We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

CNS and Social Change

Spring                                                                   New (Rushing Waters) Moon

book-coverToday I’m making chicken noodle soup and Kate’s making Vietnamese pho. We’ll serve this at a Beth Evergreen leadership dinner for Rabbi David Jaffe, author of Changing the World from the Inside Out, a Jewish Approach to Social Change. Along with our friend Marilyn Saltzman, chair of the adult education committee, who is making a vegetarian squash soup, we’ll provide the soups for a soup and salad meal. I really like this low key involvement. It feels manageable.

Although. I am hoping that Rabbi Jaffe’s time here at Beth Evergreen, tomorrow through Saturday as a visiting scholar, will spur the creation of an activist group focused on some form of response to the Trump/oligarch era. In that instance I’m willing to move into a more upfront role, though I would prefer to remain a follower.

Then, there’s the Sierra Club. I wrote here about my excitement with Organizing for Action, Conifer. That was back in January, I think. Lots of people, lots of energy. Good analysis. I thought, wow. Here’s my group. Then, I never heard from them again, my e-mails went unanswered. Weird, but true. Weird and disqualifying for a group that’s organizing political work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo I renewed my effort to connect with the Mt. Evans’ local group of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Sierra Club. Colorado seems to work more through these regional clusters than as a whole. There are nine of them, covering the entire state. The Mt. Evans’ group includes our part of Jefferson County, Clear Creek County and a northern portion of Park County. It’s titular feature, Mt. Evans, is a fourteener (over fourteen thousand feet high) which has the highest paved road in North America leading to its summit. According to locals here it’s also the weathermaker for our part of Conifer.

I finally made it to a meeting a couple of weeks ago. When I came back, Kate said, “You seem energized.” I did. And, I hadn’t noticed. Something about that small group plugged me back into my reigning political passion of the last six or seven years: climate change. Oh, yeah. With OFA I’d tried to head back toward economic justice, my long standing motivation for political work, dating back to the UAW influences I picked up as a teenager in Alexandria. Guess the universe understood me better than I understood myself. Not much of a surprise there.

buy this here

buy this here

My mind began ticking over, running through organizing scenarios, figuring out how we could (note the we) raise the visibility of the Mt. Evans group, gain more members, influence local policy. This is my brain on politics. I might be willing to play a more upfront role here, too, though I want to explore other ways of being helpful first.

Anyhow, between these two, I’m sure I’ll get my political mojo working in some way. And that feels good. Want some soup?

 

 

Remarkable

Spring                                                                               Passover Moon

Synodic-and-Sidereal-3The waning passover moon is behind a faint scrim of clouds giving it a moonlit halo. Each moon cycle repeats the past, yet is unique to itself. The slow orbit (relatively slow) of the moon around the earth produces the same phases each month and in that sense repeats. But the lunar month and the sidereal year do not quite match up*, as all cultures that depend on lunar months for their calendars have long known. Judaism is such a culture.

Each lunar month happens at a slightly different place in earth’s orbit due to this irregularity over the course of sidereal year. In addition, our whole solar system is not static, but moves through the universe at a speed of 12 miles per second toward the constellation Lambda Herculis.** At the same time our solar system is also spinning around the Milky Way and the Milky Way itself is speeding toward a collision with Andromeda Galaxy in 4 billion years.+

sun-movement-milky-way-101222-02When you consider the irregularities in the lunar position occasioned by the sidereal/synodic difference and the speed of our solar system both moving on its own toward Lambda Herculis and around the Milky Way and then throw in the speed of the Milky Way itself, it becomes clear that no one phase of the moon every occurs in even remotely the same location.

Why belabor this? Becauses it underscores the irreproducibility of much seemingly regular phenomena. Now think about the long span of evolution on this moving planet, within this speeding solar system. This means that no animal or plant species has occupied the same cosmic location for even a short span of its existence. So, in this sense alone, each animal or plant species is unique. But, each animal or plant itself is also unique because it comes into existence and dies, having occupied only one small niche in the larger web of life.

Australopithecus afarensis

Australopithecus afarensis

Within this context regard human evolution. Australopithecus, considered the first instance of the Homo genus, has been dated to 2.8 million years ago. Since that time the genus went through many speciations until, about 200,000 years ago, our own species, Homo sapiens, emerges. So, for over 200,000 years individuals of our own specific branch of evolution have been born, lived and died. Each one of them are unique within just our species.

