We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Mabon, 2018

Mabon                                                                      Harvest Moon

Shadow Mtn. Drive, about a mile from home. Black Mtn ahead

Shadow Mtn. Drive, about a mile from home. Black Mtn ahead

As I type the heading here, I can look up and see the aspen groves near the peak of Black Mountain. Like golden islands in a dark green ocean. Part of the ever changing beauty of the Rocky Mountains.

Mabon is the second harvest holiday and comes on the autumnal equinox. (The rising sun has just hit the aspen grove, now it looks like molten gold.) If you lived in a subsistence farming economy, as most humans did in Europe only a few centuries ago, then what happened on and around this holiday would have meant the difference between life and death in the fallow months ahead. No wonder the market days were so important, so filled with ritual and fun.

mabon-greeting-cardWhat did you plant in the first and second phases of your life that’s coming to fruition right now? Tom. Bill. Mark. Paul. Will you dance around a bonfire? Alan. What will sustain you in the fallow months when work in the fields is done? The loves and passions of your earlier life might do it. Might not. Is there a new field, one that can be worked with the experience and skills available to you? What will you harvest in the third phase of your life?

This harvest holiday I’ve been nostalgic about combines and corn pickers, hay balers and grain trucks, the tall elevators waiting for grain, the train cars waiting to move it. That was my flatlander past. What is the new harvest, the one lived among mountains, streams, mule deer and elk?

mabon8

“The Harvest Moon” by Samuel Palmer

Turns out it has some resonance with crops I’ve planted before. Kate. Family. Friends. Writing. Reading. Religion. Art. Music. Dogs. Closeness to the non-human natural world. But, there are also new crops, most new varieties of old ones, new strains. Judaism. The montane ecosystem. Beth Evergreen friends. Noticeable aging. Submitting work, a true harvest. Making art, sumi-e, playing with colors. This pack of dogs: Gertie, Rigel, Kepler. A married Joseph and SeoAh. A divorced Jon. The grandkids.

Someday, soon or late, the reaper will come for me, harvesting another of this strange fruit, humankind. Each day, think of it, that reaper gathers in a new harvest of souls. And how little we know of that harvest. Do our deaths nourish the universe as our harvests in life have nurtured others? Perhaps.

May you have a pleasant and bountiful Mabon season. Harvest home is near. Enjoy it.

 

 

Before the Fall

Lughnasa                                                         Harvest Moon

taken around Beth Evergreen before Yom Kippur services, 2018

20180919_090427 20180919_090827 20180919_090613 20180919_090653 20180919_090935 20180919_091257 20180919_091357 20180919_091017

 

Deep in the soul

Lughnasa                                                                 Harvest Moon

yomkippurToday is Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, the day when God seals the book of life for another year. May you be inscribed in the book of life (for the coming year) is a greeting we will hear today. It completes the ten days of awe that began back on September 9th, Rosh Hashanah, New Year’s day and by rabbinic logic the 6th day of creation, the New Year for humans.

The whole sweep of the days of awe reach deep into the soul; the month of Elul prepared us for the chesbon ha-nefesh, accounting of the soul, that culminates today on the metaphorical turning of a page in the book of our life, closing off the last year and opening a blank one, ready for a renewed person, returned (teshuvah) to the original, unique, best we are.

Of course there is no need for the ten days of awe to do what the Jesuits would call examen and I’m sure there is no book on a divine table that determines whether I will live or die in the upcoming year. I am equally sure that schmuz gathers on the soul like creosote gathers on a fireplace chimney or plaque in an artery. From long life experience I know there is no holy chimney sweep I can hire to clean me out, no heart bypass operation for the soul. The examined life requires an inner examiner. The high holidays are a communal reminder to do serious inner work and to give that work outer expression through worship and apology. I’m grateful for the prompt, aware of its necessity not because I believe I’m a deeply damaged person in need of unconditional forgiveness, but because I know I’m an ordinary human with the tendency to shift away from my best person.

