We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Leaning in

Midsommar                                                                  Most Heat Moon

Strange times in the inner world of Mr. Ellis. Feeling peaceful. Leaning into life rather than pushing against it, struggling. Feels. Weird.

The move from Minnesota, which we did for love of Jon, the grandkids, adventure and the mountains has had a more drastic effect than I could have imagined. I thought the chief task here on Shadow Mountain would be becoming native to this place, instead it was becoming native to myself.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? We move, then I have prostate cancer in a place where I know almost no one, with a doctor known from one or two visits. Not the best setup for entering a new place. But I got good care, came to know Lisa much better and have prostate cancer in the rearview so far.

Sometime after that Kate read an article about a study of King David at a local synagogue, Beth Evergreen. We went on a cold winter night and had a challenge finding our way, but we got there. Bonnie, who would become a friend, led the session and we met many others that night, including Marilyn and Tara Saltzman, who would also become friends.

Kate’s long ago conversion to Judaism, when she was in her early 30’s, had been dormant for the most part though firm. Here we were in a new place and Beth Evergreen had people who seemed friendly, the synagogue greeted us warmly. Both of us. I decided to attend further events to support Kate and, besides, I’d always enjoyed my relationship with Jewish folks over the years.

Since then Kate has deepened and lived her Jewish life, taking Hebrew classes, getting to know more members of the congregation through mussar (Jewish ethics). Joan Nathan has become her culinary heroine and she’s made many recipes from King Solomon’s Table including a seven-species salad for a holiday whose name I don’t recall.

Meanwhile I’ve been taking it all in, an experience I’ve taken to calling Jewish immersion. Each faith tradition has its own culture, its own way of being for those who participate. The whole, the gestalt of this, can be seen as a language, a language unfamiliar, even foreign, to outsiders. Without intending to I’ve been learning the language.

I think about conversion, about becoming a member of the tribe in the way Kate did, but somehow it doesn’t feel right for me. I keep myself open, however, not closing either heart or mind. The study of kabbalah has cracked open a door, a door I thought I had closed, the door of a faith reaching beyond the sensible world.

We’ll see where that goes.

 

 

The Fourth Time Around

Midsommar                                                                   Most Heat Moon

ricoeur2This evening is the last of the introductory kabbalah classes. We’ll be discussing miracles again and hearing student presentations. Making it personal still seems like the right path for mine, how kabbalah has affected a decades long journey, a pilgrimage toward the world into which I’ve been thrown.

Paul Ricoeur, a French philosopher with a focus on hermeneutics, wrote about second naiveté*. It is a powerful idea. Ricoeur encourages any whose faith has been ravaged by the wildfires of Enlightenment reason to return to it again, a second time, and this time see “scripture and religious concepts as symbols, (i.e. metaphorical constructs) that we now interpret “in the full responsibility of autonomous thought.” (SE, p. 350)” (see below)

Kabbalah may be my third or fourth naiveté, a journey occasioned by a long ago commitment to religions inflected with Western cues, reasoning that the deepest knowing comes from within the way our inner world has been shaped by culture. I made this commitment over against the Hare Krishna, faux Zen, travel somewhere far away for a guru fervor of the 60’s. I faltered a bit in this commitment with my plunge into Taoism, which remains important to me, but in the main I’ve tried to search within the religious sensibilities of the West, especially the Judaeo-Christian flavors.

ricoeurHere’s a nice paragraph: “While the hermeneutic strategies to “open up the text” that Ricoeur presents are not simple or childlike, they’re only the first step in engaging with the ideas. If you understand “the meek shall inherit the earth” as a radical idea, what do you do with that? How do you apply it? How do you let it change you? Following Gadamer, we’re supposed to put ourselves at risk, allowing the possibility that the text could be life-changing.” The Partially Examined Life

I’m letting kabbalah change my empiricist worldview, again (third or fourth time) opening up to the world beyond mortal ken. How will this change me going forward? I imagine meditation and prayer will follow. Perhaps more regular worship, though with a much altered understanding of what that experience is about and what it is for. It will certainly lead me to further exploration of the kabbalah and, as a direct result, a deeper immersion in torah study, perhaps the Talmud, too. So, further into the Jewish worldview of the Reconstructionists.

gnosticismThe biggest change will be in how I sense the world around me. I will no longer be so reductive, imagining that even if there is an unseen world, that’s all it is, unseen. Perhaps this is how the reenchantment process works, seeing the living, intricately woven cosmos as manifest everywhere, visibly and invisibly. My pagan sensibility remains. I’m not sure that adding God language to the mix adds anything important.