Each of us, then, from the moment of our birth and for the very brief span of our life (in cosmic terms), travels literally millions and millions of miles, speeding around the sun, the Milky Way, toward Lambda Herculis and as part of our galaxies own rush toward Virgo and Libra. In addition each of us represents a specific instance of an evolutionary branch with its own branch on the tree of life, a branch that split off on its own some 2.8 million years ago.

This means we are each unique in many different ways in addition to the obvious ones of parentage, genetics and personal development.

image of godFinally, the point. We are, each of us, unique and precious instances of over 2 billion years of evolution of life on Earth. We represent a moment in time, yet even our moment is not static. It finds us moving incredible distances.

A key insight of both Judaism and Christianity is the notion that we are all made in the image of God. This insight casts a bright light on both each person’s uniqueness while also revealing our oneness. This truth does not change no matter what content you put into the word God.

treeThink about it. Out of all the billions of years since the Big Bang, moving in all the various ways discussed above and at speeds that make Formula One look slothful in the extreme, you and I exist in this special time together. How remarkable! We are in fact made as the conscious image of this whole universe, with all its reckless momentum and we have been given the chance to know each other and through knowing each other to know the universe that gave birth to us.

Camus talked about the river of life that flows toward death, what I have called in recent posts the Gulf of All Souls. He suggested that it was our common responsibility  to make this journey as pleasant and peaceful for each other as possible. As Ram Dass says, we’re all just walking each other home.

 

 

*watch this short movie to understand the difference between the sidereal month, 27.322 days, and the synodic or lunar month of 29.531 days.

**solar system speed and the other measurements that complicate it

+This webpage shows the difficulties in measuring the speed of objects in the universe and gives a speed for the Milky Way as it moves in the universe–an amazing 1.3 million miles per hour!

Wakin’ Up Mornin’

Spring                                                                             Passover Moon

easterEaster morning. Sunrise services somewhere. The celebration of the resurrection and, by implication, the incarnation. As Passover defines Jews, Easter defines Christians. Whether you find the idea of resurrection absurd or inspiring, it heralds, as does Passover, the coming of spring. It’s not difficult, at least for me, to see the power of resurrection in the emergence of spring ephemerals: daffodils, crocus, grape hyacinth, early tulips, snowdrops, pasque flowers, bloodroot.

The same flowers could be seen as passover metaphors, too. Their emergence from the long sleep of winter makes good on promises made the year before as the bulbs, corms, rhizomes all stored up energy from the sun, drank in nourishment from the minerals of the soil and sipped up water from the sky, all gathered below ground after the leaves and flowers of last year withered away. The hiddenness of these promises and the darkness in which they flourish is like the life of the Hebrew slaves in the Egypt of the Exodus.

haggadahMoses reminds the slaves, and God, of the covenant made with Abraham long ago. That covenant is the bulb planted in the hiddenness and darkness of bondage. When God finally forces Pharaoh to let the slaves go free, the bulb begins to push its stalk toward the surface. Though it takes forty years of wandering for the stalk to break the surface in the Promised Land, the beauty of freedom’s flower has dazzled those struggling with their own personal or political bondage ever since.

My sister Mary’s friend, Anitha Devi Pillai, who teaches in Singapore with Mary, posted on facebook about the Kerala new year, Vishu, which is also celebrated right now. This was new to me, but it underscores the number of New Year holidays that honor the same rhythm of mother earth. The spring festivals in Korea and China, which come earlier, also mark the resurrection in fields and gardens.

These human holidays honor the emergent freedom from darkness and cold as each new flower and vegetable breaks the surface. VishuSo on this great wakin’ up morn, I’m greeting the sun, the greening lodgepole pines, the daffodils, the pasque flowers and bloodroot with a religious fervor.

During my cancer season two years ago I wrote about the consolation of Deer Creek Canyon, the stolid, very long term lifetime of the mountains that create the canyon. Today I’ll make note of the consolation of spring, its power to awaken wonder. We will all die, this we know, but the mountains will continue and so will the daffodils. Blessed be.

Hunger

Spring                                                                       Passover Moon

artistsYesterday in mussar Jamie gave us a writing prompt: write about a want that occupies a lot of inner time and attention, then to try to find the root of that want. This was a lead in to talking about avarice.

I wrote about wanting to finish Superior Wolf, about getting back to translating Latin and wonder why, at 70, I still wanted to do these things. It’s not as if we need the money or I need the recognition.

This desire, this want, is about a desire to remain an agent in the world, puissant, to not disappear. So, in a sense, it’s about death, about not dying early, I think.