1000Kate and Charlie in EdenKate and I had a sweet moment, a grace filled moment, when I sat down with her and asked her forgiveness for the times I’ve wounded her in the last year, for the times I’d been short, thoughtless. Sure, we could do this at any time, but these holidays encourage it. We rested our heads together, aware of the reality that we’re just two folks traveling our journey, doing the best we can. “I’ve not always been at my best.” “Neither have I.”

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.

 

No Problem!

Lughnasa                                                                  Harvest Moon

be thereHappy medical people. “Everything looks good. We didn’t find any problems!” Sounds good, right? Well, we’ve reached the odd juncture with Kate where these are not the exclamations we want to hear. We want to hear, “Ah, so this is what causes the nausea.” Yesterday’s endoscopy was yet another “positive” result. So frustrating. Another test in the near future, looking for something in the liver, gallbladder area.

After we went to one of Kate’s happy places, Appleby’s. A light lunch. 93 degrees yesterday down the hill. A fine July day. Except for it being the middle of September.

Back home I fed the dogs, changed shirts and drove on to mussar at Beth Evergreen. The topic was gossip. Jewish sages compared public embarrassment to murder. Seems extreme to me. Gossip is saying anything about someone that’s not there. Anything. Again, seems extreme to me. If I recall correctly from my long ago anthropology days, gossip is, like joking, boundary setting behavior. It’s one of the ways social cultures create and enforce norms. The sages, in this case, may be more scrupulous than usual. In the opinion of many of us, too scrupulous. Not a rant in favor of gossip. Just an attempt to soften the edges of the argument.

gossipIt seems to me that the more important issue with gossip is judgment. When gossip spreads a negative judgment about another, another who is not present to contest the judgment, then it becomes serious and harmful. The old cliche says it well, “If you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything.” I did show up late to the class, so I missed the early part of the discussion.

Rabbi Jamie has translated several psalms into a more contemporary, more in your face style. At some point here I’m going to share some of his work alongside other translations.

Brother Mark is inching toward the sands of Araby once again. I say inching because the visa process takes as long as it takes, even for those who’ve worked in the Kingdom before. When the visa processing completes, he will once again climb aboard a jet plane headed for what he calls SA. Good luck, Mark.

 

Oh. It’s not going to be easy. Damn.

Lughnasa                                                                Harvest Moon

aleph

At the beginning

Second religious school last night. I’ve got a lot to learn. I’m ready to discuss, to innovate, to present, to lead exercises; but, I’m apparently not ready for classroom management. Classroom management is an antiseptic term that I assume replaces discipline. Anyhow, it means maintaining an atmosphere in which learning is possible. I failed at that last night.

Two examples. First, Alan and I, though mutually respectful and with an agreed upon plan, let the order of things slide, taking too much time with sign in, snack, and the transition between class and the mini-service that Rabbi Jamie conducts each time. Too, somehow, and I don’t understand how, the kids got into a feisty mood, probably because they come to religious school right after regular school.

Second. When I introduced an exercise using beach balls to imitate juggling their worries and their parents expectations, it got rowdy and out of control very fast. I’m getting to know the kids on an individual basis, snatching moments to talk with them about basketball, living in Israel, dogs, being bored at school. One girl, exceptionally bright, had covered her hands with felt tip marker dots. But as a group I’ve not figured out how to calm them down and help them focus. Our responsibility, Alan and mine’s.

A quieter moment, 2017

A quieter moment, 2017

This class does represent my first teaching of this age group, so I now know I have a steep learning curve about how to maintain an attentive environment. I need help and I’m going to seek it out from Tara, Rabbi Jamie, Jon.

I know about learning plateaus intimately from my study of Latin. I would learn, learn, then seem to find a spot I couldn’t move beyond. I kept at it and eventually whatever barrier the plateau represented would fall away. Until the next one. This is similar, I’m sure. Sort of.

Feeling a bit impotent, not up to the mark. Not an unusual feeling and I’m not totalizing it though that is a challenge. I can’t keep the kid’s attention; therefore, I failed and therefore, I’m a failure. No. I’ve not yet learned this skill, this particular skill. I need to learn it; and, not knowing it, does not mean I’m a total doofus.

