We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Letting Go of the Old You

Lughnasa (last day)                                                Harvest (new) Moon

jewish-photo-calendar

Rosh Hashanah service last night. Lots of Days of Awe alumni showing up at the synagogue. These are long services during the High Holydays, this one running almost two hours. There are, however, a lot of songs, readings, standing and sitting, so the time passes quickly.

The mahzor (prayer book for high holidays), has several interesting components. It includes, for example, poetry by Mary Oliver, Rainer Marie Rilke, and Y. Yeuvenshko. The Mary Oliver poem ends with a favorite Woolly Mammoth quote from her work: What will you do with your one wild and precious life? Which is apropos of the High Holydays since this is a time in the Jewish calendar for repentance, teshuvah (returning), closing off the last year and coming clean and free into the new one.

The mahzor also explains the High Holydays as a principle event for Jews as a community of memory. This really struck me last night, especially when Rabbi Jamie quoted from the Shema, “Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.”

memory“That’s us,” he said, sweeping his hand around the room. Of course, it’s not me, but I took the point. Israel, those Jews in the sanctuary at Beth Evergreen and in Rosh Hashanah services around the world last night, and those Jews not in the services, too, is a community which celebrates its most important memories every Sabbath with a parsha reading, a segment of the Torah.

I feel privileged, and grateful, for the chance to live out my religious life at Beth Evergreen, within, but not of, this community of memory. Rabbi Jamie also said last night that the Jewish calendar focuses on helping each Jew become a better human. I get it and I’m following it, too. I am, after all, a human. What better way to start a new year than to focus on repentance for missing the mark of your best self in the last one? Then, figuring out, through mussar, for example, how to work a little harder on finding your best self in the upcoming one.

KaplanThis is reconstructionist Judaism, an explicitly non-supernatural religion that nonetheless adheres to the traditions and customs of Jewish civilization, including Torah study, sabbath observance, comforting mourners, repairing the world and doing acts of loving kindness.

Over the last week or so I’ve begun wondering if my reimagining faith project is really a reconstructing faith project? No, I don’t mean to use Judaism as a base, not at all, but it did occur to me that the methodology suggested by the idea of reconstruction might be stronger for my purposes than reimagining. Still thinking.

Awesome

Lughnasa                                                                                       Eclipse Moon

OzymandiasThe last night of the Eclipse Moon, a disastrous month for North America from the eclipse to its waning moment. The wildfires are still burning in the West from the state of Washington to California, in Oregon and Montana and Idaho. Harvey and Irma related disaster cleanup has only begun. The same in southern Mexico for the victims of the 8.1 earthquake. Jose is still pounding around in the Atlantic and Maria, now a category 5, has just shattered Dominica, Guadeloupe, and is headed for Martinique and Puerto Rico. It’s not the apocalypse, no, but for those whose homes and forests are on fire, under water, battered by wind or destroyed by the movement of the earth, it may as well be.

Awe is not confined to the benign, the amazing and wonderful. Each of these disasters, both in their gestalt and in their particulars, and as a collection of events, is awesome. They show the limits of human preparation, of human intervention. We are not, even with our nuclear weapons and our space station and our icebreakers, more than bystanders when these acts of earth strike us. We even have a name for them, force majeure, enshrined in insurance policies.

Nations and civilizations rise and fall, but earth, air, fire and water continue in their eternal way, or, at least as long as the earth herself lasts, to do what they want, when they want, where they want.

We are, in the end, Ozymandias, look on our works, ye Mighty, and despair.

Exhaled from the abyss

Lughnasa                                                                    Eclipse Moon

Say awe. My focus phrase for this month’s middot: yirah, or awe. (middot=character trait)

CamusAlbert Camus. One of my favorite theologians. It occurred to me that the abyss Camus mentions may be what gets crossed when we experience awe. Somehow we let the absurd in, or the mute world gives us a shout.