Seeing all religious language, all religious ritual, all religious writing as metaphor is a radical shift in perception; and, it’s one I’ve been ready to make for a long time though I didn’t realize it. I’ll let you know how the presentation goes.

*Paul Ricoeur’s (from this summary)

Paul Ricoeur was more of a philosopher, but his work also crossed over into religion. His ideas on religion do relate to spiritual development, although Ricoeur did not use that exact term. Most of Ricoeur’s writings about religion dealt with the way a person would interpret scripture. But what they also definitely have bearing on religious belief as well.

Paul Ricoeur and the First Naïveté Though he mentioned the first naïveté only in passing, and as it relates to what happens after it, we can deduce that the first naïveté refers to the interpretation of scripture (or religious belief) where everything is taken at face value. This is the same as saying that the person in the first naïveté believes everything about his religion literally. This “first naïveté” is also the equivalent of the Faithful level of spiritual development, as described on this site.

Paul Ricoeur and the Critical Distance According to Ricoeur, the rational forces brought to our civilization through modernity have made it difficult to accept religion or scripture in the “first naïveté” sense. Once subjected to rational inspection, the literal meanings of religion really do not hold up. Once a person allows himself to take a step back from religious belief, and examine it critically, he really cannot believe the simple, naïve, concepts his religion teaches at face value. This “critical distance” is the equivalent of the Rational level of spiritual development, as described on this site.

Paul Ricoeur and the Second Naïveté After the critical distance phase, Ricoeur suggested, there is a way to engage faith in what he called a “second naïveté” way. “Beyond the desert(Rational stage) of criticism, we wish to be called again.” (SE, p. 349) In this second naïveté, scripture and religious concepts are seen as symbols, (i.e. metaphorical constructs) that we now interpret “in the full responsibility of autonomous thought.” (SE, p. 350) This means we accept that the myths we held as truth in the first naïveté (or Faithful stage) are in fact myths, but having passed through the critical distance (or Rational stage,) we begin to reengage these concepts at a different level. We no longer accept them at face value, as presented by religious authorities, but rather interpret them for ourselves, in the light of having assumed personal responsibility for our beliefs. We choose move toward our own interpretation that recognizes these concepts as symbols of something greater than that which the words or teachings imply in their literal sense. This “second naïveté is roughly equivalent to the Mystic stage of spiritual development as referred to on this site.

Dogged, Sirius

Midsommar                                                                     Most Heat Moon

 Santa Maria Assunta, Torcello. Revelation 20:15: "And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire."

Santa Maria Assunta, Torcello. Revelation 20:15: “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”

The dog days. Maybe not yet as hot as this mosaic portrays, certainly not here on Shadow Mountain, though Tucson and Phoenix… Friend Tom Crane sent me a link to this Updraft post about the dog days. I miss having an erudite blog like Updraft keeping me alert about weather. Weather5280 is the closest I’ve found. It’s good on weather, but it doesn’t go off into sidebars like explaining the days after the heliacal rising of Sirius. Heliacal? What’s that you might ask? Turns out heliacal is the first appearance of a star after a long absence. The dog days begin with the return of the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius. Or, at least they used to.

The Romans believed that the dog days were so hot that they made dog’s rabid. Sirius is the major star in the constellation, Canis Major, the Great Dog, but the Romans didn’t originate linking the rising of Sirius with heat. That belongs to the Greeks. They named the star “Seirios, Greek for “sparking” (referring to its near-constant twinkling), “fiery,” or “scorching,”” According to this page on Sky and Telescope, the Greeks believed its -1.46 magnitude intensified the already hot days of a Mediterranean summer.

Neither the Greeks nor the Romans, however, were the first ancient civilization to highlight the dog star. The Egyptians began the New Year when Sirius returned to the night sky because it corresponded with the flooding of the Nile, a seasonal nourishing of the fields that made Egyptian civilization flourish. Their calendar though, because it lacked the leap year, gradually moved the month of the new year further and further from Sirius’s heliacal rise.

