At the Jabbok Ford

Spring                                                                      Rushing Waters Moon

jacobPhone call today from buddy Tom Crane. In referring to the current kerfuffle within my body, those cancer cells, he said I was “wrestling with a dark angel.” That is so.

Yet what it called to mind was one of my favorite biblical passages, one I’ve written about here before and about which there are many wonderful works of art. Jacob at the Jabbok Ford.

Through the night Jacob wrestles with what the text refers to at first as a man. When the man, now revealed as an angel, sees he cannot best Jacob, he says, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking.” Jacob, strong enough to hold an angel fast through an entire night, is not willing to do that. “I will not let you go unless you have blessed me.” It is at this point that the angel, who had to dislocate Jacob’s hip to keep from losing the match, agrees: “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, because you have commanding power with [an angel of] God and with men, and you have prevailed.” Jacob (now Israel) continues to limp the rest of his life. He names the spot Peniel, (I) saw the face of God.

Wrestling with angels is a tricky business. Just ask the Egyptians. That one, the angel of death, sometimes called Azrael, passed over the lamb blood smeared doors of the Hebrew slaves and killed the firstborn of Egypt. What would have happened to Jacob if he’d been beaten by the angel? No blessing, I’m sure.

Wrestling with Azrael, cancer forces this struggle on the psyche in the same way Jacob’s angel blocked his passage across the ford, could be represented as happening at a ford of the river Styx. Lose a match to Azrael and, to mix mythological systems a bit, you can catch a ride with Charon.

As with Jacob’s angel, no contest with Azrael will result in victory, Azrael wins all struggles in the end. But in the interim, as with Jacob’s life after the Jabbok Ford, we can go away changed in heart, identity, and fate.

ruin_stairs_leave_destroyed_broken_dirty_building_factory-921666.jpg!dRecalled as I wrote this that I had a dream:

“I was in a non-descript house or building, bare of furniture. Someone, or something, was in the basement. I could hear gun shots. I hunted for entrances to the basement and found two, one a door and one a grate.

Down there were steel pillars covered in concrete.  Whoever or whatever down there wanted to bring the building down. The blue painted concrete had shattered on many of the pillars exposing steel beams. They still stood strong.

Somebody handed me a rifle. I readied myself, though frightened, to go down and save the building.”

Surely this is Azrael. I woke up before the contest could begin, so I’m going to imagine the rest.

I went down the stairs, grateful for the rifle, thankful for whoever handed it to me. But, could I use it? I’m not a man of peace exactly, but I’m not a man of violence either. Still, desperate times. The basement had a little light, enough to make shadows. Gunfire echoed more loudly as I got to the bottom. Whoever it was, was serious.

The gunfire stopped. “You shouldn’t be down here.” A voice cold and firm. From the depth of the shadows. “Leave now and I won’t destroy you. Not right now.”

OK, I thought, back up the stairs. This is too scary. However, I didn’t move. I lifted my rifle and aimed it toward the voice. When I pulled the trigger, it clicked. A rifle with no ammunition. Well, that settles it. Back up the stairs. Nope. Stayed. Scared, but unwilling to give up.

The gunfire did not resume. The air had faint patterns of blue dust from the pillars that had been shot up. The silence was complete. No voice. No evidence of another.

Fates

Fates

My feet began to move before my mind caught up. Whoa, I thought, feet where are you going? I knew, though. Straight toward the depth of the shadows. I heard what I imagined was a rifle clatter to the ground. Hmm. Even up, I guess.

“Come no further unless you want to meet your end.” Cold, firm. Closer.

My mind said, back up the stairs. My feet kept moving until I lost sight of them in the darkness of the deep shadow. Heart racing, adrenaline swimming through my bloodstream, setting me on fire. We closed.

How long we struggled, I no longer remember. He was strong. Much to my surprise, so was I. We went back and forth, pushing, straining legs and arms, trying to gain an advantage. This was all in the darkness of the shadow. I could not see him and I assumed he could not see me.

Oh. Wait. Not a he. At one point, arms locked together, we touched at the chest. Breasts. A woman! Didn’t change my situation. She was still there to bring down the foundations of my life.

This went on. And on. I grew weary. So did she. Panting, both of us. Our moves more feeble. She touched my left shoulder and my left hip. Pain. Agonizing pain. Giving up not possible, I hung on, endured the pain, chose it.

