We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Ohr

Midsommar                                                                      Moon of the Summer Solstice

ein sofKabbalah. Reread Genesis 1-2:3. Now, ask yourself a question that occurred to a long ago kabbalist. What is the light created on the first day of creation? We know it’s not the sun or the moon or the stars because they don’t blink on until the 4th day, 1:14-19. So what is the ohr (light) of verse 3. “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.”?

Kabbalists pay close attention to details like this. They poke and tease at them, using reason-it can’t be the sun-and playing with gematria. In this instance an equivalence is discovered between the 207 of ohr’s three Hebrew letters and raz, also 207. Raz means hidden. Aha! Rabbi Jamie would say. This ohr could be a hidden light. I’m not going to follow this thread much further because the argument quickly becomes nuanced and frankly still not altogether clear to me, but it moves quickly toward the many-worlds hypothesis of string theory and an early intuition of quantum mechanics. All this from some early medievalists.

Remaining open to new ideas can be frustrating, confusing, but as a quote I discovered a while back says, confusion is the sweat of the intellect. Right now I’m sweating a lot as we review the very basics of kabbalistic thought. I did buy a copy of the first volume of Daniel Matt’s translation of the Zohar, kabbalah’s bible. This is a brand new translation from the original Aramaic and one done by a preeminent scholar of Jewish mysticism. It’s both clear and very difficult.

Here’s an example. In his translation Matt quotes an early kabbalist who retranslates the first verse of Genesis to this: With beginning the ein sof (the infinite ohr-light or energy) created God. Now that’s unexpected.

bonfireIt’s a very bright group around the table: a historian, a Berkeley trained lawyer, an organizational consultant, a Hebrew scholar, a rabbi in training, a second lawyer, a teenager with a good grasp of theoretical physics, two retired hospital administrators. This makes the conversation sparky, inspirational.

Rabbi Jamie’s pedagogy is excellent. He asks questions, probes answers, supports new directions, invites us to retrace the pattern of thinking used by these early rabbinic radicals. It’s fun. Too, the kabbalistic project was exactly reimagining faith. It’s giving me a prod for how to go about the task in my own work.

 

 

 

Kate, Judaism and Pine Pollen

Beltane                                                                             Moon of the Summer Solstice

20170405_152848Kate continues to struggle with dry mouth, a very sore throat and other symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome. She’s lost weight as a result. Lab tests don’t suggest anything terminal going on, but her distress is significant. If you know Kate, you know she has an energizer bunny mode, but she’s been on the battery depleted side of that equation for a while now.

Lots of Jewish stuff this week: Star Trek and Judaism on Tuesday, kabbalah on Wednesday, mussar and a meeting with Rabbi Jamie yesterday, and a Grateful Dead shabbat service tonight. I’m learning a lot and slowly integrating into the congregation. When I mentioned the possibility of an Evergreen Forum, a quarterly series of speakers somewhat analogous to the Westminster Forum in Minneapolis, I somehow ended up on the adult education committee, too. In that role I’m now helping coordinate the forum. As I said here earlier, I’m happy to have a place in a religious community with no leadership responsibility. A novel and fun experience for me.

20170613_203228A new seasonal reality for us: pine pollen. All these lodgepole pines insist on involving on us in their reproductive orgy that happens this time of year. A fine yellow dust settles on everything. Coming in easily even through screens, it’s especially apt to settle on things electrical, so the computers and the tv and the microwave all have a coating. It also coats our solar panels, reducing their efficiency. If it rains, a yellow scrim settles over the driveway, pooling where the water does. I wish these pines could figure out a more direct way to make more pines.

 

 

 

Gematria

Beltane                                                              Moon of the Summer Solstice

gematria chart

Wandered into strange territory last night at Beth Evergreen. Gematria. Each Hebrew letter has a corresponding number. The chart shows the correspondences. Kabbalists, especially, use these numbers to determine the numerical value of words. After calculating a word’s value, it can be used to compare that word to another with the same value.  This comparison is another method of peeking under the garment of the torah.

