We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Sabbath Delight

Beltane                                                                        Rushing Waters Moon

Challah-2-300x280Kate and I sponsored the oneg last night at Beth Evergreen. Oneg means delight and in this use it’s a modest event after the sabbath service. It involves the kiddush prayer over wine, the passing of challah (a ceremony not coincidentally similar to the Christian eucharist) and having some sweets or other snacks. It’s similar to coffee after a Christian or U.U. service, but different in one significant regard. The Jewish sabbath, as a day of rest and renewal has a focus on good food and general delight, so the oneg both is that ideal and reinforces the larger sabbath ethos.

Kate did her usual excellent job of providing a variety of tasty food and adult beverages, in this case white wine. We bought the challah at a small bakery, Alpine Bakery, in Evergreen. I picked out cookies: bunnies, unicorns and trains. The oneg was in honor of Ruth and Gabe so they seemed apropos.

In the service, sparsely attended, due I imagine to the snowfall over the last three days, the Beth Evergreen choir sang. The Reconstructionist book for the sabbath service is an impressive piece of liturgical accompaniment. It contains both Hebrew and English versions of the various portions as well as commentary that suggests the reconstructionist take on traditional elements of Jewish worship.

Charlton Heston at work

Charlton Heston at work

In a section focused on the Exodus, the parting of the Reed (Red) Sea the commentary says an early Reconstructionist prayer book did not include the parting of the sea because of its supernatural element. This version of the prayer book has it because “As myth, however, the ancient tale of wonder underscores the sense of daily miracle in our lives.” This gives you a good feel for the Reconstructionist approach to both theology and the Torah. It’s one I find myself nodding to a lot.

Though I retain my empiricist, flat-earth metaphysics I’m finding it under spiritual and intellectual siege. This ancient tradition, radically reconsidered from within, pushes me to open myself to a deeper, more mystical place. The mystical has always been a significant part of my spiritual journey, but I’ve let it lie fallow for the most part in recent years. Not sure where this is headed, stirrings of old feelings mixed with reimagining faith. An interesting moment.


The Light In Me Honors the Light In You

Beltane                                                                          Rushing Waters Moon

Working on a presentation for our mussar class at Beth Evergreen. Want to include Berry’s idea of the great work for our generation: creating a sustainable human presence on earth.

Homo-sapien-citizensAlso want to include Aldo Leopold’s land ethic:

“All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts.The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants and animals, or collectively the land.” The Land Ethic, A Sand County Almanac.

natureThe date of the presentation happens to be Emerson’s birthday. So, from Nature: “The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? The sun shines to-day also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.” introduction to his essay, Nature.

Linking up with the parsha* (Torah portion read in Shabbat services) I found Leviticus 25 filled with interesting ideas about the land. Here are a couple that fit well with these ideas.

Lev. 25:18 “…you shall live on the land securely.”

Lev. 25:23 “…the land shall not be sold permanently for the land belongs to Me, for you are all strangers and temporary residents with me.”

Of course, this is a mussar class so all of this has to connect with the Mesillat Yesharim, Path of the Upright, that we’re reading. To do that I think kedusha, holiness, hasidut, piety, and chesed, loving-kindness are key. These last two come from the same root.

kedushaHere are some ideas about holiness from the parsha of a couple of weeks ago, Kedoshim. Leviticus 19:2b: “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” In commentary on Kedoshim the Conservative text* that I have quotes many famous Jewish scholars.

Martin Buber: Holiness is not found in rising above one’s neighbors but in relationships, in human beings recognizing the latent divinity of other people, even as God recognizes the divinity in each of us. The commentary adds, “As human beings we can be Godlike by exercising our powers to sanctify moments and objects in our lives.” Namaste.

I can also link this idea to the Japanese ichi-go ichi-e, once in a lifetime, attitude gleaned from the work of Japanese tea masters, especially the renowned  Sen no Rikyū. He learned ichi-go ichi-e from his master, Takeno Jōō.  “Jōō believed that each meeting should be treasured because it can never be reproduced.” wikipedia

ichigo ichie

ichigo ichie

Another of my favorite Japanese ideas is shinrin-yoku or forest-bathing. Here’s a one-line summary from the website linked to here. “The idea is simple: if a person simply visits a natural area and walks in a relaxed way there are calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits to be achieved.”