This lead to a discovery of the Sothic year, 1461 years of ancient Egypt’s 365 day year or 1460 of the Julian sidereal year which adds leap years. A Sothic year follows the gradual movement of the New Year until it once again occurs when the Nile floods, synching up with Sirius’s heliacal moment.

sirius

In spite of my long established affection for Orion, or perhaps because of it, I’ve never focused on Sirius. That’s a bit surprising since Canis Major is Orion’s hunting dog and Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky. I’ll be looking for it as rises this year here on Shadow Mountain, probably August 10th.

sirius22

When I see it, I’ll think of this from the Sky and Telescope article because it reflects my own wistfulness for a reenchanted world:

“While the first sighting of Sirius may not signify anything as momentous as the annual flooding of the Nile, seeing it tenderly twinkling at dawn can take us back in time to when it was commonplace for people to use stars to mark important events in their lives. How far we’ve strayed.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

A New Frame

Midsommar                                                                      Most Heat Moon

ein sofNext week we all give 5-8 minute presentations in our kabbalah class. The ostensible purpose is for us to have the chance to “learn as teachers.” It will be more than that for me. At first I thought I would work up something about tikkun olam, repairing the world, or, as the early kabbalists preferred, repairing God. The notion fits nicely within my political activism (now shelved)/reimagining faith work. But that would have been the more traditional student as presenter, a small talk focused on the content of what I’ve begun to learn.

Instead I’ve decided to go for it, to use the post below, Earthquake, as a starting point. I want to discuss my changing inner world, the push kabbalah has given me, adding its long standing contrarian position to my own.

Here’s how I imagine it might go right now.

Religion itself and sacred texts in particular as metaphors.

transcendence_ver5Kabbalah has reinforced and challenged a move I made many years ago away from the metaphysics of the Judaeo-Christian tradition as I understood it. I can summarize that move as a reaction against transcendence and its role in buttressing patriarchy. Transcendence moved me up and out of my body, up and out of my Self into a different a place, a place other than where I was, a better place, a place dominated by God. It didn’t really matter what image of God, what understanding of God you put in that sentence because it was the denial of the here and now, the embodiedness of us, that bothered me. The notion that transcendence puts us in a better place, a place only accessible outside of our bodies made us lesser creatures, doomed to spend most of our time in a less spiritual state. In the long tradition of a male imaged God it made that gender dominate because it was God that occupied the better place, the more spiritual place, the place, if we were lucky or faithful enough, that we might achieve permanently after death.

Going in and down became my primary metaphor for the spiritual life; spirituality became an inner journey, not a transcendent one. The body was not like a temple; it was a quite literal temple, a place, the place, where a journey toward understanding and meaning found its locus. It was natural, therefore, to leave Christianity and especially the Christian ministry, as this focus took hold of my pilgrimage.

images (6)This inner turn is what pagan means for me. It put spirituality more in the mode the Judaeo-Christian tradition terms incarnation, put a thumb on the scale for the notion of imago dei, rather than the three-story universe. Gardening and bee-keeping became ultimate spiritual practices. They made real, as real as can be, the whole immersion of this body in the web of life. Tomatoes, beets, leeks, garlic, raspberries, plums, apples, currants, beans, comb honey and liquid honey grew on our land, nurtured by our hands, then entered our bodies to actually, really become us. The true transubstantiation.

The Great Wheel, the Celtic sacred calendar that follows the web of life as earth’s orbit changes our seasons, became my liturgical calendar. Observing the wheeling of the stars above our turning earth was the closest I got to transcendence.

Kabbalah has reinforced this move. By suggesting the radical, very radical, notion that even such sacred texts as the Torah are metaphorical, a garment for the soul of souls, for example, it makes each metaphor used more important. The metaphysical becomes metaphorical. Or, perhaps it always was. So, metaphors matter.

