We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Gettin’ On a Jet Plane

Fall                                                                         Joseph and SeoAh Moon (new)

Taking off today for Robins Air Force Base in Georgia. Will see Joe and SeoAh together for the first time since the wedding, though I did see Joe earlier this summer. Not sure about a computer setup there, so this may be it until I get back. We’ll see.

Had my first adult Hebrew class yesterday. Ouch. I’m long out of practice. I took a semester’s worth of Hebrew and Greek, mostly just to be able to use lexicons, no grammar in either instance. That was 1972. 45 years ago. And, since I didn’t serve a parish, I had little use for it over the years. Atrophied is too generous for my current state of knowledge.



Fall                                                                        Harvest Moon

In just two days it will be the 53rd anniversary, yahrzeit, of my mother’s death on October 20th, 1964.

One of the practices of Jewish culture that I find soothing is the acknowledgment, annually, of the death of a family member, a friend, someone close in to your life. In each shabbat service, near the end, those who have experienced a death in the last week or so and those who have a yahrzeit stand and the congregation recites the kaddish, a unison prayer.

The other practices around death, chevra kadisha, or care for the corpse, and sitting shiva, a traditional mourning period of seven days following the funeral, make death an ongoing part of living in community. This is far away from the culture of death denial prevalent in significant parts of American culture.

My family suffered from that denial. Mom’s death happened suddenly, over the period of a week or so, following a stroke. She was 47. In a town of 5,000 many folks knew her, knew Dad, knew each of us, Mary, Mark and me. The immediate time following her death is a psychic black hole for me, the funeral, the days, the shiva (seven in Hebrew) days passing without memory for me.

Our family never recovered from the shock of her unexpected death. The next fall I went off to college and returned home only occasionally until, in my junior year, Dad and I had a falling out that persisted until his death in 2003. My first nights away from home, sleeping in a common, cold dorm, with about 40 other guys, I had nightmares. That was a very tough year for me, going from valedictorian of my small high school class, to classes full of people smarter than I was. Making that adjustment without Mom was very, very difficult. Two habits acquired in the Wabash year, smoking and drinking, would take a decade or so to eliminate.

I absented myself from the family, anger at my father’s rigid rejection of me fueling an estrangement that did not really ever end, though we did see each other occasionally after Joseph’s adoption in 1981. Mom’s death created a vacuum in our lives and took, at least for me, years to integrate. Each fall, around this time, I would slip into melancholy, going inside, wandering the halls of my soul and losing touch with the day to day. That melancholy seems to have lifted for me, but only recently, perhaps in the last five years.

A part of this dislocation in my soul, perhaps a major part, came because death was a dirty secret in the late fifties and early sixties. It happened, yes, but in hospitals far away from home. A funeral happened, then life went on, death having had its day. Even the deaths I had encountered prior to Mom’s, her parents, happened physically, but more importantly psychically, far away. Death was unexpected because it came and was gone, mostly hidden from daily life.

Mom was a sweet person, compassionate and loving. Remembering her on the anniversary of her death feels normal, healthy. She cared for me during my long bout with polio, helping me regain my ability to walk, a gift of love that allowed me to live a normal life. I could have been in braces or a wheelchair. She maintained close contact with her sisters and brother, her father and mother. We visited them often, encouraging a sense of extended family that persists to this day.

She only learned to drive late in her life, but when she did, she used her driving to go back to college for her Bachelor’s degree. She already had a two-year teaching degree, but requirements for teaching had increased. Her teaching would pay for our college. That was the plan.

A WAC during World War II Mom had traveled, unlike most of her generation and all of her family. She was in Italy and Algiers in the Signal Corps, military intelligence. We grew up, unusually for our small Indiana town, with mementos from Capris, photographs and stories of mom in the Casbah. Overseas adventures uncommon in the forties.