Isle of the Dead, Arnold Bocklin

Isle of the Dead, Arnold Bocklin

“We must end this,” she said.

“Not until you stop. I need those pillars, I can’t let you wreck them.”

“If not tonight, later. You know that.”

“Of course. Yes. I know. And when it’s time I will not fight you, but come willingly.”

She dropped her hold on me. My shoulder and my hip blazed. The adrenaline was gone. I felt weak. “You must bless me and I will leave.”

Later, back up stairs, the door to the basement closed and locked, I sat at a small wooden table, drinking coffee. I had a new name. Just like Jacob.

No Cheffing Required

Spring                                                                         Rushing Waters Moon

Two favorite tools

Two favorite tools

Kate and I discussed ways to relieve my stress. One source of stress for me was the evening meal. Part of me, a very strong part, wants to be a chef every night. Something new, something remarkable. Understand the ingredients, bring out their best, try new techniques. Problem. That requires a lot of forethought. Buy the right ingredients. Have them to hand. Try to replicate things I barely understand. And, it results in duds. Failures. Sometimes. Unnecessary stress.

Kate’s solution? She’ll make a menu plan for a week and I’ll cook it. Oh. I can do that. That relieves me of the need to create and in this instance I’m happy to let it go. Last night I followed her suggestion: spaghetti and sauce, spinach. Straightforward. Tasty. And, no cheffing required. Doesn’t seem like it would be much, but I felt so much better when I saw that menu plan.

No word yet on the Progoff workshop. When I registered, there were only 4 of us and they require 7. Hope it happens. I need the clarity about this time that these workshops always give me. The Colorado years have been wonderful, filled with family as we wanted, saturated with mountains and wild life and blue sky, anchored by new friends and community at CBE. The Colorado years have been awful. Cancer. Sjogren’s. Knee and shoulder replacements. (which have helped us both) Kate’s bleed and the sequelae. Interstitial lung disease. Trips to the E.R. Hospital stays. Vega’s death.

alvarez-adventure-caving-spelunking-1So much here. The grit of my life over the past three and a half years. How has all this changed me? What direction does it suggest? How might I live into it with greater joy, greater passion, greater serenity? I also need a break from the every day. Not just because it’s been stressful as I said below, but because it’s been a long time between breaks. Tom and Mark’s visit was a nice respite, but too short.

The Progoff workshop is five days, morning and afternoon in a retreat center. I’ll be a commuter because of the dogs and Kate’s tpn, plus it’s cheaper. If it doesn’t happen, I’ll have to figure out some other way to get perspective and get a break.

Rejoining the Resistance

Spring                                                                 Rushing Waters Moon

fitness2First full week of resistance work in two months plus. And I have the aches to prove it. That’s the irony at 72. Get in shape. Get some aches and pains. My o2 sats alone have made me glad to have them. You may think it’s a technique problem for me, but I’ve been at this a long time, so my technique is pretty good. It’s mostly the normal strain and wear that comes from making muscles and joints do things they’re not yet quite ready to do.

You probably know this, but it’s always struck me as weird that you build muscle by creating small tears in the muscle tissue. That’s what the resistance work does. I can’t think about it too much or it makes me not want to work out. Similar to my attitude toward shaving. Here, take a very sharp piece of metal and scrape it across the delicate skin on your face. Every day. Without fail. Or be shunned socially. Well, no.

for instance

for instance

Jon gave Ruth a copy of Howard Zinn’s, A People’s History of the U.S., and three alt-history sci-fi novels that imagine different futures for our country. 13 is the age of disenchantment, so very fitting. Next comes the alt-history of parents, the one in which they know nothing, never knew anything, and have nothing whatsoever to offer. Somewhere in college or soon after, that alt-history changes to a utopian vision of parents for many. Not me, however. At least not with Dad. Would have happened with Mom had she lived.

Forgot to tell Ruth that I was 13 in 1960 and her grandma was 13 in 1957. That should give her an idea of how old we are. Almost before rock and roll. Well before the moon landing. Dial, bakelite phones. Black and white TV. You know, antecellphonian.

