out of the harvest season.

The expression of the season also depends on the plant species that have adapted themselves to a particular locale. One dominant deciduous tree, the aspen, makes our montane ecosystem much different from the remnants of the great woods that dominates the Midwest. Then there are the animals. Pheasants in the Dakotas and Nebraska. Elk and mule deer on the Front Range. Coordinates matter, too. Fall is different here at latitude 39 degrees than in, say, Warroad, Minnesota at 49 degrees. The other marker, the longitude, we’ve already referred to.

green knight

green knight

I celebrate the turning of the wheel, await its changes with anticipation. There is comfort, at least to me, in the regularity and predictability of the seasons. They tell me that time is not linear, that it is instead a spiral, cork-screwing its way through spacetime. They tell me that eternal return is written into the way of the universe, that even our life and its mayfly like time compared to the mountains on which I live, is, too, part of a great coming and going, a leaving and coming home. Somehow, through some mechanism now hidden to me, this life I’ve lived will matter and its significance, like your own, will revisit humanity, tempered and changed by the seasons of the universe. I suppose, in this way, we are all immortal, at least until the cold death of this cosmos. But, perhaps, even in that case, we will live on in one of the infinite multiverses, offering our harvest of human consciousness to feed other souls.

 

Sweet

Lughnasa                                                                  Harvest Moon

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

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

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

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

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

all dressed up with some place to go

all dressed up with some place to go

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

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

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

 

 

Cheshbon Nefesh

Lughnasa                                                                  Harvest Moon

tishrei-month-5768As the moon’s change, so does the Jewish calendar. We’re now in the month of Tishrei, its first day, Rosh Hashanah, the new year of the world. All over the world, throughout the diaspora and in Israel, Jews will be celebrating the new year, shana tovah. This is short for l’shana tova tikateyvu, “May you be written [in the Book of Life*] for a good year.”

This is not, as may be inferred from the paragraph below, primarily a message of judgment. Rather, it is a call for cheshbon nefesh, an accounting of the soul. That is, instead of judgment, the focus is on introspection about the last year, honestly acknowledging areas of life where we’ve missed the mark and then, developing a plan for a new year that includes both atonement and teshuvah, return to a path of holiness. This is an iterative process, it happens every year because there is no achievement of perfection; but there is, as one writer said, the opportunity in this life to become very good.

The soul curriculum of mussar, Jewish ethics which focus on incremental gains in character virtues, acknowledges both the strengths we have and the areas where we can improve our character. “My practice, for example, for this month, for the middot (character virtue) of curiosity, is to greet judgement with curiosity. That is, each time I feel a judgement about another come up, I’ll add to that feeling a willingness to become curious about what motivated the behavior I’m judging, what might be the broader context? Am I being reactive or am I seeing something that does concern me? Or, both? Does my judgement say more about me than what I’m judging?”

Happy-Rosh-Hashanah-ShofarI thought about two boys of a man I know. I pictured them both, slovenly and overweight, and thought, what went wrong with them? I had added to those two judgments an assumption that they were lazy, had not fulfilled whatever potential their father, a successful and kind man, hoped for. Since I don’t know either of them, it’s obvious this reaction said more about me than about them.

Arthur_Szyk_(1894-1951)._The_Holiday_Series,_Rosh_Hashanah_(1948),_New_Canaan,_CT

Arthur Szyk (1894-1951). The Holiday Series, Rosh Hashanah (1948), New Canaan, CT

However, I woke up to the judgment and used it as a prod for curiosity. What are they really like? Why did I make those assumptions? What about my own fears did this judgment express? That I’m not in good shape, that I don’t always present my best self? That I had not fulfilled my own potential? Ah. Well, there we are. My judgment was not about them at all, but about me. Yes, I’m curious to know more about them, to learn about their lives because they’re the sons of a man I respect; but, that particular curiosity is not the one most useful here. In this case the curiosity needs to be turned back on my own soul.

So, curiosity is on my soul curriculum. When I’m incurious, I tend to be judgmental. When I’m curious, I learn new things, I can adjust my behavior. Also, when we’re incurious, we simply don’t learn. Because there is no need. That reinforces our judgments and makes us slaves to our biases and prejudices. Curiosity can be a sort of soul broom, sweeping away our assumptions to make room for new insights, new relationships.

