We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Letting Go of the Old You

Lughnasa (last day)                                                Harvest (new) Moon

jewish-photo-calendar

Rosh Hashanah service last night. Lots of Days of Awe alumni showing up at the synagogue. These are long services during the High Holydays, this one running almost two hours. There are, however, a lot of songs, readings, standing and sitting, so the time passes quickly.

The mahzor (prayer book for high holidays), has several interesting components. It includes, for example, poetry by Mary Oliver, Rainer Marie Rilke, and Y. Yeuvenshko. The Mary Oliver poem ends with a favorite Woolly Mammoth quote from her work: What will you do with your one wild and precious life? Which is apropos of the High Holydays since this is a time in the Jewish calendar for repentance, teshuvah (returning), closing off the last year and coming clean and free into the new one.

The mahzor also explains the High Holydays as a principle event for Jews as a community of memory. This really struck me last night, especially when Rabbi Jamie quoted from the Shema, “Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.”

memory“That’s us,” he said, sweeping his hand around the room. Of course, it’s not me, but I took the point. Israel, those Jews in the sanctuary at Beth Evergreen and in Rosh Hashanah services around the world last night, and those Jews not in the services, too, is a community which celebrates its most important memories every Sabbath with a parsha reading, a segment of the Torah.

I feel privileged, and grateful, for the chance to live out my religious life at Beth Evergreen, within, but not of, this community of memory. Rabbi Jamie also said last night that the Jewish calendar focuses on helping each Jew become a better human. I get it and I’m following it, too. I am, after all, a human. What better way to start a new year than to focus on repentance for missing the mark of your best self in the last one? Then, figuring out, through mussar, for example, how to work a little harder on finding your best self in the upcoming one.

KaplanThis is reconstructionist Judaism, an explicitly non-supernatural religion that nonetheless adheres to the traditions and customs of Jewish civilization, including Torah study, sabbath observance, comforting mourners, repairing the world and doing acts of loving kindness.

Over the last week or so I’ve begun wondering if my reimagining faith project is really a reconstructing faith project? No, I don’t mean to use Judaism as a base, not at all, but it did occur to me that the methodology suggested by the idea of reconstruction might be stronger for my purposes than reimagining. Still thinking.

A new moon

Lughnasa                                                                          Harvest (New) Moon

By NASA - Global plate motion 2008-04-17

By NASA – Global plate motion 2008-04-17

The disaster (Eclipse) moon has finally waned completely as we enter two days of new moon, the Harvest Moon. Not, however, without more disaster. Puebla, Mexico got hit by an earthquake, 7.1, that also shook Mexico City. And Maria, the third category 5 hurricane under the Eclipse moon, smashed her way toward Puerto Rico while Jose, a former category 4, may make trouble for New England as a category 1. It’s ironic that an eclipse on August 21st, a sign of doom for many thousands of years, marked the beginning of a month with so much misery. It is confirmation bias, right?

We need the Harvest moon. It’s a sign of hope, a welcome source of light for combines and corn pickers throughout the Midwest. The Harvest moon is the moon nearest the autumnal equinox which occurs this Friday at 2:02 p.m. Mountain Standard Time. Those of us with roots in the agricultural center of the U.S. know this is a time for farmers to work hard, the success or failure of a year often determined right now. In the plains states, if a journey takes you across, say, I-80, you could see wheat fields full of combines, contract crews that go from state to state, province to province, gathering the bounty.

As fall progresses, so do certain sports. Baseball ends its summer and prepares for the Fall Classic. The NFL is now two games into its season, banging brains in major cities across the U.S. College and high school football does the same. It’s also cross country season. Joseph ran cross country for St. Paul Central in his high school days back in the late 1990’s. Granddaughter Ruth continues that family tradition. Here she is, crossing the finish line yesterday afternoon in Sheridan, Colorado.

 

L’shanah tovah!

Lughnasa                                                          Eclipse Moon

Samuel Palmer, The Harvest Moon (c 1833)

Samuel Palmer, The Harvest Moon (c 1833)

That old moon, the one that occulted our star, has two days left in its cycle. It will give way to the first moon of this new fall, this moon that oversaw the journeys of millions to watch it work in the daylight. It also presided over Hurricane’s Harvey, Irma, Jose and Katia, over the 8.1 earthquake in southern Mexico and the fiery end to many forests in the U.S. West. Earth, Air, Fire and Water. What will this next moon bring?

I’m still feeling a sense of exhaustion from Saturday night, not unusual I guess. Seventy after all. The burns I got on my right hand making the sugar cream pies last Tuesday are still healing. Again, seventy year old skin. This exhaustion feels ok, part of the third phase.

Went to bed last night in a mild funk, exhaustion will do that, allow negative moods to take hold, grip me. They’re like infections, sudden and pervasive; but usually, if I can find their source, a triggering event, then I can quiet the infection, let it dissipate. It takes brutal self-honesty.