You have come to the shore. There are no instructions. —Denise Levertov

You have come to the shore. There are no instructions. —Denise Levertov

Kabbalah challenges this move. By acknowledging transcendence as a metaphor, it allows us to soften its patriarchal implications, to seek, if you will allow this phrase, a deeper meaning. I can imagine an understanding of transcendence that poses a horizontal rather than a vertical metaphor. Transcendence, understood this way, could embed us in community, place us in the web of life. A hug could become a transcendent moment, the touching of another, one outside our inner world. So could this class be a time when our inner worlds intersect, when our body language and our spoken language give us brief entre to the world of another. Even the example I used of the garden and bee-keeping can also be seen as transcendent, a way the outer becomes inner.

Transcendence was not the only theological problem I had with the Judaeo-Christian tradition, I’m using it here as an example, a key example, but only that. I won’t go further into those today with one exception.

P1030762When I moved away from transcendence, I moved toward this world. This world of sensation and my inner world became the whole, I sheared off the metaphysical almost as cleanly as my logical positivist philosophy had done, though for quite different reasons. No metaphysics, no God. No metaphysics, no transcendence. I switched to an ontology informed only by my senses or by the extended reach of our limited human senses occasioned by science. That meant this world, at both the micro and macro levels was the only world.

Kabbalah has forced me to reconsider this drastic pulling back. It suggests a link between the hidden codes revealed by science and mathematics and the metaphorical nature of language. What language reveals, it also hides.  The language of the Torah unveils; but, it also conceals. Not done with this, not even by a long shot of Zeno’s arrow.

An Earthquake

Midsommar                                                                 Most Heat Moon

Kabbalistic_creatorKabbalah. It’s trying to pry off the empiricist covering I’ve put on my world. I say trying because I’m a skeptic at heart, a doubter, a critic, an analyst yet also, and just as deeply, a poet, a lover of myth and fantasy, a dreamer.

Last night’s conversation at Beth Evergreen was on miracles. As is my wont, I looked up miracle in the OED. The first definition, considered most important and most normative,  says a miracle is an event that defies nature and is therefore the act of God or another supernatural being. Its root though is the Latin miraculum which simply defines miracle as something amazing, wondrous. The Hebrew word for miracle, nes, means banner, flag, trial, test, as well as miracle.

Rabbi Jamie, and kabbalah, pushes us to broaden our definition of miracle, or perhaps, deepen it. What is a miracle? Several budding kabbalists offered answers. The human body, animal bodies. Anshel, who has an identical twin, says their relationship is a miracle, “I can feel her pain. And she lives in Florida. We pick out identical birthday cards.” I said life, the ineffable animation of the inanimate.

plate_tectonicsRabbi Akiva says that nothing in nature is less miraculous than the rarest exception. This means, for example, that the water in the Red Sea (or, Reed Sea) is as miraculous as its parting. Or, for that matter, the Hebrew slaves pouring across it are, too.

It’s hard for me to articulate how this changes me. There’s a stubborn I will not be moved part of my psyche (I know. You know this already.) that keeps me from changing my perspective without a lot of thought. Good and bad. Makes me resolute in the face of adversity, but also mulish in terms of new ways of thinking. Reason can take me up to the wall, but will not push me past it. So I entertain a lot of new ideas happily, but absorb few of them There has to be an emotional component, a combination of reason and feeling.

The emotional/psychological element involved here is big.  And, it’s not only about an attitude toward miracles, nor even toward kabbalah itself, but about an inner tectonic plate, one that needs subducting but that I have not been able to move for decades. This core substrata of my Self supports a continent and that continent is my productivity, purposefulness, agency. Messing around with it scares me.

caveIt is anxiety. I believe it infested my life in two early stages. The first was polio, a young boy’s physical experience of our human finitude. It happened once; it could happen again. The second was the death of my mother when I was 17. It happened once, to Mom. It will happen to me and could happen quickly.

Now, I believe anxiety has its purpose. It makes us attend to matters that might harm us in some way and it encourages us to resolve them by poking us psychically until we do. A good thing, in my opinion. Yet, when everything or many things seem harmful-like life itself-then anxiety becomes crippling, closing down joy, play, eagerness, and yes, the miraculous, too.

I can feel that plate beginning to grind its way under more positive parts of my inner world, kabbalah is one of the forces impelling it. So is, oddly, Kate’s health issues and my own, coupled with increasing age.