Drove into Denver yesterday on an empanada run. Kate loves these Argentinian pierogis, and she has them for snacks, sometimes meals. The closest Maria’s is on South Broadway, a street I call the Green Mile for its high population of cannabis dispensaries. It also has funky shops, art galleries, wine bars, lots of interesting restaurants.

food hamburger standAlways wanted to stop at this drive-through hamburger stand, so I did yesterday. For health food. Two hot dogs and a chocolate shake. The hot dogs were good, so was the shake. I do wonder about the health risks for the people who work there though since the drivethrough is, as you can see, a covered affair. Gotta concentrate the car exhaust.

It was 78 in Denver. 78! I mean, really. Widest temperature swing so far going home. It was 57 back here on Shadow Mountain. The upside of being up. Compensation for low oxygenation.

Another King Sooper delivery, too. Their service has been a grocerysend for us. Ha. Gabriel was our shopper yesterday. Kate put away the refrigerated and frozen stuff. She also folded clothes, bagged up her empanadas, and did her ot/pt. This was a good, but hard week for her. We were out to eat three times, twice related to appointments. Each time wore her out. A lot. The good news? She got up chipper each morning. The tpn with the ot/pt has advanced her stamina and her resilience.

The Days of Our Ancientrails

Winter                                                                       Waxing Moon

Chez Kate and Charlie under snow

Chez Kate and Charlie under snow, yesterday

Never thought of it this way before, but Ancientrails is a soap opera of sorts. Or, ugh, a reality show. We have recurring characters: Kate, Jon, Ruth, Gabe, SeoAh, Murdoch, Murdoch’s dad, Jen (boo), Rabbi Jamie, Mark, Mary, Tom, Bill, Paul, Mark O., Alan, Rich, Tara, Marilyn, Sally, Areil, Anshel, CBE, the religious school. Differing locales: Shadow Mountain, Evergreen, down the hill, Minnesota, Maine (through the magic of zoom), Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Korea, Georgia. Various story lines: Mark and his ESL adventures in Saudi, Mary and her jet setting life, Kate’s illness, the bees at CBE, wildfire danger, Tom’s business, Ode’s art, the dogs and their escapades (comic relief), the Rocky Mountains, the occasional bout of world travel, SeoAh and Murdoch, my meandering through various thought worlds and aesthetic ones, the nature of my soul. What will happen next?! Don’t change that dial. Or, better, don’t touch your remote. Something new, something unexpected is coming up.

Went to mussar yesterday. Only Ariel and Sally showed up. Three former Midwesterners braved a modest snowfall. I find myself saying often up here, “If we didn’t go out in weather like this in Minnesota, we’d never go anywhere in the winter.” Coloradans are weather wimps, especially when it comes to cold, icy conditions. It’s like the meme I reposted yesterday on facebook from a Florida weather station: Limit your children’s outdoor time. Dress warm. Temperature of 53 tomorrow.

camelsBrother Mark, whose grasp of Saudi culture has become nuanced, reported a couple of days ago on a visit to a new camel herd cared for by Bedu. (Bedouins, I think, in local parlance) In his own words: “There was a stud white bull camel, many brown and white female camels,, and gamboling young camels. Gamboling, stretching their young legs out. One poor fellow had lost the lower part of his left front foreleg, but, was getting by on three legs. I met this Bedu fellow. I said I was from America. He said, “Donald Trump.” He then sort of urged me to see the camels. I went forward a bit, but stopped, as I did not want to invade the camel’s space. The Bedu said the stud bull was Saddam Hussein.  The camel with the shortened foreleg was Trump.” Humor is cross cultural and international.

Bought this at last year's show

Bought this at last year’s show

Jon and his fellow art teachers in the Aurora school system have a gallery show once a year. He’s had new work, his prints of found metal objects, in it last year and this one. He figured out a new method for using Intaglio inks that allows him a lot of the same opportunities for color, color blending afforded by oils. He’s a true artist, committed to his vision, a vision that is unique as is his method. Jon finds crushed metal objects along the roadside, takes them home, cleans them up, inks them up, then runs the roller of his press over them with a sheet of print making paper between the roller and the object. Like the best art the result is surprising and beautiful.

Kate got to work on a jigsaw puzzle yesterday, folded laundry, watered the plants. She’s also talking about getting out more. This is taking arms against a sea of troubles. May she, by opposing them, end them.

Tomorrow’s post: a visit to H-mart without SeoAh.

