We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

The Raw and The Cooked

Samain                                                                           Bare Aspen Moon

The Raw and The Cooked, French Edition

The Raw and The Cooked, French Edition

After a very busy week, a good busy with friends and Hebrew, kabbalah and time with Kate, yesterday was a rest day. Wrote, did my workout (which takes a while), napped, had a wonderful lamb supper cooked by Kate, who’s a wizard with meat. Watched some more of the Punisher on Netflix. On seeing that on the TV as she went to bed Kate said, “I don’t like your choice of programs.” “I know,” I said. Eating red meat and watching TV are hangovers from my Indiana acculturation, neither of which would I recommend to my children or grandchildren, but which I also thoroughly enjoy. No excuses.

Admitting to liking television in the crowds in which I tend to run is like admitting you enjoy belching or farting in public. Declassé. And it is, I suppose. My rationale (or, perhaps, as is often the case with rationales, my rationalization) is relaxation, in particular relaxation from a day usually spent in intellectual and physical activity. I love stories and TV, especially right now, is full of good storytellers who use visuals to enhance their storytelling. I’m sure there’s a sophisticated psychology explanation for this habit, but TV serves a purpose in my life. So there.

Thanksgiving this week. I’ve got a Martha Stewart recipe for capon with pancetta and fig stuffing. Which, of course, requires finding a capon, a mystery meat, as I said yesterday, to Colorado butchers. Tony’s Market. I ordered one and I’m going to call them today just to make sure it’s really coming. I did try to find a capon on which to experiment, but the only one I could find was $63.00. Ouch. Thanksgiving will be the experiment.

capon2I really like cooking, used to do a lot more. It requires mindfulness and produces a meal for others to enjoy. Just popping up from my days of anthropology: The Raw and the Cooked, by Claude Leví-Strauss. In this book the French anthropologist talks about the binary of raw food to cooked, prepared food, seeing the development of cooking as fundamental for the human species, a key movement leading toward civilization. (I’m not going to go into it here, too complex, but if you’re interested in dialectical thinking, the raw-cooked distinction is an example of binary opposition, a distinctively French version of dialectical thought which underlies Leví-Strauss’s idea of structuralism, a short introduction to it is here.)

My point in this last paragraph is that cooking is central to being human; so, engaging in it, at any level, links us directly to the story of human evolution. In that way we can look at Thanksgiving, or any big holiday meal, as linking a key step in our change from merely animal to animal with culture, to another key step, the abstraction of particular days, the elevation of particular moments in time, into holidays. The other night I realized that for dogs all days are the same no Tuesdays or passovers or superbowls, no Guy Fawkes or Mexican independence days, rather sequences of day and night, with food and friends, human contact.

EmersonWe’re not like dogs in that fundamental sense. As Emerson observed, “The days are gods.” Another binary opposition is the sacred and the profane, like the holy and the secular, ordinary time and sacred time. We imbue, out of our speculative capacity, the passing of time with certain significance. The day we were born. The yahrzeit notion in Judaism, celebrating the anniversary of a death. A day to celebrate the birth of a god, or to remember a long ago war against colonial masters. We identify certain days, a vast and vastly different number of them, as new year’s day, the beginning of another cycle marked by the return of our planet to a remembered spot on its journey.

20161229_161617_001When we merge our speculative fantasies with the chemistry of changing raw food into a beautiful cooked meal, we can have extraordinary times. The natural poetics of wonder join the very earthy act of feeding ourselves to create special memories. Very often on those days we gather with our family, a unit that itself memorializes the most basic human purpose of all, procreation of the species. We don’t tend to think of these most elemental components, but they are there and are sine qua non’s of holidays.

So, cook, pray, celebrate. Laugh. With those you love. If you care to, take a moment to consider these amazing things, too. That we know how to transform a neutered rooster into something delicious, something that will undergo the true transubstantiation, the changing of soil chemicals, the bodies of animals and plants into a human body. That we have the idea of Thanksgiving, or the idea of Hanukkah, or the idea of Labor Day and mark out a chunk of the earth’s orbit as special for those ideas. That we choose to gather on them with our small unit of humanity’s long, long ancientrail of development and critical change and doing so honor all of these elementals.