“For Camus … [our] astonishment [at life] results from our confrontation with a world that refuses to surrender meaning. It occurs when our need for meaning shatters against the indifference, immovable and absolute, of the world. As a result, absurdity is not an autonomous state; it does not exist in the world, but is instead exhaled from the abyss that divides us from a mute world. ‘This world in itself is not reasonable, that is all that can be said. But what is absurd is the confrontation of this irrational and wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart. The absurd depends as much on man as on the world. For the moment it is all that links them together.’ …” 

Here’s another way of thinking about awe from Alan Morinis, a mussar guru:

“Awe is the feeling of being overwhelmed by a reality greater than yourself and greater than what you encounter in ordinary life. A curtain is drawn back and the little human is overtaken by a trembling awareness that life is astounding in its reality, vastness, complexity, order, surprise. Experiences of awe awaken a spiritual awareness.”

yggdrasil

yggdrasil

Immanuel Kant used the phrase ding an sich, the thing-in-itself, to name that from which our senses separate us. We experience the ding an sich, the mute world of Camus, only through our senses, through our sensory experience of certain qualities, qualia, that the thing-in-itself presents. We do not, in other words, experience that which has the qualities, but only its qualia and then only those within the very limited range of qualia accessible to our senses.

The ding an sich, the abyss, a reality greater than yourself all name a something beyond ordinary experience. There are many ways of articulating the gap between us and the ding an sich, the things in themselves.

Here’s one I like.  Bifrost is the rainbow bridge of Norse mythology. As in this illustration, bifrost connects Asgard, the realm of the Aesir (Odin, Thor, Freya), and midgard, or middle earth, the realm of humans. Awe could be a brief moment when we stand not on midgard but on the rainbow bridge, able to catch a glimpse of the realm beyond us.

Or, we might consider the Hindu concept of maya. Among other meanings maya is a “magic show, an illusion where things appear to be present but are not what they seem”” wikipedia

heimdallWhat all of these ideas suggest, I think, is that a gap exists between an individual and the really real. An important religious question is what is beyond that gap, or what constitutes the gap, or what is the significance of the hidden for our spiritual lives.

I don’t know how to answer that question. Camus’ notion of the absurd makes sense to me. If that’s not an oxymoron. What I do know, for sure, is that the only tool we have for answering it is our experience. Awe may help us. It may allow us a momentary peek into the abyss, or place us on bifrost, or pierce the veil of maya.

What has awed you this day? This week? This year? In this life?

Embarrassed

Lughnasa                                                           Eclipse Moon

mussar chartThe mind and heart, so wonderful, so necessary, so amazing, but also so fragile. Take mine for instance. Yesterday was a full day, beginning, as my days do, around 4:45 am. I got the dogs fed, ancientrails written, Jennie’s 750 words written and went downstairs to eat breakfast and make two sugar cream pies.

I met Rabbi Jamie for lunch in Evergreen, drove back to Shadow Mountain and took Kate to Bailey for her Patchworker’s gathering. Stopped by Happy Camper on the way back home. A 30 minute rest, then back to Evergreen for a meeting about the first ever Evergreen Forum.

Here’s the tricky part for me, the tricky part for moving more fully into the space of Beth Evergreen. My responsibility for the meeting was to get the four panelists there. I reminded them all in an e-mail a week plus ago, but only Rabbi Jamie and Rev. Dr. Judy Morley of the Science of Mind church showed up. I was embarrassed. Of course, they’re adults and had plenty of prior notice; still, I felt I failed at part of my task. Not a great feeling. The planning went fine though and we got the work done.

However. This meeting preceded a second meeting, Mussar Vaad Practice leadership, of which I am also a part. (MVP, get it?) At this one I’m part of a group of six taking responsibility for continuing the integration of mussar’s character development work into congregational life. This was the meeting for which I baked the pie.

During this meeting, I fell into a dispirited place. Dispirited is such an interesting and evocative word. Exactly right here. My spirit, my ability to engage as me, waned during the course of the time. Why? Well, MVP intends to lead by deepening our own personal practice of mussar. Part of that practice involves focusing for a month on a particular character trait, last month’s was self-awareness, this month’s is awe.

The practice involves using a focus phrase, mine was be aware, to keep our attention focused on how we are with that particular trait over the month. I said I’d journal my awareness. Others made lists twice a day of how they made choices, another put a note on their car dashboard asking, Where I am going, why, Where I am going, how, and another turned off the radio in their car and used that time to focus, while yet another checked in on how they were eclipsing themselves, hiding their true feelings behind socially expected behavior.

At check in we said how it had gone over the month. Most of the folks had very fruitful months with some behavior changes I would describe as significant. When it came my turn to check in, I couldn’t remember any of the things about which I’d journaled and I admitted that the journaling didn’t last long. As my Woolly friends who read this will know, I love assignments and am diligent about fulfilling them. Comes from all those years as a student. Except I hadn’t this time. Again, I felt embarrassed.