Later in the discussion a woman who travels to India once a year to stay in a Buddhist nunnery said that an early Buddhist teacher of hers had talked with her about the hungry ghost within each of us. The example he gave her was about a person who walks into a bookstore to buy one book and then walks out with five. Hmmm. I recognize that person, c’est moi.

EliotI’ve looked up the idea of the hungry ghost and I don’t think it really applies to me, but the caution evident in the bookstore example certainly does. Buying books represents a deep seated want, too. But what is it?

Knowledge can also be a hedge against death. If I only understand, then I can prevent, stave off, head off, my canoe’s eventual transition into the Gulf of All Souls. Which of course, I can’t do. As I wrote in the exercise above, nothing counters death, not puissance, not agency, not even, ironically, health. Nor, knowledge.

HesseSo, the books represent my own struggle with the nature of mortality, my way of structuring my inner world. And, yes, it can be a problem if I refuse to recognize it for what it is. But, and here’s the liberating possibility for me in both books and writing, if I acknowledge what they are for me, if I embrace the underlying motivation, yet not its anticipated result, then I can continue writing and reading, using them not as shields against disappearing, but as ways of being in the world, not as ways of protecting myself.

Let me try to say this a bit more clearly. Wanting to be an agent in the world is, in itself, a good thing, so long as the reason for doing it is a desire to be of service, to offer something from my uniqueness. If that desire becomes corrupted, becomes a way to hide, then no matter the books on the shelves, no matter the understanding that comes from reading, no matter the stories and books in manuscript form, it is all for nothing. In fact, it’s worse than being for nothing, for hiding from our known fate leaves us in a constant state of hunger for that which we will never reach and, even worse, for that which will not secure its goal even if I sold all all my books and stories and learned all the information my books I have to offer.

Conclusion. I will continue to read and write because it is what I do, because it is an important part of what makes my presence in the world unique and valuable for others. But neither writing nor reading will save me. Only acceptance will do that.

 

The Gulf of All Souls

Spring                                                                           Passover Moon

Under the full passover moon Kate and I drove over to Mt. Vernon Country Club for a community seder. There were about 60 people there, sitting in groups of 8 around circular tables. The dining room looked out to the south and east. As the sun set, the lights of Denver began to sparkle around Table Mesa in the distance.

Passover

The tables had platters of oblong chunks of gefilte fish, a bowl of haroset (a sweet mixture that symbolizes the mortar used by Hebrew slaves in Egypt), a small bowl of pink grated horseradish, a stack of matzo covered in a linen napkin, and a seder plate with the traditional passover items: lamb shank, boiled egg seared over a flame, parsley, haroset and maror (horseradish). And an orange. The orange is a recent addition to the passover plate-at least for Reconstructionists-and it symbolizes the fruitfulness of women’s contributions in Jewish history and in the present.passover-seder-plate-cropped-430x245

The haggadah, the telling of the story, contains all the prayers, readings, songs and explanations for the evening. The seder (order) of the passover celebration has 15 steps, symbolizing the 15 steps that led up to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple passover celebration had two priest on each of the fifteen steps and they sang the passover ritual as worshippers brought up their lamb for sacrifice.

The evening followed this ancient ritual, commemorated in Christian churches as the last supper and ritualized among them as communion or the eucharist.

Dirk-Bouts-The-Feast-of-the-Passover

Dirk-Bouts-The-Feast-of-the-Passover

As Kate and I got out of the car at Mt Vernon, a young woman asked, “Is this the place for the seder?” It was, I said. Her name was Leah. We walked in together, past the slightly ridiculous pretension of the lobby, its fireplace and the sitting room with the observation deck like windows. Down a set of stairs was a lower level under the sitting room.

We chatted casually with Leah. The room was almost empty then, not many had come. We were early. I went out on the big deck that overlooked Table Mesa and Leah followed. She knew Rabbi Jamie in the synagogue he served previously in Buffalo, New York.

“I’m bi-polar and I went on a road trip, trying to find someplace new. I went to Florida, drove all over and came this way but decided I couldn’t cross the mountains in the winter, so I ended up working in Boulder.”

Oh. I have bipolar illness in my family. Two aunts hospitalized, one died in the state hospital, another came out, but under heavy medication. “Oh. That’s good. Well, I mean it’s not good that you have bipolar in the family, but it’s good you understand.”