 

 

 

The Time Has Come. Again. And will come once more.

Samain                                                                    Joe and Seoah Moon

Walrus-Carpenter, John Tenniel

Walrus-Carpenter, John Tenniel

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

 

And so it is, every time Tom and Bill and I find ourselves on the shore of the ocean surrounded by oysters, or on Guanella Pass or in the strange Buckhorn Exchange, holder of Denver’s liquor license number one.

It is, I suppose, possible to think of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass as excellent examples of life’s true way, one governed by chance and the exigencies visited on us. Or, another way of explaining it, other than chance, might be, the universe speaking to us. Could be synchronicity, could be a kabbalah experience, could be the photographer/novelist at the artist’s co-op in Georgetown.

20160813_161919Skiing is an example. Jon’s love of skiing, learned in the flatlands of Minnesota, with bumps just big enough to gain some momentum, occasioned, much later in his life, a move to Colorado. Joseph came here, too, to live in Breckenridge. Jon met Jen. Ruth and Gabe. Years of traveling from Minnesota to Colorado. Then, our own move to Colorado. Now here we are, near the Guanella Pass, near Georgetown with a friend who lives there. So Tom and Bill could come visit and we could meet the photographer and former petroleum engineer, Ellen Nelson. We could, too, as Tom said, reenter the conversation that defines our lives.

There is, too, for me, the chance experience of Kate, all those many years ago, when she went to Temple Israel in Minneapolis and felt immediately at home, tears streaming down her face. Without that moment we wouldn’t have sought out, just on a whim, two classes on King David being held on a cold night in nearby Evergreen. That was two years ago to the day tomorrow. We found Congregation Beth Evergreen. Now we’re there among friends, contributing and growing more deeply involved. And my pilgrimage across the landscape of life, which began in Oklahoma in the Red River Valley, now continues with a strong Jewish inflection in the mountains of Colorado.

 “Every Man Knew” was commissioned from artist David Conklin by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

“Every Man Knew” was commissioned from artist David Conklin by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

None of this was part of a plan. Yes, plans can help us in certain parts of our lives, but if we fool ourselves into believing that the planful side of us guides the most important parts of our lives then we miss the larger, more significant streams on which we drift. Kate sews. So she has met the women of Bailey Patchworkers and the Needleworkers. I love Kate, so I’ve met the folks at Beth Evergreen and taken another right hand turn on my pilgrimage. Bill and Tom and I met through chance in a group of men called Woolly Mammoths. How weird is that? Yet here we are, together now in the Rockies, thirty years later.

Somehow we have to stay open, to not ratchet down the hatches of our mind. This is counter-intuitive as the heavy storms of life wash over our bows, threatening to sink us. In fact we often need to sink, to go under the surface of our life, to allow the stormy waters of a new life to rush over us, fill us, even drown our old life; so that we can pop back to the surface, water streaming, eager for the changed world that now exists up there.

JackLondonwhitefang1It is no wonder that many folks can’t do this. It’s just too scary. But I can tell you, from the vantage point of 70 years, that the intentional has very rarely taken me where I thought it would. Studying hard in high school? Yes, I followed that thread off to college, but college waters quickly swamped my little vessel, pushing me under. I drowned many times in the ensuing years. Philosophy overcame my fragile barque. Then, opposition to the Vietnam War. Alcohol, met in my freshman year, held me under from 1966 to 1976. A long time love of Jack London’s novels, especially Call of the Wild and White Fang, awakened in me a desire to see lands where pine trees and lakes, wolves and moose were. After a move to Wisconsin pursuing those lands, the ocean of Christianity once again swallowed me. Which led me to Minnesota. And, eventually, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, where, after a divorce, I would meet Kate, who cried in the Temple and whose son, Jon, now mine, too, loved to ski. Which led, in its own, very unplanned way, to this home on Shadow Mountain. So many other instances.

 

 

 

There Is No End of History

Samain                                                                           Joe and SeoAh Moon

The moon is a waning crescent. Orion has moved from a position due south of us, when he first rose this year, to a position to the westsouthwest, just beyond Black Mountain toward Evergreen.