Abandon all attachment to the results of action and attain supreme peaceYesterday I traced the funk back to an e-mail I sent out late Saturday night thanking all the main participants in the Evergreen Forum. Two folks responded quickly, thanking me, too, and I realized, as I searched for the source of the mood, that I wanted more of those and when they didn’t come, I wondered why not? It was that wondering that created the bad mood. In others words I had poisoned my own well, then drunk from it. Well, I realized, that’s silly. Take the compliments, move on. So, I did.

Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday evening, erev Rosh Hashanah. This is a pensive time in the Jewish calendar. As the old year ends, Tishrei 1 (Sept. 21st) ushers in the Jewish year 5778. Rosh Hashanah, according to Chabad.org, means head of the year and celebrates the birthday of the universe and in that process, the day of the creation of Adam and Eve.

After it there are then 10 days to complete a cycle of seeking forgiveness from others so God can be approached on Yom Kippur for forgiveness. At the end of Yom Kippur the book of life is sealed for 5777 and written in the book will be all those sins for which forgiveness has not been received.

Happy-Rosh-Hashanah-Shofar

This is a wonderful way because it encourages an annual cleaning of the slate, then beginning a new year ready to live fully, unburdened by baggage from the year before. Whether or not you accept the metaphysics, the practice itself is healthy.

Crossing

Lughnasa                                                                      Eclipse Moon

Labor day. The Rubicon of summer for Americans. Once in the past, much like August in Europe, the vacation month, the world turns serious. Schools begin. (though here in Colorado they’ve already begun. which still seems wrong to me.) The pace of the harvest picks up as wheat and corn and soybeans mature. The Federal budget year ends in September, so bluster and shimmying rocks out from D.C. across the land.

As I wrote earlier, I get a distinct boost as fall asserts itself. It’s 46 here this morning and the gas stove in the loft kicked on. My mind, like a trained puppy, sits up and begs to be fed, wants to do tricks like write, do Latin, read. I love this transition, partly because it means the heat of summer is fading, but mostly because parts of me that I cherish come fully alive.

Eduardo and Holly invited us and our immediate neighbors: Jude, Roberta and Jim, Alexis and Troy over yesterday for a Labor Day cookout. Eduardo is an excellent cook, offering black beans, seasoned rice and carne asada from his grill. We brought deviled eggs, Jim and Roberto a spicy shrimp salad, Alexis and Troy homemade hummus. Eduardo and Holly’s house has multiple levels in the back and we ate on the lowest level, a cool breeze gradually replacing the heat of the day.

While writing this, I got an intercom call from Kate. Power’s out, can you fix it? Well… I can go out to the main, check the circuit breakers. I did. There were several breakers thrown, maybe seven altogether. So, I returned them to their on positions and voila! Nothing changed. ? So went back out and did the same thing all over again, essentially rebooting. Hey, it works on computers and modems. Nope. Doesn’t make sense to me, and I don’t like electrical things that don’t make sense.

Sigh. It means I have to start the difficult process of trying to get an electrician out here. I’ve contacted Altitude Electric, hoping that the modest relationship we built during the oh, so drawn out generator installation process will encourage them to come. The mountain way means certain trades are just not reliable up here.

In other news I go to the ophthalmologist today. Hoping, in the strange way of medical care in our time, that my cataracts have worsened to the point that Medicare will pay for their replacement. Improving my vision through cataract removal is, of course, desirable, but mostly I want to see if they can permanently improve my reading correction. I read a lot, in lots of different places and cheaters don’t work since I have an astigmatism. That means I often have to rely on arms out, head back mode.

Out for now, from Shadow Mountain.

A friend returns

Lughnasa                                                                        Kate’s Moon

alone in the cosmosAbout 5:30 am this morning I left the house for the loft. The sky was clear, unusual over the past few monsoonal weeks. There in the southeast, still partially in the lodgepole pine, was Orion. His shoulder and belt were visible, his sword and feet/legs were not. But he was back. I waved to him.

As I did, I realized this relationship, with a constellation, was really important to me. Not as metaphor. Not as an anchor to my long ago college night-shift memories. But as a friendship. This may seem odd, but I suspect it’s not. I think it’s analogous to a more common feeling, one I identify most easily with crossing Ford Parkway in St. Paul on my way to our house on Edgcumbe. When I crossed Ford Parkway, I felt like I was back in home territory. I had become, at least in that way, native to the Highland Park neighborhood. When we moved to Andover, it was coming up to Round Lake, the marker of our new neighborhood.

