We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Happenings on Shadow Mountain

Imbolc                                                                         New Life Moon

Single digits. Passes for really, really cold here. Cold enough that I’d forgotten blue jeans are not comfortable at those temps. When I went to kabbalah on Tuesday night, the cold seeped through that cotton as if it wasn’t there. Oh. Yeah. I remember that.

Sjogrens-Syndrome1Kate’s having a Sjogren’s flare. That means symptoms intensify, particularly fatigue and a general feeling of dis-ease. She gets low grade fevers, an annoying sore throat. The good news here is this time we know what it is and she has strategies for coping. It’s not frightening in the way the first flare was back in March or April when she developed thrush and had an ENT guy look at her throat and say, “That looks a little funky.” Doctor speak for, OMG. Fortunately, the funky spot resolved itself. Not throat cancer after all.

Ted, of Ted of All Trades, came by yesterday. Ta dah! Jerry’s paintings, the two big ones you may recall if you ever visited us in Andover, are now hung. 3 years later. One on the wall perpendicular to the fire place and the other in our bedroom. Those damned cabinet hinges? Repaired. We tried to swap out a ceiling fan for a light fixture but when Ted opened the box it had a broken sconce. Grrr. Back to Home Depot.

full disclosure. this is not me.

full disclosure. this is not me.

In the loft Ted repaired my door, a missing bolt to hold one door firmly shut, hung the big map of Hawai’i, the island not the state. Kate got it for me as a consolation prize one year when she went to Maui for continuing medical education and I stayed home. An antique and beautiful. A mirror went up on the wall so I can investigate my form while I work out. Or, just admire my buff body. If it ever comes in the mail! And, a mount for the TRX, a weight suspension workout tool, is now affixed to the ceiling.

Feels good to have those projects finished. Even better to know that Ted is now part of our resource base. He will help us stay here as long as possible by getting small projects done that add up to big improvements in daily living.

abraham_012413_620pxKate and I decided to drop out of Hebrew for this year. We’d not been studying. Doesn’t really reflect lack of interest so much as an unwillingness to dedicate the necessary time we know learning a language needs. May pick it up again in September. My kabbalah class this session though is on the Hebrew letters, so I’m gaining familiarity if not facility.

Still no lifting of the melancholy though I’ve been busy and as I said below it tends to slip away as life pushes itself on me. Last night, for example, I made Grandma’s beef and noodles,  a recipe from the newspaper. Just what it sounds like. Got a 3 pound slab of chuck shoulder roast out of the freezer, unthawed it, cut out the fat and fascia (which took a while), discovered we have a pressure cooker, used it. My first time. Kept hoping it wouldn’t blow up. It didn’t. Whew. Cooking, mindful cooking as I’m trying to remember to do, requires close attention and close attention shuts off the spigot for negative emotions.

 

Current Work

Imbolc                                                                      New Life Moon

One thing I’ve been up to over the last month. This is a brief article for the Shofar, Beth Evergreen’s congregational newsletter.

prayerSetsThe digital world. A blessing and a curse. We’ll go with blessing in the Adult Education Committee’s work to consolidate access to online learning. This work is still nascent and you can see its first fruits on the Beth Evergreen website soon.

We hope you can help us make this resource as vibrant and useful as possible. When the online learning webpage launches, please take a look and give us feedback. Is the webpage user friendly? Are the categories the ones you would like to have? Do the course offerings and other online sites for Jewish learning stimulate you? Make you want to learn? Should there be other types of sites? We believe this webpage will take a while to become as rich a resource as possible and it won’t get there without your help.

In addition to offering easy access to online educational opportunities, we also will sponsor group learning at the synagogue. We’ll pick a MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses), or you can suggest one. Using the screens and projector in the sanctuary we’ll show the lectures and leave time for discussion, something not usually available when taking a MOOC at home.

center-for-online-judaic-studiesA course at the Center for Online Judaic Studies on the Dead Sea Scrolls is an example of how we might use these resources communally.  The Adult Education committee is sponsoring a guided tour of the Dead Sea Scrolls on May 20th. Dr. Russel Arnold will lead us through the exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. We could use this course as a way to prep ourselves for the tour.