It would have been better for our family if we said kaddish yearly for her, and for my father, too. If we had sat shiva, mourning for seven days after their death, supported by friends and members of a community. If death had not come as a sudden, terrible tragedy, but as a known visitor to all families. If. Well, always if.

What can I do going forward now, at seventy? I can remember mom and dad on their yahrzeit. Write about them, include them, it just occurred to me, in my life. I can encourage Joseph and Jon in the same practice, encourage them to include a sensible attitude toward death in their lives and in their families. Jews don’t have a monopoly on a sensible, healthy attitude toward death, but theirs is one. And it’s one I plan to follow.





Well. OK.

Fall                                                                             Harvest Moon

shame-quote-2Shame. It’s a quiet burning just under the skin, a turning of the inner face away from the self, embarrassed. What have I done? I suppose its power comes in the possibility that the person who acted like this could be the “real” me. And, it doesn’t have to be an egregious act to call it up.

Example. Mussar says, pay attention to how much space you take up. Do not dominate your environment, for example. Leave plenty of room for the other, for their response, their reaction, their choices. On the other hand, do not shrink into the background.  Leave room for yourself, your reaction, your choices. There is no sphere of life where this idea does not apply. Work. Family. Synagogue. Church. Recreation. Community affairs. Politics. All spheres of human interaction.

In mussar each character trait exists in a polarity, say patience-anger or humility-pride. Neither pole is always best, the dynamic of mussar suggests that in certain situations either pole may be appropriate, though the sweet spot is in the balance between them. Patience, for example, should not be allowed to subvert the need to take action. Anger should not be allowed to control or force a response. The key is to know when to be patient, when to allow anger to show. So we try to remain in the middle space, ready to use which trait will produce the most human, most needed act.

Shame-Test-940x690Getting to the point here. I’m a student, probably since my first conscious thought. How the world works fascinates me. History, too. Literature. Art. Religion. Philosophy. Politics. Last night for example, before I went to sleep, I focused on my breath as I often do. I began to wonder, “OK. I know about inspiration, the lungs take in air, blood in the lungs binds the oxygen to the hemoglobin. But what about expiration? How does that work? Where do the exhaust gases, the carbon dioxide, come from? How do they get expelled? Why don’t the two processes interfere with each other?” Still don’t know the answer, btw, but I’m going to ask Kate at breakfast.

As a student, I’ve always been rewarded for speaking up in class. Classroom participation, remember that one? At age seventy it’s a long ago embedded part of my behavior. I’m aware I can dominate a class, so I try to be circumspect, not to follow every rabbit down every hole, though the desire to do so is always there. Where do the exhaust gases come from? Why does god put the angel with the flaming sword at the gates of Eden? It’s the way my mind works.

Yesterday in mussar Rabbi Jamie asked us to be aware of those who don’t speak or speak less often. To be sensitive to what they might be wondering, sensing, have to offer. Oh. Oops. He means me, doesn’t he? Well, probably, but also the others who tend to speak up frequently. Still, even the possibility, the likelihood, that part of his comment was aimed at me, made me go pink around the ears.

cone-of-shame-dog-funny-pictures-lolI shrank back in my chair, at least metaphorically, vowing, again, to keep my hand down. To keep that curiosity publically in check. To filter my thoughts, about whether they need to be expressed.  Hard for me. I’m eager when it comes to learning and part of learning is bouncing ideas off each other. But there’s that balance idea, the sweet spot between curiosity and taking up too much space, the need to honor the contributions and questions of others, to not privilege my own at other’s expense.

Letting shame dominate my response, however, is not helpful. Shame can lead to exclusion, to fear of being in a certain situation, in a certain group of people. And, paradoxically, it can also lead to an inflated idea of a particular moment’s meaning. Oh, I’m so bad that I can’t show my face here again. No. Learn the lesson. Keep it available as a guide, as a lesson, not as a definer of the Self. We are all more than even our worst mistakes and shame alerts us, usually, to the slighter mistakes, not the worst ones.

