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

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.

Waiting for the darkness

Beltane                                                                             Sumi-e Moon

Got an e-mail from Mario Odegard. “…over Loveland pass to Dillon, WOWww mind blowing.” The mountains have that way about them. He was on his way to visit a friend in Frisco.

Summer2Probably not many folks count down to the Summer Solstice, but I do. It marks my favorite turning point in the year, the point when the dark begins to overtake the light. Yes, it’s the day of maximum daylight, but that’s just the point, maximum. After the summer solstice, nighttime begins a slow, gradual increase until my favorite holiday of the year, the Winter Solstice.

This may sound sinister, but it doesn’t feel like that to me. I’ve long been struck by the fecundity of darkness: the top six inches of the soil, the womb, dreams, the silence. In my world darkness is a place of growth and inspiration, a place where insistent vision can rest while other senses, some of them unknown, can take over the load.

winter solstice4Summer and the light has its charms and its importance, too, of course. A warm summer evening. The growing season. The ability to see with clarity. The sun is a true god without whose beneficence we would all die. Worthy of our devotion. And, btw, our faith. So I get it, you sun worshipers. My inner compass swings in a different, an obverse direction.


The local

Beltane                                                                            Sumi-e Moon

breathe thich-nhat-hanh-calligraphy

breathe thich-nhat-hanh-calligraphy

Forgot how exhausting real studying can be. My goal was to finish Rovell’s book, The Order of Time, before qabbalah last night. I did it. But I had to read and ponder for several hours over the last two days. Much of the work is clear, even if challenging to understand. Some of it, especially about the quantum world, was  damned difficult. Some of it I didn’t get. That’s o.k. Confusion is the sweat of the intellect. A lot of sweat in that small text.

My reward? At kabbalah last night I found the discussion needed the insights Rovelli offers. But I didn’t understand them well enough to add them to the discussion. Result? Cognitive dissonance. The question last night was, does the future exist? Rovelli answer: at the quantum level, no. No past, no present, no future. No time. Just events occurring in no particular order. Kabbalists answer, no. The past and the future only exist in the present. Sounds similar, but it’s not. No time is no time.

And, Rovelli established to my satisfaction that there is no present, even at the Newtonian level. The easiest example is a moment, A, happening on earth. Is it in the same present, a universal present we assume exists for the whole universe, as an event on Proxima, three light years away? No. It is in the same moment as an action on Proxima three years from now. In this example, thanks to distance we can see that our present does not match up to Proxima’s.

present_moment_wonderful_moment-300x224Here’s the real trick in Rovelli’s book though. The present is highly local. The present is a construct meaningful only within the part of the universe with which we are in direct relation. So my present here on Shadow Mountain is different than the one down the hill in Aspen Park or down the hill even further in Denver.

We can only know the present through direct relationship. Why? Well, consider this. Let’s say I want to know what’s happening right now in Aspen Park. How can I do that? I’m not there. I could call, but dialing takes time, so by the time I’ve connected with Aspen Park, the moment I’m reaching is no longer the present about which I wondered a moment ago. Even a reply takes time to reach me from Aspen Park over the phone. It’s the same problem as Proxima, just on a different scale.

localPicky? I don’t think so. The present is just that. Now. But I can discover no other present without encountering it after mine has already disappeared.  This highly local nature of the present unhinges our assumption of time as a constant, the same everywhere. No, in fact it’s exactly not the same everywhere. You have to let that trickle in, at least I did.

And, there’s more! But I need to re-read the book to get it. Not right now. Not enough energy.


Beltane                                                                                    Mountain Moon

Rabbi Rami Shapiro spoke to Beth Evergreen parents on how to talk about god to their kids. 20180512_112730You can see on the board four terms and a fifth, panentheism, finishes it. (That’s Rami to the left standing and Rabbi Jamie to his right.) I think the first four are well known, panentheism perhaps not so much so. While pantheism says god is everything and everything is god, (all-god), panentheism says nature is part of god but god is more than that, too, perhaps even beyond time and space. The most well known panentheist, at least when I was in sem, admittedly 45 years or so ago, was Alfred North Whitehead, proponent of process theology.

My brother Mark asked me recently whether I was a theist or a deist. I wrote back, sort of tongue in cheek, polytheist atheist. This morning I thought, polyatheist. I like the contradiction, the tension between these two words. All the words on Rami’s sheet  assume a monotheistic stance in which one believes, does not believe, doubts, makes coincident with nature or inclusive of nature but not limited by it. None of them describe my location in the world of god thought.