Here are some other current examples of course offerings: History of Modern Israel, pt. I and II. The Holocaust, an introduction: pt. I and II. Judaism Through Its Scriptures. The Talmud: a Methodological Introduction. Israel State and Society. What would you like to learn?

 

 

Gospel Aversion

Imbolc                                                                      New Life Moon

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The Winds that will be howling at all hours
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for every thing, we are out of tune;
It moves us not—Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn
Have sight of Proteus coming from the sea,
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

The World Is Too Much With Us, William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

 

GaithersWorlds collided last night and I found it unpleasant. Rabbi Jamie, the Evergreen Chorale, and choir director Val Robinson combined for an evening of Jospel music. That’s gospel music done in a Jewish idiom. Val was a spectacular director. She had the choir energized, crisp in its delivery, and used all of its members as if she were playing an organ. A Beth Evergreen member, Cheri Rubin and her husband Alan, helped make this happen.

Rabbi Jamie seems to blend in with other traditions, yet not lose his distinctively Jewish identity, a feat I admire. Last night he was in gospel mode, adjusting his usual musical style to the more upbeat, quick, punctuated rhythm Val and the music brought.

The worship began with a real memory dredger and heart massager, We Shall Overcome. Appropriate for Black History month and for a setting which commemorated the strong Jewish involvement in the early civil rights movement. So far, I was with the program.

As the music went on, words projected on two screens to either side of the sanctuary, though, I found myself wanting to be elsewhere. Too much God language with too much evangelical style emoting. The woman in front of me sat with her hands palms up, forearms lifted, elbows on her chair rests. Then, the God language got patriarchal with God on his throne and the heavenly father with an excellent name.

BlakeI didn’t realize the distance I’d come from Alexandria and the gospel music style of Bill and Gloria Gaither, my high school teachers who went on to become big stars in the niche genre of popular gospel music. No, that’s not quite right. The style is treacly and sentimental, pop in its overtones while churchy just underneath. That doesn’t push me away though it’s not music I’d turn on voluntarily.

What pushes me away, what I felt physically as a desire to leave the room, was the patriarchal God language, though even that is not the nub of it. The nub of it is the presumption of knowledge, certainty, about a god. That certainty which presents an anthropomorphic deity, gendered and crowned, comes from a text based religion which confuses the words of others with revelation. This confusion, common in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, leads to all the poisoned politics which those monotheistic faiths engender. (ha, a pun there.)

No thrones. No gender. No person like god. No. That cannot be read in the wind howling down Mt. Evans. That cannot be known from the blooming of the bloodroot in spring. That cannot be found in the cry of a new born animal whether human baby or puppy or calf or tiny turtle scurrying toward the sea. That cannot be learned from the glitter of the stars at night or the gentle silver light of a full moon.

No. Just no.

Night and Death. Yes.

Imbolc                                                                      Imbolc Moon

20180131_185045The Imbolc moon has had its night in earth’s shadow, its night as super and blue and red. Hey, up in the sky, it’s Supermoon! And last night it was wonderful again. High, full, behind a faint veil of clouds. Orion and the moon. My two favorite celestial objects. Well, ok, the sun, too, but I can never look at it.

Something in a full moon moves me to the depths of my soul. I can find myself tearing up, a catch in my throat at the sheer extravagance of its beauty. It’s offered over and over, available to all, free.

So, too, Orion. He rises. Greets any who bother to find him. He stands always ready astride the horizon, a hunter and his dog. I don’t know whether he remembers our nights in Muncie while I watched over the entrance gate at the factory, but I like to think he does.

The night sky, in its shorter versions and in its Winter Solstice maximum, offers solace to those of us who want it. The night is, to paraphrase LP Hartley, a foreign country. They do things different there.

caphLast night I went back to Beth Evergreen, more kabbalah. Studying the kabbalah at night, especially under a full moon. Yes. Learning about more double letters: Pey, Caph, Reish, Tav.

I know this Jewish immersion of mine must seem odd to some of you who read this; but, it’s happened over many years, a sort of there and back again phenomenon. In this current instance Kate’s conversion long ago made us seek out a synagogue, just to see. We found Beth Evergreen, a special place, unique I imagine, even among Reconstructing congregations.