An example comes from the story in the garden of Eden. The snake is the usual suspect in an ancient story of how humanity lost its way. But. In Hebrew the numerical value for the word snake and the word messiah are identical. Early Kabbalists used this correspondence to suggest that the meaning of eating from the tree of knowledge was very different from the usual interpretation, that in fact it was the first step in humanity’s liberation.

Rabbi Jamie had asked us to do some reading on gematria, discover some things on our own. When he asked us what we’d learned, I said, “This whole idea seems strained, strange.” Not being one to mince words, as some of you know. A history professor in the class agreed with me that her reading had produced the same thought. Others were intrigued.zodiac

Staying open, of course, is the only way new learning can occur, so I attended to the ideas in spite of my skepticism. As the evening progressed, I began to find the idea a bit less odd. The kabbalists use gematria as a tool, a tool similar to the Zen koan. At first its results may not make sense,; but, that’s the point, the frisson between the snake and the messiah which opens a new mode of thought about the story. It also undermines any tendency to take the torah literally, an essential first step toward searching for the primordial torah.

Garden of Eden, Lucas Cranach the Elder

Garden of Eden, Lucas Cranach the Elder

So although I find the method strained and strange, I still do, I believe I understand at least part of its purpose. That’s enough for now. I’ll learn more as we go forward.

Live long

by Gage Skidmore

by Gage Skidmore

Beltane                                                                          Moon of the Summer Solstice

Pushing myself. Up to 10,000 steps on the four days I don’t do resistance work, 5,000 on those days. Feels good, so I’ll probably stay at it. The resistance work is helping, too. Less knee pain, less stiffness, better balance.

Looked at lilacs on Monday. After reading some material online, it looks like Syringa vulgaris (guess what? common lilac) and Syringa x prestonia, a Canadian cultivar, work well at our altitude. Gonna put in two bushes this year and see how they do. If they do well, I’ll add more next year. Cautionary note: don’t add fuel where it might feed a fire in the trees. They both need full sun and at least some amended soil. That we can provide.

Blessing that is the origin of the Vulcan salute

Blessing that is the origin of the
Vulcan salute

Last night I went to an interesting session, Star Trek and Judaism at Beth Evergreen. Several original cast members were Jewish, most prominent among them William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy.

A fascinating take away was the origin of the Vulcan salute. Nimoy, as the sole Vulcan in the main cast, got to have a lot of say about developing Vulcan culture. He attended a service in which the shekinah, the feminine aspect of God, gets invited in. She’s so powerful that everyone shields their eyes and a group of men upfront were wailing, according to Nimoy in a video clip. He decided to peek and noticed that they were holding their fingers in what you would immediately recognize as the familiar Vulcan greeting. It’s the Hebrew letter shin, the first letter of shekinah, shalom, sabbath.

 

 

 

Bound

Beltane                                                                     Moon of the Summer Solstice

Second hike at Staunton. Chose the Mason Creek Trail. It goes up, then up and finally it turns into switchbacks, going up. Huff and puff, not at Hogwarts but here in the Front Range. The Mason Creek Trail will provide a consistent challenge, plus it has meadows, waterfalls (see video) and large rock formations.

methodology-sight-size-827x399While hiking and thinking about Reimagining, I realized I’m taking an atelier approach to it. Ateliers train would be artists in the classical mode, using lots of drawing, life models and work with perspective. They’re considered conservative in today’s art world, a sort of throwback to the artist/apprentice studio that dominated art education for so many centuries.

In my case I studied Christianity and the Christian ministry in a seminary, United Theological Seminary, and earned the world’s most outrageous degree, Master of Divinity. In the late 1980’s I took a doctorate at McCormick Seminary in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. The Presbyterian ministry occupied me for 15 years and afterward I dabbled in the Unitarian-Universalist ministry. Now I’m in my second year of Jewish immersion, not a convert, but a close student of this ancient tradition.

bound to the earthYet what I really want to do is rethink what faith is, why we go to the places that we go to for spiritual nourishment and whether there might be a real faith, an approach to the religious life, that emerges naturally from the world in which we live and carry on our daily lives. That is, one without a charismatic founder or an ethnic base, a faith which would help us see the holy ordinary, that would expose the ligatures that bind us to this planet, to the plants and animals and minerals and atmosphere, expose them and help us see them as the loving embrace that they are, not only as limits to our lives.