Seems contradictory, right, at least these last two? Yes, but here’s how that works. Both polio and my mother’s death have left me with a sense of impending catastrophe, not immediate, not right now, but…soon. And, of course, that’s both wrong and right. The sense of finitude that both put into bold face type on my inner sign board is real. I will die, there will be some final illness even more destructive to me than polio. That’s the right part.

timeThe wrong part is that it doesn’t matter. I don’t have to worry about it, fear it, be anxious about it. It is. Or, rather, will be. Maybe in the next ten minutes, maybe in the next ten years, maybe longer. I know this by reason, have known it for a long, long time, but I have not been able to displace the irrational fear in spite of that knowledge. That’s why I say reason can take me up to the wall, but not past it.

The shuddering that’s affecting my innerworld, a sort of psychic earthquake, is accepting the finitude, leaning into mortality, even embracing it. The wall that keeps this from happening is built of tangled vines. Will I work? Will I care about my projects? Will I just relax, sink into the hammock and never roll out of it? Cutting a gate through this wall to whatever lies on the other side feels like indulging myself, separating myself from the motivator/motivation that keeps me moving forward. That’s the resistance that anxiety has constructed in my soul.

the-secret-garden-kewYet, increasingly I find myself wanting a way through this. I can sense, and here kabbalah is playing a critical alchemical role, a different world, a better world now hidden from me. I can peek through the vines at times, can see the secret garden beyond. It’s this wall that holds up the substrata, keeps it from being ground other parts of my Self. This wall has its roots sunk deep into this tectonic plate, is a barrier to its movement. But I can feel the vines withering, their complicity in the substrata’s effect on my psyche weakening.

What lies on the other side? I really don’t know. That’s sort of the point, but it feels like a healthier, happier place. Perhaps soon I’ll find out.

 

 

Incandescence. Not transcendence?

Midsommar                                                                    Most Heat Moon

2011 03 06_3396After leaving the ministry, a gradual process of demythologization and disenchantment took over. In retrospect it’s not hard to see why. A primary motivator of the shift away from Christianity and toward a more pagan worldview came because transcendence bothered me. Transcendence takes us up and out of our bodies, or least out and away from our bodies.

A more important idea, at least for these times, seemed to be incarnation, a going in and down, rather than out and up. Incarnation takes us toward mother earth, toward our blood and bones. It does not pretend there’s an escape hatch from this earthly realm. This is our home, where we live, how we are.

Over time a godless world emerged. This was a world without a scrim, a world in which what you saw was what was. And that seemed enough. The Great Wheel provided a sacred lens through which to see seasonal change and the dramatic results those seasonal changes had on daily and yearly life. This focus on the here and now also informed, in a positive and self-reinforcing way, the Great Work. Building a sustainable presence for humankind on this earth requires, first of all, a sensibility attuned to the earth herself.

grounded_circleThen, at some point-the reimagining faith project signals that point-the flat-earth humanism of this pagan orientation no longer felt like enough. Could the warmth and the depth available to those in the ancient religious traditions somehow be suffused into this empiricist, anti-metaphysical worldview? Could, in other words, a feeling of religious awe and wonder emerge out of our relationship with the web of life and the cosmic experiment we know as the universe?

Must be possible since, with the trappings of culturally specific myths and legends, all religions are an attempt to explain why we’re here, where we’re going and what we need to do on the journey. The journey takes place within in the web of life and the grand experiment of cosmological evolution.

BlakeTranscendence still seems suspect. Reimagining though has to take account of it in some way. Here’s one idea. The mystical experience, a well documented and not at all rare phenomenon, often carries the descriptor transcendent. I had one and I want to challenge that idea. In mine, which occurred in 1967 on the quad at Ball State University, I did feel a sudden and inexplicable connection to the universe, all of it. Threads of light and power emanated in a pulsing glory carrying with them a physical sensation of oneness.

You might focus on the threads moving out from the center and psychically travel with them in some sort of astral projection, maybe that would be transcendence, but I don’t think so. The critical point for me is that all this connecting and interconnecting occurred within me. Yes, the sensation was of cosmic linkage, and, yes, I believe it was cosmic connection, but it didn’t feel as if I left my body at any point. I entered fully into my inner world, a world that already had these interconnections, always had them, and in that moment I could see them, at least for a sudden, blazing instance. This is maybe incandescence, perhaps the feeling often referred to as transcendence.