BelievePerhaps better, polytheist agnostic. Even that doesn’t carry quite the right emphasis. What was it they said on the x-files? I want to believe? When I graduated from college, yes, it was 1969, 49 years ago, I decided to revisit Christianity. I chose to use Soren Kierkegaard’s leap of faith as a model. After reading his Fear and Trembling, I decided I would live as if the Christian god were real and that the gospel stories were true. That’s how I ended up in seminary in 1971.

It was not a perfect reenchantment of my world. A lot of Christianity, even then, I just ignored. Nothing would have made me predeterminist or even one interested in salvation beyond this life. The God and the Jesus I believed in were guarantors of a just world, a world where evil could be fought successfully and where evil denied our essential oneness as a species, allowing certain people to feel privileged due to race, gender, wealth, nationality, sexual preference. “Let justice roll down waters, righteousness like an everflowing stream.” Micah 5:24 Or, Luke 4:18-19: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

che-liberationMartin Luther King, liberation theology, Jesus as a revolutionary those were my touchstones. Yes, I meditated, prayed, interpreted scripture, very occasionally served the sacraments, but the core of my shift from college non-belief to Christian clergy lay in the political implications of Christianity. This was a thin rationale for a metaphysical commitment. And, it broke apart. By the time I left the Presbyterian ministry in 1991, the scaffolding of bible, god, jesus, prayer had long ago collapsed.

When my then spiritual director, John Ackerman, said, “Charlie, you might be a druid,” I laughed. Then, I thought, hmmm. No, not a druid, but yes one whose religious instincts lead him to the garden, not for a last prayer before crucifixion, but as a participant in the web of life, hands in the soil. This was reinforced when Kate suggested I look for a particular focus for my writing. Since part of leaving the ministry meant novels, I took her suggestion seriously.

Duncan, John; The Riders of the Sidhe; Dundee Art Galleries and Museums Collection (Dundee City Council);

Duncan, John; The Riders of the Sidhe; Dundee Art Galleries and Museums Collection

I have two broad genealogic streams in my dna, Irish and Welsh, and German. Ellis and Correll for the Celtic side, Spitler and Zike for the Germanic. I chose the Celtic side first, exploring the realm of Celtic religion. The Celtic Faery Faith, a book by W.Y. Evans Wentz, who went on to translate and make popular, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, was an early influence. As I got deeper and deeper into crafting novels, always fantasy, always with an ancient religion at their heart, I began to entertain strange thoughts.

pregnantgoddessWhat if Cernunnos, the horned god of nature in Celtic myth, was real? Tailte, a Celtic goddess of the earth, came from a euhemerized Welsh woman. Euhemerus, a Greek mythologist, lived in the late 4th century B.C.E., and proposed that myth was an exaggerated account of the lives and deeds of real people. Thus, euhemerization might suppose that behind Zeus there was a strong, dominant man who ruled imperiously over his people. Or, that a certain Welsh woman, a gardener and farmer, one with a remarkable ability to make things grow and to find useful plants and animals in the wild, might become an Earth goddess. So euhemerization blurs the line between the real and the mythical. Had Cernunnos been a hunter so in touch with his prey that his success seemed super-human?

A more recent and accessible example of another myth-making process is Pele on the Big Island. Perhaps Pele was a strong, fiery Hawai’ian woman of long ago, one drawn to the vulcanism of her homeland. Perhaps she danced with the lava, foretold eruptions, protected people from the ravages of sulphuric gases. She may have come to hold the role of goddess of fire, goddess of the vital forces beneath the Hawai’ian archipelago, through repeated tales of her amazing feats. Or, it might be that ancient Hawai’ians personified the enigmatic and brutal forces of Mauna Kea, Kilauea, and Mauna Loa just as the residents of Leilani Estates have done since the eruptions began last week.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - The Youth of Bacchus (1884)

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) – The Youth of Bacchus (1884)

In my own post-Christian world these sorts of gods and goddesses resonate. The notion of one deity behind it all, a wizard or sorceress of creation, seems silly. That certain groups might confuse the god they hold closest with a monotheistic deity makes sense to me; that others might actually agree with them makes no sense to me. There cannot be more than one, one god. Simple logic.

When two groups assert that their god is The One, one of them has to be wrong and in my opinion, both are. Which leaves us where? Well, the assertion of two all-powerful deities makes sense to anyone with a polytheistic bent. Why is Allah any more sensible than Athena? Why is Yahweh any more divine than the triple-goddess Brigit? Why is Brahma more explanatory of cosmic matters than Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu?

polytheismSo, I have become a polyagnostic. I doubt the existence of all the gods and goddesses ever imagined. I do not chose Yahweh to doubt anymore than I choose faeries and Odin to doubt. Yet. I want to believe. I want to see Pele at work in the now 18 fissures breaking through the human hubris of Leilani Estates. I want to find the god and the goddess, Cernunnos and the Maid, frolicking naked in the fields of Beltane. I want to see the Wild Hunt cross the sky. And, yes, I’d like to see Yahweh deliver the tablets or speak from the bush. Hell, I’d even like to watch Allah send Mohammad by horse to the temple mount, through the sky. I could stand in the Mithraeum and be doused by blood or water. It’s not hard to imagine, for me, diving into a holy well and ending up in the Otherworld.