Sky, near infrared

Sky, near infrared

This reminds me that planet means wanderer in the original Greek. “Greek astronomers employed the term asteres planetai (ἀστέρες πλανῆται), “wandering stars”,[1][2] to describe those starlike lights in the heavens that moved over the course of the year, in contrast to the asteres aplaneis (ἀστέρες ἀπλανεῖς), the “fixed stars“, which stayed motionless relative to one another.” wiki We know now that even the fixed stars are not fixed, but are in motion relative to each other. Each galaxy moves in relation to the others, our whole solar system is in motion, too.

There is no fixed point. Continents drift, the earth itself wobbles, the moon’s orbit is decaying. In fact, there is no evidence that any of the things contained in the vastness of the universe are permanent. Black holes swallow stars. The eventual-in this case eventual covers a really, really long period-fate of all things, according to the Big Bang theory and its correlate, the expanding universe, is a big cooling, followed by many black holes which suck in and destroy everything. The black holes themselves dissolve due to Hawking radiation. And no thing is left. At least in our universe. Probably. Today’s best understanding suggests something like this as the ultimate end. Of the other, potential universes, the multiverses of string theory, I don’t know.

Space expansionSo what? Death, or at least extinction, is characteristic not only of life, but of the thing in itself, the ding an sich that Kant named the reality beyond our sensory mediation. I suppose this means Ragnarok is the true theological observation about even deity. Nirvana and moksha both promise release from the cycle of death and rebirth. Hmmm. Metaphysically not possible in this universe since the time frames assumed here are infinite. Even heaven. Obliterated. Wings, halos, heavenly choirs. Chilled out in the end.

This leaves us with the compression of time that our human lifespan grants us or forces upon us, depending on your viewpoint. And, it means that all religious speculation is, finally, not about life after death, for we know how that story finishes up, but about living this one life, or these serial lives. Reincarnation is not ruled out by the big bang. Just that it will not, cannot, go on forever.

thrownIt also takes me to Heidegger’s notion of thrownness, that at birth we are deposited into a specific place, with particular parents, in a community in a nation on a continent, in a unique time period, of which we can experience at most 100 years or so, 100 revolutions around the sun. This we know is ours, barring a Trumpian/Kimian nuclear catastrophe or the eruption of one of the world’s super volcanoes or the sudden emergence of a life ending meteor. This life. This brief flash of brilliance that is you.

How shall we live in this, the moment of our existence? This is the question. Many religious and ethical and political and economic systems have arisen as answers. None of them have proved universal, none of them have proved lasting, even in the relatively short historical period. When we peek up over the rim of our fundamental assumptions, we see an anarchic reality, shifting, transforming, its shape guided in part by chance, in part by consciousness.

The world’s religions, in any time, including now, have often suggested that they can peek over that same rim and see order. That they have texts, revelations (the peek), which offer guidance about life as it should conform to that order. Except they conflict. Except we know the physical evidence they see is not ordered at all, at least not in the moral/ethical way they claim, but is, instead, in motion toward dissolution.

taoismTaoism makes the most sense to me in terms of how to live with this understanding. We flow with it, we live on the journey that presents itself to us. Grabbing any tool, political or economic or religious or ethical, and reasoning deductively about what must be is going to result in error, often huge error, at enormous cost in lives.

This is not an argument against religion, or economics, or politics though it may sound like that. It is an argument for humility, for acceptance of our limits, against the hubris of metaphysical certainty. In this view then the teachings of any faith, the hopes of any style of government, the transactional world of any economics, should (and I use this word advisedly) be weighed against their results in the daily life of people and the world that supports them. Bad results equal bad faith, bad governance, bad economy. Good results equal good faith, good governance, good economy. But nothing more than this because even good faith and good governance and good economy has limits. There is no end of history. There is only an ultimate end to everything.

 

Holiseason Well Underway

Samain                                                                        Joe and SeoAh Moon

caponDrove to Wheat Ridge yesterday to Edward’s Meats. Hunting for capon. Capons are surprisingly difficult to find here; even more surprisingly, the first two butchers we asked for one gave us a blank look. Huh? What’s that? Butchers. Geez. Tony’s Market in Littleton, a very upscale butcher and speciality grocery store, did not have any but had an order coming in for Thanksgiving. I ordered one.