 

The Holy

Winter                                                                     Waxing Moon

Going for calories

Going for calories

Took Kate to Bailey yesterday, the social hall of St. Mary’s of the Rockies. She stayed several hours for a meeting of the Bailey Patchworkers. It was the first time she’d been back since August, a session when she piled up the good eats for a quilt documentation day. That was also the day I backed into her friend’s car. With said friend in it. Sigh. Kate’s stamina has improved markedly. So good to see.

After Bailey, I drove not home, but to Evergreen where I had lunch with Tara and Alan. Murphy’s sits right on Bear Creek, a lovely place in the spring, summer, and fall for an outside lunch. Tara and Alan and I talked CBE religious school. Alan returned Saturday from a couple of weeks in Argentina. In Patagonia, at a national park, he was told, no, you can’t walk on the glacier. You’re over 65. Didn’t know glaciers took notice of such brief lifespans; but, it was Argentina.

gods celtic twilight yeatsI’m responsible for the next lesson, tomorrow, as I was last week, but with Alan as back up this time. Last week we worked with the middah, character trait in the Jewish ethical discipline of mussar, chesed, or loving-kindness. This week we stay in mussar, but focus on yirah. Yirah often translates as fear in the Torah, as in “the fear of the Lord.” I prefer awe as a translation, but it does mean both and we’ll use that in the class.

Rudolf Otto, a famous theologian of the early 20th century, wrote a book called, The Idea of the Holy. I mentioned his thinking from this work in a post a couple of days ago. It’s one of a handful of theological texts that have had a radical effect on my thinking. Another is Moses and Monotheism by H. Richard Niebuhr. In both cases the authors try to dig behind religious concepts often simply accepted to find their phenomenal roots. Otto wants to understand the strange nature of the sacred. Niebuhr was after the psychic meaning of monotheism.

Otto’s work has a lot to do with yirah. His idea of the numinous, a distinctive feeling we often equate with the holy or the sacred, has two components: mysterium tremendum et fascinans. When we encounter the numinous, we encounter mystery, a mystery that both attracts us, we want to move toward the experience (awe, yirah, fascinans), and repels us, (fear, yirah, tremendum).

alvarez-adventure-caving-spelunking-1I have had many encounters of this kind and they vary in which characteristic of the Holy they emphasize. I’ve written before about my mystical experience on the quad at Ball State. Fascinans dominated. I wanted to be there, in a state of total linkage with all. I wanted to stay. In high school I attended a summer church camp at Epworth Forest in Indiana. We learned a lot about communion and in particular I took to the heart the idea that if we didn’t reconcile with others, we might “eat and drink our own damnation.” OK. I was an impressionable guy in that moment. But the fear occasioned by that idea made me find a young woman whom I’d teased and ask for her forgiveness. Stepping into the Sistine Chapel. Awe. Driving to Bailey and seeing the Continental Divide capped with snow. Awe. Contemplating my own death. Fear moving toward awe.

Processed with VSCOcam with p5 preset

Another. In Ely, Minnesota at the International Wolf Center, during a week long wolf studies immersion, we did a necroposy on a collared wolf that had been hit by a car. When we opened his rib cage, a space opened up in front of me where the mystery of life and death vibrated, took me in, absorbed me. This was both fascinans and tremendum. I wanted to look away, to be elsewhere. Right now. I wanted to dive in, swim in the galaxy revealed by this too intimate experience.

How about you? Got any experiences of the holy or the sacred? I especially encourage considering Otto’s point that an experience of the Holy is without moral freight. It simply is. We apply the morality later, much later.

 

iottoru001p1

iottoru001p1

*”In his most famous book, Das Heilige, Otto turned from a critical philosophical account of the possibility of religious experience to a descriptive psychology of the content of that experience and its relationship to the “rational,” symbolic dimension of religion. To designate religious feelings at their most distinctive he coined the word numinous, which referred, he said, to the Holy or Sacred minus the moral dimension. But he soon encountered a methodological limitation. Conscious experience is only available to the person who has it; therefore, it is possible to formulate a descriptive account of religious feelings only on the basis of introspection, informed by apparent similarities in what others have said. In other words, in order to study the experience that is the ultimate source of religion, a scholar must have a sensus numinis, an ability to experience numinous feelings—just as the description of color in painting or pitch in music requires certain kinds of perceptual abilities. Those who have such abilities, Otto suggested, experience the numinous as a mysterium tremendum et fascinans. As a mysterium, it is completely other, beyond the realm of ordinary existence, apprehensible but not comprehensible, evoking in human beings the feeling of stupor and stunned silence. People find this mysterium both attractive (fascinans ) and repulsive (tremendum ). On the one hand, it arouses the sense of grace, love, and mercy. On the other, it arouses feelings of terror and awe and the conviction that human beings are in reality nothing—feelings to which Otto, countering tendencies to equate genuine religion with love, gave a great deal of attention.” encyclopedia.com