Too, this meeting went until 8:30 p.m. I’m in bed at 8:00 p.m. since I get up at 4:45 or 5:00 to feed the dogs and start my day. I’m not sure, but I think as my mind begins to move toward sleep, at least at this age, my emotional resilience goes down, especially when I’m out.

The end result of this was that I came home feeling like a failure. Too big a word? Not really. The good news here is that I recognize the context for this feeling, why it came over me and that it was contextual, not core. I told Kate I’d feel better after some rest. And I did.

Being older means having gone through this cycle before and being self-aware (hah, ironic, eh, in light of last month’s character trait?) enough to know the feeling will pass. This is so important, though it may not be obvious. If I allow my embarrassment to mutate into shame, then it could well weaken the bonds I’ve begun to develop at Beth Evergreen.

Shame at not being able to fulfill my obligations could make me much more reticent in future meetings and in general with the people involved. It could push me away from Beth Evergreen. But that only happens if I see the embarrassment (my reaction) as being produced by the other’s shaming me. If I understand and own the reaction as my own, and as a reaction to circumstance, not as a character flaw, then I can continue in community.

A tough but good learning.

 

 

Engaged

Lughnasa                                                             Eclipse Moon

The waning Eclipse Moon stands high in the southern sky this morning above Orion’s head and shoulders. The brightness of even a half moon obscures many stars, a good reminder that light does not always reveal. It can hide things, too.

sugar cream pieToday is a busy one. Once I’ve finished my writing, ancientrails and Jennie’s Dead’s 750 words, I’m going to make two sugar cream pies. One is for home, the other for the mussar leadership group that meets tonight. Sugar cream pies are a distinct cultural marker for the Hoosier state, but more than that, they’re really delicious. Why I don’t make them often.

At noon Rabbi Jamie and I are going to eat at Sushi Win, a sushi joint, excellent, in Evergreen. We’re going to discuss the Evergreen Forum, in particular the meeting with the four participants at 4:00 p.m. this afternoon. We have to decide on format, setup, a questionnaire. The topic, prayer and worship in each person’s tradition, is already chosen.

kaddish the first line from Bleichrode prayer book 1923

Judaism, evangelical Christianity, science of mind and Islam will present this coming Saturday night. This will be the first of what we plan to be quarterly events. I’m excited about it, a little nervous, since it’s my idea, but Beth Evergreen is a collaborative place and many others have helped move the concept to this point. Next up will be a Buddhist, a Sikh, a Hindu and a Native American. That will be December 5th. A visiting scholar will present in the first quarter of 2017 on Reconstructionist Judaism’s thinking on these topics.

After lunch with Rabbi Jamie I’m going back to Shadow Mountain. Kate needs to get to the library in Bailey for her patchworkers group which meets there. I’ll take the opportunity to to go over to The Happy Camper and pick up some edibles.

Back home for a nap, then over to Beth Evergreen for the meeting at 4:00. Following this is the mussar leadership group at 6:30. Home around 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. A very full day.

Fellow Traveler

Lughnasa                                                           Eclipse Moon

Arthur_Szyk_(1894-1951)._The_Holiday_Series,_Rosh_Hashanah_(1948),_New_Canaan,_CT.jpg

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

Judaism as a civilization, a culture, appeals to me on several levels. As practiced at Beth Evergreen it focuses on ethical living through character development, mussar, offers solace to mourners through kaddish at regular services, nourishes a vibrant community where folks actually care for each other and their daily lives, and punctuates the year with the celebration of meaningful holidays.  There are also multiple opportunities for learning. This fall I will participate in the adult education series Words, Words, Words, take Hebrew and later the second kabbalah class.

Mussar yesterday focused on forgiveness. It was timely. Forgiveness couples with the energy of a new year during the high holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Giving and seeking forgiveness for wrongs committed in the past year is on the hearts of everyone in Jewish communities around the world. There are of course more involved theological reasons for both holidays, but at its humanist level Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, underscores the impulse to punish others in ways great and small for their actions that hurt us. And reminds us forcefully to resist it by forgiving those actions in others and seeking forgiveness for the wrongs we have done to them. In a small community where relationships really matter, like Beth Evergreen, like your extended family, forgiveness makes ongoing community life possible, reducing rancor and hostility while opening relationships up for movement into the next, new year.