But I wanted to experiment with a cooking method before we put that one in the oven for Thanksgiving. That’s why I went to Edward’s. And, yes, they had a capon. $63.00. Sticker shock on my part. In spite of my desire to experiment with the pancetta and fig dressing and a way to create a golden, moist bird for the table, I left with a package of Edward’s all beef wieners and some cheese  curds.

Guess we’ll experiment on a big chicken, non-caponized.

When Kate bought four caramel apples just in case we had trick or treaters (we didn’t, as has been the case all the years we’ve been here), she kicked off holiseason. Hunting for recipes for thanksgiving, and capons, puts deeper into the season. We had Jon clear his stuff out of the guest room and kid’s room by November 1st so we could get the guest room ready by Thanksgiving for Annie, Kate’s sister, and for Joe and SeoAh, who plan to be here over Christmas. More prep.

festivals

We’ve also spent some time putting up lights. Kate strung rope lights on the loft deck and the stairway leading up. I strung some outdoor retro bulbs on the front of the house and another string arrives tomorrow. Needed a few more for the right effect. Though holiday decorating tailed off for us a while ago, these areligious lights are our contribution for the festivals of light.

This is my favorite time of year. The weather grows cold, snow comes. The land and its plant life rests. The many holidays that punctuate this very difficult time for temperate latitudes in times past bring families and friends, whole communities, together. Gifts are given, songs sung, wassailing is common. No matter the commercial spin of these months. That’s just humanity trying to conceal the struggle for depth, for powerful connection with the unseen.

20171109_170458Finding our way in the hiddenness, in the dark wood of Dante’s Divine Comedy, consumes our lives right up until our death. Most of the time we use the day-to-day as cover, pretending that going to work, cooking, paying the bills, watching television, going to the movies is all there is. But we know it’s not. Death serves as the big revealer, the sacred text this earth has given to all life. Life is temporary, a place, as the Mexica say, between a sleep and a sleep. The holidays give us a chance to glimpse the hidden, to see behind the veil that separates the ordinary from the wonder which suffuses it. Yes, that chance exists every day, in all parts of our ordinary lives, but our capitulation to the mundane, seemingly necessary for our sanity, makes it very hard.

diwali-660_110313050526That’s why on Samain we celebrate the thinning of the veil between the worlds. That’s why on Thanksgiving we give ourselves over to gratitude and to family. That’s why Diwali, Hanukkah, and Christmas have us lighting up our homes, our streets, our businesses. That’s why we sing brave songs, remember the birth of a god in human form, the wonder of a light that wouldn’t go out, light the small earthen diyas filled with oil that represent enlightenment driving out ignorance, the wick, the human soul, burning up the oil, hate and ignorance. We could us a few diya’s lit here in the U.S. right now. More than a few.

Holiseason gives us a chance to pull open the curtain on the Holy of Holies and see inside. I hope you find an opportunity to witness, even if for only a moment, the true majesty of this cosmos in which we are embedded.

 

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Samain                                                      Joe and SeoAh Moon

38d9f3b4e2e64361ce68ca237f270a42The pilgrim notion, layered over my pagan orientation, has begun to take hold. It makes so much sense, not sure why I didn’t latch onto it until now. Since I was young, I’ve questioned, well, almost everything. In the year after college, that would be 1970, I visited a psychiatrist, don’t recall why. He gave me an MMPI. Diagnosis? Philosophical neurosis. Odd, eh? 47 years of self-exploration later, I’d say the MMPI really meant, permanent pilgrim.

Some of us can find a spot on the path, say, Buddhism, Christianity, Transcendentalism, Islam, Judaism, settle in and deepen our journey within a tradition. Some of us abjure the path, say it leads nowhere, dulls our mind and clouding our senses. Others, and I know a surprising number who fit this, define themselves over against a tradition, choosing to be Not Catholic, Not Jewish, Not conservative Christian. I have a friend, let’s call him Frank, whose identity as an anti-Catholic colors all of his interactions.

There are some of us though who, for one reason or another, slip out from the covered path of our childhood tradition to walk in the rain. I began to question Christianity late, in early high school, but I remained under its covered walkway until my freshman year of college. Once the intellectual roof of that tradition got blown off I discovered I liked the rain. And, that the weather on the uncovered path changed, could be sunny as well as stormy.