More from the commentary on Kedoshim: “The modern distinction between “religious” and “secular” is unknown to the Torah. Everything we do has the potential of being holy.”

Again, from Buber, “Judaism does not divide life into the holy and the profane, but into the holy and the not-yet holy.” Another scholar, a man named Finklestein, adds, “Judaism is a way of life that endeavors to transform virtually every human action into a means of communion with God.” or, perhaps with a pagan sensibility, ichi-go ichi-e.

namasteI say perhaps intentionally because my reimagined faith could intersect with these ideas in a positive way, especially so if the locus of the divine is the individual soul, that part of us that connects with collective unconscious, Brahma, the three Sephirot: kether, the crown, chochmah, wisdom and binah, understanding, that part of the other to which we bow when we say Namaste. Or, as I quoted Buber earlier, “Holiness is not found in rising above one’s neighbors but in relationships, in human beings recognizing the latent divinity of other people…”

This, too, is in the commentary: “…(find) ways of sanctifying every moment of your life. We can be as holy as we allow ourselves to be.” again, the Japanese ichi-go ichi-e and shinrin-yoku.

I’m also trying to pick up some ideas about Hebrew roots but that, so far, has eluded me.

Somewhere in this stew is enough material for a session. Just gotta sort it out.




*Etz Hayim, Torah and Commentary, The Rabbinical Assembly, The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. 2001. New York, N.Y. 10027


Beltane                                                                                       Rushing Waters Moon

bahuubaliBaahubali 2: the Conclusion. OK. Some confessions first. I love costume drama. Sword and sandal. Victorian England. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Gone With the Wind. Ben Hur. Movies like that. Or, television shows, too, for that matter. No, I don’t like them all, but when a movie combines a compelling story with the recreation of a period of time, I’m there.

I also love foreign films not made for an export market. In other words, I enjoy seeing how filmmakers and writers from other cultures choose to tell stories within their own cultural idioms. Seeing these and reading novels written and loved in a particular place, not the U.S., is the moral equivalent of traveling for me and I do all of these as often as I can.

bahuubali2I’ve also come to enjoy for its own sake the peculiar Bollywood film-making style. Technically, Baahubali is not Bollywood made, but it is in the Bollywood style. That style inevitably includes several elaborate song and dance numbers, often coming at odd junctures in the story, at least odd to this mountain man raised in the Midwest.

So, for me Baahubali was a perfect storm. Set in some mythic era of India, in the state of Mahishmati, a real ancient city, but here represented as the ultimate utopia, there are court scenes, love scenes, song and dance scenes, hunting scenes, battle scenes all elaborately produced and choreographed. Yes, the acting is often very broad, but this is not realism, it’s fantasy. There is also plenty of humor.

Though it was three hours long, the film never dragged, moving from one intense moment to another. One beautiful scene, the most fantastic, found a swan shaped ship sailing through the clouds as the two doomed lovers, Baahubali and Devasena, stood Titanic-like, at the prow.

bahuubali3There is a thoughtful review from the Indian entertainment press with which I largely agree. In essence the reviewer says the movie was a visual treat and thrilling, very watchable. But. It didn’t grab the heart, leave memorable characters or ideas behind. A glorious ephemera.

True that. Even so, it’s still worth seeing if you share even some of my cinematic quirks: love of costume dramas, a desire to see how other cultures express themselves in film, a jones for beautifully clad, colorful choreography and Indian musical vocals.

A Clashing of Spiritual Longings

Beltane                                                                          Rushing Waters Moon

St. LaurenceIrv Saltzman invited us to a performance by his singing group, the Renaissance Singers. It was held in a wooden Episcopal Church, St. Laurence’s, which is near our home. Directed by a Chinese national, Hannah Woo, who is finishing her Ph.D. in musicology, they were 8, four men and four women. As a group, they matched each other well. April, a soprano, had a lovely clear voice and a large range. Irv, formerly a tenor, has now transitioned into a bass/baritone role. Their performance was wonderful. At a meal afterwards we discovered April is our neighbor.

musicRenaissance choral music and instrumental renaissance music has always captivated me. It’s easy to see courtiers in colorful costumes listening to this music in a palace, brown robed and cowled monks hearing it in a morning prayer service, or small groups performing at home for their own amusement. It’s also the music most often heard at Renaissance festivals. Sorta makes sense, eh?