It was long ago though I read Isaac Bashevis Singer. Chaim Potok. Later, Rebecca Goldstein. It was long ago that I walked into the synagogue in Muncie for an anthropology assignment. It was long ago that I dated the jeweler’s daughter, Karen Singer, and found her father’s knowledge of philosophy astounding. Over the years many Jews have come into my life and I’ve always felt comfortable around them. As if we shared a common spirit. At Beth Evergreen that feeling surfaced immediately and has grown deeper over time.

green Natural-Burial--275x275Being part of the tribe? No. Not for me. Walking along with the tribe as it wends its way through this moment in time? Yes.

Let me give you an example. The friend I mentioned yesterday, Bonnie Houghton, the green cemetery and burial, rabbi in training, Bonnie, got me going on the Recycle Me idea. It fits so well with my pagan sensibility and it’s something I can act on through this community.

Yesterday was Tu B’Shvat, the new year of the trees. It’s a part of the Jewish holiday year, just like Yom Kippur, Purim and Passover. Kate and I went to the celebration yesterday before kabbalah. Later, as I rested before returning for kabbalah, an image struck me: a Tu B’Shvat celebration in our yet-to-be green cemetery. We would be honoring trees, trees of all kinds yes, but especially, in this celebration, those trees growing from the graves of deceased members of Beth Evergreen.

Can you imagine? An ancient holiday celebrating trees and the gifts that they offer, now including trees with their roots literally in members of the congregation? How mystical, how wonderful would that be. Out there, on the mountain side, perhaps a mountain stream running nearby, a breeze rolling down the slope and my tree, the tree that is a tree and me, our leaves rustling as the gathered folks sing, pray. Yes.

 

 

Cemeteries or the State of the Union?

Winter                                                                        Imbolc Moon

green burialInstead of watching the state of the union Kate and I participated in a presentation on green burial and the possibility of creating a green cemetery. Beth Evergreen has been moving, slowly, toward a Jewish cemetery over the last six years, but Bonnie Houghton, a rabbi in training and former long time Forest Service employee has accelerated the process through her own efforts. In her current work with the Mountain Land Trust she sees properties presented for conservation easements. Some don’t qualify for that purpose, but would work well for green cemeteries, where burials eschew vaults, fancy caskets and backhoes for hand-dug graves, wicker/pine/cardboard/shroud coverings for the corpse, and small, usually flush with the ground grave markers.

Bonnie’s smart and skilled, also dogged. My sense is that her recent work might push this project over the threshold from possibility to actuality. What’s needed is some money, in the range of $250,000 to $350,000, a corporation of some sort, I suggested a co-op, and a plot of land. Bonnie and Rebecca, a CBE member and realtor, showed pictures of three properties ranging in size from 15 acres to 40+ acres.

green burial thanksI found this conversation oddly energizing. Something about the cliched final resting place has more resonance as I move toward my 71st birthday. Having a cemetery which celebrates the natural order of life and death with decay rather than chemicals, concrete, and metal makes so much sense to me. Having a tree planted over my cremains, or in them, feels right. Too, we could bury the remains of our many dogs with us. That would make for a unique family plot.

Now, we could have spent yesterday evening listening to the Donald try to make up for a year of unending bullshit, but we chose something productive, something focused on life and death rather than forehead slapping, groans and despair. Odd, isn’t it, that a discussion of burials and cemeteries would have more life in it than a used-to-be important political moment? The times in which we live now. I wish they’d start to decay. Soonest.

 

 

Shoulder, Trees, Writing

Winter                                                                         Imbolc Moon

shoulder-arthroplasty-Mayo-ClinicHippity hop to the ortho shop. Kate’s got an appointment at Panorama Orthopedics today. Her right shoulder. She can no longer hold things up with her right arm and has to use two hands to put dishes away, sometimes to lift a cup. Annoying and painful. Screws up her sleep, too. She needs some kind of solution, more than likely a shoulder replacement. This is the first step, a consult to see what her options are.