611333-ancient-roman-wall-with-street-nameboardOne idea I have is to do what organizers call one-on-ones with each kid. Not sure how to accomplish that quickly, but it would involve sitting down with each of them and discussing what they hope to get from the class, what motivates them, how they might get what they need out of the class.

Next class we are going to do a norms setting exercise, something I learned to do in my organizational consulting work. It involves determining a group culture, what we can expect from each other and in turn what all of us can expect from the group.

One issue I need to wrap my head around is the tendency, well begun at middleschool age, of pulling away from adult authority in favor of peer authority. I understand it intellectually, have experienced it personally and with Ruth and Joe, but figuring out it impacts a classroom? Not there yet.

Others have figured this out. So will Alan and I.

 

 

 

 

Maybe a New Show?

Lughnasa                                                              Harvest Moon

A Robert Indiana sculpture: Ahava, Hebrew for love

A Robert Indiana sculpture: Ahava, Hebrew for love

At Tu B’av, a minor holiday, now a celebration of love in Israel and dubbed by its restorers as Jewish Valentine’s Day, unmarried women would come together, all dressed in white, dance, and hope to find a partner. Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match.

We celebrated Tu B’av on August 15th at Beth Evergreen and Kate won a silent auction for a backstage experience at a local production of Funny Girl. We went last night. It’s tech week for Funny Girl and our friend Alan Rubin is a player.

I had nearly enough theater credits for a minor and acted quite a bit in high school, college and seminary. After that, nada, but Kate and I were regulars at the Guthrie. When I was in high school and middle school, our parents took us several years in a row to Stratford, Ontario, to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. A passion, really, but one that has slowly faded.

TheatreJust before getting up this morning a strange, but somehow obvious thought occurred to me. While on the backstage tour we visited the dresser, an energetic guy who made or altered 490 costumes for the women in this performance. !. We saw the multiple props, a day bed, a drinks trolley, several doors with wheels, a set of steps for musical numbers, a kitchen table, a dressing table. Downstairs we saw the storage areas for costumes and prop making materials. We spoke with the dresser, the stage manager, the director, the actors, several of them, the lighting and sound people. All, to a person, warm and friendly.

We watched the rehearsal through until intermission at 9:30, then these old folks began to tire and went home.

Theatre2Here’s the thought. Going backstage, seeing all the accoutrements for staging a play, especially going into the basement area, made me think of id, ego and superego. Of the masks and personas we wear. Of our brain as backstage, where we store props, costume changes, makeup, where we put together the elements of the show that is our lives. The show itself, and its superego, the director, is the life others see, the one we present as we strut and fret our hour upon the stage, then are heard no more.

Let me extend (overextend) the metaphor in one more significant way. All these various elements costumes, props, actors, the stage itself alter themselves for each new script. In other words it is the nature of the theater to be plastic, to use familiar elements for telling unfamiliar stories.

As our life goes on, we often get stuck in Groundhog Day times when we simply repeat the same script over and over. We don’t hear the audience, we don’t see the repetitiveness, are not aware that we’ve been mounting the same play again and again.

Here’s the takeaway for me. Examine the script. Become aware of the lines you’re delivering, the plot you’re pushing forward. Is it still the one you want? Is there another play you can put together with the props, the roles you’ve already played, the stage to which you’re committed? Could be. We can put on new productions, use familiar elements for unfamiliar stories. Might even be fun.

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.

 

 

Oh, really? Hmmm?

Lughnasa                                                                Waning Summer Moon

the loft at 5:30 am this morning. waning crescent waning summer moon.

the loft at 5:30 am this morning. waning crescent waning summer moon.

Slept in till nine yesterday. I was at Beth Evergreen from 3:30 to 10 pm. And, I was anxious/excited for most of it. Tuckered out back home, in bed finally around 11 pm. That’s really late for both Kate and me. Got up at 5:30 to feed the dogs since that’s what they expect, then went right back to bed. Unusual, but effective. Got up rested, though still feeling threads of exhaustion.