Still working on this one.

 

“The greatest mitzvah (good deed) is to live in an abiding state of joy.” Rebbe Nachman

Midsommar                                                             Most Heat Moon

20170405_152848My biggest source of simcha right now is Kate’s ongoing recovery from this Sjogren’s flare. She’s smiling, eating much more, moving around with more energy. This is after seven months of more or less declining health. Now we have to bulk her up, get her back up over 100. Last night I made jucy lucy’s and served them with the leftover gazpacho from the havurah (fellowship) on Wednesday. If you’re familiar with Kate’s struggles with weight, this is soooo ironic.

Once a month I have kabbalah on Tuesday night, then the Wednesday night havurah, a monthly mussar potluck, and on Thursday afternoon the mussar class Kate and I have attended for over a year. It’s been a gradual process, integrating into the life of Beth Evergreen, but a very good one for both of us. Kate’s living out her forty year ago conversion in a Jewish community and I’ve made many friends, learned a lot about this ancient tradition.

Oddly, the Wednesday havurah focus on joy, simcha, has challenged me more than any other moment in that year. Even though I dove into my Celtic heritage after I left the Christian ministry, my personality was formed in a northern European, Teutonic, ethos. In this regard it’s no wonder I found the Scandinavian culture in Minnesota so easy to adopt. There is a broad sense of community in it, a sense that we’re all in this together, that translated into a political culture I found nourishing.

danceBut at an emotional level it has that northern European focus on hard work, duty, obligation. Also emotional reticence, a certain level of dourness. Joy was not a value. In fact it was, if anything, suspect as possibly leading one away from the serious pursuits of life. And it’s the serious pursuits that matter in this culture: family, career, ambition, political work. Sitting in the rocking chair, chugging down a PBR and watching the game, while allowable, was not something to be admired. At least in the version of this culture that was mine.

It’s also no wonder that I found the Calvinist thrust of Presbyterianism a good fit, too. It emphasized thinking, concluding a direction based on theological logic, then doing whatever was necessary to get to the goal. Since it reinforced the culture I found in Minnesota and my underlying Teutonic seriousness, being a political agent for the church fit me well. Until it didn’t.

American GothicI was good, am good, at challenging unjust social realities. I can put my head down and push forward against power. Likewise, I can choose priorities in family situations, put my head down and push forward against formidable obstacles. I can even identify what needs to change in my own life, put my head down and push forward against entrenched parts of my own personality. No, of course the results are not always one to one with my hope, but I can usually say that I gave whatever it was my best.

Rabbi Art Green, in his Judaism’s Ten Best Ideas, says: “A healthy religious life has to make you more free, lightening your burdens in life rather than adding to them. To begin by saying: “Judaism wants to help increase the joy in your life,” we’re setting the reader out on a course toward that healthy religion.” Say what?

Or, this from Rebbe Nachman: “The greatest mitzvah (good deed) is to live in an abiding state of joy.” Rebbe Nachman also said: “It’s a mitzvah to be happy.”

Processed with VSCOcam with p5 presetA religious culture focused on joy? That’s outside my experience. Even a focus on joy without a religious context is outside my experience. That’s not to say, please don’t misunderstand me, that I don’t experience joy. Joseph. My friendships in the Woolly Mammoths and among the docent corps at the MIA. Reading. Travel. Jazz and classical music, especially the Baroque era. Rock and roll. The mountains. Most of all my 28 year long love affair with Kate. All joyful. So, yes, I know joy and have it in my life. In fact, I would say that the last year or so has been the most quietly joyful period of my life.

But to put joy at the center of life, to find a way to live in an “abiding state of joy” would never have occurred to me. In my life joy is an occasional matter, not a focus. How could it be? Joy is not what’s important: justice, duty, commitment, loyalty, honesty, authenticity all come before it. If joy were never experienced, life could be full, well-lived. Hmm. Maybe not.

climbChochmat HaLev  says:  “Joy is the both the origin and outcome of our most sublime thoughts and deed. It enables us to reach beyond our small selves to connect with our innermost being and with other beings. While depression closes doors, joy opens all the gateways.”

“We cultivate this virtue by fostering an awareness of our deep interconnection with all Being.”