Canterbury_Cathedral_Cloisters,_Kent,_UK_-_Diliff.jpg

Canterbury Cathedral Cloisters, Kent, UK. Diliff

I found my back to the Christian path not long after my diagnosis of philosophical neurosis. In fact, I’m recalling now that the psychiatrist thought returning to my childhood faith might help me with my “condition.” And, you know, I think it did. In an obtuse way. When I entered seminary, I didn’t know about Paul Ricoeur’s concept of second naivete. But I lived it.

Returning to the inner world of the gospels, to the flow of the Christian tradition over time, to the close study of both testaments, to contemplative and meditative spirituality reminded me that the way of the pilgrim was real. It was not an afterthought, but a way of its own. Yes, I could and did learn about how to approach sacred texts and learn from them. Yes, I could and did learn from those who loved the covered walkways of Christianity’s various paths. Yes, I could and did learn the awesome (and I mean this word in all its nuances) responsibility of caring for the faith life of others. But I came to understand, not long after the beginning of my ministry, that all of these were tools, not ends in themselves. At least for me.

Meridian Gate, Forbidden City, West Wing

Meridian Gate,
Forbidden City, West Wing

Though the world of the scholastics was putatively over in the late middle ages, in fact it continues to this day in all those traditions that rely on sacred texts as their raison d’etre. Why? Because any time your learning comes from the words of others, be they ancient or contemporary, you have put a barrier between yourself and the sorts of truths that religions espouse. These words can be evocative, can be inspirational, can be vivifying for the spirit. They can be poetic, dramatic, regulatory, awe inspiring, yet they are always the perceptions of others, written in words that conceal as much, more, than they reveal.

Some of us, most of us, want to remain under a covered walkway whether that walkway is a particular faith tradition or the covered walkway of atheism, permanent skepticism. Either way, the sky is hidden and the path winds along in a direction, headed toward a destination defined by itself. This is soothing and can allow for a genuine in depth exploration of that path.

peregrinationes-in-terram-sanctam-enA few of us, for reasons probably unclear to us, find a covered walkway claustrophobic, confining. Even if we give ourselves over to such a path for a while we always find a spur that leads out under the open sky. I have walked under the open sky most of my life, with a fifteen year hiatus on the covered path of the Reformed tradition of Christianity. Since 1990 or so, really earlier, but this is the clear demarcation, I wandered out from under the protection of that path and have not looked back.

Right now I’m trekking alongside the Jewish path, its Reconstructionist lane. Mussar, kabbalah, even Hebrew itself, have much to teach. The culture, the civilization created by Jews over the millennia, is rich and cultivates responsible, caring persons. I’m grateful for the opportunity to explore its learnings in a wonderful community.

When I was in the Unitarian-Universalist movement, I found it, appositely, too eclectic, too rootless. It was like a garden with so many different flowers that there was no beauty, just many, many different blooms. To me. For the right person, it can be a pilgrim path, too, or even a covered walkway, but for me it lead in too many directions at once.

pilgrimThere were monks in the ancient Celtic Christian church, the blend of the auld faith of the Celts and Christianity that preceded Catholicism in the Celtic lands, that defined their spiritual practice as peregrinatio, wandering around. They went from village to village staying in huts. They had no permanent homes, no monastery. Like the staret featured in the Russian spiritual classic The Way of the Pilgrim, they were, in a real sense, homeless. Both Taoism and Hinduism have wandering adherents, too. Buddhist monks traveled the Silk Road.

I consider myself in their tradition, unattached to a religious institution, yet a follower of a mystical way, one that can express itself in the language of many, perhaps any, tradition, while remaining outside in the rain.

 

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.