I’m talking to myself here. Writing does that for me. Gets me down to the root of an experience. So, here’s what I’m saying. Yes,Charles, modulate participation, but don’t go quiet. Yes, accept the observation as relevant, but not as a diminishment.





Metaphor? Of course.

Fall                                                                               Harvest Moon

kabbalah8The tree of life, the tree of immortality guarded by the angel with the flaming sword; the tree itself still growing in paradise, concealed by language, by our senses, by the everydayness of our lives; the path back to the garden often forgotten, the exile from paradise a separation so profound that we no longer know the location of the trail head and even harder, we no longer have a desire to search for it.

Metaphor? Of course. But in these three words lie a trap for the unwary, a trap in which I allowed myself to get caught and held, a mindhold trap. My life seems like a sine wave of grasping, then losing the significance of metaphors.

When young, I felt the mystery behind the communion wafers and the grape juice at Alexandria First Methodist. At the tenebrae service, when we extinguished the little candles with their paper drip guards and the sanctuary went dark, I thrilled to the change from ordinary experience, sensed the power rolling over us as the memory of crucifixion and death came hurtling through the centuries to land in our small Indiana town, in the very spot where I sat.

The sunrise services held on Easter morning lit up my whole inside. The power of the tenebrae had been defeated and life did go on forever, death only a mistake, an illusion, misunderstood as a cruelty when in fact it was a gateway. I suppose on those days, repeated over many years, I had a glimpse of the path back to the garden.

My mother’s death, I think, shattered this instinctive faith. Those feelings occasioned by grape juice soaked squares of bread, darkness and the rising of the sun, were a true path and one I lost when the brutal reality of grief smeared the way.

But the memory of that way remained. So I moved up from the instinctive triad of netzach-hod-yesod, forced by fear and loss to skip the next triad chesed-gevurah-tiferet and go to the one easiest for me to access, hochmah-binah-daat. I know these hebrew words may mean nothing at all to you, I’m still at the base of a steep learning curve with them myself, but they do appear on the illustration above so you can see where they are on the tree of life.

In simple, but not simplistic terms, the triads are netzach-hod-yesod, the realm of instinctual behavior, chesed-gevurah-tiferet, the realm of emotions and hochmah-binah-daat, the realm of the intellect. Movement in the tree of life goes from the keter to malchut and back from malchut up to keter, so there is no real top or bottom, only different spots in an ongoing process of creation.

kabbalahBut here’s the trap. Metaphor, of course! I studied philosophy, religion, anthropology in college. Then, after a few years stuck in unenlightened instinctual behavior-the storied sex, drugs and rock and roll of the sixties and seventies-I moved to seminary. The trap tightened. I learned about the church, scripture old and new, ethics, church history. It was exhilarating, all this knowledge. I soaked it up. I remained though stuck in the intellectual triad, pushing back and forth between the polarity of intuitive wisdom, hochmah, and analytical thought, binah, often not going on to daat, or understanding. I learned, but did not integrate into my soul.

There was a time, after seminary, after ordination, as I groped my way around in the work of ministry, that I found the path again. It was in mystical traditions like the Jesus Prayer, or the use of lectio divina, contemplative prayer. I had spiritual directors who guided my prayer life and I meditated often, daily for years, went on private retreats for days at a time. In those years I found my way back to the netzach-hod-yesod triad, traveling again on the instinctual path formed so long ago.

The trap sprung another time, though, as I got better at my ministry, more able to apply organizational development paradigms to congregational life, more able to pull the levers of political power for the good of various purposes: affordable housing, unemployment policy, economic development for poor neighborhoods, fighting off corporate takeovers of those same poor neighborhoods, more able to navigate the internal politics of Presbytery life. I became stuck in malchut, the material world which we experience everyday. So stuck that eventually I could see nothing else and the path disappeared again.

interior_dante_divinecomedy_inf_01_002My heart knew I had gotten lost, in exile once again. In Dante’s words in Canto 1 of the Divine Comedy:

In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself, in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost.