This is a challenge I want. One I’m going to embrace. But I’m going to have figure out how to use spiritual judo on my Teutonic soul. Living as if is the way in, I know. I’ve done it before and it works. So, for the next few months I’m going to learn how to live as if joy, living in an abiding state of joy, is central to my life. I’ll let you know it goes. Joyfully.

 

 

 

A God in Exile, Needing Repair

Midsommar                                                              Most Heat Moon

ein sofKabbalah was a trip through contractions, shattering, shards and healing. In the cosmology of Isaac Luria the ohr, the divine energy that was once all there was, wanted an other, yet it was all that there was. The ohr contracted, leaving room for something else. It created a vessel for the other, then poured divine energy into it, but the vessel proved too weak and shattered, scattering shards with ohr, divine light, trapped within them. Those shards, each filled with ohr, are the elemental stuff of the universe, forming the stuff which we experience as reality.

The purpose of humanity is to serve as a bridge between matter and God. (I don’t quite understand this yet.) We find the divine light in the shards of the universe we encounter and help them (again, I don’t know how.) emerge from their hiddenness. This is known as tikkun olam, now often translated as repairing the world, but in Luria’s time it meant repairing God, that is, finding the pieces left over from cosmic beginnings and rejoining them with the ohr. I like this idea of repairing God. Hmm. Re-pairing the hidden ohr with its maker.

Camus one-cannot-be-happy-in-exile-or-in-oblivion-one-cannot-always-be-a-stranger-i-want-to-albert-camus-123-46-22Yet again, I didn’t follow this one completely, but the Lurianic God is a God in exile, separated from the shards. So when the Jews go into exile, they do so as one with their estranged God. The purpose of the Jews is to remind humanity of this estrangement and that we all have a role to play in overcoming it.

Kabbalah finds us wading into deep waters, shifting perceptions, changing minds. A worthwhile enterprise, especially at 70. Glad to be part of it.

 

Krishna Janma

Midsommar                                                                   Most Heat Moon

Krishnas-birth-in-prisonLooking for light in prison. An assignment for the kabbalah class tonight. Rabbi Jamie suggested watching a movie like Hurricane, about Rubin Carter. I thought of MLK and Letters from the Birmingham Jail and Nelson Mandela, too. Then I remembered a portion of the Mahabharata I’d watched. This DVD version, 94 episodes, aired in India in the late 1980’s. Bought it to watch while doing long sessions on the treadmill.

Krishna Janma was episode 11. A prophecy tells Kansa, a king, that his sister Devaki’s eighth son will kill him. At first he looks for the easiest solution. Kill Devaki. Vasudeva, her husband, pleads with Kansa not to kill his sister. “I will bring you each child to destroy.”

Kansa considers this and agrees with a condition. They have to live in chains in his dungeon. Six sons are born. Kansa comes in their cell after each birth, grabs the newborn and throws it against the wall. When the seventh son is born, a friend of Devaki’s visits her in the cell and takes her pregnancy as her own. This causes Kansa great consternation but he can’t do anything since the seventh pregnancy seems to have mysteriously ended.

krishnaFinally, nine years later, Devaki is pregnant again, this time with the eighth son Kansa dreaded. This son is Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu.

“Whenever righteousness wanes and unrighteousness increases I send myself forth.
For the protection of the good and for the destruction of evil,
and for the establishment of righteousness,
I come into being age after age.”

— Bhagavad Gita 4.7–8

Happy-Janmashtami-Images-Wishes-Quotes-SMS-Status-Greetings-09

When Devaki gives birth to Krishna, a light shines in the cell and a voice, presumably Vishnu, tells Vasudeva to take baby Krishna out of the dungeon to another couple. Vasudeva wonders how he can accomplish this but the dungeon’s many barred doors swing open, the guards are put asleep and he walks out into a raging storm with his eighth son held over his head.

Krishna Janmashtami is a Hindu holiday that celebrates Krishna’s birth. It’s a lunar holiday so the date changes from year to year, but this year Janmashtami is on August 14th.