And I do. It was as if this ancient ritual, one that gathers the tribe across the world to honor its release from bondage, had found a member of that tribe who also belonged to mine. Leah sat next to me and we dipped our little fingers in the wine, the parsley in the salty water, the tears of those in bondage, ate our matzo with haroset and made our Hillel sandwiches, haroset and maror between two slices of matzo.

river-lb

The ways the universe conspires with us: it lets us paddle along the river of time for a bit, then puts us through some rapids, lets us drift into a clear pool, but always moves us forward through the Grand Canyon of our life, and sometimes helps us to land on shore for awhile, perhaps in a spot that looks familiar, yet is always new. At 70 the river which carries me is much closer to the Gulf of All Souls than it was in my twenties, but unlike then, I can see through the translucent canyon walls to the canoes of my friends, family and new acquaintances.

There are even moments, like an April passover meal in the Rocky Mountains, when we come together on the strand of our common journey, our lives and our rivers joined for a moment. We travel apart but we are not alone.

Meals

Spring                                                                          Passover Moon

Last night Kate and I went over to Marilyn and Irv Saltzman’s home, also in Conifer, but up King’s Valley Road out toward Bailey off 285. We had African themed food cooked by Marilyn, who went to Africa last year, and desserts made by Irv. The food was good and the conversation even better. Two of Marilyn and Irv’s friends also came over. We talked traveling, politics, Judaism and Christianity, those topics so often literally off the table at dinner gatherings.

It was great to have a night out with adult conversation. Though. Going to bed at 8 pm, my practice now since the knee surgery last December 1st, means staying out until 8:30, as we did, makes the next day difficult. I’m deciding I need a rest day after “late” nights like this one.

View of Denver from Mt. Vernon Country Club

View of Denver from Mt. Vernon Country Club

Probably will tomorrow night, too, since we have the Beth Evergreen community seder at Mt. Vernon Country Club over near Lookout Mountain. Passover is the defining holiday for Jews as Easter is for Christians. Both emphasize overcoming. And, due to the Christian formula for determining Easter’s date*, both come in roughly the same time period. Easter Sunday this year, for example, is the 16th of April.

  • In 325CE the Council of Nicaea established that Easter would be held on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox.(*) From that point forward, the Easter date depended on the ecclesiastical approximation of March 21 for the vernal equinox.  Easter is delayed by 1 week if the full moon is on Sunday, which decreases the chances of it falling on the same day as the Jewish Passover.

The snow from last week is nearly all melted. The wildfire risk is moderate now, rather than high or extremely high as it was not so long ago.

Kate’s been to the cardiologist this morning for an echo cardiogram. Don’t expect any big news from it.

Wildgame

Spring                                                                          Passover Moon

20170408_142512The birthday girl is here. 11 years old now, officially (I learned yesterday.) a tween. She’s a reader, an artist who now works a lot with wire, a double black diamond level skier, a gifted student, a good friend, a thespian and our granddaughter. Ruth.

She’s now only 2 years away from her Bat Mitzvah. This is about the time for her to get her preparation underway. Lots of Hebrew to learn.

Divorce has been tough on the kids, Ruth and Gabe both. Things do seem to be settling down right now, so I hope the two of them can begin to get on with their elementary school lives. Gabe turns 9 on the 22nd of this month.

20170408_142335We took them both to Wildgame, a restaurant and entertainment place in Evergreen. They have an arcade (see picture), a bowling alley, a pool table, bocce ball court, ping pong tables and a stage for live music. The counter guy told Kate to come before 5 pm because, “It gets pretty crazy after that.”

Had we been prescient the divorce alone would have been enough reason for us to move out here. We weren’t, but we’re certainly glad we’ve been here for the whole family. Even Jen. Divorce with young kids, a reality both Kate and I have known, is just plain hard. I’m sad Ruth and Gabe have had to experience it.

Dogs and kids. I never want to have a life without either of them.

Sacred Time

Spring                                                                         Passover Moon

20160330_091630“You need a rest day.” “Not for cardio.” This exchange with Kate has reverberated since we had it a couple of days ago. “You need a rest day.” I’d taken Sundays for many years, but recently began doing a longer cardio workout on that day.

Then again. A rest day. A sabbath. Oh. Since early in my seminary days, I’ve been taken by the idea of sacred time. Christianity adopted the word and a changed practice from Judaism. Christians, except for the 7th Day Adventists, shifted the sabbath to Sunday and started the day in the morning, rather than on the night before. This was to emphasize that the Christian sabbath celebrated the resurrection. With the crucifixion recorded as happening on a Friday, three days later meant Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday.

Even in my youth Sunday had a special tone. Just why it should was not well understood intellectually, but it was strong in practice. We had church in the morning with Sunday School then communal worship, in our case sitting in the second pew from the back, on the west side of the sanctuary, under the stained glass window of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Mangas Cafeteria

Mangas Cafeteria

Afterward, we would often drive 7 miles to Elwood, Indiana and eat lunch at Mangas Cafeteria. This was a major event in our week since going to restaurants was a rare occurrence. I don’t recall if the later afternoon had much of a pattern, but we did often visit relatives on Sunday, too.