It is a hard thing to speak of, how wild, harsh and impenetrable that wood was, so that thinking of it recreates the fear. It is scarcely less bitter than death…

I cannot rightly say how I entered it. I was so full of sleep, at that point where I abandoned the true way.”

This time I knew I had to extricate myself from the subtle trap, get out of the thought world that had me lost in the dark wood, the direct way lost. It was a wild, harsh, seemingly impenetrable forest.

It was clear that for me the Christian faith had gotten muddled up with ambition, immersion in the world of power. And, most problematic of all, it had become part of the metaphor trap. The metaphor had gone stale, had become a barrier instead of a koan. Not the fault of the faith itself, but of my journey within it.

IMAG0650croppedAt the time of its crumbling another path had begun to open for me. Fiction writing emerged when, ironically, I began writing my Doctor of Ministry thesis. Instead of working on it I ended up with 30,000 plus words of what would become my first novel, Even The Gods Must Die. Irony in the title, too, I suppose.

In the train of that shift came a decision to look into my Celtic heritage as a source for my fiction. While researching Celtic religion for the fantasy novels I wanted to write, I discovered the Great Wheel.

It grounded me. So to speak. My spiritual life became tactile, bound up in soil amendments, bulbs, corms, seeds, spades and hoes, fruit trees, raspberries and bees. And, of course, dogs. Always dogs.

Meeting Kate enabled me to move gracefully out of the ministry and into a pagan worldview. I was back in the netzach-hod-yesod triad, but now firmly attached to malchut, the queendom of this world.

Writing fiction found me exploring the chesed-gevurah-tiferet triad, having to reach into my heart for believable characters, story lines. Over the course of those years, the years since leaving the Christian ministry and now, I began to gradually integrate the triads, at least the three: intellectual, emotional and instinctual. The combination of family life, the Andover years, writing, and working as a docent at the MIA began to slowly weave them into my soul.

2010 01 19_3454Even so, I sat behind the barrier, the flaming sword, the metaphor trap. Beth Evergreen and Rabbi Jamie Arnold have started me on a journey back to where I began, immersed in the dark. Seeking for the light, yes, but happy now in the  darkness, too. The Winter Solstice long ago became my favorite holiday of the year.

When I left Christianity and took up my earth-bound spirit, I shut off access to the fourth triad, the one subsumed under keter: faith-joy/pleasure-will, and its source of energy, the ein sof, the infinite One, perhaps god in small letters. Today, as I write this, I’m more pagan than I’ve ever been, more embracing of the body, the mountains, the stars, the elk and the mountain lion, than any words from any source.

2011 03 06_3396But. At Beth Evergreen I have begun to feel my way back into the fourth triad, the mystery I first encountered on the hard wooden pews in Alexandria, the one pulsing behind the metaphors of tenebrae, of crucifixion, of resurrection,  and now of Torah, of language, of a “religious” life. I knew it once, in the depth of my naive young boy’s soul. Now, I may find it again, rooted in the old man he’s become.

Your Honor

Fall                                                   Harvest Moon


I wrote about the middot (character trait, soul trait) kavod—honor, dignity, respect—a few posts below. With two evenings focused on it, Wednesday at the MVP group, mussar vaad practice group, and the Thursday night Tikkun Middot Havurah, and my preparation for the Wednesday night presentation, I’m ready for the practice.

After considering the trait in group, we then choose a practice for the coming month that will encourage to integrate the trait into our daily lives. As Marilyn said Thursday night, mussar is not self-help since its focus is on relationships with others, of being of service to others. Rabbi Jamie says, “learning how to bear the burden of the other.”

This is not Jewish power of positive thinking, or dress your mind for success. It’s about real change, in your own character, change that makes you better able to be present to the other, the other made in the image of God just as you are.