It is this hopeful, supportive type of cheshbon nefesh that the metaphor of the book of life and the book of death encourages. We can have a sweet new year, one dipped in honey, if we are honest, acknowledge our strengths, and work to add to them.

 

*The language of our prayers imagines God as judge and king, sitting in the divine court on the divine throne of justice, reviewing our deeds. On a table before God lies a large book with many pages, as many pages as there are people in the world. Each of us has a page dedicated just to us. Written on that page, by our own hand, in our own writing, are all the things we have done during the past year. God considers those things, weighs the good against the bad, and then, as the prayers declare, decides “who shall live and who shall die.”

 

Waning Summer Moon and Orion

September 14, 2017

September 14, 2017

Lughnasa                                        Waning Summer Moon

Quite a combination greeted me in the southeastern sky this morning as I made my way to the loft. The Waning Summer Moon’s waning quarter stood just above a faint, but still clear Orion. My first sighting of him since April. I don’t look for him once I stop seeing him since I imagine he’s in the daytime sky, but apparently he’s visible at some time in all months except May through July, just not when I’m awake and outside.

The two of them together, the Waning Summer Moon and the constellation that is my winter companion appearing the day after Labor Day sends a strong autumnal signal in my world. Flecks of gold will start to appear in the aspen groves on Black Mountain.

The meadow at the base of Shadow Mountain Drive had hay bales in it a couple of days ago, all gone now. The sight brought back memories of alfalfa and timothy fields in Minnesota and Indiana, the smell of haylofts, hay rides. Apple picking.

September 17, 2013

In Andover this was the month of garlic planting, of soil amending in the perennial flower beds and the planting of bulbs, corms, rhizomes. Tulips, daffodils, iris, hyacinth, crocus, anemone. I would turn on Folk Alley radio, get out the kneeler and the Japanese garden knife. Sometimes the Andover High School marching band would be rehearsing a couple of miles away but still audible. Blue skies, the sun’s angle noticeably lower. The golden raspberries were ripe, too, and the dogs, especially Vega, would pick them off the canes that poked through the fence around our vegetable garden.

Later in the month will come Mabon, the second of the harvest festivals and the fall equinox. After that is Michaelmas, September 29th, the feast day of the Archangel Michael which Rudolf Steiner refers to as the springtime of the soul. I can feel the change, the buildup that begins with the victory of light on the Summer Solstice, the gradual lengthening of the night which will culminate in the Winter Solstice, my high holyday.

Time to get back to work.

Gifts. All day long.

Lughnasa                                                                Waning Summer Moon

Rigel and Kepler

Rigel and Kepler

What gifts did I get yesterday? The first question before I go to sleep. Woke up, emerged from unconsciousness to consciousness. Breathed the whole night long. Kate was next to me, sleeping, my partner. Kepler was, as always, happy to see me wake up. He rolls over so I can scratch his stomach, his tail goes up into happy mode. As the morning service says, the orifices that needed to open, opened, and closed when appropriate. There was water at the tap, always a gift in this arid climate. The meds that my doc has prescribed to help me extend my health span got washed down with some.

Gertie and Rigel were happy to see me, coming up for a nuzzle and a lean. The air was cool and the stars still out. Shadow Mountain stayed stable underneath me. The carrier brought the Denver Post and we read the collective work of its reporters, recorded by the printers on newsprint made most likely in Canada.

the loft

the loft

When I went up to the loft, I got on this computer, using electricity supplied by the Inter Mountain Rural Electric Association. As the sun came up, our own solar panels began translating its energy that traveled 93 million miles, generated by the powerful nuclear fusion of our star. My mind is still sharp enough to put words together, thoughts. My hands still nimble enough to pound the keyboard.

All these gifts and we’re only at about 6 am. The list goes on throughout the day. Kate at the table when I go down for breakfast. The workout created by my personal trainer. Time to nap. A mussar class focused on tzedakah and zaka, how can we purify our soul by gifting resources to others. A car that runs on gas brought here by oil tanker, trucks, a gift from the plant and animal life of long ago, crushed into liquid form by the power of geological processes. Back to Beth Evergreen for the second time for the annual meeting.

There the gifts of people, relationships built and nurtured over the last few years, granting both of us the opportunity to be seen, known, and the chance to offer who we are and what we have. Finally, the cycle ends with a return to sleep, to unconsciousness. Hard to avoid gratitude after doing this sort of exercise each night.