The sanctuary had a vaulted ceiling with exposed beams and two large, clear windows that looked out to the east, toward Shadow, Evergreen and Bear mountains. It rained while we were there and the mountains were in mist, the windows covered with raindrops slowly moving from top to bottom. There were individual chairs, padded with kneelers, arranged in a three sided configuration, making the sanctuary a sort of thrust proscenium stage, an ideal arrangement for a small group of singers.

A church artist had painted the stations of the cross and they were around the sanctuary, set off by bent sheet metal frames. A copper baptistry, large, sat over a cinerarium where the congregation deposits cremation remains and memorializes the dead with small plaques.

Edited+Holy+Week+2017-21Between the two windows hung a large crucifix, a cross made of bare, light wood and a bronze Jesus hung by two nails. I had an odd sensation while listening to this music I’ve often heard in monastic settings on retreat. It carried me back into the spiritual space of an ascetic Christianity that often comforted me. This time though I came into the space as a peri-Jew, identifying more with Marilyn and Irv and Kate, with the still new to me spiritual space of Beth Evergreen, than the theological world represented by this spare, but beautiful sanctuary.

The crucifix stimulated the strongest, strangest and most unexpected feeling. I saw, instead of the Jesus of Christianity, a hung Jew, a member of the tribe. More than that, I felt the vast apparatus and historical punch created by his followers, followers of  a man who shared much of the new faith world in which I now find myself. It was an odd feeling, as if this whole religion was an offshoot, a historical by-blow that somehow got way out of hand.

These feelings signaled to me how far I’d moved into the cultural world of reconstructionist Judaism. I see now with eyes and a heart shaped by the Torah and mussar and interaction with a rabbi and the congregants of Beth Evergreen.

pagan humanismThis was an afternoon filled with the metaphysical whiplash I’ve experienced often over the last year, a clashing of deep thought currents, spiritual longings. This process is a challenge to my more recent flat-earth humanism, a pagan faith grounded not in the next world, but in this one. Literally grounded.

What’s pushing me now is not a desire to change religious traditions, but to again look toward the unseen, the powerful forces just outside of the electromagnetic spectrum and incorporate them again into my ancientrail of faith. This makes me feel odd, as if I’m abandoning convictions hard won, but I don’t think that’s actually what’s going on. There is now an opening to press further into my paganism, to probe further into the mystery of life, of our place in the unfoldingness of the universe, to feel and know what lies beyond reason and the senses.

A, just A

Spring                                                                              Passover Moon


Yesterday on my Lego store, IKEA, Dairy Queen outing-all in the interest of Ruth and Gabe-I saw an unusual and unusually striking sight. While waiting for the stoplight at Chester and Yosemite after visiting IKEA, a flash of mylar caught my eye. In a parking lot across Yosemite I saw a person struggling, or at least that’s what I thought it was, to put shiny objects into their vehicle. Since the same shapes moved in, then came back out a couple of times, I realized it wasn’t going well. Then, just as most of them disappeared inside, one broke loose and drifted up, up, up into the air.

It was a silvery colored mylar A. As it lifted out of reach, the person at the vehicle looked up. Turning once onto its side, it became a triangular aircraft, life a B2 bomber. Then some current of air turned it again and it faded away toward the north, a clear and flashy A, signaling itself as a familiar part of the alphabet on a journey all its own, freed from both words and the earth.


The Gulf of All Souls

Spring                                                                           Passover Moon

Under the full passover moon Kate and I drove over to Mt. Vernon Country Club for a community seder. There were about 60 people there, sitting in groups of 8 around circular tables. The dining room looked out to the south and east. As the sun set, the lights of Denver began to sparkle around Table Mesa in the distance.


The tables had platters of oblong chunks of gefilte fish, a bowl of haroset (a sweet mixture that symbolizes the mortar used by Hebrew slaves in Egypt), a small bowl of pink grated horseradish, a stack of matzo covered in a linen napkin, and a seder plate with the traditional passover items: lamb shank, boiled egg seared over a flame, parsley, haroset and maror (horseradish). And an orange. The orange is a recent addition to the passover plate-at least for Reconstructionists-and it symbolizes the fruitfulness of women’s contributions in Jewish history and in the present.passover-seder-plate-cropped-430x245

The haggadah, the telling of the story, contains all the prayers, readings, songs and explanations for the evening. The seder (order) of the passover celebration has 15 steps, symbolizing the 15 steps that led up to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple passover celebration had two priest on each of the fifteen steps and they sang the passover ritual as worshippers brought up their lamb for sacrifice.