Practice involves a focus phrase, in my case, Your Honor, and a particular way of inserting kavod into my day-to-day experience. We commit to each other for a practice. I said I’d try—no, not try, I will—each time I read something in the paper that pisses me off politically, which happens a lot, I’ll focus on honoring the humanity of my opponent, or enemy.

Rabbi Jamie thankfully talked me off that precipice. “That may be too much. Try honoring the anger.”

That sort of whipped my head around. Say what? Honor the anger? I agreed with him that trying to honor the humanity of the Trump/Pence/Tillerson/Sessions/Pruitt crowd might be too difficult. But honoring anger? It seems so un-middle class. I mean, we’re supposed to swallow our anger, aren’t we? At least be ashamed of it. So… Honor it? Still, he’s an insightful guy, who has gotten to know me over the course a year plus now, and I trust him. I agreed.

Although I’m only a day into the practice, I’m already very surprised by it. I chose to go with honoring my anger in all situations, not just when reading the blankety-blank news. That means when the guy cuts in front of me and slows down, I honor the anger. “What the hell? You son-of-a-bitch!” Like that.

That last was not a hypothetical. It happened yesterday. I reacted. Hotly. But instead of going into the usual physical demonstration of my feelings, I honored the anger. What made me mad? His behavior put my life at risk and Kate’s life. He violated simple rules, both legal and commonsense ones, for a momentary, unnecessary advantage.

I realized my anger was referented. But in the moment it took to honor my anger, I also allowed a gap between my anger and my reaction. I got to choose how I reacted. That was different than letting the anger surface and take control of me. It put a small pause between a justified reaction and a response. I didn’t have to honk my horn, wave my middle finger, I could recognize the anger, own it, respect it and choose to act, or not.

When I did do the same while reading the news, in one for instance the NRA’s cynical admission that maybe bump stocks for creating automatic weapons require regulation, I noticed again that my anger was referented. Why do they think admitting that one egregious gun modification is too much means anything in the poisonous environment they have created? Why do they insist on adding more and more guns into our social mix? How dare they threaten me and mine with their medieval (sorry for the disrespect middle ages) attitudes rooted in fear?

But. Again, I didn’t have to let the referented anger boil over. It didn’t have to come to invective. To an emotional charge that might raise my blood pressure and not have any effect at all on the gun issue. Calm down and honor your anger. Seems like a good practice for the month






Behind the Texts

Fall                                                                            Harvest Moon

20-the-map-is-not-the-territoryThree nights in a row at Beth Evergreen. Challenging for this early to bed, early to rise guy. Though. Kabbalah fascinated me. I’m beginning to feel my way into the occult, again. The hidden wonders. This time around I may be able to actually hold at arm’s length the cultural vehicles and not resist the message because of the messengers. That is, kabbalah, in particular, has a poetic, evocative, confounding approach that speaks to my sense of absurdity. And, my in but not of relationship to Judaism also allows me a critical distance that I find very helpful.

At the mussar vaad practice group last night we had a discussion about the character trait kavod: honor, respect, dignity. It focuses on realizing the worth of each individual, of self and other, the god-in-me bows to the god-in-you.

There is a distinctively Jewish way of taking up this idea. For instance, a story in the Talmud has rabbi’s discussing whether a man on his way to hear the megillah, scripture written on a scroll (megile) but not part of the Torah, the story of Esther read at Purim being the usual example, must stop to bury a corpse he finds on the road. Yes, the rabbi’s conclude, he must bury the body rather than go hear the reading of the miracle of Esther. Why? Because of the honor due to any person, even their corpse. That transmits the message about kavod in way that’s hard to ignore. Teaching stories are a significant part of Jewish civilization.

BlakeThis story works for me. The imagery is something I can relate to because I’m human. Honor is so important and so often gotten wrong. Think, for example, about the instance of DJT honoring America First; just as Kim Jong Un honors himself and North Korea first. Or the gang member who feels dissed, disrespected, dishonored. A sense of kavod would have prevented the shooting in Las Vegas, the holocaust. It would prevent child abuse and domestic violence. Harming another whose dignity and respect is as worthy as your own is just not possible.