Fangs and Claws

Summer                                                                     Woolly Mammoth Moon

twilightModern technology is so wonderful. Over the last few days I watched all five of the much maligned Twilight movies. You might ask why, at 71, I would subject myself to all those teen hormones, questionable dialogue, and odd acting. First answer, I’m easily entertained.  Second answer, I’m revising Superior Wolf right now. Werewolves from their source. Also, a project I work on from time to time is Rocky Mountain Vampire. So, the Twilight saga is in the same genre as my own work, though aimed more at a young adult, tween to teen audience. Which is, I might add, a very lucrative market. Maybe, it just occurred to me, some of them will be interested in my work as a result of their exposure to the Twilight books and movies.

20180711_065526The supernatural is a dominant theme in my life, from religion to magic to ancient myths and legends to fairy tales and folklore. My world has enchantment around every bend, every mountain stream, every cloud covered mountain peak. No, I don’t know if there are faeries and elves and Shivas and Lokis and witches who eat children. I don’t know if anyone ever set out on a quest for the golden fleece or angels got thrown out of heaven. Don’t need to. We wonder about what happens after death, a common horror experience often and always. If we’re thoughtful, we wonder about what happened before life. Where were we before?

670HandbookAfterlifeOur senses limit us to a particular spectrum of light, a particular range of sounds, a particular grouping of smells and tastes, yet we know about the infrared, low and high frequency sounds, the more nuanced world of smells available to dogs. We’re locked inside our bodies, yet we know that there are multiverses in every person we meet, just like in us. We know we were thrown into a particular moment, yet know very little of the moments the other billions of us got thrown into. My point is that our understanding of the natural is very, very limited, in spite of all the sophisticated scientific and humanistic and technological tools we can bring to bear. Most of what exists is outside our usual understanding of natural, certainly outside our sensory experience.

The expanse of the wonderful, the awesome, the amazing, so vast even in our small human experience, is cosmic outside of it. That’s where the supernatural realm lies. Not only Just So stories, then, but What If stories, too.

Sure, there are gothic stories, horror stories, fantasy that are poorly conceived, poorly written and poorly executed. I’ve contributed to that slush pile, but at the same time there are stories of the supernatural that allow us to get outside our human chauvinism, to imagine, to wonder. The part of me that loved the Ring cycle as a fourteen year old enjoyed Tolkien, King, Wickham, Kostova, and Clarke.

I have a sophisticated, adult aesthetic, too, and I enjoy it; but, I don’t see why I have to leave behind my more childlike appreciation of things like Marvel Comics, the Twilight Saga, Harry Potter, Hunger Games. So, I haven’t. My inner tween/teen needs screen time, as well.

 

 

 

 

 

The Emersonian Turn

Summer                                                                     Woolly Mammoth Moon

winter solstice yalda-night-persian-calligraphy

winter solstice, Yalda night, Persian calligraphy

Well, it’s incremental. Down from 14:59 to 14:58 today but the needle has begun to move. By the end of the month daylight will have decreased to 14:56, but, by the end of July, to 14:16. August 13:05. September 11:49. December 21 9:21. That’s for Colorado, of course. Other locations will vary. A lot. But the trend is the same. And, on top of this mountain, welcome.

Started working on lesson plans, a first for me. My task involves the 6th graders of our religious school. Rabbi Jamie has a worksheet I’m using with four columns: Hebrew, Torah, Middah, and Mitzvah. Guess what? The first column is in Hebrew. That makes it a challenge for me. But, in this wonderful age of quick information access I can plug in the word to google’s task bar and get at least a clue quickly.

Glad I learned the quote, “Confusion is the sweat of the intellect.” After yesterday’s work on the lesson plans the metaphorical sweat came easily. It’s no easy feat stepping into another tradition, even one with which I have some familiarity. Yet, it is also rich, resonant.

Not a Jew, but a reconstructionist. That realization about my comfort level at Beth Evergreen has given me a broader insight. It’s a little strange, so bear with me, please.

Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde

Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde

I love definite, strong connections to the past, both Christianity and Judaism offer that to their adherents. So does travel. And reading. Among my favorite places to visit are ancient ruins like Ephesus, Angkor Wat, the Great Wall, sites of ancient Rome, Pompeii, Bath, Delphi, Delos, Cahokia, Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, even the castles of North Wales like Conway and Dinas Bran, encyclopedic art museums, and worlds created by writers like Ovid, Homer, Dante.