We had the mussar vaad practice group after religious school. That’s why the evening went so late. My practice 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?

or, the reverse

or, the reverse

I tried this with a member of the mussar class. When I concluded that they were probably acting with little self-awareness from values instilled as a young child, I was still judgmental, wondering how a person could grow old and not gain insight into themselves. Apparently, in this case, quite easily. So that is who they are now. I pushed my circle of curiosity out a bit to ask the question, does our society need people with these attitudes, do we benefit in some way from them?

Important side note here. It’s not the values this person expresses that bother me, though I do disagree with most of them, but the apparent unwillingness to entertain error. No real dialogue can happen then.

When I consider society’s need, I find a different perspective. Since I disagree with most of the values expressed by this person, they make me give pause to my own unexamined ideas. They challenge me to remember the cliched, but valuable: Don’t believe everything you think. What’s the societal advantage here? No democracy can survive capture by one political perspective. That’s the problem with demagogues, autocrats. They represent a calcified political ideology that brooks no challenge, no matter what the ideology. So, the frisson between competing ideas keeps us from accepting the Putin, Xi Jiping, Kim Jong Un style of strongman leadership.

curiosity5Like Charlie H. in the Woollies, this person threatened to leave the group. It struck me that both used their own intransigence and subsequent reaction to it as a means of manipulating the group into reinforcing their willingness to include them. I feel extorted in those situations, like I have to simply roll over and say, oh, please stay. In Charlie’s case I would not have done it, had I been in the Twin Cities and able to face the daily consequences of defying him. In the mussar group instance I only held my hand up half way when asked if we wanted this person to remain in the group. I felt similarly manipulated, but did not feel my cohesion with the group quite strong enough to withstand outright defiance.

In both instances my reaction is not, I’ll say this again, to the values underlying the reactions of these two people, but to the manipulative and my way or I hit the highway ultimatums.

We should question ourselves if another person’s values disturb us enough to want them gone from our presence, or our society. That’s not to say that there aren’t some values so abhorrent as to justify that. Criminal law is filled with examples. But in the political realm, so long as reasoned discourse can occur, then we owe it to ourselves to consider honestly those with whom we disagree. They might just know something we don’t.

 

 

Hey, Teach

Lughnasa                                                                      Waning Summer Moon

maybe not quite like this

maybe not quite like this

Tanya. Carla. Kenya. Mom. Mary. Mark. Grandma Ellis. Jean. Others whose names I can’t remember. Teachers. All of them. Now, for one night, me. Well, I’ve taught adults in various formats over the years, but never kids. Last night I sat down with 13 kids, 6th and 7th graders, and talked with them about what makes them anxious or worried about their bar or bat mitzvah. “Falling off the chair. I watch a lot of fail videos.” “Chanting the Torah and my voice cracking.” “Having to give a speech.” “Being the center of attention.” “I can’t afford the outfit.”

It was a sweet moment and I got so into listening to them that I forgot the beach ball toss game we were supposed to do. We went from that question to what Jewish values do you want to express at your b’nai mitzvah? What values do both you and your parents share and want to express? “Being a good host.” “Honoring my friends.” “Honoring my family.” “Learning the Jewish tradition and passing it on.” “Throwing a good party.” “Learning Hebrew.”

fiddlerontheroofIt was the kickoff event last night for the religious school and it was well attended. Each kid came with one or both parents. Usual glitches. Somebody forgot to order food. Solution: Dominoes. I forgot the beachballs. Solution: listen. Facilitation was by committee. Alan did the introduction. Jen Kraft, the regional person from Moving Traditions, spoke about the development of the curriculum. Jamie facilitated a piece about what the sages thought was appropriate for ages from 5 to 100. Tara facilitated a group exercise in which adults and kids called out descriptors for child, teen, adult.

There were some gumups, but on the whole I thought it went well. I dressed up, which always means I’m nervous. Realized last night that I’ve been doing that long enough that wearing fancier clothes make me nervous, rather than more confident. Makes sense. Learned behavior.

21 sessions still ahead. Most of them won’t be this complex. I have a different sort of respect for all you teachers out there. Will have even more, I imagine, as the school year continues.

September 2018
M T W T F S S
« Aug    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930

Breadcrumbs

Trails