 

As the World Burns

Beltane                                                                  Moon of the Summer Solstice

images (2)While the world burns, at least the Trump world, kabbalah suggests a bigger world, more worlds, right next to this one. There is, as Rabbi Jamie said, a bigger picture. I learned a similar lesson from Deer Creek Canyon during my cancer season two years ago. These Rocky Mountains, still toddlers as mountains go, were and will be present when we are not. In their lifetime humanity will likely have come and gone.

It’s tempting to use this perspective-and I believe it’s real, I want to emphasize that-to diminish the swirl of issues like climate change, decent health insurance, jobs that no longer pay a living wage. In time they will be finished, one way or another. We were neither present during the Rockies orogeny, nor will we be present when they become as smooth as the Appalachians. Just so, you may say.

38d9f3b4e2e64361ce68ca237f270a42Yet. We do not live either in the deep geological past nor in the distant geological future, we live now. Our lives, our mayfly lives from the vantage point of geological time, come into existence and blink out, so we necessarily look at the moment, the brief seventy to one hundred year moment into which, as Heidegger said, we are thrown.

This is all we know of life, this moment. In it our whole awareness comes into existence, matures, then winks out. From that mayfly perspective then climate change, decent health insurance and a living wage are not insignificant. Albert Camus spoke of the great river which carries us toward the ocean of all souls. Ram Dass reminds us we’re all just walking each other home. And Lord Keynes famously said in the long run we’ll all be dead.

Time_Clock-620x587Somehow we have to realize that though our lives are small compared to the immensity of the universe and the imponderable nature of time, they are everything while we have them. As for me, I find all this comforting. Putting my efforts in the larger perspective gives me peace, putting them in the immediacy of my life gives me energy. We will not complete the task, no, we will not. But we are not free to give it up either.

 

 

That Other Project

Beltane                                                                     Moon of the Summer Solstice

120305_Writer-comparison_small-23497_200x200Back at Superior Wolf. After a month or so of focusing on other things, chiefly that presentation for the mussar class, I’m writing again. The end of the first draft for this novel is near. Once I get it done I’m going to print it out and give it to Kate, then I’m going to move away from it for a while, perhaps three/four months, while I try to push Reimagining Faith further along.

I’d like to get a book length draft of Reimagining done this year or at least get one well started. My sense is that it requires a concentrated effort, not one done with other writing projects. I need to spend time in research and writing on it alone. I do best when I can focus on a single project for hours at a time.

fireShiva_smallYes, mussar and kabbalah require a lot of reading, too, but that’s its own concentrated effort, not competitive with Reimagining. In fact I find the mussar and kabbalah work reinforcing for Reimagining, especially in a Reconstructionist environment. There’s a lot of energy and permission for rethinking fundamentals at Beth Evergreen.

Kabbalah may require a return to my Hebrew studies of over forty years ago. I learned functional Hebrew, enough to look up words and evaluate translations, but never had the goal of understanding grammar or building much of a vocabulary. I certainly never had the intent of using it for worship. A major component of kabbalah is gematria, a sort of numerology that focus on numerical values of Hebrew letters and words. To understand this aspect of kabbalah I’ll need to increase my Hebrew proficiency.

Not sure right now where Latin fits into all this. I’ve fallen away from it, but at the same time I miss it. Need to ponder this one for awhile.