Home Schooling

Beltane                                                                      Moon of the Summer Solstice

2011 03 06_3396The shift to Reimagining has happened faster than I thought it would. My mind is like Kepler, our only dog who likes toys. He has a whole box of toys and he goes into it, noses around, finds the one he likes (why that one? no idea.), takes it out and carries it over to a place he’s decided is his toy stash area. I have several ideas that I’ve been playing with for years, e.g. becoming native to this place, emergence, tactile spirituality. In ways I don’t understand my mind goes over to the box of these ideas, hunts around, selects one and puts it front and center for maybe a second, maybe longer. Sometimes I pick up and play with one for awhile.

Right now just prior to sleep seems like a cue to start digging in the toy box. Last night it was an idea I had long ago, back when I started moving away from Christianity and toward a pagan perspective. I got to wondering about origins, about where certain things came from.

VadnaisIn the shower one day I began to wonder where our water came from. At the time Kate and I lived on Edgcumbe Avenue in St. Paul so the question really was, where did St. Paul get its water? I had no idea. Turns out St. Paul public works pumps water out of the Mississippi and into a chain of lakes including Pleasant Lake and Sucker Lake just across the Anoka County border in Ramsey County north of St. Paul.

At that point I began meditating in the shower (what can I say?), following the water flowing over me back to its source in the Mississippi, then back up river all the way to Itasca State Park and the headwaters there in Lake Itasca. Sometimes I would include the watershed, imagining rivers and streams emptying into the Mississippi on its way south toward the Centerville pumping station. Rainfall, snow and ice melt contribute, too.

LakeIt78Though I haven’t done it, it would be possible to track back much further to the arrival of water on earth. This is a very interesting topic which I raise only to demonstrate the potential in this kind of thinking.

Last night I recalled this early meditation on water and began to consider what it would be like to homeschool ourselves on the other inputs that come into our apartments, condominiums or single family homes, i.e. electricity, gas, broadband, telephone service (yes, some of us still have landlines). In other words what modes of generation produce the electricity in your home? Where are those power stations located? You might even ask yourself, what is electricity anyhow?

Contemporary life, especially since the early 1900’s, has distanced us further and further from the vast variety of things necessary to keep us alive. Do you know, for example, where the power comes into your house? Or the water? Most of us treat electricity, gas, and water as if they just show up in our taps, our outlets, our furnaces. This is understandable, it doesn’t seem important. As long as they show up reliably, we don’t consider them.

vintage-refrigerator-adOpen the refrigerator. Where did the food come from? How about the carpet on your floor? The roofing material. Concrete. Paint. How about the car in your garage? Where was it built? What sort of materials go into making it? Where do they come from?

Each and every article of clothing, toothbrush, plate, door knob, seat covering, bicycle tire is a rearrangement of elements secured from somewhere by mining or forestry or chemical engineering. We twenty-first century Americans, even those living in poverty, rely on a vast web of resources, each of which had to be gathered, transported, processed and delivered to our home. While this allows us to live in comfort unknown to most people on earth, even the very wealthy, throughout history, it also literally blinds us to the complex web of activity and materials that make it possible.

One way of reimagining faith is to open ourselves to the way that web of activity actually functions to help us live. Holy water. Holy gas. Holy wool. Holy garlic. Holy stone. Holy sewage. If we take to time to notice, to attend to the wood beneath our feet, the plaster over our heads, the water in our glass, the food on our plate we can begin to reinsert ourselves in that complex web, to be an active part of it, not a dumb recipient.

ElectricityThe incredible complexity of this web has put a thick wall between our daily lives and the earthiness of all that is around us. We start the car, shift into drive and head out to work or the store or on vacation dulled to the effort expended on the gasoline that fuels it, the rubber in the tires, the precious metals and the not-so precious metals in the body and frame and engine. I’m not talking right now about a car’s implication in climate change, or economic injustice, or urban planning. I’m focusing on getting to know how it came to be, what of our world made it possible.

landWhy? Because focusing on these things, deconstructing our things, begins to break the spell of modernism. Modernism offers us in the developed world a world prepackaged for our needs, organized so that we don’t have to till the field anymore, or hitch up the horse, or drop a bucket down a well. In so doing it waves the wand of mystification over our senses, blinding us to the mines, the aquifers, the oil fields, the vegetable fields, the landfills, the seeds and chemicals required to sustain us. This enchantment is the first barrier to a reimagined faith, to placing ourselves once again in the world.

It must go.

 

 

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