How we honor ourselves and, in turn, honor others is, therefore, a critical issue for our daily lives, our communal lives, our global lives. The kabbalistic conversation about Paradise hidden behind the wilderness of language allowed me, in a way I can’t explain, to peel away words and constructs and feel my way into the place where all pulses and throbs and lives and knows neither time nor space. The words for god, gods, goddesses point to this place, but like Hotei pointing at the moon, they are just fingers, not the moon itself.

Long ago, during the height of the sixties, many of my friends and compatriots were turning to Buddhism, to Hinduism, think Hare Krishnas and Zen. You might think, with my Asian bent, that they appealed to me immediately. No. I wanted, I said to myself, to go where they were going, but with Western cues, ones that were already woven into the fabric of my cultural inheritance. I was studying anthropology at the time and keenly aware of the way culture subtlety shapes our reality-the wilderness of language being no small part of it.



That’s how I ended up in Seminary. Eventually. And there were moments during sem, moments later during my time in the Christian ministry, when certain Christian traditions pulled me in in a manner similar to kabbalah: the Jesus prayer, lectio divina, contemplative prayer, retreats. The mystical side. As kabbalah is an important mystical tradition in Judaism. I got sidetracked, and yes I believe it was a side track, though, by my political commitments, by my nurture the institution commitments, by my always soft, but extant, commitment to the textual underpinnings of Christianity.

The quasi-Scholastic nature of the religions of the book, and most religions are, in one way or another, religions of the book: buddhist sutras, the tao te ching, the vedas, the koran, the bible, the tanakh, however, pushed me away, as it did Emerson. I want a religion, like him, of a revelation to us, not the dry bones of theirs. So I chose to read the book of nature, to step outside the textual traditions and the wilderness of their dogma, their stories. I’m still out there.

But. With the help of Beth Evergreen and the spirit of reconstructionist thought I’m once again able to be fed by those same texts without immersing myself in their interpretive world, at least not in a, I’d better get this or I’m lost (in the sense of geographically lost, not the metaphysical idea of salvation) sense. This is freeing for me, and Beth Evergreen has made it possible. I can take those cues from our Judaeo-Christian cultural inheritance and hear their powerful messages without becoming entangled in them, enmeshed.

As Leonard Cohen might say, Hallelujah.

Behind the Wilderness is Paradise

Fall                                                                           Harvest Moon

east of edenBehind the wilderness. Everett Fox is a Jewish scholar who did a translation of the Torah into English while preserving the Hebrew syntax. He  made some startling word choices, too, such as in this verse: Exodus 3:2 “He (Moshe) led the flock behind the wilderness–and he came to the mountain of God, to Horev.” Behind is such an interesting choice.

As our discussion went on last night in the first night of the second Kabbalah class taught by Rabbi Jamie, he referenced the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden. When they were gone, having eaten from the tree of good and evil (language in this interpretation), God installed an angel with a flaming sword to protect the entrance to Eden and the tree of life. The very language which allowed Adam and Eve to discern good and evil, or, to create it (!), now guards the pathway back into Paradise.

Here’s a leap, and one I made last night. Behind the wilderness is Paradise. The wilderness itself is language, is the angel with the flaming sword, protecting the entrance to Paradise. How do we get behind the wilderness? Behind language? Language, in an uneasy marriage to our senses, conceals and reveals. It reveals our sensations, our thoughts, and functions as a river flowing from prehistory to today, carrying in its waters the sum of written human culture. But. That same uneasy marriage also conceals what lies behind the wilderness, what Kant called the dinge an sich, the thing-in-itself.

eden-garden-of-god_1920x1080Behind the wilderness is the God who is, as Fox translates later in this passage: I-will-be-there howsoever I-will-be-there. It is this God whose messenger Moshe saw in the bush that burned without being consumed. This God’s name, a verbal noun composed of a mashup of past-present-future tenses for the verb to be, does not reveal. It conceals. It means, it does not describe. The messenger in the bush speaks for the vast whorling reality in which past, present and future are one, all experienced in the present and as part of which we are each integral, necessary and non-interchangeable.