The evening followed this ancient ritual, commemorated in Christian churches as the last supper and ritualized among them as communion or the eucharist.



As Kate and I got out of the car at Mt Vernon, a young woman asked, “Is this the place for the seder?” It was, I said. Her name was Leah. We walked in together, past the slightly ridiculous pretension of the lobby, its fireplace and the sitting room with the observation deck like windows. Down a set of stairs was a lower level under the sitting room.

We chatted casually with Leah. The room was almost empty then, not many had come. We were early. I went out on the big deck that overlooked Table Mesa and Leah followed. She knew Rabbi Jamie in the synagogue he served previously in Buffalo, New York.

“I’m bi-polar and I went on a road trip, trying to find someplace new. I went to Florida, drove all over and came this way but decided I couldn’t cross the mountains in the winter, so I ended up working in Boulder.”

Oh. I have bipolar illness in my family. Two aunts hospitalized, one died in the state hospital, another came out, but under heavy medication. “Oh. That’s good. Well, I mean it’s not good that you have bipolar in the family, but it’s good you understand.”

And I do. It was as if this ancient ritual, one that gathers the tribe across the world to honor its release from bondage, had found a member of that tribe who also belonged to mine. Leah sat next to me and we dipped our little fingers in the wine, the parsley in the salty water, the tears of those in bondage, ate our matzo with haroset and made our Hillel sandwiches, haroset and maror between two slices of matzo.


The ways the universe conspires with us: it lets us paddle along the river of time for a bit, then puts us through some rapids, lets us drift into a clear pool, but always moves us forward through the Grand Canyon of our life, and sometimes helps us to land on shore for awhile, perhaps in a spot that looks familiar, yet is always new. At 70 the river which carries me is much closer to the Gulf of All Souls than it was in my twenties, but unlike then, I can see through the translucent canyon walls to the canoes of my friends, family and new acquaintances.

There are even moments, like an April passover meal in the Rocky Mountains, when we come together on the strand of our common journey, our lives and our rivers joined for a moment. We travel apart but we are not alone.


Imbolc                                                                              Anniversary Moon

“Look at the candles. Choose one. Focus on receiving the light from the candle. Let your thoughts go. When they intrude, come back to the light of the candle.” Sounds like a meditation seminar. It wasn’t though. The speaker was Rabbi Jamie Arnold at Beth Evergreen last night. This was during last night’s shabbat service.

Had I not attended the kabbalah session on Tuesday I would have missed a key point. Kabbalah originally meant receive. It now has the connotation of tradition, teachings received by students over the centuries from kabbalistic sages.


Too, another key idea of kabbalah is that of a broken world. Shards of light, of divinity, of the sacred scattered from the vessel chosen by God to be the other in a newly created universe. That vessel could not contain the light and shattered into the matter that forms our world. This means that each part of our cosmos contains that light, a spark we can access in our Self, our soul, which is pure awareness. As pure awareness, we can attend to the light of the world.

As masked souls-our always state, we have to learn how to see the light. The service at Beth Evergreen offered mediation styles for that purpose. The second focused on following our breath and punctuating it while visualizing the Hebrew letters forming the tetragrammaton, one of the names of God. This was difficult for me since the shape of the Hebrew letters are distant memories. My Hebrew class was in 1974. Still, the breathing and its pauses on the inhale and exhale was meditative in itself.

I’m staying open to learning from this ancient faith, a tribal religion sustained by its traditions and the difficult history of its people.

Underground Family

Imbolc                                                                          Anniversary Moon

Dream last night. Once again in Oklahoma or its inner equivalent, a home place for the Ellises. This time Dad was there, having moved to a house in a city (Oklahoma City?). It was an old house, but well-maintained, with lots of wood detailing, cool even in the summer. It had older, abandoned houses around it though they were undergoing renovation. Dad was cool to me, tolerated me being there, but not much else.