 

 

 

Dark Vessel Rising

submarineWinter                                                                                    Waxing Moon

Encountered something yesterday, a dark vessel that rose up from 33 years deep. Grief. I’d forgotten. When I lost my hearing in my left ear at the age of 39, it happened suddenly. Over a period of six months it waned, then was gone. At the time I was doing a bible study in Horn Towers, an affordable living senior high rise on the West Bank in Minneapolis. The women there, probably of my age now, helped me through this first mortality signal. That was the first insult. My body, which had worked just fine up until then, could fail. And, not in minor ways, but in ways that effected my life on an ongoing basis. (polio was a memory more than an experience.)

Since then I’ve dealt, sometimes well, sometimes poorly with the disability. Three years ago the hearing in my right ear began to diminish enough that I required a hearing aid. One good thing about that deaf left ear, I only needed one hearing aid. Cheaper! The hearing aid, while light and unobtrusive, is still a foreign object on my ear. It gets in the way of my glasses, sends sharp feedback noises if I put my watchcap on over it, requires batteries and maintenance. It helps. Not as much as I’d like, or need, but it does help. Even so, I don’t like wearing it.

deafWhen I went downstairs yesterday after a hard day at the easel (hah), I had my hearing aid in, but still didn’t hear something Kate said. I asked her to repeat it. She waved me off dismissively. Most of the time, I get it. It’s no fun having to repeat yourself. It can feel like I’m not paying attention or being respectful. Over and over. For some reason though, the dark vessel constructed in those first days of my deafness in my left ear, a vessel built to carry the notice that my body would someday fail me altogether, surfaced.

33 years I’ve had to contend with an invisible disability, one that manifests, for others, only briefly. A huh? Or, ignoring you if you’re speaking to me from my left. Or, if there’s a lot of people, or waterfall like noises, or a loud air conditioner, a plane overhead. It screams at me occasionally when an unheard or misheard emergency vehicle suddenly appears as if out of nowhere.

Most of the time, as with most disabilities I imagine, it’s background, forgotten for me. Up here in the loft, for example, I rarely wear my hearing aid. No one to listen to, a quiet room. When driving, I often reach up and turn it off because a whooshing noise gets amplified into an annoying cascade of sound.

gods hadesIn the wake of Kate’s dismissal 33 years of grief, of annoyance, of having to explain, of being handicapped-always, broke into consciousness. I felt overwhelmed by the accumulated sadness, anger, discomfort. Didn’t know I carried within me this complex. I’m imagining a black submarine navigating the seas of my inner world. When its bow first broke through the waters of my attention, it stunned me. Knocked me back. I took it out on Kate. Not good.

Calmed down. We talked. Got through that maelstrom. Happens once in a while. Surprised by the freight.

I’m sure we all have our dark vessels, a divorce still knifing away at the gut, a lost job, an embarrassing public moment, a failed opportunity. When they surface, these dark vessels, chthonic gods James Hillman would call them, demand our fealty. Maybe even sacrifice. Taking the Jungian approach these vessels carry gold, keeping it to themselves, for themselves, but when they pierce the barrier of consciousness, that gold can be recovered, reclaimed, salvaged.

Not sure quite yet what’s in the chest I took off the sub, but I suspect it will become clear. Someday.

Awesome, Dude

Winter                                                                              Waxing Moon

Yesterday

Yesterday

I’m gonna say between 12 and 15 inches over the last 36 hours. We’ve been plowed twice and our contract specifies 6 inches as the minimum for a push. I’ve cleared the back decks 4 times, or 5, and this morning it was as much as it was yesterday morning, maybe more. I’m pretty weary from it. With the new palette/deck it increases the amount of snow I have to move and reduces the places I can put it. Creates a tough situation.