Fall                                                                            Harvest Moon

We’ve had snow. Again yesterday. Modest accumulation since the ground is still too warm. These are the days when snow mixes with the golden aspen leaves, throwing white into the green and gold colors of Mountain High. Go, Shadows.

Yesterday I finished my work on kavod. Here’s the end of it:

Text #3   “Kavod is translated as honour/respect. Kavod is way beyond good manners and saying please and thank you. It’s seeing the spiritual value of a human being and yourself. The greater sense of my own value, the more I don’t need to search for the approval of others and the more I am able to honour other people and see a sense of their value. If I give genuine kavod to another person than they in turn will value and respect me. We say “kodosh, kodosh, kodosh, the entire world is filled with the Kavod/honour of Hashem”.  http://www.shortvort.com/mussar/10450-kavod>

Rabbi Eliezer said: “Let the honor of your friend be as dear to you as your own.” Morinis, Everyday Holiness, p. 114

Before this text I added an image of Claude Monet’s:

Claude_Monet_-_Claude Monet, Haystacks, (sunset), 1890–1891, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Haystacks, (sunset), 1890–1891, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Monet, of course, was part of the Impressionist movement, committed to painting the colors as they were at particular moment in a particular place. They let the colors build the image rather than using color as a tool to build the image in a way that pleased their aesthetic.

This is similar, I think, to the notion of kavod. With kavod we look into the essence of ourselves and others, see that essence and let it build our image of ourselves and the other, rather than using our biases, our assumptions, our judgments. Just as the impressionists did, though, we have to know that our perceptions of that essence change from moment even though the essence, the imago dei, may remain the same. (I have some disagreement with the notion of soul, or essence, as a sort of Platonic archetype, constant and unchanging.)

Anyhow, I’m looking forward to this gathering of the MVP. I’ve done my awe work for the last month and am ready to get started on kavod.

On the Road with the Fellow Traveler

Fall                                                                            Harvest Moon

Arthur Szyk (1894-1951). The holiday Series, Rosh Hashanah (1948), New Canaan,CT

Arthur Szyk (1894-1951). The holiday Series, Rosh Hashanah (1948), New Canaan, CT

This year I attended the first Rosh Hashanah service and both Yom Kippur services. More of the Hebrew has become familiar, at least the transliterations. More of the melodies and songs, too. There are still times when I feel awkward, out of place. At certain points, in certain prayers, for example, the congregation turns to face the east, takes a slight dip at the knee and bows. Not sure exactly what’s going on there. Not all men wear kippahs, a smattering of women do. Same with prayer shawls. Not wearing either one does not make me uncomfortable as it first did, but I’m still aware of it.

Especially at the High Holiday services there were many I did not know, since some Jews attend the High Holidays in a fashion like the Christmas and Easter alumi in Christian churches. 70% of Jews in the U.S. do not attend synagogues, but many come for certain liturgical high points, including Pesach and Purim.

Painted by Beth Evergreen religious school

Tree of Life. Painted by Beth Evergreen religious school

Even so, there are now more people whom I know and in turn know me or Kate. That makes going to the synagogue a place to be seen, seen in the same way the Woolly Mammoths saw each other. We’re still new to most of the relationships, a year plus for the people we’ve come to know best like Marilyn and Irv, Tara, Rabbi Jamie, Leah, Elizabeth, Sally, Fran, Lisa, Anshel, Rich, Allan, Ron, Jamie and Steve, but they’re developing. I’ve learned to be patient with the evolution of friendships and close acquaintances, letting them grow in a natural way.