 

 

Life in the Rockies

Beltane                                                                        Moon of the Summer Solstice

zoharpageHeavy rain yesterday afternoon, felt like being back in the humid East. Black Mountain is no longer white; it’s green with its lodgepole and aspen looking healthy. It’s gone from white haired old man to green man. Good to see. Cub Creek, Maxwell Creek, Bear Creek and Blue Creek are all full. The snowpack is well above average. A much better scenario for this summer. Thankful.

I’m relieved at Kate’s news, again. She’s had a rough time since the second week of my surgery and I hope the ENT doc has her on a path to eating with no pain. This is seven months of up and down health. Tough for her.

Second kabbalah class tonight at Beth Evergreen. I’m beyond fascinated. This Jewish mystical tradition seems to synch up with the way my mind and spirit work. I haven’t been this excited since I began to move toward paganism many years ago. The three main threads in my spiritual life have been, for a long time now, existentialism, paganism and Taoism. Looks like I may be adding a fourth.

 

Think Again

Beltane                                                                Moon of the Summer Solstice

images (1)Reimagining Faith has been a project of mine since I slipped out of the Unitarian Universalist world leaving behind both Christianity and liberal religion, the first too narrow in its theology, the second too thin a broth. The stimulation for the project lay first in a decision I made to focus on my Celtic heritage for the writing I wanted to do. This commitment led me to the Great Wheel of the Year and its manifestation literally took root in the work Kate and I did at our Andover home.

When we bought the house there, it sat on a lot with the usual scraped earth look of new home construction. It had no lawn, no trees in front, no soil adequate for growing flowers. We hired a landscape architect and added several thousand dollars to the mortgage for his work which included retaining walls, perennial beds, wild prairie on two sides of our house and tiered perennial beds in the back with a patio at their bottom. Our goal was to enjoy the landscaping throughout the time we owned the house. And we did.

2011 10 13_1265In retrospect our request to him to make it all as low maintenance as possible seems laughable. He did as we wanted, putting in such sturdy plants as Stella D’oro, a species of daylily, shrubs, a bur oak and a Norwegian pine, some amur maples, a hardy brand of shrub rose, juniper, yew, a magnolia that Kate wanted, and a river birch. This work included an in-ground irrigation system and the very strange experience of having no lawn until one morning when the sod people came and rolled it out. Then we had a lawn that evening.

2012 05 01_4112We looked at it, saw that it was good and thought we were done. Ha. It began with a desire for flowers. I wanted to have fresh flowers available throughout the growing season, so I studied perennials. At that time I thought I was still holding to the low maintenance idea. I would plant perennials that would bloom throughout the Minnesota growing season, roughly May 15 to September 15, go out occasionally and cut the blooms, put them in a vase, repeat until frost killed them all back. Then, the next year the perennials would return and the process would recur. Easy, right?

No. Gardens are alive. They are dynamic. Species of flowers have very different horticultural needs. Some, like the spring ephemerals, grow early to avoid the shade of leafed out trees and shrubs. Some, like bleeding hearts and hosta, require shade. Others, like iris, a particular favorite of Kate, need an application of a pesticide to eliminate iris borers. Others, like tulips, wear out in the harsh weather cycles common to Minnesota. Trees planted around the beds grow, too, changing the sun and shade areas from year to year. Soil gets depleted as plants take nutrients from it to fuel their growth. Different flowers require different sorts of soil, too.

06 20 10_Garden_0052Once this world opened up to us, we began to enjoy working with all these variables to create beauty around our home. Gardening for flowers, eh? Well, how about some vegetables. This led to a two-year project of cutting down thorny black locust, chipping the branches, then hiring a stump grinder. After this was done, Jon built us several raised beds. We filled them with good soil and compost. Tomatoes, potatoes, beans, garlic, leeks, onions, carrots, beets flourished. Vegetables, eh? Why not fruit and nuts?

400_late summer 2010_0163Ecological Gardens came in with permaculture principles and added apple trees, plums, cherry trees, pears, currants, gooseberry bushes, blueberry bushes and hawthorns. On the vegetable garden site they added raspberries, a sun trap for tomatoes, and an herb spiral. At that point then we were maintaining multiple perennial flower beds, several vegetable beds, fruit trees and the bees that I had started keeping.