A friend of Kate and mine is having surgery for breast cancer today, too. It’s a cancer that has the improbable, but very desirable, cure rate of 100%. In the sort of piling on that getting older can deliver, her husband, only a week later, got a diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. It’s a killer, but slow, maybe 5-10 years. He’s mid-70’s. Mortality is always stalking us, but seems to knock on the door more often past three score and ten.

Sister Mary tells me she’s been invited as a visiting professor to a university in Kobe, Japan this summer. Very close to Kyoto. And, great beef. Congrats to Mary. Brother Mark is in Bangkok right now, chillin’ in the tropical heat.

Tu B'ShevatAn interesting week ahead. A session on green burial tomorrow night at CBE. It’s part of a conversation about creating a Jewish cemetery up here in the Evergreen/Conifer area. Oddly, I think I’d like to work on that. The next night, Wednesday, is Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees. Judaism has a lot of pagan inflections, Tu B’Shevat and Sukkot, a harvest festival at the end of the High Holidays, for example. Looking forward to this one because there’s a seder, too, with seven species of fruit and nuts. I’ll explain more on Wednesday. After the this celebration is another Kabbalah session, more double letters in the Hebrew alphabet.

NovelIdeaRigel has her second appointment at the Vet Referral Clinic with Dr. Bayliss this Friday, too. I’m excited about it because we’ll get a clearer picture of what’s going on with her. And, it’s not the dire prognosis we anticipated when we took her in a week ago last Friday.

Meanwhile, I’ve finally levered myself back into writing, now on both Jennie’s Dead and Rocky Mountain Vampire (only a working title). Not sure exactly how I did it, just did it, I think.

Getting closer to using the sumi-e brushes, maybe today. Yesterday I tied string at the base of each new brush after applying a bit of glue all round, too. That had to set for a day. I gathered some towels, watched a couple more videos. Youtube is a fantastic resource for all kinds of things. Jon watches Japanese woodcrafting videos to calm down, for example.

Next week is Kate’s quilting retreat in Buena Vista.

 

Sunday

Winter                                                                            Imbolc Moon

Kate and meKate sewed most of the day yesterday. May not seem like a big deal, but it is. Her energy and her energy management skills are both improving and she’s enjoying life more. I’m so glad to see it.

Rigel’s feeling better, too. Acts better. Less needy. Appetite more normal. The rabbit protein diet, which includes small chunks of frozen canned dog food as treats, seems to agree with her though I can’t tell whether she’s gained weight or not. Dr. Bayliss said Rigel will get a b-12 injection on her next visit to the VRCC. After that, not sure. I’m glad to see Rigel feeling better, too.

Today I’m going to spend some time on sumi-e, ink wash painting. Youtube videos. Preparing my new brushes. Learning to grind ink. Going to use some of my less expensive tea cups with it because they’re beautiful and fit the aesthetic. My goal right now is to learn the strokes, what the brushes can do. How to make ink. How to set up the area for a productive session. How the paper reacts to the brush. Beginner’s mind.

20180124_110641Work on online education for Beth Evergreen will continue today, too. Marilyn Saltzman found some mussar sites and I’m going to add Coursera and EDx courses. I also plan to look at other, more general online education sites. So far I’ve focused on online education focused on Jewish studies, but I imagine there are more courses. A fun project.

Might pop over to Tony’s Market. Not a place to do regular grocery shopping, but for special meals, white table cloth, jazz, and candle sticks meals, it’s the best I’ve discovered here so far. They have a wide selection of sea-food, meats and prepared side dishes.

Uncertainty and Ambiguity Are My Friends

Winter                                                                Imbolc Moon

winter solstice4Kabbalah last night. It’s an odd experience for me in some ways. I’m learning a lot, seeing how to see in a very new way, looking at the bones of the universe. The thought world of the kabbalists is strange and wonderful, allowing for a peak behind the curtain of creation. Yet. There is too a limiting factor.

When the great German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Hegel did his exhaustive philosophy of history, he finished it by discovering that all of history up to then pointed at, wait for it, 19th century Germany. In the same way kabbalah peels back the layers obfuscating the journey from singularity to this world and discover that it culminates in, wait for it, the Torah. If you’re familiar at all with the history of ideas, you’ll know that this is not an isolated phenomenon.