This could make me a conservative, a thinker and an actor with a preference for things as they were, a reluctance to change what works. But, oddly, it has had the opposite effect. I find in the ancient world a panoply of human possibility, ways of coping with this odd gift, life. How we think today, how we feel, has its roots in this vast web of life’s journey. We don’t have to experience everything as brand new, don’t have to figure everything out for ourselves. Others have loved, have doubted, have feared, have wondered, have hoped. So can we.

thoreaus_quote_near_his_cabin_site_walden_pondBut, and I might call this the Emersonian turn, we cannot use the offerings of the past without remembering his introduction to Nature: “The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs?”

When we wittingly or unwittingly chain ourselves to the experience of others, especially those others from the distant past, we disrespect both them and ourselves. We disrespect them by claiming their authority as if something we had earned. We disrespect ourselves because we cheat ourselves of the present, of our own deep intuition, of our own revelations.

When we recognize though that those previous generations did behold God (bracket content) and nature face to face, that they did have an original relation to the universe, that they did create poetry and philosophy of their own insight, that they did create their religions by access to their own revelation, we learn an important, perhaps the important, lesson. We too live in this world with the same faculties, the same powers of observation and discernment that they had.

Gawain and the Green Knight

Gawain and the Green Knight

It was not those who had a religion of revelation to them that blinded us though. It was men, yes mostly men, of institutions, who tried to make the words of the past govern us. Those who declared scripture inerrant and infallible meant they knew what it meant, once and for all, and we had to obey. Well, I call bull shit on that. Those original beholders of God and nature opened themselves, in their present moments, to the awe and wonder all round about them. What a thing of beauty! Think how the mere record of their lives has effected us down to this day.

It is, though, the record of their lives. Only that. In our present, in this sacred moment, we have the same opportunity that they had, we have the same responsibility that they had. Think how the mere record of your life might effect others as distant from us in tomorrow as those are in yesterday.

Open up. Lighten up. Dance to the music of our time. Rip back the cloth from the temple gate in your life. Peak inside. Tell us what you see. We need to know.

Remember this. Always. “In the coming world they will not ask me—Why were you not Moses? They will ask me—Why were you not Zusya?” Rabbi Zusha of Hanipol

Summer Solstice 2018

Summer                                                                         Woolly Mammoths

Stone BarnsAs I said in a recent post, I look forward to the summer solstice for what most would think is an odd reason. It’s the day when Sol begins to slowly diminish his warm embrace, from now through the winter solstice six months away night begins to increase. So, yes, on this day of dances around bonfires, this day of Midsommer, I celebrate the dark.

That’s not say I’m not in the moment. As a long time gardener, a part-time phenologist and a mountain man, I’m glad for the sun, for the growing season begun on Beltane and now six weeks underway. At Midsommer we  get naked and dance to the music because the wheat and the carrots, the onions and the garlic, the tomatoes and the beans, the corn and the rye have taken root, have reached for the sun.

Summer-Solstice-Full-Moon-e1466346884772If we want to add a little sympathetic magic with our partner, all the better. An article from CNN, Summer Solstice: It’s All About Sex, reports that “A lot of children are born nine months after Midsummer in Sweden,” says Jan-Öjvind Swahn, a Swedish ethnologist and the author of several books on the subject.”

We’ve finished the pine pollen season, at least I think we have, and that’s an immersion in the sex life of the lodgepole pine. There are also, up here in the mountains anyhow, many babies enjoying the delectables of the recent growth in both plant and animal life. This is the season of fox kits and mule deer fawns, mountain lion cubs, elk and moose calves. It’s a time saturated with the joy and promise of new life, the circle of life turning through its reproductive phase.

summer aleOne of the odder summer solstice gatherings occurs at Stonehenge where “druids” and other pagans celebrate. I say odd because, although Stonehenge probably aligns for sunrise on the summer solstice and sunset on the winter solstice, no one has a clue as to the rites observed when it was built, well over 4,000 years ago, long before the time of the druids.

I feel better because my own soul aligns more with darkness than light, more with the winter solstice than the summer and today marks the six month shift as we move toward the longest night.