He wanted to move, abandon this house, which I thought was wonderful and would increase greatly in value once the housing around was updated. I expressed my feelings, but he was determined to move.

I cleaned up the downstairs of the house, hoping he would stay.

Before finding Dad in this house, I had discovered a vast underground series of rooms, all devoted to the Ellis clan in Oklahoma. There were lots of people in them, moving around, conducting business (ranching type business), hanging out. I felt uncomfortable down there, though I was also impressed with the size and scope of these various rooms. My discomfort was minimal, but there. I wandered among the rooms for a long time.

The Masque

Imbolc                                                                          Anniversary Moon

By I, Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Franz Messerschmidt, sculpltor, (photo) Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Masks. The sample session about kabbalah has had me focused on masks I wear. Here are a few: grieving son, angry son, abandoned son, skeptic, philosophical analyst, anxious son, anxious man, friend (I think each friendship might prompt a different mask), loving husband, anxious husband, devoted and loyal husband, protective husband, father, proud father, step-father, grandfather, cousin, brother (again, a different mask for Mary and Mark), dog lover, grieving dog lover, gardener, beekeeper, greenman, mountain man, 60’s radical, weary 60’s radical, writer, anxious writer, fearful writer, reader, blogger, Celt, German, Minnesotan, Hoosier, Coloradan, member of Beth Evergreen, anxious member of Beth Evergreen, hiker, traveler, traveler for fun, traveler for self-knowledge, meditator, translator, Latin student, mussar student, fellow traveler of Judaism, driver, angry driver, meditative driver, commuter man, docent, art lover, art critic, poet, exerciser, reluctant exerciser, healthy man, dying man, sick man, indulgent man, poor eater man, healthy eater man, home maintenance scanning man, home maintenance securer, worker supervisor (home maintenance), father-in-law, theater and movie goer, chamber music lover, jazz lover, politically dutiful man. Well, it’s a start.

maskThe idea here is to know your own masks without judgment, then order them from core masks to peripheral. What masks can you not take off without removing some skin? Those are core (actually near core) and the most resistant to change. The core itself, the I am, is pure awareness and has no mask. I have an issue here with the kabbalah, not sure how a soul, a self, the core of me, can put on a mask. The donning of a mask seems contradictory to pure awareness, how would the motivation to mask up occur? How could it be actuated? This is important to my philosophical analyst mask though, as Jamie pointed out, the practical application of these ideas doesn’t require an answer.

The ultimate goal is to be able to take off and don masks appropriate to each moment. To do this, of course, we have to be self-aware, we have to know what mask we have on. This will take practice.



Imbolc                                                                      Anniversary Moon

Kabbalah. Last night at Beth Evergreen we dipped our toes in an ancient lake, one so esoteric that information about it was not written down until the time of the Spanish Inquisition. The kabbalah, it was felt, needed nuanced interpretation and written down it could be read by those who might misunderstand its teachings.Kabbalistic_creator

But during the Inquisition so many scholars were killed that many were concerned the teachings might be lost, so books began to be written. The Zohar is the famous Kabbalah text, a central work on Jewish mysticism.

Isaac Luria, a rabbi of 16th century Safed, a town in Galilee, at that time in Syria, is a key figure in contemporary Kabbalah.

Years ago Kate wanted me to go to Hawai’i with her for a continuing medical education event. I said, no thanks. She insisted. I went. My expectations were completely wrong. I had a cheesy hula dancer dashboard ornament, loud shirt, noisy American tourist understanding of Hawai’i. We went to Maui and the Big Island that year. I wanted to stay.

My sense of kabbalah comes from a teeny understanding of it as mysticism and the fact that Madonna got into it some time back. Its popularity among celebrities at that point made me avoid it then and colored my anticipation of what Jamie would have to offer. Last night I wanted to stay.


In kabbalah parlance in both instances I donned a mask of cultured (actually ignorant in these cases) sophistication. This mask has its advantages as it helps me avoid wasting time on matters I don’t consider important. But the instance of Hawai’i and kabbalah teaches me that this mask also excludes rich experiences if I know too little about them.

A key point of kabbalah is awareness of the masks (personas) we use and being able, eventually, to take them off and put them on when appropriate. Sounds like a long ride.


May 2017
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