Orion is the Ford Parkway of fall and winter for me. In that sense he is a boundary marker between the growing season and the fallow season though right now he is a harbinger. His rising means, look, the seasons will change. You can know that with confidence. This transition, from growing season to fallow one marks an affective moment for me, a moment of change from a time I tolerate with some pleasures, to one I love that has some pains.

beherenow1-eternal-time-spaceThe dangers and pains of ice and snow are real, but manageable. Cold is a blessing as far I’m concerned. The pleasure of snow is real, too. Ice? Well, maybe not so much pleasure there. But the holidays, the beauty of fall and winter landscapes, the times of being isolated with a book to write, well, that’s my best time. And Orion’s emergence heralds its coming.

There’s more than that though. Orion is a friend in the heavens. His reemergence each fall reconnects me to astronomy and the beauty of the dark night skies, the long ones of the fallow season. He is a host who invites me into his world, lifts my heart literally off the earth. Yes, I can connect with the stars during the growing season, but I tend not to, at least not as well, certainly not as often. The night sky comes later then and I don’t have a guide, a host for it.

Like a good friend does, Orion reminds me of an important of myself and nurtures it. He does this silently, of course. But I hear him just the same. No wonder I waved.

Lughnasa 2017

Lughnasa                                                                              Kate’s Moon

Welcome to the season of the first harvests. Coincidentally, on the Jewish calendar, today is Tisha B’Av  the 9th of Av, a fast day that commemorates the destruction of the first temple by the Romans in 70 CE.

demeterThe proselytizing Roman Catholics gathered in Lughnasa and turned it into Lammas, a sabbat name used often in Wiccan circles, but in fact part of a persistent and largely successful attempt by the Catholic church to eliminate the old Celtic faith. Parishioners baked loaves of bread (lammas means loaf mass) from the first harvested grains and brought them to mass.

The Celtic cross-quarter holiday (comes between a solstice and an equinox or an equinox and a solstice) of Lughnasa marks the beginning of the harvest season. The harvest, on the Great Wheel, has three holidays: Lughnasa, Mabon (fall equinox) and the start of the Celtic new year, Samain, another cross-quarter holiday celebrated on October 31st. In other words from today through October 31st the ancient Celts reaped the results of the growing season, which began on May 1st at Beltane. Beltane and Samain are the original holidays of the early Celts, one marking the start of the growing season, the other its end. Samain means Summer’s End.

fiddledIMAG0591A glorious time of year when the crops were good, Lughnasa also kicked off a long succession of market days, actually weeks, when celebrations were common. The tradition of Lughnasa market days with their heaps of produce from gardens and fields came to the United States with the Celts who immigrated here, many into the Appalachian mountains where their culture fed folk music and crafts into the new country. Their Lughnasa celebrations, then known as fairs, are the genesis of county and state fairs.

Living in the mountains as I now do, the dominant agricultural/horticultural emphasis of the Great Wheel comes into sharp relief, no harvest here, except some hay from mountain meadows, and a few farmer’s markets with desultory goods. Yet. In places with little to no agriculture the results of the harvest season are even more important, though occurring far away. No food, no life.

20170730_150912Kate has a garden remnant doing surprisingly well. She got this plant from a project at Beth Evergreen and had me transplant it. We will have a bit of Lughnasa sometime soon, if the fruits on it ripen. If they don’t, we plan to have fried green tomatoes. Kudos to Kate for accomplishing a difficult feat at 8,800 feet, growing tomatoes. She’s my Demeter.

We’re laying in stores for the long fallow season ahead. Kate made peach honey yesterday from Western Slope peaches we purchased on a cool, rainy Saturday from the Knights of Columbus. They would have happily assisted the Romans in destroying the first Temple. The contradictions of life.

 

 

Independence from DJT

Midsommar                                                                    Most Heat Moon

trumpYesterday was the fourth of July. Our September 16th, viewed from Mexico. Our July 1st, from the northerly perspective of Canada. A day to launch an almost-ICBM from Pyongyang. A day not long after our President, OUR PRESIDENT, released on Twitter a video of himself wrestling, during a WWF event, another person whose head had been replaced by the CNN logo. I can’t believe I just wrote that. I can’t believe I’ve seen the video. I can’t believe DJT is in the Whitehouse.

Sigh. Yes, I can. That’s worse, actually, than disbelief. Disbelief holds out hope that incredulity might synch up with reality. Belief, in fact not even belief, but empirical observation shows that DJT did in fact post such a video and I’ve seen it. He is, too, actually in the Whitehouse, in the Oval Office, behind the desk where President’s sit, his long red tie brushing the floor, his floppy comb over shedding wispy blond hair and flakes of orange self-tanning lotion falling with them. In our Whitehouse. In our Oval Office.

Declaration of Independance

Declaration of Independence

On our Independence Day. Question. How do we get independence from him? And his minions. I know how. Elections. But, can the Democratic party pull off a win in the 2018 elections? Hell, I don’t know. And, more importantly, the 2020 election. Don’t know.