Before the Storm

Fall                                                                            Harvest Moon

Wow. Barely into October and I pushed about 5 inches of fluffy, but still wet snow off the back deck just now. The snow began before midnight last night. Thanks to winds blowing from the east, an upslope storm, we’ll get the bulk of its moisture. We’ll probably be on the upper end of the 7-10 inch forecast. This is a relatively rare event where the eastern Front Range gets more snow than the ski areas further west. Still snowing. Will continue, according to the forecast, through late afternoon today.

by Jeremiah, of Sarah, Kates sister

by Jeremiah, of Sarah, Kate’s sister

The weekend had that urgency before the storm feel to it, the first big storm of the season. On Saturday the fines got mowed and I worked on uncrating our Jeremiah Miller paintings. He’s my brother-in-law and an excellent artist. If you remember our Andover house, these are the two very large paintings that hung in the living room and our bedroom. A1 Movers crated them in December of 2014 and they’ve been in their specialized shipping containers since then.

The crates, very sturdy, are taller than I am and heavy. They were clumsy to move. I could maneuver the smaller one onto a small table made of saw horses and a slab of plywood, but the bigger one was too heavy. Jon helped me with that yesterday. Until I opened them, we had no idea how the paintings had fared. The smaller one is in good shape. I plan to open the bigger one today. The dry air here helps, at least in the short run. Over time it might advance the drying out of the paint and cause craquelure, something I’ll have to look into.

The energy surge I get when the air cools down kicked in a couple of weeks ago. It’s reinforced by 20 years of early fall gardening work in Andover. This was the time when the garlic got planted, the last of the leeks, onions, kale, collard greens, beans, beets, lettuce harvested and flower bulbs dug in. The raspberries were ripening constantly and the apples, too. It was also the time of wood cutting and splitting for our fire pit.

I got out the chainsaw and decided to cut stumps left standing from the fire mitigation work a couple of years ago. An Iraq vet, Julie, who heats with wood, stopped by on Friday and asked if she could have the bucked wood. Kate said yes and Julie carted off all of it, front and back. We still have a few dead trees that need to come down so we’ll have firewood. That left just the stumps and they stood out even more.

 a good and trusted tool for over twenty years

a good and trusted tool for over twenty years

The Jonsered I’ve had for twenty plus years, the one I used to cut down the large stand of black locust to clear the way for our gardens and to keep the woods cleared of snags, is past its usefulness. I should have had it rebuilt several years ago apparently. Chainsaw Bob said it’s not fixable. It’s hard to start and dies suddenly. Frustrating. Got four or five stumps cut close to the ground, difficult to do since it involves bending over and holding the saw level with the soil, as close as possible to the surface. Then I noticed I’d been too close to the soil and the saw blade had gone into it. Instant dullness. Gonna go see Chainsaw Bob and see if he has a rebuilt Jonsered I can buy. I’ve got many stumps to cut and those few dead trees.

Also hung the Arcosanti bell Kate got in Arizona years ago. It tolls when the wind blows and we decided long ago that its peeling memorializes our dead dogs. Noticed that the small diamond shaped windcatcher that makes it toll had fallen off, but couldn’t find it. We’ll have to create something in place of it.

typhonIt was a week of this sort of activity, getting ready for the storm, catching up on errands. My exercise, Jennie’s Dead work suffered, but my choice. This week I’m back at all of that, going to On the Move Fitness on Thursday for a new workout.

Jennie’s Dead is going well. Not sure what I’m doing with it, at least not completely. I’m retelling versions of certain myths and those retellings have become extended. I find them great fun to write, but I’m wondering now if they’re overwhelming the main story line. The Typhon/Zeus fight for control of Olympus has a lot of nuance.

Ancora Imparo. I’m still learning.

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.

Who is God’s Rothko?

Fall                                                                     Harvest Moon

Been thinking about a new analogy for reimagining/reconstructing faith: the transition from representational to abstract art. I like the analogy because it reaches deep into prehistory to the cave art of Lascaux and Chauvet of 40,000 years ago. This tradition developed so powerfully that its underlying assumptions were simply not questioned.  What would art be about but the reproduction of the human world in two-dimensions? Then, in 3, but still a man, or a god, or an animal. The introduction of perspective reinforced the representational, but did, I imagine, to the sensitive eye, give an inkling of the manipulation of space and color that really underlay art making.