All of us up here love the snow, in part for the beauty and in part for the practical reasons I mentioned yesterday. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy to remove or a joy to drive in. Right now, I could wait a bit for our next big storm. Nothing on the horizon right now.

Considering some snow shoeing. I’ve not done that much here. Great cardio and beautiful, quiet here in the mountains.

Yrah tornadoGonna look at material for the religious school class on the 16th. Alan will be back from Argentina. Our lesson theme is yirah, awe. Getting fifteen inches of snow over 36 hours creates yirah. We do not impact the weather, at least not directly. Yes, climate change is effecting the sorts of weather we get, but we don’t get to choose the diverse effects of our self-genocide. Fifteen inches of snow is like a volcanic eruption or a tsunami or a tornado, sudden, unpredictable except just before the fact, a natural act that changes the immediate environment dramatically. Though not as devastating as those violent manifestations, a great snow storm does show the power of the natural world, something to which we have to adapt rather than something we can manage.

Those of us inside homes with heat, water, plumbing, a full refrigerator, a kitchen can, and often do, ignore the rain, the snow, the high winds, perhaps only remarking casually, “Listen to the rain.” “The snow’s so beautiful.” “Those winds are really howling.” In doing so we shield ourselves from yirah. Yirah is the Hebrew word often translated as fear in the Torah, as in fear of the Lord. Remember Moses and the burning bush? Yirah.

yirah volcanoYirah and kadosh, holy or sacred, go together. Rudolf Otto defines sacred as an experience of awe, yirah, and the mysterium tremendum et fascinans: mysterious, awesome, urgent, attractive in spite of our fear. “As mysterium, the numinous is “wholly other”– entirely different from anything we experience in ordinary life.” Kenyon College. I disagree here. We experience natural acts, acts that have a cause in the world we know, that are so far beyond our control that though we do find them in ordinary life, they are also, at the same time, wholly other. Ask anyone who’s seen the ocean recede, then come blasting in as a tsunami hits. Ask anyone who’s felt the earth, the solid stable never-changing earth, shake beneath their feet. Anyone who’s been been faced with pyrocastic flow.

When I was 10, back in 1957, I visited my aunt and uncle in Mustang, Oklahoma. About 3 am one morning, my uncle Rheford came in and shook me awake. “We have to go.” I followed him out the backdoor of the house and into the ground. Wind and rain battered us as we went down the steps into the storm shelter. The wooden doors closed behind us and a thick chain was passed through inside door handles then linked to a hook set in the concrete floor. When the tornado crossed over us, the oxygen got swept up and out of the shelter, the doors banged and clanged like living things. Afterward, we went back up the stairs, fearing what we might see. The post office, attached to the front of Uncle Rheford and Aunt Ruth’s house, was gone. Just. No. Longer. There.

Yirah Roaring_Forties_300Something experienced in ordinary life but also wholly other. I’ve been following a sailing race, the Golden Globe, in which several skippers competed against each other in solo jaunts around the world. Ask any sailor, solo or not, who’s navigated the roaring forties about yirah and mysterium. They’re manifesting every day, every hour in places most of us will never go; but, a few do. Wholly other, but also part of the same puzzling universe which coughed us up into life.

A long road to an old observation, the sacred in the ordinary. Religion has too long tried to cordon off the domains of holiness, of the sacred, of the divine. And not only cordon them off, but claim control over the experience of them. This is human, yes, to identify our own experience as unique, as special to us and ours. But it is not true that either awe or mysterium tremendum et fascinans, is only wholly other, and it is especially not true that Christianity or Hinduism or Tibetan Buddhism or Islam or Mormonism has the only safe way to encounter them.

In just a moment I’m going to go back downstairs in a world transformed by snow. It’s awesome and mysterious. And right here, right now.

 

 

Simcah

Winter                                                                              Waxing Moon

kate 1200Kate’s wanting to get out and not just visits to medical facilities. Her stamina has improved some, she’s eating more. She’s still in the 80-82 zone, but I’m looking forward to her cracking 83. Then up from there. She’s laughing and smiling, things I didn’t see often over the last three months. Enjoying these moments. Both of us.