 

Be Aware 8/17

Lughnasa                                                                Kate’s Moon

14608842_1689729854679011_2228956598700838196_oPaths. The trait of watchfulness, of being aware, is not only about self-awareness. It is, in itself, a tool, one to use to notice which direction you’re headed. Did this action, that motivation, move me in a positive direction in my life or a negative one? Did it move me toward selfishness or toward being of service?

The last couple of days I’ve found exercising hard. Wednesday was my resistance day and I felt too tired. I almost left it entirely, but instead did my high intensity workout plus 80 minutes of treadmill. That seemed easier and I had not been able to work out Tuesday, my normal aerobics day. But. Then on Thursday I encountered the same feeling and didn’t workout at all except for 15 minutes of aerobics. I was aware of struggling with myself, but let the feeling of tiredness win. Exercise is a habit, one I could lose, yet one I value. A matter to pay attention to.

Mussar, at least as it’s been presented so far this year, focuses on the interpersonal and the inner. At least until yesterday. Yesterday introduced a concept of caring for the generation into which you are born, not only the nation of Israel. Caring for the generation requires action for peace and justice.

400830_439551132807268_1006246526_nIt also requires, very interestingly, prayers for God to forgive the wicked, or the unjust. It’s not up to us to forgive them, but we must plead with God to do it. As I took it, this means that we stand against Trump and the white supremacists, for example, opposing them in the streets, in conversation, at the ballot box, in whatever way we can, and it’s up to God to forgive them for what they’re doing. Not us. I interpret God here, the Great Other as Rabbi Jamie sometimes says, as the collective us, our generation perhaps, or history. Or, perhaps, the very sensibility that inspires us to move into the breach on behalf of the vulnerable other.

It also made me wonder if prayer might not be marching against the alt-right, showing up beside African-Americans, LGBT folks, fighting to change unjust economic structures. Tactile prayer, political prayer. Action guided not by anger against individuals like Trump and his minions, but action for the other. So in our action we offer a way out for those with their thumb on the others neck. We ask Pharaoh to let them go. We ask, in other words, that others act as agents of peace and justice, caring for our generation-including the oppressor-but we don’t rely on hope alone, we become hope itself.

Be Aware 8/16

Lughnasa                                                                     Kate’s Moon

At the Sasquatch Outpost in Bailey I asked, “Does anyone really believe in this?” referring to the Sasquatch. In asking the question to the two men and two women working there, I was aware of my genuine curiosity, my willingness to hear what these folks thought. It communicated to them, my willingness, and so we connected.

I received an eclipse related gift from my friend Tom Crane. While at the Outpost, I remembered that, his kindness, and became aware of the thread of friendship that has no distance, a quantum entanglement of the heart.

As I recall this awareness, I also recall the hand that Leah put on my shoulder as she passed me after making announcements at the shabbat service last week. Touch. Simple, no words. Powerful. Her awareness of me made me aware of myself as someone worthy of such a gesture. Also powerful.

Even though I know they’re silly, I do these quizzes I find on Facebook and in other places. A recent one, What is Your Jungian Archetype, has resonated with me. Part of the awareness is that even casual, non-deep encounters can change me. Even more though in this instance is my reaction to the conclusion:

The Innocent Child

Naive but a breath of new life and fresh ideas.

Your inner self archetype is that which closest matches your true personality. Your inner self is primarily influenced by the Innocent Child archetype.

It felt true, not as a total observation about me, of course, but as a part of me that I, at 70, celebrate, want to believe is true of me.

 

 

 

Be Aware

Lughnasa                                                                        Kate’s Moon

BlakeBe aware. Working with mussar practice now, decided to use focus phrases and journaling to work on the trait of watchfulness, seeing my path, owning my journey. The journal part will recount, as I can recall them, those moments when I was aware of my journey.

Last night when I came home from the mussar leadership meeting I recounted the meeting to Kate. I was aware of my own journey deeper into mussar and Beth Evergreen as I did.

After two unpleasant encounters at the New York Deli, a guy stopped right after he turned into the parking lot and a tree trimmer told me I had to me my car, I realized I didn’t like my angry response, but there it was anyhow.

While talking with Sandy, our housecleaner, newly recovering from brain surgery for an acoustic neuroma, I was aware of myself as a potential guide for her since I too lost hearing in one ear. It’s a surprising  and often unpleasant transition.

While writing Ancientrails in the mornings, I become self-aware about some small part of my journey the day before, just as I am now about yesterday.

Just before falling asleep, my helpful mind sets up a Times Square scroll of the day’s activities and why they might have been better. This bit of self awareness I would gladly chuck.

 

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