What I do know is that my body remembers Sunday as a day when doing nothing was encouraged. Even now, at 70, Sundays still have a languid feel, a pull away from the usual, whatever the usual is.

When I was in the ministry, Sunday was, ironically, a day of work, with Monday taking the place of Sunday, as it does for many Christian clergy. After I retired from the Presbyterian church in 1991, leaving behind Christianity for good, Sunday lost any sacred aura it had, but retained the languid overlay.

06 20 10_Garden_6705As many of you know, I began, not long after this time, to follow the Celtic sacred calendar, The Great Wheel, a practice now long embedded in my life as you can see each day on this blog in the upper left hand corner.

Now, with shabbat shalom a familiar greeting on Friday night and Saturday, I’m still fascinated with sacred time and wanting some version of the Jewish sabbath as part of my week. Why? Well, at its simplest, it’s a rest day. But, it’s a rest day with a purpose. The Jewish sabbath emphasizes relationships and torah study.

SabbathTable-1Work is discouraged (forbidden, in the stricter applications). The discipline includes not even discussing work on the sabbath, no planning for the next week. It also emphasizes personal spiritual development, torah study, attending services, private meditation. This is a day, once a week, strictly for being. Being in the here and now.

As I’ve written here before, this makes a lot of sense to me, even in retirement. So, I’m going to take my rest day starting on Friday night and continuing through Saturday night. I’m not becoming a Jew, nor do I want to play one on TV, but I believe I am becoming Jewish. That is, a lot of the cultural practices of Judaism resonate with my own spiritual development. Beth Evergreen encourages that growth and I find it nourishing. Trying out the sabbath, the old, original one, is part of that ancientrail and one I plan to walk on for now.

So, yes. A rest day. Kate was right. And today is that day.

He’s My Lovely Husband

Spring                                                                       Passover Moon

And so, instead of Easter we look toward passover. It’s on two nights, this year April 10 and 11. On April 11th we will attend a community seder sponsored by Beth Evergreen at Mt. Vernon Country Club. The immersion continues and I’m learning a lot about this ancient faith and about myself. Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, believed that Jewish culture was a gift to the world that could be shared without necessarily demanding religious conversion. I’m glad. Beth Evergreen is easily the most interesting religious community of which I’ve been a part.

My workouts have gotten back to their former lengths, roughly an hour to an hour and a half depending on the day, but the intensity, especially in the cardio, still lags. Of course, I’m only four months out from my surgery, so I’m fine with where I am.

We haven’t seen the grandkids for two weeks due to their spring break, but they’re coming up here tonight. Will be good to see them.

20160406_134240Joseph and Seoah got married on April 10th, a year ago. With Joseph’s deployment to Qatar they’ve missed some of their first year together, about four months. He goes again in August and will be there until December. He says this may be the last one for a while. I hope so, but with Trump finding his gunslinger role, I wonder.

Here’s the capstone of the whole experience for me, a text exchange I had with SeoAh after I learned Joseph had been sick.

Me: Glad to hear that. (he was better.) I worry about him a bit.

Very glad he’s got you to care for him and that you have him.

SeoAh: He is my lovely husband. Don’t worry about him. I will care for him.

Me: Okay.

 

 

Recently

Spring                                                                      Passover Moon

20170405_191415Well. The sun is out, the snow has melted on the roads and it’s a cheery day here on Shadow Mountain. The changes here are fast and often extreme.

Kate and I went to a cooking class for a passover meal last night and stayed out until 9:30. That’s late for us since we turn in between 7 and 8 pm. I remember back when I was young. I could stay up until, you know, 10 pm, 10:30 pm, no problem.

The cooking class featured chicken breasts, a very surprising quinoa cake, asparagus, crepes with a haroset like mixture of sauteed apples, pears, dates and nuts and a coconut chocolate confection for dessert. There were fifteen of us and we spent the time wandering from dish to dish, helping with this or that.

I helped set up. I’m really liking being in a religious community and not having a leadership role. Helping put out tables, arrange chairs, set out plates, glasses and silverware feels good.

We’ve seen lots of elk and mule deer this week, much more than in the month or two prior. Last night at the cooking class there were three female elk dining on the grass outside while we learned the secrets of egg whites and egg yolks inside. Just all us mammals getting what we need from our environment.

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