The odd experience factor, which I’ve encountered many times, is that to learn it well there has to be a suspension of disbelief. That means following the logic and the imaginative leaps as a believer, yet knowing that that stance is a heuristic, not a life choice. This is, of course, much easier in a college classroom where the whole idea is to embrace new ideas, learn them, then move on to the next one. Schopenhauer. Kierkegaard. Logical positivism. Wittgenstein.

20-the-map-is-not-the-territoryIt’s more difficult to follow this approach in a faith community, even one as open and accepting of diverse thought as Beth Evergreen. The kabbalists influenced the prayer book and worship practices of all Jews, orthodox to reconstructionist. The Jewish civilization which Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan wanted to further through his project of reconstruction, though it has universalist instincts, remains firmly rooted in the tribal history.

And, it cannot be otherwise. Studying kabbalah is always going to point toward the Torah, toward a specifically Jewish world, even though its implications push well beyond it. The task for me is to learn it as authentically as possible while maintaining my pagan/pilgrim worldview, seeking within the knowledge of the kabbalists the threads leading outside the civilizational fences which it necessarily erects.

Digital Judaism

Winter                                                                              Imbolc Moon

Torah being read at a Bar Mitzvah

Torah being read at a Bar Mitzvah

I spent part of yesterday compiling a table of Jewish Studies courses online. This all got started because I wanted to know more about modern Israel. I found a Coursera course online, The History of Modern Israel. When I mentioned that it might be good for those of us in the congregation who don’t know this story very well, Rabbi Jamie suggested that we dig deeper into the online education possibilities for adult education. I volunteered.

It’s a harder task than I thought it would be. Several reasons. First of all there is a lot of material. Second the sort of material varies widely from actual online courses similar to the MOOCs that Coursera and Edx provide to short essays on particular topics. Third most are free, but some are not.

There are also sites focused on reference material like Sefaria and the Jewish Library Online, even a couple focused on study methodology like Zug, which links you up with an online study partner. All of this makes for a challenge in organizing the data so that congregants can access it and identify what might be useful for them.

A second facet of the project is to provide the occasional group experience at Beth Evergreen utilizing online course material.

Something to keep me busy.

Siyum

Winter                                                                      Imbolc Moon

Siyum_on_kesubosAn interesting mussar session yesterday. We had a siyum, a new favorite thing. In the rabbinic tradition whenever a group of learners would finish a book or a large section of, say, Talmud, they’d throw a party. This picture of a hasidic or orthodox siyum is exactly like our group except we’re almost all women, don’t wear hats and had much better food.

In this instance we finished a year plus study of the “Messilat Yesharim: the path of the upright” by Rabbi Moses Luzzato. As part of the siyum we each offered a verse from the text that we would carry forward, a sort of summary of the work’s significance to us. I chose a verse which contained the English word omniscience. I replaced it with what I then thought was the Hebrew, permeated knowledge. I also replaced the word God each time it appeared. This was a hermeneutical act both of reimagining and reconstructing.

20180111_143011

Our mussar class under Joseph’s dream and the burning bush

As an example of encountering the knowledge, the sacred knowledge, that permeates the universe, I spoke about the three mule deer bucks who visited me in our backyard, October 31st, 2014 when I came up for the closing on the Shadow Mountain house. We watched each other. I moved a little closer to them, they watched with those large round brown eyes. I moved a little closer, then stopped, not wanting to spook them or reinforce any habituation they might have. They were the spirit of the mountains come to say it was all right for me to be here.

This August, our yard

This August, our yard

But here’s the really interesting part. There were also three mule deer bucks in the grass outside the windows where we studied. Jamie pointed them out, we all looked. Then, several, maybe a quarter of the 20 or so people in the class, recounted their own stories, right around the time they moved to or were considering moving to the Evergreen/Conifer area. There had been welcoming deer, elk and even a bear. All of these accounts were reverential. Each recalled incident added a goose bump or two.

I felt so affirmed in my odd pagan journey, my pilgrimage on this ancientrail I chose so long ago; not because of the response to my choice of verse, but because of the obvious pagan sensibility commonly shared. This sort of shamanic seeing is a part of our human tool kit if we’re not summarily dismissive of it.

Beat the drum slowly friend.

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