Sitting here on Shadow Mountain, with a beautiful blue sky framing Black Mountain, I’m far away from Washington, D.C. in miles and in altitude. And attitude. A benefit of this distance is no Beltway Fever. I can still see the United States from here, looking toward the humid east, the cold north, the hot dry south and the intermountain West. The mountains defy politics. They stand tall against the arrogance of politics, a granite wall solid, lasting. The cold drifts down from the pole, cooling the overheated rhetoric. The West retains its contradictory spirit of liberty, wide-open spaces and corporate overlords. The south. Well. Perhaps Trump could go unprotected by sunscreen to Arizona.

20170701_094556We are more than our government. We are a nation of vast reaches, landscapes that fire imaginations around the world. We are a nation of immigrants, a nation to which immigrants from that same world still desire to come, even if the xenophobic, chauvinistic politicians infesting Washington try to make us undesirable. We are a nation of hopers and dreamers in spite of the dreamkillers on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Yes, we can lose all this to demagogues and mean-spirited fundamentalist ideologues. But I don’t think we will. Perhaps that’s the nostalgia of an old man for the country of his youth. Perhaps. Except the country of his youth exuded sexual repression, feared communism, had sundown laws, treated women like chattel and children. This country, the one now dominated by fearful men who would like to return to just that time, has seen clear advances in the treatment of women, people of color, various sexual preferences. It is, too, a nation whose economy links it in trade to most nations of the world. So, change is not only possible, it has happened in my lifetime and will, I know, happen again in my lifetime.

Throw the bums out.

 

 

Midsommar Eve

Beltane                                                                     Moon of the Summer Solstice

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

 

Oh. Really?

Beltane                                                                         Moon of the Summer Solstice

20-the-map-is-not-the-territoryI guess it’s time to admit it. I’m a deeply religious guy, whatever that means. It means at least that I find religion and religions fascinating, personally transformative. I have approached religion since high school with a mixture of deep skepticism and a willingness, no, a need to rethink, refeel, reexperience what I’m told.

J. Harry Cotton, professor of philosophy at Wabash College, introduced the radical skepticism to my journey. In my senior year of high school I had grown dissatisfied with the Methodist version of Christianity, so I asked the local Roman Catholic priest to give me instructions in the Catholic faith. He introduced me to the traditional Aquinian arguments for the existence of God. Since I had not, at that time, fully recognized the relentlessly logical bent to my mind, I found these arguments profound and felt like the Methodists had hidden them from me.

Triumph of Thomas Aquinas, Benozzo Gozzoli

Triumph of Thomas Aquinas, Benozzo Gozzoli

Then, that fall, J. Harry systematically dismantled each one of them. It’s not hard to do with the proper philosophical tools. Take God as the Aristotelian prime mover of the universe. God put the whole shebang in motion, otherwise how would things have gotten started? Well, like many similar arguments, this one suffers from the problem of infinite regression. So, if the universe required a prime mover, then who or what moved the prime mover?

When I left J. Harry’s class that afternoon, walking across the great lawn with brick academic buildings on every side, my world had been shaken at a foundational level. Out went the whole Christian project in my life, right then. Later, I would find Camus and his version of existentialism, which still informs me, but then, there was nothing.

downloadSince that day until now my ancientrail has always wound its circuitous path back to the big questions. I’ve explored Christianity, Islam, now Judaism, Taoism, existentialism, various spiritual disciplines like lectio divina, meditation, morning and evening prayers, contemplative prayer, even some modest peaks into Tibetan buddhism occasioned by my friendship with Gyatsho Tshering. Though I am now and have been for a while an idiosyncratic version of Taoist/pagan, I’m finding the Reconstructionist path in Judaism a surprisingly familiar one.

Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan

Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan

Reconstructionist thought, begun by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, is radical. Very radical. He asserted that the Torah is not divinely inspired. He went on to say that God as a supernatural intervener makes no sense. He rewrote Jewish rituals and insisted on a reexamination of the whole tradition, reconstructing it where it made sense. I love a key line of his, “The past gets a voice, but not a veto.” Yes. Very Emersonian.

Maybe my reimagining faith project is not so far out as I have sometimes thought. Perhaps it’s the work I’ve been in training for most of my adult life. What if I knuckled down and got at it with a reconstructionist bent in mind? Might be interesting.

 

The Longest Day

Beltane                                                                             Rushing Waters Moon

These are the last two days of the Rushing Waters Moon but its namesake creeks will continue rushing for another week or two. Last week’s substantial snow has been followed by some rain and last night another inch or so of snow. More precipitation to come, too.

The Moon of the Summer Solstice is new on the 25th. If I had the cash, I’d go to Sweden.

 

September 2017
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