In the mussar vaad practice group, MVP, Marilyn asked me to present on kavod, or the midot (character or soul trait) of honor, dignity and respect. This is even more intimidating than presenting to the Thursday mussar group because this group includes Tara, Marilyn, Rabbi Jamie and Ron, a former script writer in Hollywood, very bright, but, at the same time, more fun because it’s a challenge. I’ve found an important component of staying vigorous emotionally, intellectually and physically at 70 is taking on challenges, much like a decision some years ago to test my self-perception as a bad language learner with Latin.

Showing up to the MVP, the Thursday mussar group, taking kabbalah and Hebrew, going to some services, attending holiday events, and working on the adult education committee are all moments when relationships can grow and I really enjoy working with these folks. Beth Evergreen was a great find for us.


Life’s Rhythms

Fall                                                                                 Harvest Moon

April, 2016, Songtan, Korea

April 2016, Songtan, Korea

Road trip! I’m planning a visit to see Joseph and SeoAh over his birthday weekend in late October. Since they’re living on base, I’ll get a chance to see Robins AFB from the inside. I saw Joseph on Shavuot, June 1st, when he came on a sudden trip to Colorado Springs, but I’ve not seen SeoAh since the wedding, now a year and a half ago. I’m excited.

Yesterday was a rest day from working out, so I used the morning to pick up and rearrange. My work habits leave papers and books scattered in many places, for many different reasons and every once in awhile restoration is in order. I got most of that cleared away yesterday, leaving now the more demanding tasks of moving a whole shelving unit and changing the location of certain books, especially those relevant to reimagining/reconstructing faith. It took a couple of years to find an arrangement of furniture up here that suits me and the books got shelved before I found it. A process.

Kate and I had our business meeting at 3 Margaritas. Though somewhat strained the last year by Jon and the grandkids, our finances are in good order. That makes life easier. We look out ahead at upcoming expenses like the Georgia trip, that quarter of beef from Carmichael Cattle Company, a boiler inspection, Jon’s work on the bench. We talk about matters that need attention at home like sealing the bathroom’s stone work, moving the Arcosanti bell, yard work. Cooking. We also talk about how we’re feeling, physically and emotionally.

for example

for example

Kate’s various ailments make keeping her energy up a challenge, but she’s developed routines that mitigate the worst effects of Sjogren’s Syndrome, has the Remicade infusions for rheumatoid arthritis and manages her lower o2 saturation at night with the oxygen concentrator. She’s gained weight, which is a big positive, though the irony of having to gain weight is never lost on her.

Jon’s working on his new house. He has the kid’s beds set up and spent the weekend painting. He says painting here can produce an intermediate phase where the low humidity causes the paint to dry prematurely, making it sometimes strip off in panels when he goes back to touch up. Frustrating. His kitchen and bathrooms will require more work than he initially imagined, but he’s skilled in these matters.

He came up last night. We had chili from the last of last year’s quarter beef’s hamburger. He’s adjusting to the new schedule, but discovering what all divorced people do. That is, all the responsibilities you used to share are now your’s alone. That can be overwhelming, but he’s handling it by choosing where he spends his energy, the only real solution.

plutarch-quote-there-are-two-sentences-inscribed-upon-the-delphic-oracWe’re in the middle of the days of awe, between new years and Yom Kippur, the day of atonement when the book of life is sealed for the last year. Life demands examination; the ancient Greeks had it written over the Delphic oracle’s doorway in Apollo’s temple: gnothi seauton, know thyself. This annual juxtaposition of the new year and a time of seeking forgiveness for wrongs committed in the past year, both from others and from the sacred Self which links us to the whole, is in a sense a reminder of a rhythm that examination requires.

We fall short of our best selves, both in our relationships with others and in our own inner life, but Judaism and its liturgical calendar reminds us that this is neither extraordinary nor indelible. We seek repentance, then move on, being trapped neither by the past nor by anxiety about how that past will determine our future. That’s the human message of the days of awe. And it’s a good one, one from which us non-Jews can learn.




October 2017
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