What I’m trying to say here is that my doubt is not tied to the monotheistic faiths, rather it is tied to the polytheistic nature of global religious thought. Polyagnostic. I doubt and embrace all gods and goddesses, all nymphs, daiads, faeries, banshees, rashis, and chupacabras.

odinIf we were to divide polyagnosticism into two camps, one leaning toward belief and one leaning toward polyatheism, I would be in the leaning toward belief group. I suppose that’s what keeps me a friend of all sorts of religious belief systems, all sorts though not all. I believe in the numinous, in the unseen mystery, in the still small voice that comes from the rock, the mountain top, the flowing river, the growing grass, the blooming flower. I believe it’s no accident that these forces have been named sacred, called divine. I think it’s appropriate to anthropomorphize them, to find in the wind Boreas, to find in the magma chamber, Pele, to find on Mt. Sinai, Yahweh. These are sources of wonder for me and ones I cherish.

I just don’t know which ones are more real than the others, or, if they’re all real in some way. I’m not even sure I know what real means or could mean here.


Beltane                                                                                  Mountain Moon

kilauea fissure 7, opening on May 5th

Kilauea fissure 7, opening on May 5th

Still fascinated by the eruption of Kilauea. The Leilani Estates, houses bursting into flame, residents standing dazed by their vehicles after evacuating, monster movie scenes like the one below, show humans as do many Song dynasty paintings, small and insignificant next to mountains and rivers.

Listening to residents of the Leilani estates describe the shock is a lesson in reenchantment of the world. There were expressions of grief, of course, and bewilderment. All knew this possibility existed, but, like residents of flood plains and the wildlife-urban interface (us here on Shadow Mountain), hoped they would be spared. The lure is beauty. Always beauty. We take risks to live in beautiful places.

At the Columbian Exposition

At the Columbian Exposition

Some said things like, “Well, if madame Pele wants the land…” “Pele goes where she wants.” There was, in these remarks, no irony that I could detect. No wink, wink, you know what I really mean. The native Hawai’ian’s faith in Pele, given witness by the offerings at Halemaʻumaʻu Crater and numerous legends and dances, has, at least partially, reenchanted the Big Island for haoles (non natives). Whether they believe in a real, physical goddess or not, probably not, I sense the feelings of awe and the mysterium tremendum et fascinans that Rudolf Otto associates with the numinous, the essential components of the holy.

What’s happening at Leilani Estates is similar, perhaps the same, as my experience here on Shadow Mountain when I came for the closing on our home. The three mule deer bucks in our backyard, curious and welcoming, were mountain spirits blessing our move. I knew it while standing there with them, present with them in this new, strange place. It is not, in other words, that the numinous has disappeared from our encounters, only that we have unlearned how to know it. The reductive nature of scientism, that attempt to totalize our understanding with numbers and equations and laws, and the restrictive arrogant nature of religions certain that they know truth, has blinded us to the numinous.

numinousReenchantment has a precursor experience, a moment when we embrace the awe and the mystery, a feeling that we each experience, perhaps even experience often (childbirth, death, sunrise, the greening and flowering of spring, a snowstorm, bitter cold, blazing heat, the vastness of the ocean, love), but a feeling we have allowed others to reframe for us. The laws and beauty of scientific understanding do not explain away, as many assume. They are descriptive, a language of their own about the world in which we live. But they have not stripped out awe and mystery though men like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens insist on it. Empiricists, fed by scientism, want to suggest only through data and analysis can we know the truth.

numinous universe-2Or, the experience of the Celts and the Roman Catholic church is instructive here, one faith’s certainty can leave no room for the numinous anywhere but in their dogma, their rituals. Catholics built churches over Celtic holy wells. They deployed words like heretics and blasphemers and pagans to undercut the authority of the old faith. They appropriated Celtic holidays by turning Lugnasa into Lammas, Samain into All Saints. Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism says it well, “It is not the seeking of God that is the problem, it is the certainty of those who believe they have found God that is the problem.”

We can learn from the residents of Leilani Estates. We live in a wild universe, one well beyond our capacity to either control or understand. When we can set aside the certainty of others, the narrow thinking, and open ourselves to awefull and wonder of wilderness home, then we can know the ordinary holy, the secular sacred, the profane faith of those whose revelations no longer come from books or laboratories, but from that wilderness itself. That is reenchantment, that is reconstruction, that is a reimagined faith.