We did later add a firepit and picnic area, but those were the main horticultural efforts. This was a twenty year long immersion in plants and their needs, the way the seasons affected them and our human responsibility for their care.

WheelofYear1GIFWhen I stepped away from the Presbyterian ministry after marrying Kate, the Celtic pagan faith reflected in the Great Wheel began to inform my theological bent more and more. What was to come in the place of the Christian path? Perhaps it was a way of understanding our human journey, our pilgrimage as part of the planet on which we live rather than as separate from it or dominate over it.

Wicca, though, and the various neo-pagan movements seemed thin to me, not without merit as earth-based faiths, but often filled with gimcrackery and geegaws rather than guidance for the next phase of human existence here. I began to wonder about an ur-faith, a way of believing, of being religious, that could exist alongside, even below the other faith traditions, some path that could put us back in the natural world (from which we have never actually removed ourselves) and in so doing undergird the kind of compassion for our planet that might save humanity.

This is the concept behind reimagining faith. Is it possible to create a framework for an earth-based faith that respects science, yet offers ritual and private contemplative practices? What would a book look like that attempts to create a theology, conceptual scaffolding for such a faith? I got this far a while ago. But something has stopped me from moving forward. This post is about poking myself to move forward.

HesseI have finished 7 novels and am nearing completion of an 8th. So I can work on a long term project and see it through to completion. I’ve also been part of creating several organizations still in existence in Minnesota, among them MICAH, Jobs Now, and The Minnesota Council of NonProfits (originally the Philanthropy Project). These, too, are long term efforts that I helped see to completion.

Over time I’ve also worked with several other institutions in various roles that lasted for years: the Sierra Club, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Citizens for a Loring Park Community, the Stevens Square Community Organization, the West Bank PAC and the West Bank Community Development Corporation, not to mention the Presbyterian Church and the Unitarian-Universalists.

2010 01 19_3455I’ve had less persistence in my two non-fiction writing projects: an ecological history of Lake Superior and Reimagining Faith. Not sure why. Getting started on the research and idea end was not a problem, I have file folders, bookshelves, posts here on Ancientrails and various sketches for outlines. But I’ve never sustained the push to finish.

My now year long immersion in Reconstructionist Judaism, studying first mussar (ethics) and now kabbalah, has caused several sparks to go off for the Reimagining Faith work. I’m beginning to feel the urge to commit substantial writing time, thinking time to this project. What I’d like to do is produce a book that would lay out the skeleton and put some flesh on it. At that point I’d like Reimagining to become a collaborative project with whomever feels an attraction to it.

So let be it said, so let it be done. Yul Brynner, the Ten Commandments.

Kabbalah and Son

Beltane                                                                   Moon of the Summer Solstice

maxresdefaultA whirlwind. Left home at 6:15 pm last night for kabbalah at Beth Evergreen. First class in this esoteric Jewish mystical tradition. A lot of it unexpected. More as it comes into focus. It’s sort of blurry right now.

Decided to skip going to Boulder for a long Shavuot evening on holiness. Joseph unexpectedly had a trip to Colorado Springs and there was an opportunity to see him for breakfast this morning.  I drove down there from Evergreen, spent the night and saw him at the Black Bear Diner on Academy Avenue.

Turned around and drove back home, through the mountains this time, passing through Manitou Springs, Woodland Park, Decker and Pine Junction on my way to Hwy. 285, coming out about 7 miles southwest of Conifer. Got home around 11:30 am this morning.

At 2:30 Kate and I leave for Beth Evergreen today for its Shavuot celebration. I have to help set up.

More later, but kabbalah left my heart and my epistemology spinning. In a good way, but it was decentering. Seeing Joseph filled my heart, then left me sad when he had to go for a day learning about future Air Force tech. On my home my inner world kept insisting on its presence, pushing its way into the drive. Feelings tumbled all over the place. Guess you could say I was alive.

June 2017
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