My Jewish Studies January event is past. My solo act as teacher of the 6th and 7th graders was yesterday. Both of these, the Jewish Studies and the religious school class weighed on me. In both cases I had the full responsibility for them and that old bugger, what if things don’t go well and what can I do to take make sure that they do syndrome. Not a bad thing under normal circumstances, even ordinary, but in these two instances I felt exposed, reluctant. I suppose it was garden variety anxiety, but it clouded my days for a week plus.

Tara teaching Hebrew with my class

Tara teaching Hebrew with my class

When I went to H-Mart with SeoAh, I picked up ingredients for an Israeli salad. I had collected stories of loving-kindness, made a plan for using them. When I got to CBE, the vegetable dicer came out, a knife from the drawer and I got to slicing and dicing. Red pepper. Crunch. Whack. Roma tomatoes. Deseed, cut. Whack. Crunch. Persian cucumbers. Garlic. Parsley. Whack. Whack. Whack. A little olive oil, some lemon juice, a bit of mint. Toss. All the time I was talking to Leslie, a retired architect and city planner. She wanted to know how Kate was doing. The conversation veered to art. Leslie’s a docent at D.A.M., the Denver Art Museum. She offered to sponsor me when the next docent class comes up.

The kids began to come in. Isaac and his brother from the charter school up the hill. Sam from gymnastics. They trickled in, signing their names in Hebrew as an attendance check. Ryan, always on Ryan, came in with his mischievous smile. Robbie, tall Robbie. Charlie Mulvihill, whose bar mitzvah is on the 16th of February. Gwen. Liya. Jordan and Adam. Aaron. Gabe, who keeps bees with his dad, Dan.

Ryan, Tara, Liya

Ryan, Tara, Liya

The class went well. The kids were attentive during a discussion of loving-kindness. I read stories of kindness from within the Jewish tradition and asked them to match me story for story. Soon they were pulling out stories from movies, books, their personal lives. Several mentioned Hunger Games. Witness. Wonder. One girl bought her sister a toy her sister couldn’t afford. Another gave $20 he’d received for toys to a homeless man. Tara, the director of religious education, then came in and did a Hebrew class on chesed, loving-kindness, reinforcing what we’d experienced from stories.

At 5:30, we start at 4 and finish at 6, they’d been so responsive, I suggested we play games. These are 6th and 7th graders and they have a lot of energy. They come to religious school directly from school so they’ve also been behaving all day. Fortunately we have the whole carpeted social hall for our class. We played (yes, I got down on the floor, thank you work outs) duck, duck, goose. Statue. And zap, the rules of which I never understood. At 6 they weren’t ready to leave.

My point in recounting this is to say why I continue to do these things. They bring such joy, if I can manage my anxiety. Which I usually can. With a little help from Zoloft, years of analysis, and a generally positive disposition. It’s a balance, taking responsibility and living a retired life. It can, and does, get out of whack like it has for me recently. When other matters keep up a drumbeat of stress and vigilance, the teeter totter can suddenly take a dive.

A good class, for example, reminds me why I put myself out there. Sheer joy.

 

Seeking the myth beyond reason

Winter                                                                             Waxing Moon

ta phrom

ta phrom

A year theme. I mentioned buddy Paul Strickland’s choice: Bumping into Wonder. A few resolute type sentences* laid out some trails I want to follow in the new year, trails I’m already on, none of them new.

If there’s a thread underlying them, I don’t see it. There is, however, a potential theme occasioned by my reading of Cosmos and Psyche. In it Richard Tarnas taught me that skepticism is a tool, not a lifestyle. He chooses to deploy this insight as he begins an apology for astrology. I’ve followed him down that rabbit hole, ending up in a Wonderland that has Chesire cats, Tweedledees and Tweedeldums, Red Queens, and a few rascally rabbits.

enchanted aliceWhat I’m seeking in Wonderland is a synthesis Tarnas contends is necessary for us now, a different sort of Great Work than Thomas Berry’s, yet related to it, I think. Berry, if you recall, said that the Great Work of our time is the creation of a sustainable human presence on earth. Not goin’ so well. Tarnas wants to take the ancient, ensouled universe that prevailed until the Enlightenment, mash it into the disenchanted universe occasioned by rationalism and the hegemony of science, and come up with a Hegelian synthesis that can move us out of the stuck place created by their tension.