No. 118 1961 by Mark Rothko

No. 118 1961 by Mark Rothko

So called modern art was a radical break with this tradition. It happened as artists in many places looked at painting and sculpture with fresh eyes. They asked about the purpose of art, the purpose of paint on canvas, the purpose of reshaping wood and stone. What are the primary elements of the work? Color. Paint. Form. Space. Negative space. And perspective, did it have to be mathematical? Was there a perspective that developed simply through the use of color? (Cezanne) Did perspective have to be singular? (Picasso) Could a painting be nothing but color? (Morris Louis, Rothko, Kandinsky) What about painting or sculpting things that could not exist? (Man Ray, Dali, DuChamp)

mao trach dong

mao trach dong

As artists began to consider the fundamentals, the unexamined assumptions of making art that had shaped its global expression since humans began making marks, though, that other tradition, the old representational one, did not die out. There were still portraits, still landscapes, still still lifes, sculpted men and women and animals and mythical beings of all sorts. This reimagining, reconstructing of art itself seemed to displace the older way, but only because museums became so dominant. There were modern art museums like the Walker and the Guggenheim and the Modern and the Tate which seemed to position the older, encyclopedic museums like the MIA, the Metropolitan, the Kunsthistorisches, the Louvre as showplaces of what used to be. Even the development of ateliers, who imagine themselves as the heirs to the older tradition, seemed to be an admission that the reimaginers had swept the field.

danceSo what I’m proposing is not another religion with a different origin story, a different set of scriptures, different roots from, say, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Islam. And what I’m definitely not proposing is a reductionistic attempt to find out what all religions have in common, nor am I proposing a sort of tolerance for all faiths, an attempt to learn from each of them (though this is a good thing to do) and out of that shape a new faith.

No, I want to play with the fundamentals of religion, those things that underlay the tradition of religious thought and practice. I say play advisedly because I think it was the playful aspect of the artists who questioned their tradition that made their work bearable. And, in making it bearable, made it accessible enough to thrive.

Criteria by Bruce LeeSo, what are some of those fundamentals? Prayer, worship, gods, ritual, art, revelation, congregations, sacred space, the notion of sacred, divinity, after life, morality and ethics. How might a radical approach take the long history of prayer, for example, and reshape it, reconfigure it, reuse it for the person who chooses to stand outside particular traditions, but still wants to paint? Or, what about gods? How does the notion of powerful, unseen entities with various agendas fit into the life of persons no longer monotheists, no longer willing or able to see many gods?

I don’t even want to do what Emerson proposed. That is, have a religion of revelation to us rather than the dry bones of theirs. I want to examine revelation itself. What is revealed? Why is hiddenness so important to religion? What is revelation in a quantum mechanical world? Where is revelation? How are things revealed? How have things been revealed all along, but we didn’t notice? And why do we care about a world beyond the one we experience effortlessly?

 

 

Prayer

Lughnasa                                                              Eclipse Moon

The Sacred Wood, Arnold Bocklin, 1882

The Sacred Wood, Arnold Bocklin, 1882

The first Evergreen Forum has happened. Rabbi Jamie Arnold, Imam Mohammad Noorzai, Rev. Dr. Judy Morley, and Pastor Peter Hiett spoke about prayer to forty or so folks at Beth Evergreen. It was a lively evening with great food provided by my oneg Queen, Kate, setup and other help provided by members of the adult ed committee: Tara, Marilyn, Sally and Anshel. A couple of other Beth Evergreeners pitched in, too.

One thing, a happenstance in a way, stood out for me. We had the grandkids, Ruth and Gabe, with us. Mohammad brought his son and granddaughter, Lila. Lila, Ruth and Gabe played while the adults talked about prayer. A major aspect of the adult event was to increase interfaith understanding and comity. The kids did it naturally, punctuating the evening with occasional shrill cries of delight, crossing the Jewish/Muslim barrier with no problem at all. Might be a lesson here.

jackfruit_instructions2Kate was nervous about her food, but it was received well, its disappearance a testimony to its yumminess. Especially the jack fruit. Kate found it at King Sooper this week. She bought a 20 pound one, then she and Ruth performed a fruitectomy on it to retrieve the sweet yellow flesh. This southeast Asian fruit is unfamiliar to most North Americans, but I had it for the first time when preparing to board a water taxi on the Chao Phraya in Bangkok. If you haven’t had it, really good.

Today is a rest day. Tomorrow, back at it.

 

 

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