Ensouled and disenchanted, the sequel. Living into the next. Curing metaphysical skepticism. Myth and reason, together at last. Seeking a new enchantment. (note: not a re-enchantment since that implies a return to the old ensouled universe.) This is hard. These two worldviews are so far apart it’s difficult to see the path forward, past them.

Not there. Hmm. Mining for ohr. That’s not bad. Ohr = the primordial light of creation now inhabiting every thing in the universe, fractionated, but wanting to be whole. Dreaming a new world. Also not bad. Seeking a new ancientrail. Well, these are a start.

Unergründlich (The Unfathomable), 1874.

Unergründlich (The Unfathomable), 1874.

Seeking a myth beyond reason. I like that. Might be it.

*Eat no processed meats. Write new novel. (primal ensouled universe/enlightenment disenchanted universe. Next?) Keep painting, learning more techniques. Back to 3 days resistance, 3 days cardio. Learn how to read birth charts. Become a better teacher. Cook Korean and salt/fat/heat/acid. Continue kabbalah and mussar. Hike.

Crullers, Empanadas, Goddesses, and Mussar

Winter                                                                                Waxing Moon

20190104_104318_001Made a big circle yesterday. Drove into Denver on 6, a six lane version of 6th Street between hwy 470 and Santa Fe. Wanted to try LeMar’s Donuts since Kate needs weight and likes donuts. It’s right at the intersection 6th and Santa Fe. I like Bismarck’s and crullers, Kate prefers original glazed. The Bismarck at LaMars was about twice the size of the usual. It was quiet there, mid-morning, after the before work rush. This picture is the counter.

Maybe 6-8 blocks further on 6th is Broadway. Turned right and headed south toward Louisiana Street. Broadway is fascinating. After it passes under I-25, just north of Mississippi, you could call it the Green Mile thanks to the number of dispensaries between there and Englewood. There are also funky bars, used bookstores, antique shops, design studios. Meiningers, the art supply store I mentioned earlier and the Wizard’s Chest, a magic and costume shop fit right in. At Louisiana sits Maria’s Empanadas.

cookingKate wanted more mushroom empanadas, corn, and spinach. Lisa Gidday, our internist, had recommended the spinach. “Your new favorite food.” I got an Argentina which has steak, onions, and red peppers.

The woman behind the counter had a very thick accent, Argentinian, I assume. Even with hearing aids accents often defeat me and with the ambient noise, we had difficulty communicating. I hope, in these situations, that I don’t come off as insensitive because I keep asking, “What?” The bill was more than I expected, but after my discomfort with our interaction, I just paid.

I have the same frustration with Vanessa. She’s a member of our mussar group at CBE who has MAS, a neurological disease that makes it very difficult for her to speak or swallow. It is, for her and me, a perfect storm. She can’t speak very well and I can’t hear very well. Third phase life.

20190104_112922As I drove further on the Green Mile, I came across Goddess Isis books. I thought it was on Colorado. I’d always wanted to stop and this was my chance. I’d accomplished my errands and had some free time.

Goddess Isis books used to be Isis books, but the turmoil with Daesh, or Isis in Iraq and Syria, occasioned the name change. Isis has books on astrology, Celtic magic, love magic, shamanism, Hinduism, chakras, a wall full of different Tarot decks, multiple statues and figures ranging from dragons to Kali to cutesy fairies. There’s also a magical apothecary with jars not of herbs or granola, but ingredients for spells.

I picked up Indian Temple Incense, a coloring book of the Tarot deck (to implant those images in my mind), and a magazine called Witches and Pagans. Wanted to see what the broader community was thinking. When asked how I was doing  by the owner, an older woman in a flower print dress with a flowing outer cover, I replied, as I often do, “I think I’ll make it.” She laughed and said, “I know I will.”

Our mussar groups sponsored a potluck last night. First time I’d been to CBE in a while since religious school shut down for the holidays. Lot of questions about Kate. “She’s improving, but had a setback the last couple of days.”

Still strange to me to be picked out as one of the mussar leaders, but I was, working with a small group to talk about the middot of responsibility. A quick example of how mussar works. When it came my turn to read, I had a long paragraph with a lot of Hebrew. I felt shy since the others all did much better than me at pronouncing it. And, I was leading.

Had a cruller after I came home. Unusual, but hey, it had been a long day.